The flight of Shaftesbury proclaimed the triumph of the King. His marvellous sagacity had told him when the struggle was over and further resistance useless. But the country leaders, who had delayed to answer the Earl's call, still believed opposition possible; and Monmouth, with Lord Essex, Lord Howard of Ettrick, Lord Russell, Hampden, and Algernon Sidney held meetings with the view of founding an association whose agitation should force on the King the assembly of a Parliament. The more desperate spirits who had clustered round him as he lay hidden in the City took refuge in plots of assassination, and in a plan for murdering Charles and his brother as they passed the Rye-house on their road from London to Newmarket. Both projects were betrayed, and though they were wholly distinct from one another the cruel ingenuity of the Crown lawyers blended them into one. Lord Essex saved himself from a traitor's death by suicide in the Tower. Lord Russell, convicted on a charge of sharing in the Rye-house plot, was beheaded in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The same fate awaited Algernon Sidney. Monmouth fled in terror over sea, and his flight was followed by a series of prosecutions for sedition directed against his followers.
In 1683 the Constitutional opposition which had held Charles so long in check lay crushed at his feet. A weaker man might easily have been led into a wild tyranny by the mad outburst of loyalty which greeted his triumph. On the very day when the crowd around Russell's scaffold were dipping their handkerchiefs in his blood, as in the blood of a martyr, the University of Oxford solemnly declared that the doctrine of passive obedience, even to the worst of rulers, was a part of religion. But Charles saw that immense obstacles still lay in the road of a mere tyranny. The great Tory party which had rallied to his succour against the Exclusionists were still steady for parliamentary and legal government. The Church was as powerful as ever, and the mention of a renewal of the Indulgence to Nonconformists had to be withdrawn before the opposition of the bishops. He was careful therefore during the few years which remained to him to avoid the appearance of any open violation of public law. He suspended no statute. He imposed no tax by royal authority.
[Authorities. - To those given before we may add Welwood's " Memoirs," Luttrell's "Diary," and above all Lord Macaulay's "History of England."]
Nothing indeed shows more completely how great a work the Long Parliament had done than a survey of the reign of Charles the Second. "The King," Hallam says very truly, "was restored to nothing but what the law had preserved to him." No attempt was made to restore the abuses which the patriots of 1641 had swept away. Parliament was continually summoned. In spite of its frequent refusal of supplies, no attempt was ever made to raise money by unconstitutional means. The few illegal proclamations issued under Clarendon ceased with his fall. No effort was made to revive the Star Chamber and the Court of High Commission; and if judges were servile and juries sometimes packed, there was no open interference with the course of justice. In two remarkable points freedom had made an advance even on 1641. From the moment when printing began to tell on public opinion, it had been gagged by a system of licences. The regulations framed under Henry the Eighth subjected the press to the control of the Star Chamber, and the Martin Marprelate libels brought about a yet more stringent control under Elizabeth. Even the Long Parliament laid a heavy hand on the press, and the great remonstrance of Milton in his "Areopagitica" fell dead on the ears of his Puritan associates.
But the statute for the regulation of printing which was passed immediately after the Restoration expired finally in 1679, and the temper of the Parliament at once put an end to any attempt at re-establishing the censorship. To the new freedom of the press the Habeas Corpus Act added a new security for the personal freedom of every Englishman. Against arbitrary imprisonment provision had been made in the earliest ages by a famous clause in the Great Charter. No free man could be held in prison save on charge or conviction of crime or for debt, and every prisoner on a criminal charge could demand as a right from the Court of King's Bench the issue of a writ of "habeas corpus," which bound his gaoler to produce both the prisoner and the warrant on which he was imprisoned, that the court might judge whether he was imprisoned according to law. In cases however of imprisonment on a warrant of the royal Council it had been sometimes held by judges that the writ could not be issued, and under Clarendon's administration instances had in this way occurred of imprisonment without legal remedy.
But his fall was quickly followed by the introduction of a bill to secure this right of the subject, and after a long struggle the Act which is known as the Habeas Corpus Act passed finally in 1679. By this great statute the old practice of the law was freed from all difficulties and exceptions. Every prisoner committed for any crime save treason or felony was declared entitled to his writ even in the vacations of the courts, and heavy penalties were enforced on judges or gaolers who refused him this right. Every person committed for felony or treason was entitled to be released on bail, unless indicted at the next session of gaol delivery after his commitment, and to be discharged if not indicted at the sessions which followed. It was forbidden under the heaviest penalties to send a prisoner into any places or fortresses beyond the seas.
Galling to the Crown as the freedom of the press and the Habeas Corpus Act were soon found to be, Charles made no attempt to curtail the one or to infringe the other. But while cautious to avoid rousing popular resistance, he moved coolly and resolutely forward on the path of despotism. It was in vain that Halifax pressed for energetic resistance to the aggressions of France, for the recall of Monmouth, or for the calling of a fresh Parliament. Like every other English statesman he found he had been duped, and that now his work was done he was suffered to remain in office but left without any influence in the government. Hyde, who was created Earl of Rochester, still remained at the head of the Treasury; but Charles soon gave more of his confidence to the supple and acute Sunderland. Parliament, in defiance of the Triennial Act, which after having been repealed had been re-enacted but without the safeguards of the original act, remained unassembled during the remainder of the King's reign. His secret alliance with France furnished Charles with the funds he immediately required, and the rapid growth of the customs through the increase of English commerce promised to give him a revenue which, if peace were preserved, would save him from the need of a fresh appeal to the Commons. All opposition was at an end.