Sunday, July 25, 2010

Guest post: Charles II's London in July 1660

Gillian Bagwell is the author of the upcoming novel The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London’s most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of King Charles II.

This is the third in a series of monthly articles chronicling the events from May 1660 through January 1661, in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Restoration of the English monarchy, the reopening of the playhouses, which had been closed for eighteen years under Cromwell, and the first appearance of an actress on the English stage, in contrast to the old practice of boys playing women’s roles.

For further information about the articles and Gillian’s books, please visit her website,

JULY 1660

July 1660 was another busy month for the newly restored Charles II and his government.

More men who had been responsible for the sentencing and execution of Charles I were arrested.  On Thursday, July 12, Thomas Scott and Colonel Daniel Axtell took up residence in the Tower, and the cell doors slammed on Sir Arthur Haslerig and Sir Harry Vane a day later.  The identity of the King’s executioner had not yet been determined, and in fact it never was, but one suspect, William Giffen, was imprisoned in the Castle of Edinburgh.

In April 1660, before Parliament invited him to return to England, Charles II had issued the Declaration of Breda, promising full pardon to anyone who applied to him for their actions during the wars.  The only people to be exempted were “Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, John Bradshaw, John Cooke, their pretended solicitor, and all others who did actually sit and vote in the murder of our royal father.”  The House of Commons passed the Indemnity Bill in early July, but the House of Lords wanted to exempt everyone who had either sat in judgment on Charles I or signed his death warrant, with the sole exception of Colonel Hutchinson.  The King, frustrated by the delay and the possibility that the Lords would negate his promise to his newly-loyal subjects that they wouldn’t have to look over their shoulders in fear, went to the Lords and harangued them to pass the Bill as he had originally intended it.

As always, money was a problem.  The Army and the Navy were costing £6000 a day.  To give a general idea of how much money this was, according to Liza Picard’s Restoration London, a penny would buy a pound of the cheapest cheese, three red or white herrings, or a loaf of bread, depending on the size.  Not everyone thought the expense of the armed forces was necessary or advisable.  Lord Falkland argued that it was inconsistent for there to be both a Parliament and an army, and now the wars were over, the army should be disbanded in favor of the Trained Bands.  Colonel Birch thought an army endangered the people’s liberties.  Not surprisingly, the King didn’t agree, and the issue of a standing army remained contentious throughout his reign.

Another pressing problem was whether the Church of England would keep some of its Presbyterian aspects or whether the bishops would be returned to full authority.  On July 9, the Grand Committee for Religion debated all day and through an hour of darkness until candles were brought it, and then while the candles were twice blown out.  Finally they decided the King could “call such a number of divines as His Majesty shall think fit to advise concerning matters of religion,” and adjourned until October.

Not all was business.  On Thursday, July 5, the King, his brothers the Dukes or York and Gloucester, and both Houses of Parliament were entertained at the Guildhall with an elaborate pageant, “London’s Glory Represented by Time, Truth, and Fame.”  The Diurnal of Thomas Rugg recorded that “A lane [was] made in the Citty … by the livery men of several companies; and many pageants in the streets….  At Cheap sid his Majesty beheld a famous pagien, and staid there for som little space, where were speeches made by the lady paganetts.”  John Evelyn “… saw his Majestie go with as much pompe & splendor as any Earthly prince could do to the greate Citty feast … but the exceeding raine which fell all that day, much eclips’d its luster.”  Ah, summertime in London.  The average temperature for the month was 15˚C/59˚F.  Evelyn noted the “immense cost” of the event, which according to several sources, was £7888 2 s. 6d., enough to support those expensive soldiers and sailors for about 31 hours.

Our friend the diarist Samuel Pepys took up his post as Clerk of the Acts, after making a deal to pay £50 a year to old Mr. Barlow, who had held the post under Charles I and who Pepys had been dismayed to learn was still alive.  The King was continuing to reward his loyal supporters with titles.  Pepys’s patron became the Earl of Sandwich.  General Sir George Monck, who had almost single-handedly engineered the Restoration, was made the Duke of Albemarle and Master of the Horse.  James Butler, the Marquess of Ormonde, who had been one of the King’s most valued companions and advisors in exile, was made Grand Master of the Royal Household. 

Londoners continued to flock to have Charles touch them to cure them of the King’s Evil, as scrofula was known.  In fact there were so many people lining up to be touched that some limits had to be imposed.  Charles touched 250 people at the Banqueting House on Monday, July 2, but then it was announced that he would touch only on Fridays, would only touch 200 people each week, and those wanting to be touched had to apply to the Royal Surgeon, Mr. Knight, in Russell Street, for tickets.  Still no democracy, however –Mr. Knight would call at the homes of “persons of quality” who wanted tickets. 

The King was engaged in other touching that was not so wearisome.  On Friday the 13th, Pepys heard “great doings of music at the next house,” and learned that Charles and his brothers were “there with Mrs. Palmer, a pretty woman that they have a fancy to, to make her husband a cuckold.”  Pepys was uncharacteristically behind on keeping up with the gossip.  Charles had met Barbara Palmer in Holland in February and she had almost immediately become his mistress.  In fact by the time Pepys was writing, she was already about six weeks pregnant by the King.

Although the playhouses had not yet been given official permission to open, at least three companies were performing.  Sir Henry Herbert reminded the actors that the Office of the Revels had had authority for “the allowance of plays, the ordering of players, and the permitting of playhouses … time out of mind,” and started cracking down.  On July 28, John Rhodes was fined £4 6s. for unauthorized performances at the Cockpit up to that date, and he and Christopher Beeston at Salisbury Court each promised to pay Sir Henry £4 a week when their companies acted.

Meanwhile, Thomas Killigrew and William Davenant were taking swift action to secure a monopoly on theatre in London.  Davenant had a patent issued by Charles I in 1639 giving him permission to build a theatre and establish an acting company.  On July 9, 1660, Killigrew got an order for a royal warrant permitting him to do the same.  On July 19, Davenant drafted a further order to be presented for the King’s signature.

It provided “a Grant unto our trusty and well beloved Thomas Killigrew Esquire, one of the Groomes of the Bedchamber and Sir William Davenant Knight, to give them full power and authoritie to erect Two Companys of Players consisting respectively of such persons as they shall chuse and apoint, and to purchase or build and erect at their charges as they shall think fitt Two House or Theatres with all convenient Roomes and other necessaries therto appertaining for the representations of Tragedys, Comedys, Playes, Operas, and all other entertainments of that nature.”

Davenant took a bold step further.  The document, written in the voice of the King, ordered, “Our pleasure is that there shall be no more places of Representations or Companys of Actors or Representors of sceanes in the Cittys of London or Westminster or in the liberties of them then the Two to be now erected by virtue of this authoritie, but that all others shall be absolutely suppressed.”

Sources and further reading:


The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Met Office Hadley Center Observations Datasets


1660: The Year of Restoration, Patrick Morrah (Beacon Press, 1960)

The Commonwealth and Restoration Stage, Leslie Hotson (Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1928)

The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. Guy de la Bédoyère (Boydell Press, 1995; First Person Singular, 2004)

The London Stage, 1660-1800, A Calendar of Plays, Entertainments, and Afterpieces Together with Casts, Box-Receipts, and Contemporary Comment, Part I, 1660-1700, ed. William Van Lennep et al. (Southern Illinois University Press, 1963)

Pepys’s Diary, Volume I, selected and edited by Robert Latham (Folio Society, 1996)

Restoration London: Everyday Life in London 1660-1670, Liza Picard (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997)


  1. I loved reading this guest post,I find the Restoration fascinating.I too can heartily recommend Liza Picard's book "Restoration London" for anyone interested in the social history of the period.

  2. The Restoration is one of my favourite historical periods to read about too! For all Charles II's womanising, I find him a fascinating character!

  3. Didn't know Pepys' patron was the Earl of BLT!