King Charles II

King Charles II

Charles, the son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was born in 1630. As Prince of Wales during the Civil War, Charles was placed in charge of the west of England and took part in the Battle of Edgehill in 1642.

After the defeat of the Royalist forces Charles went into exile to the Isles of Scilly. Later he lived in Jersey and France. In 1649 Charles was proclaimed king of Scotland. He arrived in Edinburgh but after military defeats at Dunbar and Worcester, he was forced to flee to France.

On 3 September 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. A few months previously, Cromwell had announced that he wanted his son, Richard Cromwell, to replace him as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

The English army was unhappy with this decision. While they respected Oliver as a skillful military commander, Richard was just a country farmer. In May 1659, the generals forced Richard to retire from government.

Parliament and the leaders of the army now began arguing amongst themselves about how England should be ruled. General George Monk, the officer in charge of the English army based in Scotland, decided to take action, and in 1660 he marched his army to London.

When Monck arrived he reinstated the House of Lords and the Parliament of 1640. Royalists were now in control of Parliament. Monck now contacted Charles, who was living in Holland. Charles agreed that if he was made king he would pardon all members of the parliamentary army and would continue with the Commonwealth's policy of religious toleration. Charles also accepted that he would share power with Parliament and would not rule as an 'absolute' monarch as his father had tried to do in the 1630s.

This information was passed to Parliament and it was eventually agreed to abolish the Commonwealth and bring back the monarchy. Parliament raised nearly £1 million and with this money soldiers in the army were paid off and sent home. At the same time Charles was granted permission to form two permanent regiments for himself, the Royal Scots and the Coldstream Guards.

As a reward for his action, General George Monck became one of the king's most important ministers. Many of the men who had fought as Cavaliers against the Roundheads also became ministers and advisers. Some of these men wanted revenge against those who had killed their king. A large number of the people responsible were now dead. However, many of those who were still alive were punished. Eleven members of the House of Commons who had signed Charles I's death warrant were hanged, drawn and quartered. Royalists even dug up the body of Oliver Cromwell and displayed it at Tyburn.

Charles and his pro-Royalist Parliament now attempted to deal with the Puritans. A new Act of Uniformity was passed that made Puritan acts of worship illegal. Those that refused to obey this law became known as non-conformists or dissenters. Large numbers of nonconformists went to prison because they were unwilling to give up their religious beliefs.

Men who had been Anglicans before the Civil War were appointed to senior posts in the church. Bishops once again became members of the House of Lords.

Puritans also lost their power in politics. In future Puritans would no longer be allowed to become members of the House of Commons or local counsellors. They were also excluded from universities and from teaching in schools. Strict censorship was also imposed on books. All books dealing with history, science or philosophy had to be checked by the government and the leaders of the church before they were published.

Newspapers were also put under the control of the government. Coffee-houses, where people often discussed politics, were also closed down.

In 1662 Charles married Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of the King of Portugal. This failed to produce an heir but through his affairs with Nell Gwyn, Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Portsmouth and Louise de Keroualle he fathered several children.

In 1665 England became involved in a war with Holland. The war did not go well, and in 1667 the Dutch fleet defeated the English navy. Charles feared that a weakened England was now likely to be invaded by the French. For hundreds of years the French were seen as England's main European rivals. One of the reasons for this constant conflict concerned the subject of religion. Whereas England was a Protestant nation, France had always remained loyal to the Catholic faith.

Charles, afraid that his powerful neighbour might try and invade England, sent his sister Henrietta to talk to Louis XIV of France. In their talks, Henrietta told Louis XIV that Charles II wanted England and France to become allies. Louis XIV replied that he was willing to help England but in return he demanded that Charles become a Catholic. Charles agreed to this but argued that he needed time before announcing his decision to the people of England. Charles feared that the English Protestants might try to overthrow him when they realised that they had a Catholic king.

In 1670 Charles II and Louis XIV signed the Treaty of Dover. In the treaty Louis XIV agreed to give Charles a yearly pension. A further sum of money would be paid once Charles announced to the English people that he had joined the Catholic church. Louis XIV also promised to send Charles 6,000 French soldiers if the English people rebelled against him. For his part, Charles agreed to help the French against the Dutch. He also promised to do what he could to stop the English Protestants from persecuting Catholics.

This treaty was kept secret from the English people while Charles tried to persuade Parliament to become more friendly towards the French government. Charles used some of the money to bribe certain members of Parliament. These MPs, who supported Charles' pro-Catholic policies, became known as Tories by their opponents in Parliament.

The Puritans lost control of government after the Restoration in 1660. However, the vast majority of members of House of Commons remained loyal Protestants.

In 1670 Charles became a Roman Catholic. However, as Parliament and about 90% of the people in England were Protestants, Charles had to keep this a secret. After becoming a Catholic, Charles tried very hard to protect other Catholics from Protestant persecution. However, he was unable to stop Parliament from passing the Test Acts that prevented Catholics from being Members of Parliament or from holding any other high office.

Charles and his wife Catherine of Braganza did not have any children. There were two possible candidates to become king when Charles died; James, his younger brother and James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, his eldest illegitimate son.

In 1678, Titus Oates, an Anglican minister announced that he had discovered a Catholic plot to kill Charles II. Oates claimed that Charles was to be replaced by his Roman Catholic brother, James. He went on to argue that after James came to the throne Protestants would be massacred in their thousands. This announcement made Catholics more unpopular than ever, and eighty of them were arrested and accused of taking part in the plot. Several were executed before it was revealed that Titus Oates had been lying.

Earl of Shaftesbury was a senior member of the king's government. Shaftesbury was strong supporter of religious toleration and this resulted in him clashing with Earl of Clarendon. Shaftesbury survived but was later dismissed from office when he expressed doubts about the role being played by the king's brother, James.

Shaftesbury now argued that the king should call a new Parliament to discuss these issues. His supporters began to wear green ribbons (the colours of the Levellers). The king, concerned about this act of rebellion, had Shaftesbury arrested and sent to the Tower of London.

Dissatisfaction with the king continued and after a year Shaftesbury was released and James was sent to live abroad. Shaftesbury was brought back to power as president of the privy Council. In this position he urged Charles II to remarry in an effort to produce an heir to the throne. Charles, who wanted his brother to succeed him as king, refused, and dismissed Shaftesbury from office.

In July 1681 Earl of Shaftesbury was arrested and charged with high treason. However, in November, 1681, the grand jury threw the charges out. Shaftesbury was released but fearing he would be arrested again, he fled to the Netherlands where he died in 1683.

Just before he died in February 1685, Charles admitted that he was a Roman Catholic. He also announced that his brother James, who was also a Catholic, was to succeed him to the throne.

Primary Sources

(1) Letter sent by a man living in London to one of Charles II's advisers (1659)

You cannot imagine how all people here are affected with joy at the hope of having a King again. His (Charles) picture is hung up in many places in the streets... there was a man yesterday who said that he had seen him lately and that he was not so handsome as that picture, at which the people were so angry that they fell upon the man and beat him soundly.

(2) In his diary, John Evelyn described Charles II entering London. (29 May 1660)

There were 20,000 soldiers... shouting with joy; the streets covered with flowers, the bells ringing, fountains running with wine.

(3) When Charles dissolved parliament in 1678 he made the following remarks to his friend Thomas Bruce.

I feel better now... It is better to have one king than five hundred.

(4) Gilbert Burnet, History of My Own Time (1723)

King Charles II... was corrupted by France... he was continually cheating his people... he was lazy... he enjoyed the pleasures of wit and laughter, with the most worthless, vicious men of his age.

(5) Sir Thomas Clifford worked for Charles II. In 1682 he recorded these views on the Secret Treaty of Dover.

Henrietta of England... whose intelligence was equal to her beauty... sister to the King of England and sister-in-law to the

King of France... met Louis XIV and promised that Parliament would re-establish the Catholic religion in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

(6) The Secret Treaty of Dover (1670)

The King of England, being convinced of the truth of the Catholic religion... agrees to be reconciled to the Church of Rome, as soon as his kingdom's affairs shall permit him... the said King (Louis XIV) agrees to assist his Majesty (Charles II).. if in need... by sending 6,000 men.

(7) John Evelyn, diary entry, (4th February, 1685)

He (Charles II) had many great faults... He neglected the needs of the people... Wars, plagues, fires made his reign very troublesome and unprosperous.

(8) Sir John Reresby described how Charles II spent his final years living in Newmarket.

The King... mixed himself amongst the crowd, allowed every man to speak to him as he pleased, went hawking in the mornings, to cock-fights or foot races in the afternoons (if there were no horse races), and to plays in the evenings.