The term "Cabal" has a double meaning in this context. It refers to the fact that, for perhaps the first time in English history, effective power in a royal council was shared by a group of men, a cabal, rather than dominated by a single "favourite". The term also serves as the acronym "C-A-B-A-L" for the names of the five Privy Councillors (Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley-Cooper, and Lauderdale) who formed the council's Committee for Foreign Affairs.
Through the Foreign Affairs committee and their own offices, the five members were able to direct government policy both at home and abroad. The notion of an organised group in government, as opposed to a single royal favourite holding clear power, was seen by many as a threat to the authority of the throne. Others saw it as subverting the power of the Council or of Parliament, whilst Buckingham's close relationship with the King made the Cabal unpopular with some reformers. The title "Cabal" resulted from the perception that they had conspired together in Clarendon's fall and prosecution, and in its increasingly secretive conduct of government, and was helped by the fact that the initial letters of their names could be arranged to form CABAL as an acronym. However, there were sharp ideological divisions between the five, ranging from the Parliamentary idealism of Ashley to the autocratic absolutism of Lauderdale.
Membership and Rise
Following the end of Clarendon Ministry in 1667, in a cloud of accusations of incompetence and corruption, the conduct of the government of Charles II fell to a loose coalition of energetic young ministers, the "Cabal". 
The linchpin of the Cabal was probably George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Although he only held the household office of Master of the Horse, with responsibility for overseeing the King's travel arrangements, Buckingham was a long and close associate of King Charles II, having been practically raised together since children, during the close association of their fathers, Charles I and the first Duke of Buckingham, a relationship they consciously compared themselves to in adulthood, and might have replicated had the younger Buckingham possessed the skills of his father. Nonetheless, Buckingham was in constant contact and clear favourite of the king, and the center of the Cabal's grip on power.
The Lord High Treasurer Wriothesely having died just before Clarendon's departure, the Treasury went into commission in 1667, under the nominal chairmanship of George Monck (Duke of Albermarle). But as Monck was practically retired from public life, control of the Treasury commission was taken up by Sir Thomas Clifford (Comptroller and soon Treasurer of the Household) and Anthony Ashley Cooper (Chancellor of the Exchequer). With the assistance of their close associates John Duncombe (Ashley's deputy at the Exchequer), Stephen Fox (the Paymaster of the Forces) and notably Sir George Downing, the highly capable secretary to the Treasury commission, Clifford and Ashley overhauled the monarchical finances, placing them in a much more solvent state than before.
Foreign affairs was principally directed by Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington (Secretary of the South), with occasional assistance from George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. (Although foreign affairs were notionally in the purview of the Secretary of the North, the Cabal bullied Sir William Morice into selling the seat to Sir John Trevor, and then sidelined the latter.)
John Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale (Secretary of State for Scotland) had already consolidated his position in 1663 by securing the dismissal of his principal rival, John Middleton (Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland) and his replacement by the more pliable John Leslie, Earl of Rothes. In 1669, Lauderdale went one step further, and got Leslie dismissed and the Lord High Commissioner position for himself, consolidating his hold and ruling Scotland as a virtual autocrat for the remainder of his career.
Sir Orlando Bridgemon, the Royalist lawyer who had prosecuted the Regicides, and who took over Clarendon's duties as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in 1667, was outside of this inner circle, although cooperative with their goals.
Despite their comparative energy and efficiency, the Cabal was a fractious and unpopular lot. Although perceived as secretive and unsavory junta, they rarely formed a united front, and their internal quarrels often spilled over into the public arena.  Sir William Coventry, the Secretary to the Admiralty, resigned from office following a duel challenge from the Duke of Buckingham, and re-emerged in the House of Commons at the head of a group of MPs known as the "Country Party", which loudly opposed the Cabal and its policies. Causing poor relations with Members of Parliament, Charles II acceded to the Cabal's recommendation to prorogue parliament repeatedly, keeping it out of session for as long as he could, leaving the Cabal to run the country on their own. In financial exigency (a pressing need to levy taxes), following the Great Stop of the Exchequer in 1672 and the outbreak of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, Charles II was obliged to re-convene parliament in 1673 and the parliamentarians were bent on revenge.
Split and fall
The Cabal began to split in 1672, particularly over the autocratic nature of the King's Royal Declaration of Indulgence, the financing of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and Britain's relationship with France. Personal rivalries and a conflict over foreign policy between Buckingham and Arlington escalated. The Ministry became very unpopular, characterised by arbitrary rule. Towards the end of the year, Ashley, now the Earl of Shaftesbury, became Lord Chancellor, leaving Treasury matters to Clifford and the Exchequer to Duncombe. He pressed publicly for greater reform of government, taking the side of the Opposition against his colleagues and the King. Clifford resigned over the in-fighting and retired from public life. Shaftesbury was replaced by Viscount Osborne, soon to become Earl of Danby, in the summer of 1673. Danby immediately established his authority over the remaining members of the Cabal. Buckingham's feud with Arlington saw him leak the details of the Treaty of Dover and fall from favour in 1674. Arlington survived as Southern Secretary until September of that year. Lauderdale retained his position and his relatively autonomous power in Scotland, becoming an enemy of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury began to agitate against Charles and his brother, the Duke of York, later James II; he briefly returned to government in the Privy Council Ministry and took a lead in forming the partisan group that would eventually become known as the Whigs.
These five members made up the "cabal" (Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, Lauderdale), which held most of the power within the government.
|Master of the Horse||The Duke of Buckingham||1668–1674|
|Southern Secretary||The Lord Arlington||1667–1674||appointed 1662; created Earl of Arlington in 1672|
|Chancellor of the Exchequer||The Lord Ashley||1667–1672||created Earl of Shaftesbury in 1672|
|First Lord of Trade||1672–1674|
|Secretary of State for Scotland||The Earl of Lauderdale||1667–1674||created Duke of Lauderdale in 1672|
|Comptroller of the Household||Sir Thomas Clifford||1667–1668||created Baron Clifford of Chudleigh in 1672|
|Treasurer of the Household||1668–1672|
|Lord High Treasurer||1672–1673|
The remaining members of the ministry, as would be expected, held less power than the cabal.
|Lord Keeper||Orlando Bridgeman, Bt.||1667–1674|
|First Lord of the Treasury||The Duke of Albemarle||1667–1670|
|Lord Privy Seal||The Lord Robartes||1667–1674||also Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1669–1670)|
|Northern Secretary||Sir William Morice, Bt.||1667–1668|
|Sir John Trevor||1668–1672|
|Chancellor of the Exchequer||Sir John Duncombe||1672–1674|
|Master-General of the Ordnance||In commission||1667–1670|
|Sir Thomas Chicheley||1670–1674|
|Paymaster of the Forces||Sir Stephen Fox||1667–1674|
- Kenyon, J.P. The Stuarts Fontana Edition 1970 p.117
- Kenyon p.117
- Kenyon p.117
- Kenyon p.117
- Kenyon pp.121-2