On 16 Mar. 1660 the Long Parliament dissolved itself having ordered the issue of writs for the election of a new parliament. It had become clear that the increasingly unstable republican regime could no longer provide stability and security, and left no option but to attempt a restoration of the monarchy. The assembly which met on 25 Apr. and lasted until the end of the year is invariably described as a ‘Convention’ rather than a Parliament, having not been summoned by royal authority. Its chief purpose was to bury the republic and begin the delicate process of re-establishing royal government on acceptable lines.
The restoration of the Stuarts also entailed the restoration of Parliament to its traditional form of two Houses, with the Commons reverting to elections on the old system of constituencies and their differing franchises. The Scots and the Irish regained their own parliaments. As the elections commenced early in April, the exiled Charles II issued a declaration at Breda, setting out his programme for a restored constitutional monarchy. The re-instatement of the monarchy was not at this stage a foregone conclusion and it was on this issue that the election was chiefly fought. Royalist propaganda sang Charles II’s praises, and little in reply was offered by radical opponents. The predominant throughout the nation feeling was reflected in the crowd’s chant in the Surrey election of ‘No Rumpers, no Presbyterians that will put bad conditions upon the King’. Most seats were settled without a poll. There were contests in 16 counties and 29 boroughs, with double returns occurring in 40 more boroughs, indicating further rivalries that were bogged down in local uncertainty over franchises following the return to the pre-revolutionary system.
Nearly half the 548 MPs who sat during the Convention had no previous parliamentary experience. Members were broadly divisible between those whose families had been either royalist or anti-royalist during the civil war and the republican regimes of the 1650s. Complicating this divide were the tensions within and between the Anglican, Presbyterian and Independent groups, each of whom were eager for a satisfactory religious settlement. In April a group of Presbyterians had tried unsuccessfully to gain control over the Convention Parliament in a bid to promote plans to limit royal power, but had been overwhelmed by the strength of royalist sentiment. Although outright opposition to the restoration of monarchy was confined to just a few republicans, there were many who were less enamoured with some of the accompanying small print.
When the Commons assembled on 25 Apr. 1660 Sir Harbottle Grimston, a moderate Presbyterian, was elected Speaker. On 1 May, the declaration issued by Charles at Breda was formally read in both Houses, each voting unanimously that according to fundamental law the government of the realm was to be ‘by King, Lords and Commons’. They also agreed to send a deputation to The Hague to bring Charles back to England. The King, accompanied by his chief counsellor Sir Edward Hyde, landed at Dover on the 25th, and was rapturously welcomed to the capital by Speaker Grimston on the 29th.
The King appointed to his administration both royalists and ex-parliamentarians, symbolising a nation restored to unity. Hyde, who had been the King’s lord chancellor since 1658, was entrusted with the management of Parliament. Though not a member of either House until elevated to the Lords as Baron Hyde in November 1660, he was chiefly supported in the conduct of business in the Commons by (Sir) Job Charlton, Sir Heneage Finch, Sir Edward Turnor and Roger Palmer. The leading Presbyterian spokesmen were Arthur Annesley, Sir Thomas Widdrington, William Prynne and Sir Walter Erle.
Parliament returned to its former, pre-war procedures and modes of business. On 8 May it also declared that Charles II had been rightful king since the execution of his father in January 1649. On new statutes and all other state and legal documentation the regnal year beginning on 30 Jan. 1660 appeared as the 13th year of the reign.
The very first Act of the Convention was designed to remove any uncertainty about its legitimacy, declaring it to be a full and legal Parliament as if summoned in the King’s name. Other measures began the process of dismantling republican rule. A general pardon was extended to all who had opposed the Crown during the civil wars and interregnum except 33 surviving regicides and other collaborators, some of whom were hanged. Further Acts confirmed all judicial proceedings completed during the republican regimes, restored confiscations of Church and Crown lands, and disbanded the New Model Army. Trade and shipping were regulated by a new navigation Act. There were Acts to establish a post office, and to declare 29th May ‘a perpetual anniversary of thanksgiving’.
MPs were anxious to produce an adequate financial provision for the Crown. The sum of £1,200,000 was deemed necessary for all royal expenditure, but natural hesitance in the levying of taxation resulted in a raft of grants and subsidies that fell short of this sum by at least £300,000. Moreover, there was no provision for rapidly rising debts and unforeseen costs also charged to the crown. For the time being, however, no one doubted the adequacy of the measures voted.
The Convention is often criticised for failing to arrive at a satisfactory religious settlement. Many non-Anglican MPs had been cheered by the King’s promise at Breda of ‘liberty to tender consciences’. But though the grand committee on religion sat once a week from July to September, nothing more concrete emerged from its debates than an Act confirming all parish clergy who were not Baptists, republicans or had displaced Anglicans. In October a conference of Anglican and Presbyterian divines reached agreement on a Church formula acceptable to both groups, but an attempt by Prynne’s group to give it legislative force was defeated by 36 votes.
R. Hutton, The Restoration: A Political and Religious History of England and Wales, 1658-1667 (Oxford, 1985)