King Charles II
Born: 29th May 1630, St James’ Palace
Son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria
Reigned: 1660 – 1685
“The King who brought back Partying!”
My favourite King. This may surprise some people as his reputation has not always been the best. Womaniser is the main derogatory noun used to describe him, owing to his numerous mistresses. Lucy Walters, Barbara Villiers and Nell Gwyn to name a few. This I feel often over looks him as a very able King who revitalised the monarchy and prevented rebellions.
Any account of Charles II seems to always be accompanied by an account of his father, which seems unfair especially as his father’s disastrous reign over shines any later positives. However comparisons have to be made to understand the difficulty faced by Charles II and how he proved to be successful regardless of his father.
Charles was only 12 years old when the Civil War broke out in England, provoked to the extreme by his father’s unwillingness to rule with parliament. With the Roundheads victory, Charles, his mother and younger siblings were forced into exile.
With the death of Oliver Cromwell came the end of the Commonwealth in England that had driven the country into a decade of religious piety and control. And returned the rightful King.
The quote at the top is a reference to the song King of Bling from the CBBC ‘Horrible Histories’ series about Charles II. It’s such a catchy song but also the lyrics are very true. Charles did bring back partying which had been outlawed by Cromwell. Yet aside from bringing back fun (and Christmas) Charles was also very pragmatic in his approach to ruling. He was careful to pursue a policy that accepted and promoted power sharing and listened to his advisers. Although his return did mean prosperity for many, there were still concerns over religion, particularly Catholicism.
Five years into Charles’ reign and the hot summer of 1665 was a breading ground for the deadliest plague in Britain since the middle ages. It overcome the London’s slums, when conditions were cramped and hygiene non existent. The King and others with money were able to evade the disease by escaping London, however many were not as lucky and hundreds of thousands of people died. The plague only truly ended the following year due to the devastation caused by the Fire of London. For this the King stayed and played his part, helping the locals to put out the fire, though the diarist, Samuel Pepys stated that this was purely to help his own image.
This image waned in popularity particularly owing to his rather extravagant lifestyle, especially his mistresses. Charles was very public with his lovers, and showered them with expensive gifts, titles and land. He even gave them rooms in his palaces. His poor wife Catherine of Braganza had to put up with his adultery. She did this stoically at first, however the hardest part of the King’s philandering, was his numerous illegitimate children from his mistresses, made even more difficult as Catherine herself was unable to produce an heir. Charles is believed to have had at least 15 children from various mistress, whom he not only acknowledged but also gave titles. His son James Scott, Duke of Monmouth tried to claim the throne after Charles died, showing that he believed his right as the King’s son, not often the case for children of royalty born out of wedlock.
Charles died at the age of 54. Having no legitimate heir the throne was left to his younger brother, James. His reign to me is interesting. He is remembered now as the ‘merry monarch’ who’s reign brought back ‘fun’ to Britain.