Charles II (29 May 1630 – 6 February 1685) was the King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 30 January 1649 (de jure) or 29 May 1660 (de facto) until his death. His father Charles I had been executed in 1649 following the English Civil War; the monarchy was then abolished and the country became a Republic under Oliver Cromwell, the "Lord Protector". In 1660, shortly after Cromwell's death, the monarchy was restored under Charles II.
Unlike his father, Charles II was skilled at managing Parliament. It was during his reign that the Whig and Tory political parties developed. He famously fathered numerous illegitimate children, of whom he acknowledged fourteen. Known as the "Merry Monarch", Charles was a patron of the arts and less restrictive than many of his predecessors. By converting to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed, Charles II became the first Roman Catholic to reign over England since the death of Mary I in 1558 and over Scotland since the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1567.
Charles, the eldest surviving son of Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France, was born in St James's Palace on 29 May 1630. At birth, he automatically became (as the eldest surviving son of the Sovereign) Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay; shortly after his birth, he was created Prince of Wales. Due to the disruption caused by the English Civil War, he was never formally invested with the Honours of the Principality of Wales.
During the 1640s, when the Prince of Wales was still young, Charles I fought parliamentary and Puritan forces in the English Civil War. The Prince accompanied his father during the Battle of Edgehill and, at the age of fifteen, participated in the battles of 1645. In 1646, his father, fearing for his safety, ordered him to go to France.
Charles had an affair with Lucy Walter (who, some alleged, secretly married him); their son, James Scott (afterwards Duke of Monmouth and Duke of Buccleuch), was the only one of Charles II's children who would later play a significant part in politics.
Charles I was captured by the rebels in 1647, escaped, and was recaptured in 1648. Despite his son's efforts to save him, Charles I was executed in 1649, and England was proclaimed a republic. At the same time, however, much of Scotland remained loyal to the royalist cause. On 5 February 1649, Charles II was proclaimed King of Scots in Edinburgh, on the understanding that he would agree to the Solemn League and Covenant (an agreement between England and Scotland that the Church of Scotland should not be remodelled on Anglican lines but should remain Presbyterian – the form of church governance preferred by most in Scotland – and that the Church of England and the Church of Ireland should be reformed along the same lines). Upon his arrival in Scotland on 23 June 1650, he formally agreed to the Covenant; his abandonment of Anglicanism, although winning him support in Scotland, left him unpopular in England. He was crowned King of Scots at Scone, Perthshire on 1 January 1651, and mounted an attack on England, then under the "Lord Protector" Oliver Cromwell. The invasion ended in defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, following which Charles is said to have hidden in the Royal Oak at Boscobel House, subsequently escaping to France in disguise. Parliament put a reward of £1000 on the king's head, and the penalty of death for anyone caught helping him. Through six weeks of narrow escapes Charles managed to leave England.
Impoverished, Charles could not obtain sufficient support to mount a serious challenge to Cromwell's government. France and the United Provinces allied themselves with Cromwell's government, forcing Charles to turn to Spain for aid. He attempted to raise an army, but failed due to his financial shortcomings.
After the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, Charles' chances of regaining the Crown seemed slim. Oliver Cromwell was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son, Richard Cromwell; the new Lord Protector was incompetent and unwilling to rule, and abdicated in 1659. The Protectorate of England was abolished, and the Commonwealth of England established. During the civil and military unrest which followed, George Monck, the Governor of Scotland, was concerned that the nation would descend into anarchy and sought to restore the monarchy. Monck and his army marched into the City of London, where, with much popular support, he forced the Long Parliament to dissolve itself. For the first time in almost twenty years, the members of Parliament faced a general election.
A predominantly Royalist House of Commons was elected. The Convention Parliament, soon after it assembled on 25 April 1660, received news of the Declaration of Breda (8 May 1660), in which Charles agreed, amongst other things, to pardon many of his father's enemies. It subsequently declared that Charles II had been the lawful Sovereign since Charles I's execution in 1649.
Charles set out for England, arriving in Dover on 23 May 1660 and reaching London on 29 May (which is considered the date of the Restoration, and was Charles' thirtieth birthday). Although Charles granted amnesty to Cromwell's supporters in the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion , he did not pardon the judges and officials involved in his father's trial and execution. Some of the regicides were executed in 1660; others were given life imprisonment. The bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw were subjected to the indignity of posthumous executions.
The Convention Parliament was dissolved in December 1660. Shortly after Charles's coronation at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661, the second Parliament of the reign—the Cavalier Parliament—assembled. As the Cavalier Parliament was overwhelmingly Royalist, Charles saw no reason to dissolve it and force another general election for seventeen years.
The Cavalier Parliament concerned itself with the agenda of Charles' chief advisor, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. Lord Clarendon sought to discourage non-conformity to the Church of England; at his instigation, the Cavalier Parliament passed several acts which became part of the "Clarendon Code". The Conventicle Act 1664 prohibited religious assemblies of more than five people, except under the auspices of the Church of England. The Five Mile Act 1665 prohibited clergymen from coming within five miles of a parish from which they had been banished. The Convecticle and Five Mile Acts remained in effect for the remainder of Charles' reign. Other parts of the Clarendon Code included the Corporation Act 1661 and the Act of Uniformity 1662.
Charles agreed to give up antiquated feudal dues which had been revived by his father; in return, he was granted an annual income of £1,200,000 by Parliament. The grant, however, proved to be of little use for most of Charles' reign. The aforesaid sum was only an indication of the maximum the King was allowed to withdraw from the Treasury each year; for the most part, the amount actually in the coffers was much lower. To avoid further financial problems, Charles appointed George Downing (the builder of Downing Street) to reform the management of the Treasury and the collection of taxes.
In 1662 Charles married a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, who brought him the territories of Bombay and Tangier as dowry. During the same year, however, he sold Dunkirk—a much more valuable strategic outpost—to the French King Louis XIV for £40,000.
Appreciative of the assistance given to him in gaining the throne, Charles awarded North American lands then known as Carolina—named for his father—to eight nobles (known as Lords Proprietors) in 1663.
The Navigation Acts (1650) which hurt Dutch trade and started the First Dutch War (1652-1654), were also responsible for starting the Second Dutch War (1665-1667). This conflict began well for the English, with the capture of New Amsterdam (later renamed New York in honour of Charles' brother James, Duke of York, the future James II of England/James VII of Scotland) in North America, but in 1667 the Dutch launched a surprise attack upon the English when they sailed up the River Thames to where the better part of the British Fleet was docked. Almost all of the ships were sunk except for the flagship, the Royal Charles, which was taken back to the Netherlands as a trophy. (The ship's nameplate remains on display, now at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.) The Second Dutch War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Breda in 1667.
As a result of the Second Dutch War, Charles dismissed his advisor Lord Clarendon, whom he utilised as a scapegoat for the war. Clarendon fled to France when impeached by the House of Commons for high treason (which carried the penalty of death). Power passed to a group of five politicians known as the Cabal—Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford, Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Baron Ashley (afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury) and John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale.
In 1668, England allied itself with Sweden, and with its former enemy the Netherlands, in order to oppose Louis XIV in the War of Devolution. Louis was forced to make peace with the Triple Alliance, but he continued to maintain his aggressive intentions. In 1670, Charles, seeking to solve his financial troubles, agreed to the Treaty of Dover, under which Louis XIV would pay him £200,000 each year. In exchange, Charles agreed to supply Louis with troops and to convert himself to Roman Catholicism "as soon as the welfare of his realm will permit." Louis was to provide him with 6,000 troops to suppress those who opposed the conversion. Charles endeavoured to ensure that the Treaty—especially the conversion clause—remained secret. It remains unclear if Charles ever seriously intended to follow through on the conversion clause.
Meanwhile, by a series of five acts around 1670, Charles granted the British East India Company the rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions, to mint money, to command fortresses and troops, to form alliances, to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas in India. Earlier in 1668 he leased the islands of Bombay for a paltry sum of ten pounds sterling paid in gold.
Conflict with Parliament
Although previously favourable to the Crown, the Cavalier Parliament was alienated by the king's wars and religious policies during the 1670s. In 1672, Charles issued the Declaration of Indulgence, in which he purported to suspend all laws punishing Roman Catholics and other religious dissenters. In the same year, he openly supported Catholic France and started the Third Anglo-Dutch War.
The Cavalier Parliament—although opposed to granting religious tolerance to Catholics—opposed the Declaration of Indulgence on constitutional grounds (claiming that the King had no right to arbitrarily suspend laws) rather than on political ones. Charles II withdrew the Declaration, and also agreed to the Test Act, which not only required public officials to receive the sacrament under the forms prescribed by the Church of England, but also forced them to denounce certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as "superstitious and idolatrous." The Cavalier Parliament also refused to fund the Anglo-Dutch War, forcing Charles to make peace in 1674.
Charles' wife Queen Catherine was unable to produce an heir, her pregnancies instead ending in miscarriages and stillbirths. Charles' heir-presumptive was therefore his unpopular Roman Catholic brother, James, Duke of York. In 1678, Titus Oates, a former Anglican cleric, falsely warned of a "Popish Plot" to assassinate the king and replace him with the Duke of York. Charles did not believe the allegations, but ordered his chief minister Thomas Osborne, 1st Earl of Danby to investigate. Lord Danby, however, was an anti-Catholic, and encouraged Oates to make his accusations public. The people were seized with an anti-Catholic hysteria; judges and juries across the land condemned the supposed conspirators; numerous innocent individuals were executed.
Later in 1678, however, Lord Danby was impeached by the House of Commons on the charge of high treason. Although much of the nation had sought war with Catholic France, Charles II had secretly negotiated with Louis XIV, trying to reach an agreement under which England would remain neutral in return for money. Lord Danby was hostile to France, but reservedly agreed to abide by Charles' wishes. Unfortunately for him, the House of Commons failed to view him as a reluctant participant in the scandal, instead believing that he was the author of the policy. To save Lord Danby from the impeachment trial in the House of Lords, Charles dissolved the Cavalier Parliament in January 1679.
A new Parliament, which met in March of the same year, was quite hostile to the king. Lord Danby was forced to resign the post of Lord High Treasurer, but received a pardon from the king. In defiance of the royal will, Parliament declared that a dissolution did not interrupt impeachment proceedings. When the House of Lords seemed ready to impose the punishment of exile—which the House of Commons thought too mild—the impeachment was abandoned, and a bill of attainder introduced. As he had done so many times during his reign, Charles II bowed to the wishes of his opponents, committing Lord Danby to the Tower of London. Lord Danby would be held without bail for another five years.
Another political storm which faced Charles was that of succession to the Throne. The Parliament of 1679 was elected at a time when anti-Catholic sentiments prevailed across the Kingdom, and found itself vehemently opposed to the prospect of a Catholic monarch. Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (previously Baron Ashley and a member of the Cabal, which had fallen apart in 1672) introduced the Exclusion Bill, which sought to exclude the Duke of York from the line of succession. Some even sought to devise the Crown to the Protestant Duke of Monmouth, one of Charles' illegitimate sons. The "Abhorrers"—those who opposed the Exclusion Bill—would develop into the Tory Party, whilst the "Petitioners" — those who supported the Exclusion Bill — became the Whig Party.
Fearing that the Exclusion Bill would be passed, Charles dissolved Parliament in December 1679. Two further Parliaments were called in Charles' reign (one in 1680, the other in 1681), but both were dissolved because they sought to pass the Exclusion Bill. During the 1680s, however, popular support for the Exclusion Bill began to dissolve, and Charles experienced a nationwide surge of loyalty, for many of his subjects felt that Parliament had been too assertive and obnoxious. For the remainder of his reign, Charles ruled as an absolute monarch, without a Parliament.
Charles' opposition to the Exclusion Bill angered some Protestants. Protestant conspirators formulated the Rye House Plot, a plan to murder the King and the Duke of York as they returned to London after horse races in Newmarket. A great fire, however, destroyed much of Newmarket and caused the cancellation of the races; thus, the planned attack could not take place. Before news of the plot leaked, the chief conspirators fled. Protestant politicians such as Algernon Sydney and the Lord William Russell were implicated in the plot and executed for high treason, albeit on very flimsy evidence.
Charles died of a stroke at the Palace of Whitehall, converting to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded by the Duke of York, who became James II in England and Ireland, and James VII in Scotland.
The above statue of Charles II stands in the Figure Court of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Charles II left no legitimate issue. He did, however, have several children by a number of mistresses (many of whom were wives of noblemen); many of his mistresses and illegitimate children received dukedoms or earldoms. He publicly acknowledged fourteen children by seven mistresses; six of those children were borne by a single woman, the notorious Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, whom Charles granted the Dukedom of Cleveland. His other favourite mistresses were Nell Gwynne and Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. Charles also acknowledged children by Lucy Walter, Elizabeth Killigrew, Viscountess Shannon and Catherine Pegge, Lady Greene . The present Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, Duke of Richmond and Gordon, Duke of Grafton and Duke of St Albans all descend from Charles in direct male line. Charles' relationships, as well as the politics of his time, are depicted in the historical drama (produced in 2003 by the British Broadcasting Corporation).
It is worth noting that Diana, Princess of Wales was descended from two of Charles' illegitimate sons, the Duke of Grafton and the Duke of Richmond (who is also a direct ancestor of Camilla Parker Bowles). Thus her son HRH Prince William of Wales, currently second in line to the British Throne, will very likely be the first British monarch descended from Charles II, and the first descended from Charles I since the death of Queen Anne in 1714.
Charles II's eldest son, the Duke of Monmouth, led a rebellion against James II, but was defeated at the battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685, captured, and executed. James II, however, was eventually dethroned in 1688 in the course of the Glorious Revolution. James was the last Catholic monarch to rule England.
Charles, a patron of the arts and sciences, helped found the Royal Society, a scientific group whose early members included Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton. Charles was the personal patron of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who helped rebuild London after the Great Fire in 1666. Wren also constructed the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which Charles founded as a home for retired soldiers in 1681. Since 1692, a statue of Charles II in ancient Roman dress (created by Grinling Gibbons in 1676) has stood in the Figure Court of the Royal Hospital.
The anniversary of Charles' Restoration (which is also his birthday) — 29 May — is celebrated in the United Kingdom as "Oak Apple Day", after the Royal Oak in which Charles is said to have hid to escape from the forces of Oliver Cromwell. Traditional celebrations involve the wearing of oak leaves, but have now, for the most part, died out. The anniversary of the Restoration is also an official Collar Day .
Style and arms
The official style of Charles II was "Charles the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." (The claim to France was only nominal, and had been asserted by every English King since Edward III, regardless of the amount of French territory actually controlled.) His arms were: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland).
The children of Charles II
Charles left no legitimate heirs but fathered an unknown number of illegitimate children. He acknowledged fourteen children to be his own, including Barbara Fitzroy, who almost certainly wasn't his child.
- By Lucy Walter (1630 - 1658)
James Crofts "Scott" (1649 - 1685), created Duke of Monmouth (1663) in England and Duke of Buccleuch (1663) in Scotland
- Mary Crofts. (c. 1651) Not acknowledged. She married a William Sarsfield and later a William Fanshaw and became a faith healer operating in Covent Garden.
- By Elizabeth Killigrew (1622 - 1680)
- Charlotte Jemima Henrietta Maria Boyle, "Fitzcharles" (1650 - 1684)
- By Catherine Pegge, Lady Green
- Charles Fitzcharles (1657 - 1680), known as "Don Carlos", created Earl of Plymouth (1675)
- Catherine Fitzcharles (born 1658, died young)
- By Barbara Palmer (1640 - 1709) (née Villiers), Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland
Anne Palmer (Fitzroy) (1661 - 1722)
Charles Fitzroy (1662 - 1730) created Duke of Southampton (1675), became 2nd Duke of Cleveland (1709)
Henry Fitzroy (1663 - 1690), created Earl of Euston (1672), Duke of Grafton (1709)
Charlotte Fitzroy (1664 - 1718), Countess of Lichfield
George Fitzroy (1665 - 1716), created Earl of Northumberland (1674), Duke of Northumberland (1683)
Barbara (Benedicta) Fitzroy (1672 - 1737) - She was acknowledged as Charles' daughter, but was probably the child of John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough
- By Eleanor "Nell" Gwynne (c.1642 - 1687)
Charles Beauclerk (1670 - 1726), created Duke of St Albans
- James Beauclerk (1671 - 1681)
- By Louise Renée de Penancoet da Kéroualle (1648 - 1734), Duchess of Portsmouth (1673)
Charles Lennox (1672 -1723), created Duke of Richmond (1675) in England and Duke of Lennox (1675) in Scotland.
- By Mary 'Moll' Davis
- Mary Tudor (1673 - 1726)
- Other mistresses
- Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin
- Winifred Wells - one of the Queen's Maids of Honour
- Mrs Jane Roberts - the daughter of a clergyman
- Mary Sackville (formerly Berkeley, née Bagot) - the widowed Countess of Falmouth
- Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Kildare
Last updated: 05-09-2005 20:19:05