Although Cromwell had abolished the monarchy and had King Charles I executed, as so-called Lord Protector he achieved a level of power that made him a king in all but name. Indeed at one point he seriously considered having himself crowned as king, but thought better of it. Cromwell had...
Although Cromwell had abolished the monarchy and had King Charles I executed, as so-called Lord Protector he achieved a level of power that made him a king in all but name. Indeed at one point he seriously considered having himself crowned as king, but thought better of it. Cromwell had come to see himself as chosen by God to lead the country, and that he, and he alone, had what it took to bring much-needed stability to a nation still riven by deep religious and political divisions.
As such, Cromwell became isolated from both his fellow countrymen and from many of the Parliamentarians who had fought alongside him against King Charles I during the Civil Wars. Cromwell's divine sense of mission led to conflicts with Parliament strangely reminiscent of those that had taken place under Charles I. Eventually, Cromwell angrily dissolved the so-called Rump Parliament in what was effectively a military coup. It is ironic indeed that someone who fought so valiantly for the rights of Parliament against the monarchy should have treated the institution with the kind of high-handed contempt worthy of Charles I himself.
Though a deeply devout Christian, Cromwell resisted the call of many of his fellow Puritans for the establishment of a national church on Presbyterian lines. He was an Independent, that is to say someone who believed that individual congregations should determine their own forms of worship—so long as they were Protestant, of course.
In terms of personality, Charles II couldn't really have been more different to Cromwell. Aptly nicknamed "The Merry Monarch" he was a rather shallow, easygoing man who enjoyed the company of women, by whom he sired numerous illegitimate offspring. Charles had as little time for Parliament as his late father, but proved himself more skillful in dealing with their numerous grievances. Charles, in common with all the Stuart kings, had aspirations to be an absolute monarch, and cast envious eyes across the English Channel at his French cousin, Louis XIV. Indeed, Charles was able to rule without Parliament for the last four years of his life thanks to secret payments from Louis.
Under Charles, the Church of England was restored to the position of prominence it had lost under Cromwell. At the same time, religious uniformity was imposed throughout the realm. The Act of Uniformity (1662) and subsequent measures systematically excluded Puritans and other non-conformists from public life, and made it hard for them to practice their faith openly. Though it should be said that Charles was personally quite tolerant when it came to religious matters; his church policy was practical, not ideological, chiefly motivated by the necessity of establishing good order in the kingdom.
Charles's mother, wife and brother were Roman Catholics. (It is generally accepted that Charles himself converted to Catholicism on his death-bed). However, official persecution against Catholics remained in force throughout his reign. Again, this was for political reasons, as Charles shrewdly realized that any relaxation of restrictions on Catholics would be deeply unpopular and almost certainly undermine his throne. This was a lesson lost on his brother, James, Duke of York, who became—to date—Britain's last Catholic monarch upon Charles II's death in 1685.