7 May 2010
King Charles II of Stuart (1649–1685)
Reign 29 May 1660 – 6 February 1685
Coronation 23 April 1661
Predecessor Charles I (de jure)
Council of State (de facto)
Successor James VII & II
Spouse Catherine of Braganza
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth
Charles FitzCharles, 1st Earl of Plymouth
Charles FitzRoy, 2nd Duke of Cleveland
Charlotte Lee, Countess of Lichfield
Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton
George FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Northumberland
Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans
Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond
House House of Stuart
Father Charles I
Mother Henrietta Maria of France
Born 29 May 1630(1630-05-29)
St. James’s Palace, London England
Died 6 February 1685 (aged 54)
Whitehall Palace, London
Burial Westminster Abbey
Charles II (29 May 1630 OS – 6 February 1685) was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
Charles II’s father King Charles I was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War. Although the Parliament of Scotland proclaimed Charles II King of Great Britain and Ireland in Edinburgh on 5 February 1649, the English Parliament instead passed a statute that made any such proclamation in England and Ireland unlawful. England entered the period known to history as the English Interregnum or the English Commonwealth and the country was a de facto republic, led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell defeated Charles at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, and Charles fled to mainland Europe. Cromwell became virtual dictator of England, Scotland and Ireland. Charles spent the next nine years in exile in France, the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands.
A political crisis that followed the death of Cromwell in 1658 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy and Charles was invited to return to Britain. On 29 May 1660, his 30th birthday, he was received in London to public acclaim. After 1660, all legal documents were dated as if Charles had succeeded his father as king in 1649.
Charles’s English parliament enacted laws known as the Clarendon Code, designed to shore up the position of the re-established Church of England. Charles acquiesced to the Clarendon Code even though he himself favoured a policy of religious tolerance. The major foreign policy issue of Charles’s early reign was the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In 1670, Charles entered into the secret treaty of Dover, an alliance with his first cousin King Louis XIV of France. Louis agreed to aid Charles in the Third Anglo-Dutch War and pay Charles a pension, and Charles secretly promised to convert to Roman Catholicism at an unspecified future date. Charles attempted to introduce religious freedom for Catholics and Protestant dissenters with his 1672 Royal Declaration of Indulgence, but the English Parliament forced him to withdraw it. In 1679, Titus Oates’s revelations of a supposed “Popish Plot” sparked the Exclusion Crisis when it was revealed that Charles’s brother and heir (James, Duke of York) was a Roman Catholic. The crisis saw the birth of the pro-exclusion Whig and anti-exclusion Tory parties. Charles sided with the Tories, and, following the discovery of the Rye House Plot to murder Charles and James in 1683, some Whig leaders were killed or forced into exile. Charles dissolved the English Parliament in 1681, and ruled alone until his death on 6 February 1685. He converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed.
Charles was popularly known as the Merrie Monarch, in reference to both the liveliness and hedonism of his court and the general relief at the return to normality after over a decade of rule by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. Charles’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, bore no children, but Charles acknowledged at least 12 illegitimate children by various mistresses.
Charles II as an infant
Painted by William Dobson, circa 1642 or 1643Charles was born in St. James’s Palace on 29 May 1630 (8 June 1630 NS). His parents were King Charles I, who ruled the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, and Queen Henrietta Maria, the sister of King Louis XIII of France. Charles was their second son and child, but their first son, who was born about a year before Charles, had died aged less than a day. England, Scotland and Ireland were Christian countries, but worship was divided between different denominations such as Catholicism, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, and Puritanism. Charles was baptised in the Chapel Royal on 27 June by the Anglican Bishop of London William Laud and brought up in the care of the Protestant Countess of Dorset, though his godparents included his mother’s Catholic relations, Louis XIII and Marie de’ Medici. At birth, Charles automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, along with several other associated titles. At or around his eighth birthday, he was designated Prince of Wales, though he was never formally invested with the Honours of the Principality of Wales.
During the 1640s, when Charles was still young, his father fought Parliamentary and Puritan forces in the English Civil War. Charles accompanied his father during the Battle of Edgehill and, at the age of fourteen, participated in the campaigns of 1645, when he was made titular commander of the English forces in the West Country. By Spring 1646, his father was losing the war, and Charles left England due to fears for his safety, going first to the Isles of Scilly, then to Jersey, and finally to France, where his mother was already living in exile and his first cousin, eight-year-old Louis XIV, was king.
In 1648, during the Second English Civil War, Charles moved to The Hague, where his sister Mary and his brother-in-law William II, Prince of Orange, seemed more likely to provide substantial aid to the royalist cause than the Queen’s French relations. However, the royalist fleet that came under Charles’s control was not used to any advantage, and did not reach Scotland in time to join up with the royalist Engagers army of the Duke of Hamilton, before it was defeated at the Battle of Preston by the Parliamentarians.
At The Hague, Charles had a brief affair with Lucy Walter, who later falsely claimed that they had secretly married. Her son, James Crofts (afterwards Duke of Monmouth and Duke of Buccleuch), was one of Charles’s many acknowledged illegitimate children who became prominent in British political life and society.
Charles I was captured in 1647. He escaped and was recaptured in 1648. Despite his son’s diplomatic efforts to save him, Charles I was beheaded in 1649, and England became a republic. On 6 February, the Covenanter Parliament of Scotland proclaimed Charles II as King of Great Britain in succession to his father, but refused to allow him to enter Scotland unless he accepted Presbyterianism throughout the British Isles. When negotiations stalled, Charles authorised General Montrose to land in the Orkney Islands with a small army to threaten the Scots with invasion, in the hope of forcing an agreement more to his liking. Montrose feared that Charles would accept a compromise, and so chose to invade mainland Scotland anyway. He was captured and executed. Charles was reluctantly induced to make promises that he would abide by the terms of a treaty agreed between him and the Scots Parliament at Breda, and support the Solemn League and Covenant, which authorized Presbyterian church governance across Britain. Upon his arrival in Scotland on 23 June 1650, Charles formally agreed to the Covenant; his abandonment of Episcopal church governance, although winning him support in Scotland, left him unpopular in England. Charles himself soon came to despise the “villainy” and “hypocrisy” of the Covenanters.
On 3 September 1650, the Covenanters were defeated at the Battle of Dunbar by a much smaller force led by Oliver Cromwell. The Scots forces were divided into royalist Engagers and Presbyterian Covenanters, who even fought each other. Disillusioned by the Covenanters, in October Charles attempted to escape from them and rode north to join with an Engager force, an event which became known as “the Start”, but within two days the Presbyterians had caught up with and recovered him. Nevertheless, the Scots remained Charles’s best hope of restoration, and he was crowned King of Scotland at Scone on 1 January 1651. With Cromwell’s forces threatening Charles’s position in Scotland, it was decided to mount an attack on England. With many of the Scots (including Lord Argyll and other leading Covenanters) refusing to participate, and with few English royalists joining the force as it moved south into England, the invasion ended in defeat at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, after which Charles eluded capture by hiding in the Royal Oak at Boscobel House. Through six weeks of narrow escapes Charles managed to flee England in disguise, landing in Normandy on 16 October, despite a reward of £1,000 on his head, risk of death for anyone caught helping him and the difficulty in disguising Charles, who was unusually tall at over 6 feet (185 cm) high.
Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, effectively placing the British Isles under military rule. Impoverished, Charles could not obtain sufficient support to mount a serious challenge to Cromwell’s government. Despite the Stuart family connections through Henrietta Maria and the Princess of Orange, France and the Dutch Republic allied themselves with Cromwell’s government from 1654, forcing Charles to turn for aid to Spain, which at that time ruled the Southern Netherlands. He attempted to raise an army, but failed for lack of finance.
After the death of Cromwell in 1658, Charles’s chances of regaining the Crown at first seemed slim as Cromwell was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son, Richard. However, the new Lord Protector, with no power base in either Parliament or the New Model Army, was forced to abdicate in 1659 and the Protectorate was abolished. During the civil and military unrest which followed, George Monck, the Governor of Scotland, was concerned that the nation would descend into anarchy. Monck and his army marched into the City of London and forced the Rump Parliament to re-admit members of the Long Parliament excluded in December 1648 during Pride’s Purge. The Long Parliament dissolved itself and for the first time in almost 20 years, there was a general election. The outgoing Parliament designed the electoral qualifications so as to ensure, as they thought, the return of a Presbyterian majority.
The restrictions against royalist candidates and voters were widely ignored, and the elections resulted in a House of Commons which was fairly evenly divided on political grounds between Royalists and Parliamentarians and on religious grounds between Anglicans and Presbyterians. The new so-called Convention Parliament assembled on 25 April 1660, and soon afterwards received news of the Declaration of Breda, in which Charles agreed, amongst other things, to pardon many of his father’s enemies. The English Parliament resolved to proclaim Charles king and invite him to return, which message reached Charles at Breda on 8 May 1660. In Ireland, a convention had been called earlier in the year, and on 14 May it declared for Charles as King.
Charles set out for England, arrived in Dover on 25 May 1660 and reached London on 29 May, his 30th birthday. Although Charles and Parliament granted amnesty to Cromwell’s supporters in the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, 50 people were specifically excluded. In the end nine of the regicides were executed: they were hanged, drawn and quartered; others were given life imprisonment or simply excluded from office for life. The bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw were subjected to the indignity of posthumous decapitations.
Charles agreed to give up feudal dues that had been revived by his father; in return, the English Parliament granted him an annual income to run the government of £1.2 million, generated largely from customs and excise duties. The grant, however, proved to be insufficient for most of Charles’s reign. The sum was only an indication of the maximum the King was allowed to withdraw from the Treasury each year; for the most part, the actual revenue was much lower, which led to mounting debts, and further attempts to raise money through poll taxes, land taxes and hearth taxes.
In the latter half of 1660, Charles’s joy at the Restoration was tempered by the deaths of his youngest brother, Henry, and sister, Mary, of smallpox. At around the same time, Anne Hyde, the daughter of the Lord Chancellor Edward Hyde, revealed that she was pregnant by Charles’s brother, James, whom she had secretly married. Edward Hyde, who had not known of either the marriage or the pregnancy, was created Earl of Clarendon and his position as Charles’s favourite minister was strengthened.
Charles in his Coronation robes.
Painted by John Michael Wright, circa 1661The Convention Parliament was dissolved in December 1660, and Charles’s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. Charles was the last sovereign to make the traditional procession from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey the day before the coronation. Shortly after the coronation, the second English Parliament of the reign assembled. Dubbed the Cavalier Parliament, it was overwhelmingly Royalist and Anglican. It sought to discourage non-conformity to the Church of England, and passed several acts to secure Anglican dominance. The Corporation Act 1661 required municipal officeholders to swear allegiance; the Act of Uniformity 1662 made the use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer compulsory; the Conventicle Act 1664 prohibited religious assemblies of more than five people, except under the auspices of the Church of England; and the Five Mile Act 1665 prohibited clergymen from coming within five miles (8 km) of a parish from which they had been banished. The Conventicle and Five Mile Acts remained in effect for the remainder of Charles’s reign. The Acts became known as the “Clarendon Code”, after Lord Clarendon, even though he was not directly responsible for them and even spoke against the Five Mile Act.
The Restoration was accompanied by social change. Puritanism lost its momentum. Theatres reopened after having been closed during the protectorship of Oliver Cromwell, and bawdy “Restoration comedy” became a recognizable genre. Theatre licenses granted by Charles were the first in England to permit women to play female roles on stage (they were previously played by boys), and Restoration literature celebrated or reacted to the restored court, which included libertines like John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Of Charles II, Wilmot supposedly said:
We have a pretty witty King,
And whose word no man relies on;
He never said a foolish thing,
And never did a wise one.
To which Charles is reputed to have replied “that the matter was easily accounted for: For that his discourse was his own, his actions were the ministry’s.
Great Plague and Fire
In 1665, Charles was faced with a great health crisis: the Great Plague of London. The death toll at one point reached a peak of 7,000 in the week of 17 September. Charles, his family and court fled London in July to Salisbury; Parliament met in Oxford. Various attempts at containing the disease by London public health officials all fell in vain and the disease continued to spread rapidly.
Adding to London’s woes, but marking the end of the plague, was what later became known as the Great Fire of London, which started on 2 September 1666. The fire consumed about 13,200 houses and 87 churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral. Charles, and his brother James, joined and directed the fire-fighting effort. The public blamed Roman Catholic conspirators for the fire, although it had actually started in a bakehouse in Pudding Lane.