The bill however failed in the Commons; and a grant of supply was only obtained by Danby's profuse bribery. The progress of the war abroad, indeed, was rousing panic in England faster than Danby could allay it. New successes of the French arms in Flanders, and a defeat of the Prince of Orange at Cassel, stirred the whole country to a cry for war. The two Houses echoed the cry in an address to the Crown; but Charles parried the blow by demanding a supply before the war was declared, and on the refusal of the still suspicious House prorogued the Parliament. Fresh and larger subsidies from France enabled him to continue this prorogation for seven months. But the silence of the Parliament did little to silence the country; and Danby took advantage of the popular cry for war to press an energetic course of action on the King. In its will to check French aggression the Cavalier party was as earnest as the Puritan, and Danby aimed at redeeming his failure at home by uniting the Parliament through a vigorous policy abroad. As usual, Charles appeared to give way. He was himself for the moment uneasy at the appearance of the French on the Flemish coast, and he owned that "he could never live at ease with his subjects " if Flanders were abandoned.
He allowed Danby, therefore, to press on both parties the necessity for mutual concessions, and to define the new attitude of England by a step which was to produce momentous results. The Prince of Orange was invited to England, and wedded to Mary, the presumptive heiress of the Crown. The marriage promised a close political union in the future with Holland, and a corresponding opposition to the ambition of France. With the country it was popular as a Protestant match, and as ensuring a Protestant successor to James. But Lewis was bitterly angered; he rejected the English propositions of peace, and again set his army in the field. Danby was ready to accept the challenge, and the withdrawal of the English ambassador from Paris was followed by an assembly of the Parliament. A warlike speech from the throne was answered by a warlike address from the House, supplies were voted, and an army raised. But the actual declaration of war still failed to appear. While Danby threatened France, Charles was busy turning the threat to his own profit, and gaining time by prorogations for a series of base negotiations. At one stage he demanded from Lewis a fresh pension for the next three years as the price of his good offices with the allies.
Danby stooped to write the demand, and Charles added, "This letter is written by my order, C.R."A force of three thousand English soldiers were landed at Ostend; but the allies were already broken by their suspicions of the King's real policy, and Charles soon agreed for a fresh pension to recall the brigade. The bargain was hardly struck when Lewis withdrew the terms of peace he had himself offered, and on the faith of which England had ostensibly retired from the scene. Once more Danby offered aid to the allies, but all faith in England was lost. One power after another gave way to the new French demands, and though Holland, the original cause of the war, was saved, the Peace of Nimeguen made Lewis the arbiter of Europe.
Disgraceful as the peace was to England, it left Charles the master of a force of twenty thousand men levied for the war he refused to declare, and with nearly a million of French money in his pocket. His course had roused into fresh life the old suspicions of his perfidy, and of a secret plot with Lewis for the ruin of English freedom and of English religion. That there was such a plot we know; and from the moment of the Treaty of Dover the hopes of the Catholic party mounted even faster than the panic of the Protestants. But they had been bitterly disappointed by the King's withdrawal from his schemes after his four years ineffectual struggle, and by his seeming return to the policy of Clarendon. Their anger and despair were revealed in letters from English Jesuits, and the correspondence of Coleman. Coleman, the secretary of the Duchess of York, and a busy intriguer, had gained sufficient knowledge of the real plans of the King and of his brother to warrant him in begging for money from Lewis for the work of saving Catholic interests from Danby's hostility by intrigues in the Parliament. A passage from one of his letters gives us a glimpse of the wild dreams which were stirring among the hotter Catholics of the time. "They had a mighty work on their hands," he wrote, "no less than the conversion of three kingdoms, and by that perhaps the utter subduing of a pestilent heresy which had so long domineered over a great part of the northern world.
Success would give the greatest blow to the Protestant religion that it had received since its birth." The suspicions which had been stirred in the public mind mounted into alarm when the Peace of Nimeguen suddenly left Charles master - as it seemed - of the position; and it was of this general panic that one of the vile impostors who are always thrown to the surface at times of great public agitation was ready to take advantage by the invention of a Popish plot. Titus Oates, a Baptist minister before the Restoration, a curate and navy chaplain after it, but left penniless by his infamous character, had sought bread in a conversion to Catholicism, and had been received into Jesuit houses at Valladolid and St. Omer. While he remained there, he learnt the fact of a secret meeting of the Jesuits in London, which was probably nothing but the usual congregation of the order. On his expulsion for misconduct this single fact widened in his fertile brain into a plot for the subversion of Protestantism and the death of the King. His story was laid before Charles, and received with cool incredulity; but Oates made affidavit of its truth before a London magistrate, Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey, and at last managed to appear before the Council. He declared that he had been trusted with letters which disclosed the Jesuit plans.