The second instalment in this series of blogs focuses on the third Monarch of the House of Stuart, King Charles II.
Charles was born on 29th May 1630 at St James’s Palace to the reigning King Charles I and his consort Henrietta Maria (who was in fact the sister of French King Louis XIII). Charles was baptised in the Chapel Royal on the 27th June by the Anglican Bishop of London William Laud and brought up in the care of the protestant Countess of Dorset (Britain was now a country whose worshippers were divided by different faiths). Charles was known as Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay and Prince of Wales (the same titles held by our Charles in the present day).
During the 1640s when Charles was still young, he fought with his father in the English Civil War, he accompanied his father during the Battle of Edgehill and was made titular commander of the West Country forces during the campaigns of 1645. His father Charles I had surrendered in 1646, however in 1648 he escaped, though was later recaptured. Despite his son’s best efforts, Charles I was executed in 1649. England was without a Monarch and had henceforth become a republic.
Oliver Cromwell was made Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, the British Isles were under military rule. At the time Charles could not muster enough support to even mount a challenge towards Cromwell’s government. With the French and Dutch allying themselves with Cromwell, Charles turned to Spain for help. With Spanish money Charles raised an Army, an Army which would form the centre of the post restoration British Army.
Even after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, Charles’ chances of regaining the crown were still very slim. This was due to Cromwell’s son Richard succeeding him as Lord Protector. Richard, however, did not have the power base his father did and so was forced to abdicate in 1659. A new English Parliament was assembled and resolved to proclaim Charles King and insist on his return to England. This message reached Charles on 8th May 1660 in Breda and Charles set out for England arriving at Dover on 25th May 1660 as King Charles II.
In the early years of Charles’ reign the joy of the restoration of the British Monarchy was in some way overshadowed by family issues. Charles’s brother Henry and sister Mary both died of smallpox. Anne Hyde also revealed she was pregnant by Charles’s brother James whom she had married in secret.
The newly assembled English Parliament was dissolved in December 1660 and not long after Charles’s coronation, a second English Parliament was formed. This new Parliament was overwhelmingly Royalist and Anglican, it aimed to discourage non-conformity to the Church of England and passed several acts to secure this Anglican dominance. The Corporation Act 1661, The Uniformity Act 1662 and The Five Mile Act 1665 all became known as The Clarendon Code.
Two national crises that Charles II’s reign are remembered for are the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. The Great Plague of 1665 was the biggest health crisis the country had ever seen, the death toll even reached 7000 in one week. Charles and his family and Court fled to Salisbury. Attempts were made to control the disease, however these attempts were not successful and the disease spread rapidly. The second crisis (although putting an end to the Plague) was the Great Fire of London which consumed around 13000 houses and 80 churches including St Paul’s Cathedral. Charles and his brother James directed and joined in the fire fighting effort, fighting a colossal fire which originally started in a bakery in Pudding Lane.
The second English Parliament (known as the Cavalier Parliament) were at first very loyal to the crown, however they later became alienated by the King’s Wars and religious policies during the 1670s. In 1672, Charles issued the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in which he proclaimed to suspend all Penal Laws against Catholics and other religious dissenters. The Parliament opposed this declaration on the grounds that the King had no right to suspend laws passed by Parliament. Eventually Charles gave in and withdrew the declaration.
In Charles’ later years he faced a political storm over the Succession to the Throne as the prospect of having a Catholic Monarch was fiercely opposed – opposed by one individual in particular, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury’s power base was strengthened when Parliament introduced the Exclusion Bill of 1679 which sought to exclude the Duke of York from the line of succession. Some even wanted one of Charles’ many illegitimate children to take the throne, just because he was protestant. Fearing the Exclusion Bill would be passed, Charles dissolved Parliament. As for the next three parliaments, they all wanted the Exclusion Bill passed, so fearing the worst, Charles dissolved them all. During the early 1680s support for the Exclusion Bill wavered and Charles’ subjects became loyal once more. For the remainder of his reign Charles ruled without a parliament.
On 2nd February 1685, King Charles II suffered an apoplectic fit and died four days later aged 54 at Whitehall Palace. On the King’s last evening he was received into the Catholic Church, though to what extent is still unclear. King Charles II was buried at Westminster Abbey on 14th February and his brother James became King James II of England and VII of Scotland.
It does appear that throughout the English Civil War, Charles’ chances of becoming King were very slim and if Richard Cromwell had had the power base like his father’s who knows if Charles would have ever become King? Maybe it’s down to Richard Cromwell’s abdication as Lord Protector that we actually have a British Monarchy. It seems we also owe it to King Charles II for the success he made of the restoration of the British Monarchy, for again, if it wasn’t for him then maybe we wouldn’t see the fantastic British Monarchy we see in this present day.
If you have anything to add about the reign of King Charles II, please comment below.