It is difficult to understand The Man of Mode as a “Restoration comedy” if one does not know what the Restoration was; thus, this is a brief introduction to one of England’s most tumultuous time periods.
In 1646 Charles II was exiled to France after Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarians defeated the Royalists under his father, King Charles I. while Charles II endeavored to save his father’s life by giving a virtual carte blanche to Cromwell, the latter pursued Charles II’s execution. On January 30th, 1649, the king was beheaded and his son succeeded him.
The Scots and parts of Ireland and England supported King Charles II, and he tried to raise an army in Scotland. He invaded England in 1651 but Cromwell defeated him at the Battle of Worcester in what is referred to as the Second English Civil War. Charles escaped to France and then lived in Germany and the Spanish Netherlands for a time.
Cromwell died in 1658, throwing the Commonwealth he had established into disarray. Richard Cromwell, Oliver’s son, was a terrible leader and a pawn of the army. The English began to turn against the republic; tensions with religion (Protestantism had became the official religion), the army, and the inability of the government to solve social problems contributed to its unpopularity. Richard entered a self-imposed exile in 1659 after the army forced him to dissolve Parliament.
In 1660, General George Monck palavered with Charles and agreed to bring him to back to the throne if he would offer amnesty and religious toleration for his enemies. The terms were agreed to, and thus, on May 25th 1660, Charles arrived at Dover and entered London for days later. Oliver Cromwell was posthumously declared a traitor, and his body was dug up from his grave in Westminster and hung from the gallows in Tyburn.
The Restoration period includes Charles II’s reign from 1660-1685 and James I’s reign from 1685-1688. The time is known for the expansion of trade, the revival of literature, and the Anglo-Dutch wars. It also saw an outbreak of the plague in 1665, the Great Fire in 1666, and the birth of the Whig and Tory parties.
As for literature, the Restoration was also often called the “Age of Dryden” after the esteemed poet. The opening of the theaters, which had been closed since 1642, was an important moment for drama and gave birth to some of the most beloved English plays. The diaries of Samuel Pepys illuminate much of the literary life of the day.