Ever since the opening of his reign he had clung to a system of balance, had pitted Churchman against Nonconformist, and Ashley against Clarendon, partly to preserve his own independence, and partly with a view of winning some advantage to the Catholics from the political strife. The temper of the Commons had enabled Clarendon to baffle the King's efforts; and on his fall Charles felt strong enough to abandon the attempt to preserve a political balance, and had sought to carry out his designs with the single support of the Nonconformists. But the new policy had broken down like the old. The Nonconformists refused to betray the cause of Protestantism, and Shaftesbury, their leader, was pressing on measures which would rob Catholicism of the hopes it had gained from the conversion of James. In straits like these Charles resolved to win back the Commons by boldly adopting the policy on which the House was set. The majority of its members were Cavalier Churchmen, who regarded Sir Thomas Osborne, a dependant of Arlington's, as their representative in the royal councils. The King had already created Osborne Earl of Danby, and made him Lord Treasurer in Clifford's room.
In 1674 he frankly adopted the policy of Danby and his party in the Parliament.
The policy of Danby was in the main that of Clarendon. He had all Clarendon's love of the Church, his equal hatred of Popery and Dissent, his high notions of the prerogative tempered by a faith in Parliament and the law. His first measures were directed to allay the popular panic, and strengthen the position of James. Mary, the Duke's eldest child and after him the presumptive heir to the Crown, was confirmed by the royal order as a Protestant. Secret negotiations were opened for her marriage with William of Orange, the son of the King's sister Mary, who if James and his house were excluded stood next in succession to the crown. Such a marriage secured James against the one formidable rival to his claims, while it opened to William a far safer chance of mounting the throne at his father-in-law's death. The union between the Church and the Crown was ratified in conferences between Danby and the bishops; and its first fruits were seen in the rigorous enforcement of the law against conventicles, and the exclusion of all Catholics from court; while the Parliament which was assembled in 1675 was assured that the Test Act should be rigorously enforced. The change in the royal policy came not a moment too soon.
As it was, the aid of the Cavalier party which rallied round Danby hardly saved the King from the humiliation of being forced to recall the troops he still maintained in the French service. To gain a majority on this point Danby was forced to avail himself of a resource which from this time played for nearly a hundred years an important part in English politics. He bribed lavishly. He was more successful in winning back the majority of the Commons from their alliance with the Country party by reviving the old spirit of religious persecution. He proposed that the test which had been imposed by Clarendon on municipal officers should be extended to all functionaries of the State; that every member of either House, every magistrate and public officer, should swear never to take arms against the King or to "endeavour any alteration of the Protestant religion now established by law in the Church of England, or any alteration in the Government in Church and State as it is by law established." The Bill was forced through the Lords by the bishops and the Cavalier party, and its passage through the Commons was only averted by a quarrel on privilege between the two Houses which Shaftesbury dexterously fanned into flame.
On the other hand the Country party remained strong enough to hamper their grant of supplies with conditions unacceptable to the King. Eager as they were for the war with France which Danby promised, the Commons could not trust the King; and Danby was soon to discover how wise their distrust had been. For the Houses were no sooner prorogued than Charles revealed to him the negotiations he had been all the while carrying on with Lewis, and required him to sign a treaty by which, on consideration of a yearly pension guaranteed on the part of France, the two sovereigns bound themselves to enter into no engagements with other powers, and to lend each other aid in case of rebellion in their dominions. Such a treaty not only bound England to dependence on France, but freed the King from all Parliamentary control. But his minister pleaded in vain for delay and for the advice of the Council. Charles answered his entreaties by signing the treaty with his own hand. Danby found himself duped by the King as Shaftesbury had found himself duped; but his bold temper was only spurred to fresh plans for rescuing Charles from his bondage to Lewis. To do this the first step was to reconcile the King and the Parliament, which met after a prorogation of fifteen months.
The Country party stood in the way of such a reconciliation, but Danby resolved to break its strength by measures of unscrupulous vigour, for which a blunder of Shaftesbury's gave an opportunity. Shaftesbury despaired of bringing the House of Commons, elected as it had been fifteen years before in a moment of religious and political reaction, to any steady opposition to the Crown. He had already moved an address for a dissolution; and he now urged that as a statute of Edward the Third ordained that Parliaments should be held "once a year or oftener if need be," the Parliament by the recent prorogation of a year and a half had ceased legally to exist. The Triennial Act deprived such an argument of any force. But Danby represented it as a contempt of the House, and the Lords at his bidding committed its supporters, Shaftesbury, Buckingham, Salisbury, and Wharton, to the Tower. While the Opposition cowered under the blow, Danby pushed on a measure which was designed to win back alarmed Churchmen to confidence in the Crown. By the Bill for the security of the Church it was provided that on the succession of a king not a member of the Established Church the appointment of bishops should be vested in the existing prelates, and that the King's children should be placed in the guardianship of the Archbishop of Canterbury.