After the dismissal of Edward Hyde, Earl Clarendon, and in order to extend his own power at the expense of Parliament, King Charles II gathered five staunch supporters and peers of the realm around him to promote his own policies.
The Cabal’s main achievement, if it could be called that, was to sign the (Secret) Treaty of Dover that allied England to France in a prospective war against the Dutch. It required France to assist England in her aim to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church and England to assist France in her war of conquest against the Dutch Republic, of which the Anglo Dutch war was a direct consequence of this treaty.
This Cabal never really unified in its members' aims and sympathies and by 1672 no longer existed. That the word originated as an acronym from the ministers’ names is a myth, although the coincidence was noted at the time and is likely to have popularized its use.
The Scot, Lauderdale was not much involved in English governance, while the Catholic Clifford and Arlington, were never much in sympathy with the Protestants, Buckingham and Ashley, nor did Buckingham and Ashley get on very well with each other. The Earl of Shaftesbury became one of Charles II's fiercest opponents when he championed the Exclusion Bill in his quest to remove the Catholic Duke of York from the line of succession. The two most dominant members were Clifford and Arlington. The latter was a Member of Parliament and sat on the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Their quarrels did not go unnoticed, including the French Ambassador to England who reported:
“The council (Cabal) consists of ministers with a mortal hatred of one another, who seek only to be avenged upon each other at the expense of their master’s service; this means that there is great uncertainty in the resolutions which are taken….that one can never be sure of anything.”
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, 1621-1683
Reluctant to take sides in the Civil War, but in the spring of 1643 declared for the King and joined the Marquis of Hertford in the West Country. Early in 1644, Cooper unexpectedly changed sides and declared for Parliament. Associated with the early Whigs and plots against the King, he fled to the Netherlands in 1682 and died at Amsterdam early in 1683.
Thomas Clifford, (1630 - 1673)
Created 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh in 1672 for his suggestion that the King supply himself
with money by stopping, for one year, all payments out of the Exchequer. He became Comptroller of the Household in 1666, a member of the Privy Council and Lord High Treasurer in 1672 but resigned in 1673 when, as a Roman Catholic, he was unable to comply with the Test Act. He died by his own hand (perhaps "strangled with his cravatt upon the bed-tester") a few months after his retirement.
George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, 1628-1687
Son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham who was murdered in 1628, he and his younger brother Francis were taken in by King Charles I and brought up with the royal children. Buckingham joined the Royalist army in 1642 and fought at the battle of Worcester in September 1651. He escaped to Rotterdam and eventually joined Charles at his court-in-exile in France.
Buckingham quarrelled with Charles and secretly returned to England in 1657, hoping to recover his estates, which had been granted to Lord Fairfax. He courted and married Fairfax's daughter, Mary, but when imprisoned in the Tower, Fairfax interceded for him, quarrelling bitterly with Cromwell just before the Protector's death.
At the Restoration, Charles was cold toward Buckingham, but was soon back in favour, being appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and then Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington (1618 –1685)
Originally destined for holy orders, he became a secretary to Lord Digby at Oxford in 1643, employed as a messenger between the queen and Ormonde in Ireland. He received a wound on the bridge of his nose in the skirmish at Andover in 1644 while fighting for the Royalists. He covered the scar with black plaster that he wore all his life. He joined the exiled royal family in 1650, and in 1654 became official secretary to James Duke of York, and was rumoured to have fathered an illegitimate child by Lucy Walter.
At the Restoration he was made keeper of the privy purse, and became responsible for procuring and management of the royal mistresses. Allying himself with Lady Castlemaine, he encouraged Charles's increasing dislike of Clarendon.
John Maitland, 1st Duke and 2nd Earl of Lauderdale, 3rd Lord Thirlestane (1616- 1682)
A zealous Covenanter and an elder in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In the spring of 1648, Lauderdale joined Hamilton in alliance with the English royalists and was defeated at Preston. On an expedition into England, he was taken prisoner at Worcester in 1651, and remained imprisoned until March 1660.
He joined Charles at Breda, and in spite of the opposition of Edward Hyde and George Monck, was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland. Lauderdale was "never from the king's ear nor council," and maintained his position with a fearless unscrupulousness, which overcame all opposition. Created Duke of Lauderdale, Earl of March, Knight of the Garter and Lord President of the Privy Council of Scotland from 1672 to 1681.
In November 1680, failing health and his vote for the execution of Lord Stafford resulted in him being stripped of all his offices, and he died in August. Lauderdale’s second wife was Lady Elizabeth Tollemache, daughter of the 1st Earl of Dysart and widow of Sir Lionel Tollemache.