Huge crowds enthusiastically welcomed King Charles II as he made his triumphant royal entry into London on 29 May 1660 to reclaim his throne, after eleven dreary years of republican rule.
The Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell enjoyed some stability since Charles I’s beheading in January 1649, despite his experimentation with various forms of government, including the disastrous rule of the Major-Generals.
However, Cromwell died unexpectedly on 3 September 1658 after a short period of illness, and on the seventh anniversary of his victory at Worcester.
Oliver Cromwell’s eldest surviving son, Richard succeeded as Lord Protector but, unlike his father, was unable to keep the various warring factions, including the army, under control.
Richard was forced to resign eight months later as he had failed to govern effectively.
Leadership in London was weak, wavering and self-interested with no unifying vision of how England should be governed. The nation was quickly dissolving into anarchy, verging on the brink of civil war, with some groups planning an uprising.
So General George Monck stepped in and took the initiative as he marched south from Scotland to restore order.
He believed Britain would never be at peace until the traditional forms of government were returned, so he wrote to the exiled Charles II in the Netherlands to negotiate his return to England.
Many were tired of the dreary years of Puritan rule and wanted the return to normality before the horrors of civil war began.
The King’s Triumphant Return
Charles and his court quickly made preparations to return home. He left Scheveningen aboard The Royal Charles where he enjoyed smooth sailing across the Channel.
A huge crowd cheered when Charles landed at Dover on 25 May 1660 with many shouting, ‘God Save The King’, amidst the blare from trumpets and the loud boom from cannons.
General Monck was the first to welcome the King once stepped ashore, handing Charles his sheathed sword.
A grateful Charles invested General Monck as a Knight of the Garter on 26 May 1660, the first of many rewards for his role in peacefully restoring the monarchy.
Charles soon appointed General Monck as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Master of the Horse in the King’s Household and elevated to the peerage in 1660, rising through the ranks to become the Duke of Albermarle.
The Mayor of Dover and other dignitaries paid homage before the royal procession continued slowly to Canterbury where Charles paid tribute to his father.
Charles I was canonised as a saint at Canterbury as a martyr of the Anglican Church six days earlier, upon Charles’ urging.
The royal procession passed through towns, including Rochester, decorated with tapestries hung from windows, flags flying from the rooftops with crowds cheering themselves hoarse.
Charles made his triumphant and formal entry into London on 29 May 1660, which was also his 30th birthday, riding on a white stallion, accompanied by his brothers James and Henry, with banners waving everywhere, more cheering crowds as bells rang, music played and fountains reportedly flowing with wine.
The Lord Mayor of London Thomas Allen greeted the King and offered his sword. Charles knighted Allen before giving the Mayor’s sword back.
Londoners watched as soldiers, official, clergy and mounted escorts passed through the narrow streets, which had been quickly cleaned up, now strewn with flowers.
Charles raised his eyes to the window, looking at all, raising his hat and greeting everyone.
Many had wept at the sight and had shouted out blessings as the King passed by.
The diarist John Evelyn was among the crowds and later wrote, ‘I stood in the Strand, and beheld it, and blessed God: And all this without one drop of blood, and by that very army, which rebelled against him.’
The Speakers of both Houses of Parliament addressed the King when he finally arrived at Whitehall around 7.00 pm.
He was too tired to attend a Thanksgiving Service that night but he still had to dine in public showing himself to the people, as his ancestors had done.
Celebrations continued well into the night with bonfires and more merriment with music and singing old cavalier songs.
People rejoiced as they were allowed to celebrate Christmas and participate in fun activities, including the reintroduction of maypoles and the theatres were reopened.
Parliament declared 29 May as a public holiday, which later became known as either Restoration Day, Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day, until it was abolished during the 19th Century.
The day also commemorates King Charles’ escape whilst hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House, from Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers, as a fugitive following his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
However, some local institutions, still observe this anniversary annually, including the Royal Hospital Chelsea, founded by Charles II in 1681, where it is known as ‘Founder’s Day’.
However, not everyone celebrated the King’s return. Edmund Ludlow, who signed Charles I’s death warrant, watched the revels in with increasing disgust and disbelief. Former Cromwellian soldiers also threatened run the King through with their rusty old weapons.
Pardons for crimes committed against the Monarchy during the past twenty years were pardoned. Only 33 people were exempt and one-third were executed.
The bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, Thomas Pride and John Bradshaw were exhumed and their corpses hung at Tyburn for their role in the regicide. Cromwell was beheaded and his head paraded through the streets before it was stuck on a pole on top of Westminster Hall.
On St George’s Day, 23 April 1661, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Juxon, crowned Charles in Westminster Abbey as King of England and Ireland, using a similar service to those of his father and grandfather. (He was crowned King of Scotland ten years earlier at Scone on 1 January 1651.)
The traditions were revived, including the magnificent five-hour procession from the Tower to Westminster the day before.
The ancient robes and regalia, except for the Coronation spoon, had been destroyed when he monarchy was abolished, were recreated, as far as possible, using the old dimensions and forms.
His coronation was followed by a lavish banquet in Westminster Hall.
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Falkus, Christopher, The Life and Times of Charles II, George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Limited, London, 1972 (Reprinted 1984)
Fraser, Antonia, Charles II: His Life and Times (Abridged, illustrated format), Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1993
Harris, Tim, Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms 1660-1685, Allen Lane (Imprint of Penguin Books), London, 2005
Jordan, Don, The King’s City: London under Charles II, Little, Brown (Imprint of Hachette Books UK, 2017
Oliver, Neil, A History of Scotland, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2009
Schama, Simon, A History of Britain: The British Wars 1603-1776, Volume 2, , BBC Worldwide Ltd, London, 2001
Spencer, Charles, To Catch A King: Charles II’s Great Escape, William Collins, London, 2017
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