Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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The Soldier's Fortune

Historical context — the Restoration of Charles II


"There lies the greatest comfort of my uneasy life; he is one of those fools, forsooth, that are led by the nose by knaves to rail against the King and the government, and is mightily fond of being thought of a party."

Charles II, Victoria and Albert MuseumIn an age when the King still ruled as well as reigned there were no political parties in the modern sense because politicians were not organised into coherent groups able to conduct responsible government. Ministers were in fact as well as name "King's Servants". Parliament was split into a series of "connections", groups linked variously by a common local background, e.g. East Anglia, West Country, by family ties, by obligation to a great local landowner, etc., etc. Nevertheless both ordinarily and most especially in times of national crisis (such as the Popish plot and the reaction which followed) men felt themselves to be acting on principle, although this by no means pre-determined their conduct on particular issues. Originally "Tory" (Irish robber) and "Whig" (Scottish outlaw) were terms of abuse which became popular in the years of extreme reaction following the Popish plot. Broadly speaking the "Tory" "party" stood for the rights of the Church (Established Anglican) and King (Divine Right as often as not) and the "Whig" "party", largely of a Presbyterian background, for the power of Parliament, the constitutional rights of the subject and the supremacy of the law.

"I told him . . . that I had had the honour of serving the great monarch of France in his wars in Flanders, where I contracted great familiarity and intimacy with a gallant officer of the English troops in that service, one Captain Beaugard".

Louix XIV. Giraudon, ParisIn 1672 England went to war against the Dutch for the third time since the execution of Charles I. The wars of 1652-4 and 1665-7 were caused by commercial and maritime rivalry. The two countries were still competitors in 1672 but the situation was complicated by England Treaty obligations to France and the war was fought jointly with Louis XIV and principally to further French territorial ambitions. English troops were sent to Flanders and, although England withdrew from the war in 1674, continued there in Louis' service under the command of the Duke of Monmouth, the natural son of Charles II. They were not recalled until 1677 when Charles II underwent a change of heart, married his niece Mary to Louis' arch-enemy, William of Orange, and agreed with the Dutch that France should be forced to a settlement. In May 1678, peace was thought to be imminent and it was announced that the English troops were to be disbanded, but then negotiations were delayed and English reinforcements sent to Flanders. In August France and Holland finally came to terms and the English Army was disbanded.

In The Soldier's Fortune, Courtine says:

"A curse on the fates! Of all strumpets, fortune's the basest. `Twas fortune made me a soldier, a rogue in red, the grievance of the nation; fortune made the peace just when we were on the brink of a war; then fortune disbanded us, and lost us two months' pay.

(Act II, Sc. l.)

"Sir, I am a free-born subject of England and there are laws, look you, there are laws. . . "

The Execution of Charles I in Whitehall, 1649.  Engraving from a contemporary Dutch news-sheetThe right of a `free man" to freedom from imprisonment "unless by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land" went back to Magna Carta (1215). The writ of Habeas Corpus was the means whereby a prisoner secured a trial in case of arbitrary arrest since its issue obliged his gaolers to account for his detention in a Court of Law. In the years before the Civil War (see Petition of Right on the same point) and again under Charles II the Crown found means to evade its use in the case of certain political prisoners. There were "great delayes" and one prisoner was deliberately move) from the Tower of London to an island where the writ did not run. The "Whig" Parliament of 1679 elected at the height of national reaction to the Popish plot and the threat of arbitrary government, secured the Royal Assent to "The Habeas Corpus Act" which required that, on issue of the writ, gaolers should, within three days, bring "the Body of the Partie . . . committed" before a Court and "certifie the true causes of his . . . Imprisonment".

"In peaceable times !a man may eat and drink comfortably upon't; a private murder so done handsomely is worth money; but now that the nation's unsettled, there are so many general undertakers, that 'tis grown almost a monopoly: you may have a man murdered almost for little or nothing, and nobody e'er knows who did it neither".

Titus Oates, National Portrait GalleryThe "Popish plot" followed more than a decade of intrigue and secret understandings between Charles II and Louis XIV of France to reestablish Roman Catholicism in England by force if necessary. The "Plot" was the invention of Titus Oates, an Anglican clergyman of dubious connections, and his friend, Dr. Israel Tonge, also a cleric and a passionate anti-Catholic. Oates claimed to have discovered a Roman Catholic plot to assassinate the King, massacre Protestants and set James, Duke of York, the King's Romish brother, on the throne to rule with the help of a Jesuit clique. The plot seemed the more credible to a credulous public when Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, the London magistrate who had taken the depositions from Oates and Tonge, was found dead on Primrose Hill with a sword through his body. He was immediately assumed to have been murdered to close his mouth, Parliament resolved that "there hath been and still is a damnable and hellish Plot, contrived and carried on by Popish Recusants, for the assassinating and murdering the King and rooting out and destroying the Protestant religion" and national panic ensued. Arrests and executions followed and the new "Whig" Parliament of 1679, elected at the height of the reaction, tried, among other things, to pass a bill to exclude the Duke of York from the succession in favour of the next Protestant heir. The next Protestant heir, in the legitimate line, was Mary, wife of William of Orange.

Time line

1649 Charles I executed.
1650 Montrose hanged.
  Cromwell returns from subjugation of Ireland.
1652 First War against the Dutch.
  Thomas Otway born.
1653 Cromwell made Lord Protector.
  Jews readmitted to England.
1658 Death of Cromwell.
  Elizabeth Barry born.
1660 The Restoration of Charles II and execution of the regicides.
  The Royal Society founded.
1663 John Milton completed "Paradise Lost".
1664 "Tartuffe" produced privately by Molière.
1665 The Second Dutch War.
  Great Plague swept London.
1666 Great Fire destroys much of the City.
1667 Treaty of Breda ended Dutch War and England kept New York.
  Fall of Clarendon, Chief Minister and James II's father-in-law.
  The Cabal (Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Anthony Ashley Cooper and Lauderdale) constituted Charles II's intimate ministers.
1670 The Treaty, and Secret Treaty, of Dover made with Louis XIV-two differing plans to place England and Europe under the influence and 'power of the
  French Catholic monarchy.
  Birth of William Congreve.
1672 The Third Dutch War.
  Revolution in Holland, Republic overthrown.
1673 Death of Molière.
1677 Mary, daughter of James II, married William of Orange.
  Racine's Phèdre first produced.
1678 Otway and his regiment set out for Flanders.
  Titus Oates' Popish Plot creates national crisis.
1679 First Whig Parliament. Habeas Corpus Act.
1680 The Soldier's Fortune is produced at the Duke's Theatre.
1682 Venice Preserv'd is produced at the Duke's Theatre.
  Shaftesbury, the Whig leader, flees the country.
1683 Thomas Otway dies.
1685 Charles II dies.


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Last modified: 2012-03-15