By Blogger-in-Residence: Matthew Groves
On 29th May 2020 those who remembered, celebrated the 360th anniversary of the Restoration of the British Monarchy. In 1660 the English and Scottish attempt to function as republics had failed miserably. England’s Protestant elite turned to their exiled Scottish king in France, Charles Stuart. They had committed regicide in 1649, executing his father, Charles I (known as Charles Martyr by the Anglican Church) after a trial, and had hunted for Charles II up and down the land after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Charles’ escape, exhausting and gruelling as it was for him, has given England a romantic tale of escape and derring-do that is also historical fact. For the Protestant elite to turn back to this abused monarch and ask him to return and take his place on his rightful throne was a sign of how far republicanism had failed and was to be rejected forever in this island.
In his various adventures while on his escape to his mother, the Queen, in France there was one episode when King Charles hid in an oak tree at Boscobel House, which gave Restoration Day its other, more familiar name – Oak Apple Day. The story of King Charles’s adventures and the customs of Oak Apple Day is for another blog, but today we will look at what the Restoration meant in terms of English values and life. Having groaned under the revolutionary yoke, Restoration for most Englishmen meant regained freedom and merriment. Merrie England was reborn. The England, the spirit of which luminaries such as William Shakespeare had kept alive after the austere Reformation, with their characters such as Sir John Falstaff, was able to re-emerge. Morris dancing, Christmas pudding, the theatre, hunting and bear baiting were all restored as the officious moralism of the Puritan regime was roundly rejected.
Under the austere and judgemental Puritans celebrating Christmas Day was not allowed. Anything associated with what the Puritans considered worldly enjoyment was persecuted. Now by today’s standards we might find some of the louche and dissolute aspects of Restoration England a little shocking. It must be remembered this was a reaction against the severity of puritanism. The world of the actress and the whore was not really something of which middle class society today would necessarily approve. Of course it was the middle classes who gave the puritan republicans the strongest support against the dissolute aristocracy. In so doing they crushed the life and merriment out of England. Like all revolutionary movements, the urge for moral purity crushed the life out of society.
Enter the Merry Monarch! His mistresses, his parties and the entertainments were by no means puritan. And yet England flourished. The court and the country were able to breath again and great cultural achievements were attained in the theatre and the arts from Dryden to the Restoration Spectaculars (a uniquely English form of opera).
This historical event 360 years ago, sadly somewhat overlooked teaches us some important lessons. While today the Twenty-first puritan is more concerned with political correctness than predestination, the spirit of officious oppression and moral worthiness that we face is the same. Under a different guise, in the name once again of modernity and moral righteousness, attacks on liberty, legal restrictions, attempts interestingly to replace Christmas with something else, the same spirit stalks England. We must be vigilant and aware of the historical lessons.
While just as today some of those facing censure are morally questionable, we must be aware that as a Royal realm we are a nation that thrives in a climate of true liberty. G K Chesterton once pointed out that liberty unlike revolution is always conservative and traditional. Our traditions are those of freedom, they are the customs and values of Merry England. We must not once again allow those who claim to be more morally worthy to set a stultifying and restrictive climate.
The message of the Restoration is that if we stay true to our traditions, aware of our history, if we keep up our customs, we will remain a free people. Freedom does sometimes mean that the louche and morally questionable is permitted. It does mean that too much sac and flesh is consumed. It also means that we remain true to England and can thrive as subjects of the Crown.