In England the irritation was great and universal, but the public resentment fell on Clarendon alone. Charles had been bitterly angered when in 1663 his bill to vest a dispensing power in the Crown had been met by Clarendon's open opposition. The Presbyterian party, repre sented by Ashley, and the Catholics, led by the Earl of Bristol, alike sought his overthrow; in the Court he was opposed by Bennet, afterwards Earl of Arlington, a creature of the King's. But Clarendon was still strong in his intimate connexion with the King's affairs, in the marriage of his daughter, Anne Hyde, to the Duke of York, in his capacity for business, above all in the support of the Church, and the confidence of the royalist and orthodox House of Commons. Foiled in their efforts to displace him, his rivals had availed themselves of the jealousy of the merchant-class to drive him against his will into the war with Holland; and though the Chancellor succeeded in forcing the Five Mile Act through the Houses in the teeth of Ashley's protests, the calculations of his enemies were soon verified The union between Clarendon and the Parliament was broken by the war.
The Parliament was enraged by his counsel for its dissolution, and by his proposal to raise troops without a Parliamentary grant, and his opposition to the inspection of accounts, in which they saw an attempt to re-establish the one thing they hated most, a standing army. Charles could at last free himself from the minister who had held him in check so long; the Chancellor was dismissed from office, and driven to take refuge in France. By the exile of Clarendon, the death of Southampton, and the retirement of Ormond and Nicholas, the party of constitutional loyalists in the Council ceased to exist; and the section which had originally represented the Presbyterians, and which under the guidance of Ashley had bent to purchase toleration even at the cost of increasing the prerogatives of the Crown, came to the front of affairs. The religious policy of Charles had as yet been defeated by the sturdy Churchmanship of the Parliament, the influence of Clarendon, and the reluctance of the Presbyterians as a body to accept the Royal "indulgence" at the price of a toleration of Catholicism and a recognition of the King's power to dispense with Parliamentary statutes.
The first steps of the new ministry in releasing Nonconformists from prison, in suffering conventicles to reopen, and suspending the operation of the Act of Uniformity, were in open defiance of the known will of the two Houses. But when Charles again proposed to his counsellors a general toleration he no longer found himself supported by them as in 1663. Even Ashley's mood was changed. Instead of toleration they pressed for a union of Protestants which would have utterly foiled the King's projects; and a scheme of Protestant comprehension which had been approved by the moderate divines on both sides, by Tillotson and Stillingfleet on the part of the Church as well as by Manton and Baxter on the part of the Nonconformists, was laid before the House of Commons. Even its rejection failed to bring Ashley and his party back to their old position. They were still for toleration, but only for a toleration the benefit of which did not extend to Catholics, " in respect the laws have determined the principles of the Romish religion to be inconsistent with the safety of your Majesty's person and government." The policy of the Council in fact was determined by the look of public affairs abroad.
Lewis had quickly shown the real cause of the eagerness with which he had pressed on the Peace of Breda between England and the Dutch. He had secured the neutrality of the Emperor by a secret treaty which shared the Spanish dominions between the two monarchs in case the King of Spain died without an heir. England, as he believed, was held in check by Charles, and like Holland was too exhausted by the late war to meddle with a new one. On the very day therefore on which the treaty was signed he sent in his formal claims on the Low Countries, and his army at once took the field. The greater part of Flanders was occupied and six great fortresses secured in two months. Franche Comté was overrun in seventeen days. Holland protested and appealed to England for aid; but her appeals remained at first unanswered. England sought in fact to tempt Holland, Spain, and France in turn by secret offers of alliance. From France she demanded, as the price of her aid against Holland and pethaps Spain, a share in the eventual partition of the Spanish dominions, and an assignment to her in such a case of the Spanish Empire in the New World. But all her offers were alike refused.
The need of action became clearer every hour to the English ministers, and wider views gradually set aside the narrow dreams of merely national aggrandizement. The victories of Lewis, the sudden revelation of the strength of France, roused even in the most tolerant minds a dread of Catholicism. Men felt instinctively that the very existence of Protestantism and with it of civil freedom was again to be at stake. Arlington himself had a Dutch wife and had resided in Spain; and Catholic as in heart he was, thought more of the political interests of England, and of the invariable resolve of its statesmen since Elizabeth's day to keep the French out of Flanders, than of the interests of Catholicism. Lewis, warned of his danger, strove to lull the general excitement by offers of peace to Spain, while he was writing to Turenne, " I am turning over in my head things that are far from impossible, and go to carry them into execution whatever they may cost." Three armies were, in fact, ready to march on Spain, Germany, and Flanders, when Arlington despatched Sir William Temple to the Hague, and the signature of a Triple Alliance between England, Holland, and Sweden bound Lewis to the terms he had offered as a blind, and forced on him the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.