Monarchy Rules: A Look at Charles II

Charles, son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France on 29 May 1630 in St James’s Palace. He became The Prince of Wales at the age of eight but was never formally invested with honours of his position.

Charles was twelve when the English Civil War broke out between the Cavaliers and the Puritans. After the war was lost and his father Charles I was executed, young Charles went into exile and remained so throughout the interregnum, the period during which England was controlled by the lord protector Oliver Cromwell.

During his exile, he spent most of his time first in the Netherlands then in France. In 1650, Charles, with the help of Scottish troops, attempted to invade republican England; this led to the Battle of Worcester. However, Charles was defeated by Cromwell in 1651.

Charles when Prince of Wales

Charles when Prince of Wales

Ten years after this battle in 1661, Charles was reinstated to the English throne. When the new king arrived in London, he was welcomed with great cheers and celebration from his people. The people responsible for his father’s execution were soon after punished by being hanged, drawn, and quartered. Charles also agreed to accept the Petition of Right from parliament, which restricted some of the liberties of the king.

Charles II’s coronation featured many new pieces of regalia since most of the crown jewels were melted during the interregnum. However, he was finally crowned on 23 April 1661 in Westminster Abbey.

Charles married his Catholic wife Catharine of Braganza. However, the couple produced no children. Charles, on the other hand, had many illegitimate children with his mistresses.

Charles’s fun loving and indulgent life was mirrored by his court. The court of Charles II was notorious for it’s lavish and hedonistic way of life, which earned him the nickname of the “Merry Monarch”. One of his courtiers once said about him, “We have a pretty witty king, Whose word no man relies on, He never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one”.

Due to his failure to produce an heir, many feared that his Roman Catholic brother James would succeed him after Charles’s death. However to deter that possibility, Charles married off his niece to the Protestant William of Orange, the future King William and Mary. Charles’s popularity with parliament also suffered when he issued the Royal Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended all penal laws against Catholics and other religious dissenters. He also supported Catholic France in the Anglo-Dutch war.

In 1678, plans for a plot to kill the king were leaked and caused an anti-Catholic uproar in Parliament. As a result of this, Charles dissolved Parliament in 1679 and ruled by himself for the remainder of his reign. He died in Whitehall Palace on 6 February 1685. He converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, which angered many of his subjects.

Photo Credit:  Charles II when Prince of Wales by William Dobson, 1642.jpg via Wikimedia Commons