at Nijmwegen on the 10th of August, and punished Danby by disclosing his secret negotiations, thus causing the minister’s fall and impeachment. To save Danby Charles now prorogued the parliament on the 30th of December, dissolving it on the 24th of January 1679.
Meanwhile the “Popish Plot,” the creation of a band of impostors encouraged by Shaftesbury and the most violent and unscrupulous of the extreme Protestant party in order to exclude James from the throne, had thrown the whole country into a panic. Charles’s conduct in this conjuncture was highly characteristic and was marked by his usual cynical selfishness. He carefully refrained from incurring suspicion and unpopularity by opposing the general outcry, and though he saw through the imposture from the beginning he made no attempt to moderate the popular frenzy or to save the life of any of the victims, his co-religionists, not even intervening in the case of Lord Stafford, and allowing Titus Oates to be lodged at Whitehall with a pension. His policy was to take advantage of the violence of the faction, to “give them line enough,” to use his own words, to encourage it rather than repress it, with the expectation of procuring finally a strong royalist reaction. In his resistance to the great movement for the exclusion of James from the succession, Charles was aided by moderate men such as Halifax, who desired only a restriction of James’s powers, and still more by the violence of the extreme exclusionists themselves, who headed by Shaftesbury brought about their own downfall and that of their cause by their support of the legitimacy and claims of Charles’s natural son, the duke of Monmouth. In 1679 Charles denied, in council, his supposed marriage with Lucy Walter, Monmouth’s mother, his declarations being published in 1680 to refute the legend of the black box which was supposed to contain the contract of marriage, and told Burnet he would rather see him hanged than legitimize him. He deprived him of his general’s commission in consequence of his quasi-royal progresses about the country, and in December on Monmouth’s return to England he was forbidden to appear at court. In February 1679 the king had consented to order James to go abroad, and even approved of the attempt of the primate and the bishop of Winchester to convert him to Protestantism. To weaken the opposition to his government Charles accepted Sir W Temple’s new scheme of governing by a council which included the leaders of the Opposition, and which might have become a rival to the parliament, but this was an immediate failure. In May 1679 he prorogued the new parliament which had attainted Danby, and in July dissolved it, while in October he prorogued another parliament of the same mind till January and finally till October 1680, having resolved “to wait till this violence should wear off.” He even made overtures to Shaftesbury in November 1679, but the latter insisted on the departure of both the queen and James. All attempts at compromise failed, and on the assembling of the parliament in October 1680 the Exclusion Bill passed the Commons, being, however, thrown out in the Lords through the influence of Halifax. Charles dissolved the parliament in January 1681, declaring that he would never give his consent to the Exclusion Bill, and summoned another at Oxford, which met there on the 21st of March 1681, Shaftesbury’s faction arriving accompanied by armed bands. Charles expressed his willingness to consent to the handing over of the administration to the control of a Protestant, in the case of a Roman Catholic sovereign, but the Opposition insisted on Charles’s nomination of Monmouth as his successor, and the parliament was accordingly once more (28th of March) dissolved by Charles, while a royal proclamation ordered to be read in all the churches proclaimed the ill-deeds of the parliament and the king’s affection for the Protestant religion.
Charles’s tenacity and clever tact were now rewarded. A great popular reaction ensued in favour of the monarchy, and a large number of loyal addresses were sent in, most of them condemning the Exclusion Bill. Shaftesbury was imprisoned, and though the Middlesex jury threw out his indictment and he was liberated, he never recovered his power, and in October 1682 left England for ever. The Exclusion Bill and the limitation of James’s powers were no more heard of, and full liberty was granted to the king to pursue the retrograde and arbitrary policy to which his disposition naturally inclined. In Scotland James set up a tyrannical administration of the worst type. The royal enmity towards William of Orange was increased by a visit of the latter to England in July. No more parliaments were called, and Charles subsisted on his permanent revenue and his French pensions. He continued the policy of double-dealing and treachery, deceiving his ministers as at the treaty of Dover, by pretending to support Holland and Spain while he was secretly engaged to Louis to betray them. On the 22nd of March 1681 he entered into a compact with Louis whereby he undertook to desert his allies and offer no resistance to French aggressions. In August he joined with Spain and Holland in a manifesto against France, while secretly for a million livres he engaged himself to Louis, and in 1682 he proposed himself as arbitrator with the intention of treacherously handing over Luxemburg to France, an offer which was rejected owing to Spanish suspicions of collusion. In the event, Charles’s duplicity enabled Louis to seize Strassburg in 1681 and Luxemburg in 1684. The government at home was carried on principally by Rochester, Sunderland and Godolphin, while Guilford was lord chancellor and Jeffreys lord chief justice. The laws against the Nonconformists were strictly enforced. In order to obtain servile parliaments and also obsequious juries, who with the co-operation of judges of the stamp of Jeffreys could be depended upon to carry out the wishes of the court, the borough charters were confiscated, the charter of the city of London being forfeited on the 12th of June 1683.
The popularity of Charles, now greatly increased, was raised to national enthusiasm by the discovery of the Rye House plot in 1683, said to be a scheme to assassinate Charles and James at an isolated house on the high road near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire as they returned from Newmarket to London, among those implicated being Algernon Sidney, Lord Russell and Monmouth, the two former paying the death penalty and Monmouth being finally banished to the Hague. The administration became more and more despotic, and Tangier was abandoned in order to reduce expenses and to increase the forces at home for overawing opposition. The first preliminary steps were now taken for the reintroduction of the Roman Catholic religion. Danby and those confined on account of participation in the popish plot were liberated, and Titus Oates thrown into prison. A scheme was announced for withdrawing the control of the army in Ireland from Rochester, the lord-lieutenant, and placing it in the king’s own hands, and the commission to which the king had delegated ecclesiastical patronage was revoked. In May 1684 the office of lord high admiral, in spite of the Test Act, was again given to James, who had now returned from Scotland. To all appearances the same policy afterwards pursued so recklessly and disastrously by James was now cautiously initiated by Charles, who, however, not being inspired by the same religious zeal as his brother, and not desiring “to go on his travels again,” would probably have drawn back prudently before his throne was endangered. The developments of this movement were, however, now interrupted by the death of Charles after a short illness on the 6th of February 1685. He was buried on the 17th in Henry VII.’s chapel in Westminster Abbey with funeral ceremonies criticized by contemporaries as mean and wanting in respect, but the scantiness of which was probably owing to the fact that he had died a Roman Catholic.
On his death-bed Charles had at length declared himself an adherent of that religion and had received the last rites according to the Romanist usage. There appears to be no trustworthy record of his formal conversion, assigned to various times and various agencies. As a youth, says Clarendon, “the ill-bred familiarity of the Scotch divines had given him a distaste” for Presbyterianism, which he indeed declared “no religion for gentlemen,” and the mean figure which the fallen national church made in exile repelled him at the same time that he was attracted by the “genteel part of the Catholic religion.” With Charles religion was not the serious matter it was with James, and was largely regarded from the political aspect and from that