Return of the King: Why the Restoration Happened

In 1650 England did something unprecedented – they killed a King and set themselves up as a commonwealth. However, ten years later they did something equally surprising – they invited his son back. So why would they go to all the trouble of deposing a King only to invite him back?

Oliver Cromwell's statue which stands outside the Houses of Parliament.

Oliver Cromwell’s statue which stands outside the Houses of Parliament.

Bringing Back the King

England’s problem was that they didn’t want to get rid of the monarchy. Yes, there were radical voices calling for the introduction of new freedoms and democracy, but these were very much on the fringes. Most people simply wanted to go back to the way things ‘should’ have been – a nice stable country with a king who would behave himself within reason.

The problem lay with Charles and his refusal to compromise even when he had little other choice. After his capture at the end of the first Civil War negotiations proceeded to place him back on the throne. All he had to do was make a number of concessions, promise Parliament’s leaders would not be targeted and devolve a little more power.

Instead he escaped his captors fled north and tried to forge an alliance with the Scots. It didn’t work and pretty soon he was back under lock and key. By this time attitudes had hardened. Charles’ intransigence seemed to make peace impossible. As long as he remained on the throne, it seemed, war would continue. The only choice was to do the unthinkable and kill the King.

Life Without Kings

Richard Cromwell was unable to exert the influence his father managed.

Richard Cromwell was unable to exert the influence his father managed.

With Charles gone England was now a commonwealth led by the powerful hand of Oliver Cromwell, but pretty soon he found governing the country was not as easy as he might have liked. First there was a Kingdom to secure. Charles I might be gone, but his son was still at large. The young man who would later be Charles II raised his own army to challenge Parliament. He met with little more success than his father and was defeated by Cromwell. Legend has it that he hid in a tree to evade Parliament’s forces.

Furthermore, Cromwell soon had his own problems with Parliament. In 1648 Parliament had been purged of all those who were not supportive of the New Model Army and the Independents. Even so, the remaining Rump Parliament was in no mood to simply do Cromwell’s bidding and in 1653 Cromwell dismissed it and set up a protectorate instead.

Although Cromwell refused the Crown, he was King in all but name and England’s brief experiment with republicanism had come to a juddering halt. From here on in, he governed in much the same way Charles had, only recalling parliament when there was money to be raised.

Strict Religious Order

In a wider context, Cromwell’s regime soon became unpopular. Strict observance of Protestantism was enforced. Theatres were shut down and ale houses across the country closed. His was a country in which fun was frowned upon.

Keen for some stability parliament invited the King back.

Keen for some stability parliament invited the King back.

Naturally the English took against this and it is perhaps only Cromwell’s iron grip on power that kept things together. When he died in 1658 his son Richard took over. As so often when taking over from a strong leader, the next guy has a tough job holding things together and Richard didn’t last long in his post.

Parliament began negotiations with the young Charles to bring him back to the throne on condition that he agree to certain concessions. Charles – who was a little more flexible than his father – agreed and was crowned in 1660. England had a King once more.

Tom is a freelance journalist who studied history at Essex University. His work can be found in many different publications focusing on business and politics.