News | April 6, 2023

Manuscript That Restored British Monarchy in 'Coronation Sale'


One of only two surviving copies of this historic royal document The Declaration of Breda

After the execution of King Charles I in 1649 and death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, public unrest in Britain was rife, with increasing chaotic scenes in government and a growing desire for the return of the exiled King, Charles II. After a decade in waiting, plotting a series of failed conspiracies and insurrections, this was his moment, but one wrong move could lose him the kingdom forever.
With just one opportunity to take back his throne, Charles set about drawing up his proposed agreement with Parliament and the Kingdom’s military rulers, a pact of sorts, publicly outlining his promises and vision for the future of kingship: The Declaration of Breda. This would become his one-way ticket out of exile and back to London, where he would rule for the next 25 years.
On May 4, Sotheby’s London will offer one of just two surviving copies of this historic royal document, signed by Charles II, as the star lot of 'The Coronation Sale' with an estimate of £400,000-600,000 ($498,000-$747,000).
“Alongside the Magna Carta, The Bill of Rights and The Act of Settlement, this is one of a small number of transformational royal documents that have changed royal power forever," said Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s Manuscripts specialist, "and as such it is the most important of its kind to ever appear for public sale. It is through this Declaration that in 1660 the monarchy was re-established on freshly agreed terms, setting the monarchy on a path that leads to the constitutional monarchy that we know 350 years later as Charles III ascends the throne.”
Five copies were prepared by Charles II from exile in Breda (in the Protestant Netherlands) in April 1660. Each was to be sent to the principal power bases at home: the House of Commons, the City of London, the Army, the House of Lords, and the Navy. The document strikes a powerful tone of reconciliation with its hope that the restoration of the King would bind the wounds of civil war, its expression of compassion for all his subjects, and its promise to not seek revenge for past wrongs.
Three of those original five copies are lost, and it is the copy of the Navy - who Charles addressed as “the walls of the kingdom” - which is to be offered for sale at Sotheby’s, and which first passed into the hands one of the most famous names of the era, Samuel Pepys.

Now considered “The Father of the Modern Navy”, Pepys was Secretary to the General at Sea, Edward Montagu, who tasked him with winning the Navy over to the King. Stepping aboard the flagship boat, The Naseby (named after the decisive defeat of Charles I’s forces in battle fifteen years before), Pepys addressed the most senior members of the fleet and presided over a key vote. He recounts in his diary entry for May 3, 1660:
“The commanders all came on board…I read the letter and declaration; and while they were discoursing upon it, I seemed to draw up a vote…. Not one man seemed to say no to it, though I am confident many in their hearts were against it. 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”.
It was through this document, and in the hands of Pepys, that the “walls of the kingdom” were won for the king. With all five key parties now agreed, on May 8 Charles was proclaimed King.
The document is emerging in the public domain for the first time in 40 years, since its auction in 1985 from the collection of the descendants of Pepys superior, the aforementioned Edward Montagu, and the man responsible for bringing the King back from the Netherlands.
Montagu prepared to set sail to collect the king, but not before ordering the removal of the Naseby’s figurehead (Oliver Cromwell crowned with laurels) and renaming the flagship the HMS Royal Charles. Also aboard was Samuel Pepys, whose diary provides a vivid account of the extraordinary few days in the Netherlands as the ever-growing royal court prepared to return home.
Less than a week later, on May 29, his 30th birthday, King Charles II entered London uncontested.
The Declaration of Breda will be on display in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries alongside further Coronation Sale highlights April 21 – May 4. The historic cross-category sale will herald the advent of King Charles III with an offering of fine manuscripts, jewellery, artwork and objects relating to the British monarchy, past and present.