Humanities Information

A Short Biography on Some of Europes Most Loved and Hated Monarchs - Pt 5 Charles II

Born in 1630, Charles II was the second eldest son of Charles I, who spent most of his teenage years fighting parliaments Roundheads until the execution of his father in 1649, and after he agreed to make Presbyterianism the religion of England and Scotland.

In 1650, Charles returned to his native Scotland and a year later led an unsuccessful campaign against Cromwell's forces at Worcester. During this defeat, Charles managed to avoided capture, finding safe passage to France where he spent the next eight years roaming the wilderness of Europe.

Upon the collapse of Cromwell's commonwealth, Charles was invited back to England and shortly after married Catherine of Braganza. His marriage to Catherine was a fruitless one as it bore him no legitimate heir to the throne.

In 1660, at the age of 30, Charles ascended the English throne and immediately set about seeking retribution for his father's execution. Nine of his father's conspirators were brought to trial and executed. As well as being very tolerant towards those who had condemned his father to death, he was also a very tolerant person in regards to all religious matters.

The country was in a jubilant mood at having a true monarch again, but his powers had been severely curtailed by Parliament. This curtailment meant that the Royal coppers were not what they should be and Charles had to fund his administrators from customs taxes and a pension that was paid to him by King Louis XIV of France.

Out of the ashes of the civil war, England's first political parties were formed. The Cavaliers went on to form the first Tory party, whose ideology was in preserving the kings power over Parliament, while Cromwell's Roundheads went on to form the Whig Party. Oddly enough, the Whig Party was all for expansion of trade abroad and maintaining parliament's supremacy in the political field. In essence they were forbearers of today's modern political parties.

Charles first ten years in power was not very memorable or fruitful. He was defeated by the Dutch in a war over foreign trade. In the latter half of the 1660's Charles had to cope with the Great Plague of 1665 as well as the Fire of London in 1667, which left much of the capital a whole burnt out shell which only added to his trouble.

On top of all this, during the same year as the Great Fire of London, the Dutch brazenly sailed up the Medway River and sank five of his battleships. And to rub salt into already opened wounds, they towed the Royal Charles back to Holland.

The start of a new decade saw a new alliance with France. The French promised to help Charles in his fight against the Dutch with the assurance that Charles would bring back Catholicism to the country. This was in turn used against him by the Whig party. The consequence of this was another bout of religious hatred towards the Catholic Church. This anti-Catholicism paranoia led to the Queen and her favourites being accused of attempting to murder Charles II. In Parliament the Whig party, who held the majority of seats at the time, tried to push through an Exclusion Bill barring Catholics from holding public office and thus keep James Stuart from the throne. Charles II was felled by fever and this illness caused the balance of opinion to tip in his favour.

The king had a self-indulgent character - he had numerous mistresses and illegitimate children, and loved racing and gambling - and this led to him having a considerable influence on Restoration art and literature.

Charles II's remaining years were occupied with securing his brother's right to the throne and gathering political support from the Tory party. Charles died in February 1685 from complications following a stroke.

Charles II's life can be best summed up from a quote of the time: "Charles II was always very merry and was therefore not so much a king as a Monarch. During the civil war, he had rendered valuable assistance to his father's side by hiding in all the oak-trees he could find. He was thus very romantic and popular and was able after the death of Cromwell to descend to the throne."

I hope you have enjoyed reading about Charles II.

In my next article we will learn about the life of Philip II of France.

Until then,

Best wishes and have a great day

Stuart Bazga

A Guide to Castles of Europe was born from childhood dreams and aspirations. It is my hope to educate and stimulate you into exploring these castles for yourselves.


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