What we mean when we talk about the Stuart Restoration might at first seem clear enough. But like similar terms used to indicate both a specific historical event and a period, “Restoration” has been used in different ways for different purposes and has different meanings in different contexts. Most often, the Restoration appears simply as a date that marks the beginning or ending of some other period. Marking either the final exhaustion of the “Renaissance,” or the start of the long eighteenth century, the Restoration is frequently conceived as simply an adjacency. When studied as a political event, the Restoration can refer to those circumstances that made necessary and possible a return to monarchical government, and so primarily designates those events and negotiations of 1658–60 surrounding and immediately following Charles's return. But political historians have also taken a longer view and regard the Restoration as an uneasy, brief settlement within longer-term political negotiations among Crown, Parliament, Church, and people, the struggles over which continue through the Revolution of 1688 to reverberate well into the eighteenth century and beyond.
For social and cultural historians, the years following the Restoration constitute a period of contending activities and attitudes, ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, that cannot entirely be accounted for in terms of the attempted political settlement of 1660.
It has long been clear that the nation which summoned Charles back in 1660 differed considerably from the realm over which his father had once attempted to rule.