Key Facts & Summary
- The Cabal Ministry was a private council formed by Charles II, Kind of England.
- It lasted for five years (1669-1674) and it exerted a remarkable influence on certain matters within the country.
- The members of the Cabal Ministry were: Thomas Clifford, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, George Villiers, Henry Bennet, and John Maitland.
The Cabal Ministry was a private council formed by the king of England Charles II, and for five years (1669-1674) it exercised a notable influence on the affairs of the country.
It was named ‘Cabal’ because it was composed of five people whose initials together formed the English word CABAL. These people were:
C: Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, a Catholic.
A: Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, former supporter of Cromwell.
B: George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, childhood friend of the King.
A: Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, a longtime Royalist.
L: John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale, a Scottish Presbyterian.
However, other individuals were also close to the CABAL. Mostly, they were the king’s other advisers such as George Monk, Duke of Albemarle, Thomas Osborne, William Coventry, Orlando Bridgeman, and of course, the Duke of York.
This Ministry was formed after the fall of Lord Chancellor Edward Hyde and lasted until the Test Act which saw the resignation of Clifford and the Duke of York.
The term ‘Cabal’ is misleading because it does not intend to suggest a welded group guided by mysterious motives.
Under this ministry, the Triple Alliance established between England, the United Provinces, and Sweden against France was broken and the King of England was bribed by Louis XIV, who had approached Charles II through the Secret Treaty of Dover.
The rise of Ministry of the Cabal was initiated by the Duke of Buckingham, who, after the fall of Prime Minister Clarendon, held office at the King’s Supreme Court (1667-1674). Following the Duke of Albemarle’s death (1670), the Duke of Buckingham achieved his ambitions with other of the king’s favourites. The unofficial but factual Prime Minister was Anthony Ashley Cooper (later Earl of Shaftesbury), who served as Lord High Treasurer in 1670-1672, and then Lord Chancellor (1672-1673). Other important figures were the Earl of Arlington and the Duke of Lauderdale, who held the positions of State Secretaries. Thanks to Arlington, Thomas Clifford became a member of the group. Clifford did not hold any government functions, but between 1668-1672, he obtained an influential court position as treasurer of the royal household.
The Cabal Ministry led an unpopular policy for the sake of royal absolutism and consistently attacked the House of Commons.
Unfulfilled personal ambitions and hostility among ministers, and much disagreement ruled in parliament and amongst the political factions. For example, members of the government were not even able to agree on issues regarding faith: while Thomas Clifford embraced Catholicism, the Duke Buckingham was vehemently opposed to them. Similarly, there was a disagreement over the foundations of the political establishment – Anthony Ashley Cooper, with his former involvement in the Republican State Council, promoted the parliamentary system, whereas the Duke of Lauderdale was an uncompromising supporter of royal absolutism. Personal disputes between the Count Arlington and the Duke of Lauderdale soon leaked to the public. The government also suffered from the disclosure of the Secret Treaty of Dover, according to which Charles II would secretly receive a yearly pension of £230,000. As a consequence, the Count of Arlington had to justify the treaty in front of Parliament.
The collapse of the Cabal government followed the adoption of the Test Act, which eliminated the Catholics’ influence on the government.
Therefore, in the summer of 1673, Clifford resigned from his position and committed suicide shortly thereafter, whereas Count Danby took the post of the first Lord of the Treasure. Other members of the government also had to leave their posts during 1674.
However, although the Duke of Buckingham lost his position at the Supreme Court, he continued to retain some influence since he was the king’s favourite. Although the Duke of Lauderdale had retained the position of Scottish Secretary of State, he was obliged to abandon London and leave his office in order to go directly back to Scotland.
The Cabal government ended in September 1674, when the Count Arlington was recalled from the position of Secretary of State.
All Cabal government members had excellent knowledge in the fields of politics and diplomacy, and were also able to promote their influence as brilliant speakers in parliament. With the exception of Buckingham, who had been Duke since childhood, all the Cabinet Ministers of Charles II acquired their titles in the 1770s, and they are still used by their descendants.
Having explained the main objective of the group, it is now possible to briefly introduce each member of the Cabal.
Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (1 August 1630 – 17 October 1673), was a British politician. He was granted the title of Baron by Charles II on April 22, 1672. He attended Exeter College in Oxford, and graduated in 1650. He became barrister of the Middle Temple and subsequently, a member of Parliament representing the city of Totnes from 1660 to 1672. He distinguished himself in naval battles. At the end of the second Anglo-Dutch war he opposed peace, preferring to support the interests of France. After the ousting of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, Charles II created a new government called Cabal, a group of five statesmen, and Clifford was part of it. Soon, however, the Test Act excluded all Catholics from the possibility of holding public office and Clifford was stripped of his duties. He committed suicide in 1673.
Henry Bennet, Count of Arlington
Son of Sir John Bennet of Dawley of Middlesex and Dorothy Crofts, he was baptised in the town of Little Saxham (Suffolk), in 1618. Bennet attended Westminster School. Henry earned the reputation of a great scholar and good poet: originally, his parents had thought of an ecclesiastical career for him. But in 1643, Henry became secretary of Lord Digby at Oxford, and was also given the post of intermediary between the Queen of England, Henrietta Maria, and the Duke of Ormonde, who resided in Ireland.
He then took up arms in favour of the king and participated in a clash in the city of Andover, in 1644. On this occasion he was wounded at the nose. After the defeat of the royal armies and the beheading of Charles I Stuart, by the Commonwealth Republican government, he joined the royal family, exiled in France in 1650. In 1654, thanks to the Prince of Wales, the future Charles II, he became the official secretary of the prince’s brother, James, duke of York.
In 1657, he was sent to the court of Madrid with the king of Spain Philip IV as an ambassador to seek economic and military aid.
With the restoration and the coronation of Charles II, in 1661, he was called to London and he was entrusted with important tasks that led him to be one of the most influential men of the kingdom. From 1661 to 1665, he was secretary of state (despite the opposition of Edward Hyde, count of Clarendon). In 1663, he was given the title of baron of Arlington, and in 1667, he was elected Postmaster-General.
He was also entrusted with foreign affairs and took an active part in the second Anglo-Dutch war. After the expulsion of Clarendon, he joined the king’s Cabal, with five other gentlemen.
Arlington was Catholic but he never showed it openly in order not to loose his position.
George Villiers (January 30, 1628 – April 16, 1687), 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was an English politician. Villiers accompanied Charles II in exile, and followed him to Scotland where he fought valiantly. His courage ensured him the king’s favour after the Restoration. Villiers was also a good writer and wrote a number of poems and plays.
He retired from public life after the accession to the throne of James II of England, and moved to his home in Yorkshire. Occasionally, he wrote some poems and satires, which proved his undeniable talent. In 1704, the first compilation of his poems was published. He is also the author of the play The Rehearsal (1671).
Anthony Ashley-Cooper (July 22, 1621, Wimborne St Giles (Dorset) – January 21, 1683, Amsterdam), 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, was a man who held an important political role during the Commonwealth and Restoration. He is one of the founders of the Whig party and is known to have employed the philosopher John Locke.
He was a member of the Council of State but resigned in 1655 in order to protest against the regime’s dictatorial tendencies. During the Restoration, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Clarendon government, then Lord Chancellor in the Ministry of Cabal. He fell out of favour in 1673 and was imprisoned in the Tower of London from 1675 to 1678. For some historians, he was involved in the Popish Plot.
Since he supported the Duke of Monmouth, he was accused of high treason and chose to go into exile in 1681.
In February 1644, Maitland became a member of the Privy Council of England and the Privy Council of Scotland. On November 20, 1644, he became one of the commissioners to meet the King at Uxbridge during the Long Parliament. Maitland tried to persuade King Charles I of England to accept the establishment of Presbyterianism. In 1645, he advised Charles I to reject the proposals of the separatists.
In 1647, the King surrendered to the Scots after his deposition in England. Maitland undertook various projects for the restoration of Charles I.
In the spring of 1648, Maitland returned to Scotland during the Second English Civil War, and joined Hamilton’s party which supported the English royalists.
Just before the restoration, he joined Charles II of England in May 1660 in Breda.
Although he held little power, and was not invited to take part in the Secret Treaty of Dover, Maitland became a member of the Cabal Ministry. On May 2, 1672, he became Duke of Lauderdale, and subsequently, Knight of the Garter. He was also appointed Lord President of the Privy Council of Scotland in 1672, a position he held until 1681. In 1680, his failing health forced him to resign from the King’s Privy Council. He died on August 20 or 24, 1682.
[1.] Encyclopedia Britannica (n.d.). The Cabal: Politics. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/cabal
[2.] Haley, K.H.D. (1968). The First Earl of Shaftesbury. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[3.] Marshall, A. (2004). Bennet, Henry, first earl of Arlington. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
[4.] Morrill, J.S. (n.d.). John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland: Lord Chancellor of Scotland. Britannica. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Maitland-1st-Lord-Maitland