The struggle between the Stuarts and Hanoverians for the English throne was not simply about dynastic rivalry.

The Restoration

However, after a ten year experiment with republicanism, the English begged Charles II to return, and in 1660 monarchy was restored.

The Exclusion Crisis

A triple fear of popery, French influence and monarchical absolutism began to dominate English politics.

James II's Rule

Profiting on the wave of sympathy for the monarchy generated by the Exclusion Crisis, at first James was very popular and was careful to pursue moderate policies of reform.

The Glorious Revolution

Yet James was getting old. He had no sons and both his daughters were staunch Protestants.

The Restoration

However, after a ten year experiment with republicanism, the English begged Charles II to return, and in 1660 monarchy was restored. The 1662 Settlement restored to Charles most of the powers in Church and State which his father had enjoyed. The Restoration and Settlement were greeted with joy by the great majority of Englishmen, and things seemed set fair for Charles's reign. This image was, in fact, false. The joy which greeted Charles's succession was a reaction to the end of Republican rule, and masked the deep rifts which remained in English society.

The broad church settlement of Elizabeth's reign hid divisions which now began to emerge, with many radical Protestants breaking away from the Anglican Church to form their own dissenting churches. Those who remained in the Anglican fold were divided between those who favoured toleration for the Dissenters and those who believed national religious life must be kept pure and united. Both groups feared and distrusted the Catholics. Divisions in religious life were mirrored by divisions over constitutional affairs. Some believed in the Divine Right principle: that the monarch was chosen by God and should be obeyed in all circumstances. They sought to boost royal power in all areas of life and saw Louis XIV of France, the most absolutist king in Europe, as a role model for England.

Others thought that only by a careful balance of power between church, parliament, local government and monarch could good government be achieved, and that absolutist ambitions must be carefully controlled. The situation was further complicated by foreign policy considerations, with the Protestant, democratic Dutch struggling for survival against the Catholic, absolutist Louis XIV. Both sides were keen to gain English support. All of these issues had been central to the conflicts of the Civil Wars, and none of them had been resolved by the Restoration.

Fortunately, in the 1660s there were three main differences to the 1640s that kept England from civil war. Firstly, the vast majority of Englishmen had renounced political violence after the upheavals of civil war. Domestic peace was seen as more important than political or religious principle. Englishmen of all persuasions developed the doctrine of peaceful resistance to policies they disliked, instead of open conflict. Secondly, the years of republicanism had been so bad that anything seemed an improvement, and there was therefore genuine goodwill towards Charles throughout the 1660s. Thirdly, Charles was an astute and able monarch. He realised his father's mistakes and made great efforts to avoid them, portraying himself as the Merry Monarch, using his lusty pleasures to make himself popular, and supporting the arts, sciences, and the growth of trade. He had the good sense to keep his Catholic religious sympathies well hidden. He never generated the strong emotions of both love and loathing that his father had done.

Yet Charles was more like his father than he let show. He, too, had centralising, absolutist ambitions. He, too, was drawn to Catholicism both personally and in foreign policy. He, too, had a strong belief in his own divine right to rule. In 1670 he secretly concluded the Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV, promising to help France annex Holland and to work to make England Catholic, in return for large subsidies. In 1672 he issued the Declaration of Indulgence, granting freedom of worship to Catholics and Dissenters. A year later this move was overturned by an angry Parliament. Charles's brother James, Duke of York and first in line of succession, converted to Catholicism and took command of an Anglo-French fleet against the Dutch. In 1673 James married Maria d'Este of Modena, a Catholic match strongly supported by France. This led to uproar in the Commons and demands that the King dissolve the marriage.