The Cavalier Parliament first sat in April 1661. The Cavalier Parliament carried on the work done by the Convention Parliament – the first of Charles II’s parliaments. Both parliaments were instrumental in creating what became the Restoration Settlement – the Convention Parliament started the process up to December 1660 when it was dissolved while the Cavalier Parliament carried on with its work.
The Cavalier Parliament was very much dominated by Royalists. Whereas the work of the Convention Parliament had been governed by a balance between Royalists and Presbyterians (so that much of its work had been balanced and not one-sided) this was not the case with the Cavalier Parliament which was far more partisan. Though the members of the Cavalier Parliament were unwilling to give up their parliamentary powers to Charles II, they were perfectly prepared to hand back executive authority to the king. The Protectorate had assumed executive authority but it meant that MP’s did not have the time to devote to their own constituencies nor to any lucrative business they were involved in.
In 1661, there were still within England some sympathisers to the republican philosophy of the Protectorate. The first pieces of legislation of the Cavalier Parliament were to deal with these people. The first major piece of legislation was the Corporation Act, which gave commissioners the right to remove any town office holder suspected of being a republican sympathiser. The law was a potent weapon against non-Royalists and gave Royalists a huge boost a town level as a man who had good Royalist credentials replaced any one dismissed from his post.
In a further extension of royal authority, the Cavalier Parliament gave Charles full control over the nation’s militia in July 1661. This had been an area not covered by the Convention Parliament. Charles had three regiments of regular troops at his disposal but now the country’s militia was added to this. Parliament declared:
“The sole supreme government, command and disposition of the militia and of all forces by sea and land, and of all forts…..is, by the laws of England ever was, the undoubted right of his majesty….and that both or either houses cannot, nor ought to pretend the same.”
The Cavalier Parliament did all that could be done to extend the authority of Charles. Parliament was not allowed to legislate without the king and it invalidated any act previously brought in that not received royal assent. Laws were brought in that made it illegal to encourage people to hate the king. It became a treasonable offence to restrain or imprison the king and any writing, preaching and printing that was against the king’s authority also became punishable offences.
However, the Triennial Act made it law that Parliament had to meet at least once every three years and the law that had abolished the hated prerogative courts used so widely by Charles I remained in place. The Cavalier Parliament also knew that the income Charles received as part of the Restoration Settlement left him short of the expected £1.2 million a year granted to the king. However, those in Parliament also knew that their greatest influence over the king was effective control of his income and the Cavalier Parliament, despite its reputation for doing near enough anything to extend the authority of Charles II, did not address this issue. The income of Charles depended on a successful trading policy and it remained this way despite the loyalty of the Cavalier Parliament.
Where did power lie after the Restoration? The king’s financial limitations were obviously in Parliament’s favour. The settlement of £1.2 million a year was dependent on good trading and revenue collected via excise duty. For the first years of the reign of Charles II, there is little doubt that he was always short of the £1.2 million offered – though a revenue based on excise collection worked well for his successors. However, Charles did have a source of power that Parliament could never have – he was king. The years of Cromwell’s government had done a lot to cast a shadow over Parliament and all it stood for. Though it is true that Charles I had been shown not to be above the law and was executed, many believed it was because he was a ‘bad’ king – the whole ethos behind the title was not damaged. Charles I was executed because of the person not because the title ‘king’ no longer had support in the nation. When Charles II returned in 1660, his authority was because he was king and many believed that the actions of his father should neither taint his reign nor the status of monarchy. It is probable that many at the time held the monarch in higher esteem than any politician – even if he was a monarch invariably short of cash.