Impeachment of Clarendon Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The removal of Clarendon as Charles II’s chief adviser left the government of England to a dissolute king intent on attaining absolute power and a set of self-serving, corrupt courtiers, thus setting the stage for the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Summary of Event

The impeachment of Edward Hyde, first earl of Clarendon Clarendon, first earl of and England’s lord chancellor, was the first step in a concerted action to remove him from power. For some time, powerful enemies at court and in Parliament had been plotting against Clarendon, while King Charles II Charles II (king of England);Clarendon and had grown increasingly annoyed by the chancellor’s criticisms of his personal conduct. After the disastrous ending of the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667, Charles dismissed Clarendon as lord chancellor, thus leaving the way open for Parliament to proceed with his impeachment. [kw]Impeachment of Clarendon (Dec. 19, 1667) [kw]Clarendon, Impeachment of (Dec. 19, 1667) Government and politics;Dec. 19, 1667: Impeachment of Clarendon[2320] England;Dec. 19, 1667: Impeachment of Clarendon[2320] Clarendon, first earl of

Edward Hyde had long been one of the advisers of King Charles I. A member of both the Short and Long Parliaments, he was a moderate by nature. Though he was a loyal monarchist, he was also a constitutionalist, and although he was a loyal Anglican, as a statesman he believed that it was wiser to tolerate other faiths than to persecute them. Early on in the constitutional crisis of the 1640’, he had urged the king to consider the demands of Parliament instead of taking high-handed action against that body, but his advice was ignored until it was too late.

In 1645, with England torn by civil war, the king asked Hyde to take young Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, to safety in the west of England. Over the next six years, Hyde and Charles saw each other intermittently, but after his father was beheaded and he was recognized as Charles II, the young king summoned Hyde to Paris, where he become the king’s chief adviser, working tirelessly toward a restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Toward that end, he managed to keep Charles from renouncing his Anglican faith and converting to Catholicism, and he encouraged the easy-going king in his antipathy toward religious persecution. Hyde also tried to keep in check Charles’s infatuation with the idea of becoming an absolute monarch on the model of the glittering King Louis XIV of France, whom Charles had observed so closely during his impressionable years.

Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

When Charles II returned to England in May, 1660, Hyde was with the new king. Hyde was already lord chancellor, having been appointed two years earlier. However, within the next eleven months, he became chancellor of Oxford, was raised to the peerage as Baron Hyde of Hindon, and was created Viscount Cornbury and earl of Clarendon. For the next seven years, Clarendon, as he was now called, dominated the administration. Unfortunately, in some cases his advice was not heeded. For example, though he pressed for religious toleration, the new Parliament, which was made up of Anglicans, took revenge on the Dissenters with a set of measures that became known as the Clarendon Code Clarendon Code (1661-1665) , despite the fact that Clarendon himself had opposed such action. Persecution, religious;Noncomformists in England

Clarendon tried to dissuade his daughter Anne Hyde Hyde, Anne from marrying James James II (king of England) , duke of York and Albany; however, after they did marry and produced offspring, it was rumored that this was all part of a Machiavellian plan and that Clarendon had deliberately arranged the marriage of Charles to a barren princess so that his own grandchildren would inherit the throne. In fact, the stoutly Anglican Clarendon would have preferred to have Charles marry a Protestant instead of the Catholic Catherine of Braganza.

When Charles found himself in financial difficulties, Clarendon helped to negotiate the sale of Dunkirk to France, but he did not himself profit from the transaction. Nevertheless, the public blamed Clarendon for what they saw as England’s humiliation, and in 1665, when Clarendon built a lavish new house in Piccadilly, they called it Dunkirke-house, because, according to the diarist Samuel Pepys, Pepys, Samuel they believed that it was being constructed with bribe-money from the sale of Dunkirk. Others referred to it as Holland-house, having heard that Clarendon had been bribed by the Dutch to stop his nation from attacking them. Clarendon had, indeed, argued against the war, only to be overruled by the duke of York, who had dreams of personal glory and hopes of substantial profits. However, when the Dutch sailed up the Medway to Chatham, set fire to the docks and to three warships, and then towed away the king’s flagship, the Royal Charles, the British public held Clarendon personally responsible and vandalized his new house. Anglo-Dutch War, Second (1665-1667)[Anglo Dutch War, Second (1665-1667)]

Meanwhile, Clarendon’s enemies at court were working to turn Charles against him. Among them were Charles’s beloved sister, Henrietta Maria, who had long blamed Clarendon for blocking an Anglo-French alliance; his mistress Barbara Palmer, Palmer, Barbara the countess of Castlemaine, of whom Clarendon disapproved; and a group of five courtiers led by the mercurial George Villiers, second duke of Buckingham, Buckingham, second duke of and including also Henry Bennet, first baron Arlington, Arlington, first earl of who would become Clarendon’s replacement as Charles’s chief minister. This group was known as the Cabal Cabal , since the initials of their names could be arranged to spell that word.

When Clarendon had been threatened with impeachment in 1663, Charles had protected him. Now, however, Charles was tired of being lectured about his behavior. Moreover, he knew that Clarendon’s unpopularity both with Parliament and with the public made him an ideal scapegoat. On August 30, 1667, Charles sent a warrant to Clarendon, demanding that he surrender the Great Seal of his office. On November 11, the House of Commons voted to impeach him, though without specific charges, but the House of Lords rejected the motion. While the two branches of Parliament squabbled, Clarendon fled to France. From Calais, he sent a letter to the Lords reiterating his innocence of all charges and making it clear that he left England only to prevent further dissension. On December 18, however, the House of Commons voted to banish Clarendon and to make any communication with him an act of treason; the Lords passed the bill on December 19.


From the time of the Restoration until his fall, Clarendon was, next to the king, the most powerful man in England. His aims were noble. He wanted Charles to rule over a constitutional monarchy Monarchy, constitutional , in which Parliament, the king, and a group of honest public servants would work together for the public good. When Clarendon was overruled, events generally demonstrated that he had been right. However, he was almost always blamed for the very actions he had advised against. With Clarendon gone, his nation entered into a period marked by disorder, disharmony, corruption, and blatant contempt for the constitution, which could well have led to another civil war but instead ended in the bloodless Glorious Revolution.

Ironically, Clarendon’s most lasting achievement may well have been not as a statesman but as a historian. During the final seven years of his life, he wrote his memoirs and finished the monumental The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, The (Clarendon) (wr. 1647-c. 1671, pb. 1702-1704), which he had begun two decades before. Clarendon’s works continue to be regarded as essential sourcebooks for students of the seventeenth century, valuable not only for their factual content but also for the author’s insightful comments about those around him and the times in which they lived.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coote, Stephen. Royal Survivor: The Life of Charles II. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Clarendon’s impeachment is attributed primarily to a cynical, wily king’s determination to assert his power. Illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keeble, N. H. The Restoration: England in the 1660’s. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. In the chapter entitled “Royal Servants: Clarendon and the Cavalier Parliament,” the author shows how Clarendon unknowingly played into the hands of his enemies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kishlansky, Mark. A Monarchy Transformed: Britain, 1603-1714. London: Penguin, 1996. Contends that changes in the concept of the monarchy under the Stuarts made Clarendon’s downfall inevitable. Maps, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, Maurice, Jr. The Cabal. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965. The first chapter of this book explains how Clarendon misunderstood the political climate and the people whose support he needed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, George. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Although this volume in Twayne’s English authors series deals primarily with Clarendon’s writing, it begins with a useful chapter on Clarendon’s life. Chronology, notes, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Scott, Jonathan. England’s Troubles: Seventeenth-Century English Political Instability in European Context. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. The author details what he calls the “first phase of the restoration,” which was guided by Clarendon.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Catherine of Braganza; Charles I; Charles II (of England); First Earl of Clarendon; James II; Louis XIV; Samuel Pepys. Clarendon, first earl of

Categories: History