The Cabal was the name given to five ministers who advised Charles II after the dismissal of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. The title ‘Cabal’, despite its sinister overtones term-wise, came from the surnames or titles held by the five men in the Cabal. The Cabal operated between 1667 and 1673.
The old traditional view was that Charles took the opportunity after the dismissal of Clarendon to extend his own power at the expense of Parliament. However, the more modern view is that Charles needed Parliament for financial reasons and could not dispense with them but that he used domestic and international problems to his advantage when given the opportunity to do so. In this he was no different to other recent monarchs – though the end of his father, Charles I, meant that Charles II had to tread carefully.
The five men who Charles gathered around him to push for what he wanted were:
Sir Henry Bennet, Baron Arlington
John Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale
These men should have been united in what they sort to achieve. However, the politics of the day meant that the five men in the Cabal were keen to assist the king but as keen to be seen by him as being the most important member of the Cabal with most influence. Therefore, infighting between the men and political intrigue was common.
“The ministers had no common policy or aim, and that their greatest concern was their own advancement and that of their supporters. To achieve this they were more than willing to discredit each other." (N Fellows)
The two most dominant members of the Cabal were Clifford and Arlington. The latter was a Member of Parliament and also held a number of important political positions, including sitting on the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Despite its title, this committee also dealt with internal security and members on it would have been privy to a great deal of confidential information.
There is little doubt among historians that a pecking order existed within the Cabal. Each man presumably wanted to advance his own influence and that could only have occurred at the expense of the other four. With all five members of the Cabal doing the same, it is doubtful if they could have fully focussed their attention on what they were meant to be doing – advising the king on policy issues.
“The council (Cabal) consists of ministers with a mortal hatred of one another, who seek only to be avenged upon each other at the expense of their master’s service; this means that there is great uncertainty in the resolutions which are taken….that one can never be sure of anything." (French ambassador to England)