The extent of these provisions showed the pressure which Charles felt, but Shaftesbury was undoubtedly right in setting the plan aside as at once insufficient and impracticable. He continued to advocate the Exclusion in the royal Council; and a bill for depriving James of his right to the Crown, and for devolving it on the next Protestant in the line of succession was introduced into the Commons by his adherents, and passed the House by a large majority. It was known that Charles would use his influence with the Peers for its rejection, and the Earl therefore fell back on the tactics of Pym. A bold Remonstrance was prepared in the Commons. The City of London was ready with an address to the two Houses in favour of the bill. All Charles could do But delay would have been useless had the Country party remained at one. The temper of the nation and of the House of Commons was so hotly pronounced in favour of the exclusion of the Duke, that union among the ministers must in the end have secured it and spared England the necessity for the Revolution of 1688. The wiser leaders of the Country party, indeed, were already leaning to the very change which that Revolution brought about.
If James were passed over, his daughter Mary, the wife of the Prince of Orange, stood next in the order of succession: and the plan of Temple, Essex, and Halifax after the failure of their bill of Securities, was to bring the Prince over to England during the prorogation, to introduce him into the Council, and to pave his way to the throne. Unhappily Shaftesbury was contemplating a very different course. He distrusted the Prince of Orange as a mere adherent of the royal house, and as opposed to any weakening of the royal power or invasion of the royal prerogative. His motive for setting aside William's claims is probably to be found in the maxim ascribed to him, that "a bad title makes a good king." Whatever were his motives, however, he had resolved to set aside the claims of James and his children, as well as William's own claim, and to place the Duke of Monmouth on the throne. Monmouth was reputed to be the eldest of the King's bastards, a weak and worthless profligate in temper, but popular through his personal beauty and his reputation for bravery.
The tale was set about of a secret marriage between the King and his mother; Shaftesbury induced Charles to put the Duke at the head of the troops sent to repress a rising of the Covenanters in the west of Scotland, and on his return pressed the King to give him the command of the Guards, which would have put the only military force possessed by the Crown in Monmouth's hands.
Sunderland, Halifax, and Essex, however, were not only steadily opposed to Shaftesbury's project, but saw themselves marked out for ruin in the event of Shaftesbury's success. They had advised the dissolution of the last Parliament; and the Earl's anger had vented itself in threats that the advisers of the dissolution should pay for it with their heads. The danger came home to them when a sudden illness of the King and the absence of James made Monmouth's accession a possible contingency. The three ministers at once induced Charles to recall the Duke of York; and though he withdrew to Scotland on the King's recovery, Charles deprived Monmouth of his charge as Captain-General of the Forces and ordered him like James to leave the realm. Left alone in his cause by the opposition of his colleagues, Shaftesbury threw himself more and more on the support of the Plot. The prosecution of its victims was pushed recklessly on. Three Catholics were hanged in London. Eight priests were put to death in the country. Pursuivants and informers spread terror through every Catholic household. He counted on the reassembling of the Parliament to bring all this terror to bear upon the King. But Charles had already marked the breach which the Earl's policy had made in the ranks of the Country party.
He saw that Shaftesbury was unsupported by any of his colleagues save Russell. To Temple, Essex, or Halifax it seemed possible to bring about the succession of Mary without any violent revolution; but to set aside not only the right of James but the right of his Protestant children, and even of the Prince of Orange, was to ensure a civil war. It was with their full support therefore that Charles deprived Shaftesbury of his post of Lord President of the Council. The dismissal was the signal for a struggle to whose danger Charles was far from blinding himself. What had saved him till now was his cynical courage. In the midst of the terror and panic of the Plot men "wondered to see him quite cheerful amidst such an intricacy of troubles," says the courtly Reresby, " but it was not in his nature to think or perplex himself much about anything." Even in the heat of the tumult which followed on Shaftesbury's dismissal, Charles was seen fishing and sauntering as usual in Windsor Park. But closer observers than Reresby saw beneath this veil of indolent unconcern a consciousness of new danger. " From this time," says Burnet, "his temper was observed to change very visibly." He became in fact " sullen and thoughtful; he saw that he had to do with a strange sort of people, that could neither be managed nor frightened." But he faced the danger with his old unscrupulous coolness.
He reopened secret negotiations with France. Lewis was as alarmed as Charles himself at the warlike temper of the nation, and as anxious to prevent the assembly of a Parliament; but the terms on which he offered a subsidy were too humiliating even for the King's acceptance. The failure forced him to summon a new Parliament; and the panic, which Shaftesbury was busily feeding with new tales of massacre and invasion, returned members even more violent than the members of the House he had just dismissed. A host of petitions called on the King to suffer Parliament to meet at the opening of 1680. Even the Council shrank from the King's proposal to prorogue its assembly to November, 1680, but Charles persisted. Alone as he stood, he was firm in his resolve to gain time, for time, as he saw, was working in his favour. The tide of public sympathy was beginning to turn. The perjury of Oates proved too much at last for the credulity of juries; and the acquittal of four of his victims was a sign that the panic was beginning to ebb. A far stronger proof of this was seen in the immense efforts which Shaftesbury made to maintain it.