franecdote 1670 : Mission Impossible

Detail of a portrait of King Charles II of England
by Thomas Hawker

It’s time for the next “franecdote” — an interesting fact or story from “THAT year in French history“ where “THAT year” is this year minus the number of Facebook fans je parle américain has every Thursday.

Screen Shot 2013-07-07 at 11.07.00 PM

Today’s franecdote is from August 1,
when je parle américain had 343 Facebook fans.
So …

The year 2013 — 343 fans = 1670

I’ll never forget from my South Carolina history classes how important the year 1670 was: it’s when England first settled the Carolina colony at Charles Towne, now known as Charleston. Carolina had been named for King Charles I, but Charles Towne was named for his son, Charles II. And it’s that King Charles who figures prominently in today’s franecdote. “But this is about French history, right?” Indeed it is, because the franecdote for today involves not only King Charles II of England, but also King Louis XIV of France. It’s …

Usually there’s a <drumroll> here,
but today this is more appropriate:

The Secret Treaty of Dover

Sound like an intriguing story? It really is. It features secret negotiations, religious conversion, a really nasty family dispute, and something called …

The Cabal Ministry!
<mwah ha ha ha>

To set the scene …

King Charles II came to power in 1660 with the restoration of the English monarchy after a decade of republican government under the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. Charles’s father, Charles I, had been overthrown by Oliver Cromwell‘s forces during the English Civil War and had been executed for treason. One of the many criticisms of Charles I had been his pro-Catholic positions. It would turn out that Charles II would have some very strong Catholic leanings himself. What’s the saying? “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?” That’s especially true when the apple’s mother is a devout Catholic, when the apple’s father was executed for treason by Puritans, and when the apple’s first cousin is King Louis XIV of France.

Henrietta Maria of France, Queen Consort of England (1625-1649) and mother of King Charles II
Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of King Henry IV of France, wife of King Charles I and Queen Consort of England (1625-1649), and mother of King Charles II

A secret treaty is born …

In 1667, King Louis led a war against Spain over control of the Spanish Netherlands in present-day Belgium. Although he saw early victories, the Triple Alliance of England, Sweden and the Dutch Republic forced Louis to surrender most of his territorial gains in the 1668 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Despite later memorializing the event as opulently as one expects of the Sun KIng …

From the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
From the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
Charles Colbert de Croissy
Charles Colbert de Croissy

… this treaty didn’t sit so well with Louis at the time. He was hell-bent on avenging his losses, so he sent Charles Colbert de Croissy to England as an ambassador on a special mission to find allies in the English court. King Charles’s sister Henrietta — who also happened to be married to King Louis’s brother, the Duke of Orléans — also played a significant role in this effort, acting as an intermediary between the two kings. In the end, Louis found some of his best allies within Charles’s inner circle of advisors, known as the Cabal Ministry. Now, “cabal” was actually an acronym of the names of the group’s ministers: the Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, the Earl of Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, the Baron Ashley of Wimborne St Giles, and the Duke of Lauderdale. But the name (meaning “a conspiratorial group of plotters or intriguers”) also aptly described these guys … well, at least two of them (as you’ll see).

The Cabal Ministry
The Cabal Ministry

Over the next few years, Croissy and Charles’s representatives hammered out a mutually beneficial arrangement. For his part, Charles agreed to abandon England’s Triple Alliance with Sweden and the Dutch Republic, militarily support a new French campaign against the Dutch, suspend penal laws against Catholics in England and — here’s the real kicker — declare  “the truth of the Roman Catholic religion … [and] reconcile himself with the Church of Rome as soon as his country’s affairs permit.” Louis, on the other hand, agreed to grant England certain territories in the Netherlands following a successful execution of the war and support Charles financially and militarily against any domestic uprising against reconciliation with Rome.

On May 22, 1670, Croissy and his two allies in the Cabal Ministry, Clifford and Arlington, signed this secret Treaty of Dover. In true conspiratorial fashion, the other three members of the Cabal were completely unaware of its existence when Charles sent two of them, Buckingham and Ashley, to negotiate a public treaty with Louis. This “cover treaty” addressed the military alliance, but maintained the secrecy of the religious clauses by leaving them out. It was subsequently signed by the entire Cabal Ministry on December 21, 1670.

Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh
Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh
Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington
Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington

The only two members of the Cabal Ministry
who knew of the Secret Treaty

The aftermath …

On March 15, 1672, Charles issued the Declaration of Indulgence,  relaxing penal laws against Catholics and Protestant nonconformists. A few weeks later, the French and the English attacked the Dutch, whose forces were led by Prince William of Orange, Louis’s cousin and Charles’s own nephew. Makes for an uncomfortable family reunion, doesn’t it? The war went badly for the English and the French, and while Louis fought on for several years, Parliament eventually forced Charles to end hostilities and withdraw the Declaration of Indulgence. Consequently, the terms of the secret treaty were not publicized and, in fact, remained secret until 1771.

Charles’s motives for entering into the Secret Treaty of Dover are still debated by historians. Did he want to unite Catholics and Protestant dissenters in order to shore up the monarchy? Did he want to ride the coattails of France, Europe’s strongest power?  Did he just resent the Dutch that much for earlier English defeats at their hands? Did he truly desire to reconcile England with the Catholic Church? It’s largely speculative. One thing is clear: whatever his motivations were, in the end, it was truly a “mission impossible.” Whatever plans Charles may have had for restoring a Catholic monarchy in England were utterly dashed by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when his younger brother — the openly Catholic James II — was overthrown by their nephew, William of Orange (incidentally also James’s own son-in-law).

© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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