Charles II

(Charles II of England)


Charles II was a personally charming, but irresponsible monarch. In an age of great ideas and conflicts, where thousands of lives had been lost promoting or defending the rights and privileges of parliament, conscience, tradition, the church, and the monarchy, he continued on a frivolous path, seemingly unaffected by the entire drama. Part of his charm was exactly this—the country was exhausted by years of taking politics and religion seriously, and there was a certain amount of relief in the prospect of returning to a "normal" state of incompetent rule, after nearly twenty years of earnestness and bloodshed. Nevertheless, Charles squandered an opportunity to provide strong leadership at a time the country could have benefited from a wise sovereign.

Charles's father was executed when he was nineteen, and Scotland immediately declared in favor of him, although England remained under control of the Parliamentary army. Charles landed in Scotland but within a year was defeated at the Battle of Worcester, and nearly captured. He returned to France and spent the entire decade of the Commonwealth in Europe. He was restored to the throne after the death of Cromwell, after agreeing to deal leniently with the regicides. By the time he returned to power parliament had turned against Puritanism, and was strongly supportive of the institutions of the Anglican Church so for the early years of his reign, the king was actually more favorable toward religious toleration than the parliament. Yet he did nothing to effectively advance the cause of religious freedom for either Catholics or dissenting protestants during this time.

During the years that England had been embroiled in civil wars, the Dutch, who had finally won their independence from Spain, began to take a leading role in maritime commerce, and to threaten England's position as a dominant sea-power. As a result, there were two naval wars with Holland during Charles' reign, in spite of the fact that Protestant Holland had long been one of England's strongest allies. Two other disasters hit England during the same period—the Great Plague, and the Great Fire of London, in 1665 and 1666 respectively. Yet even these terrible crises did not long subdue the king's lively nature. He shocked the nation, however, when he converted to Roman Catholicism on his death bed, and was succeeded on the throne by his Catholic brother James II.

Key events during the life of Charles II of England:

Birth of Charles II.
Death of Charles I. Scotland declares for Charles II.
Flees Scotland after the Royalists are defeated at Battle of Worcester.
  Family of Charles in exile in France.
Death of Cromwell. End of Commonwealth. Monck negotiates the Restoration.
Returns to England. Crowned king of England and Scotland.
Marries Catherine of Braganza of Portugal.
Break-out of Second Anglo-Dutch War.
Great Plague of London kills at least 70,000.
Great Fire of London destroys much of the city.
Break-out of Third Anglo-Dutch War.
Converts to Catholicism on death-bed.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Charles II and the Royal Oak  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Royal Oak  in  Stories from English History, Part Third  by  Alfred J. Church
Charles II. and the Stuart Restoration (1660-1685)  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Crowning Mercy  in  Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Commonwealth—The Adventures of a Prince  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Charles II—The Story of How London was Burned  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Charles II.—How the King came to his Own  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Adventures of a Royal Fugitive  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris
Charles II: The 'Merrie Monarch'  in  The Tudors and the Stuarts  by  M. B. Synge

Book Links
Charles II  by  Jacob Abbott

Image Links

Landing of Charles II
 in Charles II

The King at Boscobel
 in Charles II

Charles the Second
 in Charles II

The Bridal Party at Lisbon
 in Charles II

Catharine of Braganza
 in Charles II

Charles II
 in Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary

The Children of Charles I
 in  The Story of the English

King Charles Spaniels
 in  The Story of the English

Short Biography
Oliver Cromwell Military leader of Parliament who headed the Commonwealth government after death of Charles I.
Henrietta Daughter of Henry IV of France, and Queen of Charles I, and mother of Charles II and James II.
James II Catholic king of England, deposed by his daughter Mary and William III.
Marquess of Montrose Leader of the Royalist cause in Scotland during the English Civil War. Eventually betrayed by Charles II.
George Monck Puritan general who negotiated the terms of the Restoration of Charles II.
Catherine of Braganza Portuguese princess, and wife of Charles II
Daniel Defoe Author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.
Christopher Wren English Scientist and Architect during the reign of Charles II. Rebuilt St. Paul's after the London Fire. Founded the Royal Society.
Samuel Pepys Kept a diary during the reign of Charles II; mentions the plague, the great fire, and much else.