On this day in 1679 Charles II dissolved the seemingly interminable Cavalier Parliament. This had opened almost 18 years previously in May 1661 but still sat for less time than Charles I’s Long Parliament of 1640 – 1660.
The first act of this august body was to pass the Sedition Act which declared the Solemn League and Covenant null and void and ordered it be publicly burned. 17 years too late in the mind of many, as by then the damage was done. The Solemn League, signed in 1643, was an agreement between the Scottish Covenanters and the English Parliament by which the Scots agreed to provide military aid to the English against their mutual, lawful king, in exchange for their agreement to ensure the extirpation of papacy and prelacy and, ultimately and bizarrely, the imposition of the full weight of dogmatic Presbyterianism on the people of England.
Solemn League and Covenant – publicly repudiated and burned by order of the Cavalier Parliament
Unsurprisingly there was a host of other legislation passed during this epic sitting and much repealing of legislation passed during the twenty years of the Long Parliament, so rigidly opposed to Charles I. Although at one point Parliament had to adjourn to Oxford to conduct its business due to the Great Fire.
This included the Militia Act which placed the command of the armed forces wholly and clearly under the King’s authority. Also the Indemnity and Oblivion Act which pardoned all involved in the regicide of Charles I in 1649 with the exception of those directly involved. Who was to be included on this list was the subject of rancorous debate for some two months as names were added to the original list of seven miscreants and others taken off. John Milton, of Paradise Lost fame, walked free.
John Milton – pardoned for his part in Charles I’s regicide
Ultimately only thirteen individuals were executed for this heinousness. Although nineteen were imprisoned for life and a further three, already dead by the time of Charles II’s restoration, had their bodies desecrated.
Also repealed was the Bishops’ Exclusion Act of 1642 which permitted the aforementioned Bishops to resume their temporal positions from which they had been heaved so unceremoniously by the previous regime. And the first licensing of hackney carriages took place.
Hackney cabs – first licensed by the Cavalier Parliament
However, after this promising start relations between the king and his parliament deteriorated. Prejudice against the King’s brother, the Duke of York and future King James II and VII, led to a raft of provocative legislation; requiring the taking of oaths renouncing papal authority, imposing the requirement of parliamentary consent to royal marriages and the threat of charges of high treason against the Duke of York led to a difficult and confrontational atmosphere reminiscent of the situation prevailing under Charles I twenty years earlier.
Ultimately the king’s disastrous foreign intriguing over the Dutch French war, with his foreign secretary Lord Danby, during which it was decided that marrying the Duke of York’s daughter, Mary, to William of Orange would be helpful and constructive step to ensuring the future prosperity of the Stuart monarchy, led to a situation of deep and mutual distrust which was tipped over the edge by the hysterical nonsense of the Popish Plot and Charles was forced to agree the parliament’s dissolution.