Edward I

Charles II

Charles II

King Charles II was one of the most colourful characters to sit on the thrones of England and Scotland. He is remembered for his many mistresses and his love of theatre and horse racing. But his reign nearly did not happen—he spent much of his early life exiled in France while Parliament and Oliver Cromwell ruled England.
Charles II
Charles II

WHY WAS CHARLES IN EXILE?

Charles was born in 1630. He was the eldest surviving son of Charles I. As a teenager the young Prince Charles had witnessed some of the battles of the English Civil War between Royalists and Parliamentarians. He took refuge in the Netherlands when the Royalists were defeated and his father surrendered. In 1649 his father was executed and a republic was created in England. Charles was proclaimed King Charles II in Scotland and in 1651 he travelled to Scotland and accepted the Scottish crown. Then he led a force of 10,000 men to invade England to capture the crown there. His army was defeated by the Parliamentarian forces led by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester, and Charles fled to France. Oliver Cromwell ruled England and Scotland until he died in 1658, and his son Richard succeeded him as Lord Protector.

Charles II
Charles II

HOW WAS THE MONARCHY RESTORED?

Parliament and the Army could not agree about how England was to be ruled, and Richard Cromwell was unable to unite them. He resigned after just nine months. Many people wanted to restore the monarchy, and in 1660 General George Monck led soldiers into London and ended Parliament’s control. Still in the Netherlands, Charles made a formal declaration that he accepted the role of Parliament in the government of England. He was then invited to return from exile and was crowned in 1661—the monarchy was restored in England.

Charles II
Charles II

WHAT CHANGED IN RESTORATION ENGLAND?

After the harsh conditions of the Commonwealth, Charles’s reign was very popular with most people. Charles did not avenge his father’s death—only nine regicides (people who had signed the death warrant of Charles I) were executed—and most people who had worked in Cromwell’s government were allowed to work for the king. He restored the authority of the Church of England but was more tolerant of differences in religion than his father. His reign saw the return of the theatre, which had been banned by Cromwell. One of the most famous actresses of the time was Nell Gwyn, who became Charles’s mistress. Charles was also an important supporter of horse racing, founding the racecourse at Newmarket that is now the headquarters of British racing.

Charles II
Charles II
CHARLES AND PARLIAMENTAt first, relations between Charles II and Parliament were good. However, Charles was very extravagant and so was always short of money. In return for gold he entered into a secret alliance with King Louis XIV of France, and declared war on the Netherlands in 1672. This was a popular move because the Dutch were the commercial rivals of the English in the West Indies and the Far East. The war went well for the English, and in 1674 they captured the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in North America, which the English renamed New York. Parliament was less pleased when they learned about the French gold and the secret alliance.

THE POPISH PLOT

The final years of Charles’s reign were complicated by the crisis called the Popish plot. A man named Titus Oates claimed to have uncovered a Catholic plot to murder Charles and make his Catholic younger brother, James, king. This created a wave of anti-Catholic feeling in 1678 and 1679 and several innocent Catholics were executed for their alleged part in the plot. Some members of Parliament, called Whigs, tried to have James prevented from succeeding Charles but people feared that this would cause another civil war. When Oates was exposed as a fraud in the early 1680s, there was a backlash against the Whigs. Charles II died in 1685 and his brother became King James II.

Charles II
Charles II
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