‘Milestone’ document that made Charles II King to be auctioned
Known as “The Declaration of Breda,” the document was drafted by Charles II and his closest councilors in April 1660 to set out the terms under which he would take the throne after years in exile following the English Civil War and his father’s execution, a statement released by auction house Sotheby’s said.
Alongside the Magna Carta, The Bill of Rights and The Act of Settlement, it is one of a handful of documents that mark the “constitutional milestones that lead us towards a modern constitution,” Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s manuscripts specialist, told CNN Thursday.
“Seeing it for the first time really sent chills down my spine,” he added. “It’s really such an evocative piece.”
The declaration has a reconciliatory tone, laying out Charles II’s preferences for pardoning many of the crimes committed during the Civil War, freedom of religion, and payment of arrears to the army.
“It’s a hugely important step towards the kind of monarchy that we have today,” Heaton added.
“It’s this idea that he will rule within the law. He’s not claiming quite the same divine right that his father did … This is a King who is not forcing his way back by military power. It is a King who is coming back because he’s managed to build a consensus.”
Charles II ruled for 25 years. Credit: Heritage Images/Fine Art Images/Getty Images
Five copies of the document were sent to England’s centers of power — the House of Commons, the City of London, the Army, the House of Lords and the Navy — where they each helped gather key support for Charles II.
Three were lost, one is in the Parliamentary Archives, and the fifth, originally delivered to naval commander Edward Montagu, is now being offered for sale, Sotheby’s said. The document is entering the public domain for the first time in nearly 40 years, after it was last sold at auction in 1985, the auction house added.
Montagu’s secretary, the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, read aloud the declaration at a meeting of the fleet and later described this in his diary entry from May 3 1660.
“Not one man seemed to say no to it, though I am confident many in their hearts were against it,” Pepys wrote. “After this was done, I went to the Quarter-deck with my Lord and the commanders, and there read both the papers and the vote … the seamen did all of them cry out ‘God bless King Charles’ with the greatest joy imaginable.”
By the end of the month, on May 29, King Charles II entered London uncontested and to popular acclaim.
“One of the most dramatic changes in British constitutional history had been accomplished in a matter of weeks and without significant bloodshed,” Sotheby’s added.
The auction at Sotheby’s is scheduled for May 4, two days before King Charles III’s coronation. It will also feature other royal memorabilia, including nine illustrated manuscripts presented to Queen Elizabeth I and a diamond brooch which Queen Elizabeth II gave to her maids of honor as thanks for taking part in her coronation.