37. Charles II, A.D. 1660-1685
It is sad to have to say that, after all his troubles, Charles II. disappointed everybody. Some of these disappointments could not be helped, but others were his own fault. The Puritan party thought, after they had brought him home again he should have been more favorable to them, and grumbled at the restoration of the clergymen and of the Prayer-book. The Cavaliers thought that, after all they had gone through for him and his father, he ought to have rewarded them more; but he said truly enough, that if he had made a nobleman of everyone who had deserved well of him, no place but Salisbury Plain would have been big enough for the House of Lords to meet upon. Then those gentlemen who had got into debt to raise soldiers for the king's service, and had paid fines, or had to sell their estates, felt it hard not to have them again; but when a Roundhead gentleman had honestly bought the property, it would have been still more unjust to turn them out. These two old names of Cavaliers and Roundheads began to turn into two others even more absurd. The Cavalier set came to be called Tories, an Irish name for a robber, and the Puritans got the Scotch name of Whigs, which means buttermilk.
It would have taken a very strong, wise, and good man to deal rightly with two such different sets of people; but though Charles II. was a very clever man, he was neither wise nor good. He could not bear to vex himself, nor anybody else; and, rather than be teased, would grant almost anything that was asked of him. He was so bright and lively, and made such droll, good-natured answers, that everyone liked him who came near him; but he had no steady principle, only to stand easy with everybody, and keep as much power for himself as he could without giving offence. He loved pleasure much better than duty, and kept about him a set of people who amused him, but were a disgrace to his court. They even took money from the French king to persuade Charles against helping the Dutch in their war against the French. The Dutch went to war with the English upon this, and there were many terrible sea-fights, in which James, Duke of York, the king's brother, shewed himself a good and brave sailor.
The year 1665 is remembered as that in which there was a dreadful sickness in London, called the plague. People died of it often after a very short illness, and it was so infectious that it was difficult to escape it. When a person in a house was found to have it, the door was fastened up and marked with a red cross in chalk, and no one was allowed to go out or in; food was set down outside to be fetched in, and carts came round to take away the dead, who were all buried together in long ditches. The plague was worst in the summer and autumn; as winter came on more recovered and fewer sickened, and at last this frightful sickness was ended; and by God's good mercy, it has never since that year come to London.
The next year 1666, there was a fire in London, which burnt down whole streets, with their churches, and even destroyed St. Paul's Cathedral. Perhaps it did good by burning down the dirty old houses and narrow streets where the plague might have lingered, but it was a fearsome misfortune. It was only stopped at last by blowing up a space with gunpowder all round it, so that the flames might have no way to pass on. The king and his brother came and were very helpful in giving orders about this, and in finding shelter for many poor, homeless people.
There was a good deal of disturbance in Scotland when the king wanted to bring back the bishops and the Prayer-book. Many of the Scots would not go to church, and met on hills and moors to have their prayers in their own way. Soldiers were sent to disperse them, and there was much fierce, bitter feeling. Archbishop Sharpe was dragged out of his carriage and killed, and then there was a civil war, in which the king's men prevailed; but the Whigs were harshly treated, and there was great discontent.
The country was much troubled because the king and queen had no children: and the Duke of York was a Roman Catholic. A strange story was got up that there was what was called a popish plot for killing the king, and putting James on the throne. Charles himself laughed at it, for he knew everyone liked him and disliked his brother: "No one would kill me to make you king, James," he said; but in his easy, selfish way, when he found that all the country believed in it, and wanted to have the men they fancied guilty put to death, he did not try to save their lives.
Soon after this false plot, there was a real one called the Rye-house Plot. Long ago, the king had pretended to marry a girl named Lucy Waters and they had a son whom he had made Duke of Monmouth, but who could not reign because there had been no right marriage. However, Lord Russell and some other gentlemen, who ought to have know better, so hated the idea of the Duke of York being king, that they joined in the Ryehouse Plot for killing the duke, and forcing the king to make Monmouth his heir. Some of the more unprincipled sort, who had joined them, even meant to shoot Charles and James together on the way to the Newmarket races. However, the plot was found out, and the leaders were put to death. Lord Russell's wife, Lady Rachel, sat by him all the time of his trial, and was his great comfort to the last. Monmouth was pardoned, but fled away into Holland.
The best thing to be said of Charles II. was that he made good men bishops, and he never was angry when they spoke out boldly about his wicked ways; but then, he never tried to leave them off, and he spent the very last Sunday of his life among his bad companions, playing at cards and listening to idle songs. Just after this came a stroke of apoplexy, and, while he lay dying on his bed, he sent for a Roman Catholic priest, and was received into the Church of Rome, in which he had really believed most of his life—though he had never dared to own it, for fear of losing his crown. So, as he was living a lie, of course the fruits showed themselves in his selfish, wasted life.
It was in this reign that two grand books were written. John Milton, a blind scholar and poet, who, before he lost his sight, had been Oliver Cromwell's secretary, wrote his Paradise Lost, or rather dictated it to his daughters; and John Bunyan, a tinker, who had been a Puritan preacher, wrote the Pilgrim's Progress.