The Privy Council ministry was a short-lived reorganization of English government that was reformed to place the ministry under the control of the Privy Council[1] in April 1679, due to events in that time.


It followed years of widespread discontent with the government, which had been consistently autocratic and clandestine since the Restoration and was now mired in conflict between Parliament and King Charles.[2] Sir William Temple, England's foremost diplomat and greatly respected both at home and abroad, was recalled at the beginning of 1679 and became the king's closest advisor. Elections to the House of Commons returned a majority for the opponents of the government, the Earl of Danby was forced from office and Temple led the formation of a new ministry, aiming to reconcile the conflicting factions of the day.

Temple believed the king should not exercise absolute power but was also uncomfortable with the increasing prominence of Parliament.[3] He sought to create a less divisive body that could carry popular support without trying to dictate to the king. He proposed that the king should no longer be advised by any one individual or by a select committee of the Privy Council, but by a reformed council as a whole. The new council would have thirty members, rather than fifty: Fifteen would hold paid high office in government, the Church or the judiciary; fifteen would be independent, representing the parliamentary factions and chosen for their wealth (which Temple felt was the source of power).[2] The king would give full consideration to the opinions of the council, which would be free to discuss and vote on all matters. The king duly dismissed the existing council; news of this, and that the new government would include members of the country party and the king's popular, illegitimate son, Monmouth, was widely welcomed. However, Charles took against the scheme when Temple insisted on the inclusion of Viscount Halifax, whom he disliked personally. He agreed but insisted, to Temple's alarm, that the Earl of Shaftesbury, the government's most vociferous critic, should also be included. This sabotaged Temple's council, ensuring irreconcilable division.

First meeting of the council, and its collapse

The new council met on 21 April. Within hours, it had been subverted as a group of nine conflicting members took a lead in the conduct of business; Temple reacted angrily, almost leaving the council, then consenting to form a group of four (with Halifax, Essex and Sunderland) to advise the king in secret.[1] The four worked well together, but the full council was sharply divided. Shaftesbury now effectively led the opposition from within the government itself, with the support of a majority in the Commons. In the face of the Exclusion Bill, the king prorogued and then dissolved Parliament without the council's approval. Temple withdrew from active participation, leaving Halifax, Essex and Sunderland to exercise power as a Triumvirate, and a thirty-first councillor was appointed. When the king fell ill and his brother's return from the Dutch Republic caused alarm in the country, Temple expressed his concerns to the Triumvirate but was no longer taken seriously. Elections for the new Parliament returned another opposition majority, and the king prorogued it before it met, again in spite of the council.[4] Shaftesbury was discharged from office and other leading critics of the government resigned. Temple's experiment ended with the rise of Laurence Hyde, a strong supporter of the King, in November.[1]

The ministry

Office Name Term
None Sir William Temple Throughout
First Lord of the Treasury Commission The Earl of Essex Throughout
Northern Secretary The Earl of Sunderland Throughout
None The Viscount Halifax Throughout
Lord Chancellor The Lord Finch Throughout
Lord President The Earl of Shaftesbury To October
The Lord Robartes From October
Lord Privy Seal The Earl of Anglesey Throughout
Lord Chamberlain The Earl of Arlington Throughout
Southern Secretary Henry Coventry Throughout
Secretary of State for Scotland The Duke of Lauderdale Throughout
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir John Ernle Throughout
Master-General of the Ordnance Sir Thomas Chicheley Throughout
First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Henry Capell Throughout
Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas Sir Francis North Throughout
Lord President of Wales The Marquess of Worcester Throughout
Archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft Throughout
Bishop of London Henry Compton Throughout
None Sir Edward Seymour Throughout
None Henry Powle Throughout
None The Lord Robartes To October
None The Lord Russell Throughout
None The Lord Cavendish of Hardwick Throughout
None The Earl of Bath Throughout
None The Earl of Salisbury Throughout
None The Earl of Bridgwater Throughout
None The Duke of Albemarle Throughout
None The Duke of Monmouth Throughout
None The Marquess of Winchester Throughout
None The Viscount Fauconberg Throughout
None The Duke of Newcastle Throughout
None The Lord Holles From June

Ministers not in the Privy Council

Office Name Term
Paymaster of the Forces Sir Stephen Fox Throughout


  1. ^ a b c Ogg, Frederic Austin (1913). The Governments of Europe. Macmillan.
  2. ^ a b Ray, Perley Orman (1931). Major European Governments. Ginn and Company. OCLC 2842078.
  3. ^ Spencer, Henry Russell (1936). Government and Politics Abroad. H. Holt and Company.
  4. ^ Clarke, John Joseph (1958). Outline of Central Government: Including the Judicial System of England. Pitman.
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