Charles II (England) (1630–1685; Ruled 1660–1685)

views updated May 21 2018

CHARLES II (ENGLAND) (16301685; ruled 16601685)

CHARLES II (ENGLAND) (16301685; ruled 16601685), king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Charles II was the dominant royal figure in England, Scotland, and Ireland for most of the late seventeenth century. Born on 29 May 1630, Charles succeeded to the throne on 30 January 1649. He could hardly have become king in worse circumstances, for his father, Charles I, had been beheaded by English revolutionaries who then abolished the monarchy. Young Charles had fled to the Continent three years before, and heard the news in exile in Holland. Although his reign legally dates from the moment that his father died, he was left to wander in poverty around western Europe for the first eleven years of it, as the guest successively of the Dutch, the French, the Germans, and the Spanish. In England the republicans who had killed his father continued to provide the real government of the country, most powerfully in the person of Oliver Cromwell, who ruled as Lord Protector between 1654 and 1658. Charles plotted incessantly to regain his thrones by invasion or rebellion, and came closest in 16501651, when the Scots crowned him as their king and he invaded England with an army of them. That army, however, was destroyed at Worcester, leaving the English republicans to conquer Scotland and Charles to escape back to continental Europe by hiding in an oak tree and in various country houses owned by royal supporters. When he was invited back to his three thrones in 1660, it was because the republican government had collapsed as a result of internal fighting among its members following the death of Cromwell (3 September 1658). Charles formally acceeded to power in his three kingdoms on his thirtieth birthday, 29 May 1660, when he entered London to the cheers of huge crowds. He remarked dryly that he could not understand, in view of all this rejoicing, why none of the people applauding had done anything to help him until that point. The cynicism and suspicion of the remark is significant: always after his return, Charles never fully trusted the British nor felt secure among them.

On returning to his realms, he found many problems left in all three by two decades of war and revolution, but also great enthusiasm for the restoration of the monarchy. He must, therefore, take some blame for the fact that within three years he had become unpopular in England and was quarreling with its Parliament. This was partly due to his financial extravagance and adulterous habits; he married a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, in 1662 and then paraded his current mistress before her and the court. It was also because he tried to increase his own power over national religion by playing off against each other the newly restored national church and the Protestant dissenters who worshipped outside it. He only succeeded in disappointing both. Charles's response to this situation was to try to regain popularity with a reckless foreign adventure, an unprovoked attack on the Dutch that he thought would win riches and military glory. The resulting war ended in defeat in 1667, however, leaving him humiliated and heavily in debt. He tried to find his way out of these problems by a still more risky adventure, a secret agreement with France to launch another attack on the Dutch state that he believed would avenge his earlier defeat and leave him rich and powerful enough to disregard his critics in Parliament. The result, by 1674, was another defeat and the complete discrediting of his government.

He then hired a brilliant politician, the earl of Danby, to repair his finances and restore his reputation, and for four years this seemed to work. Danby managed Parliament carefully and projected an image of the king as a responsible and patriotic ruler and defender of the Church of England. Charles, however, could not resist another secret deal to take money from the Catholic French as an insurance policy. When this was revealed to the public in 1678, Danby's government fell and for three years Charles repeatedly called and dissolved new Parliaments, finding himself unable to manage a working relationship with any. He steered his way out of the crisis very shrewdly, offering measured concessions to his critics, hiring new and talented ministers, and behaving responsibly. By the time of his sudden death on 6 February 1685, his government was stable and strong again at home, although he was still unable to work with a Parliament and thus could not wage war.

Two very different views of Charles appear in modern literature. One, found mostly in scholarly histories, emphasizes his weaknesses as a monarch: his dislike of paperwork and administration, his duplicity, his vindictive cruelty, his determination to keep his ministers feeling insecure and to set them against each other, and his taste for reckless gambling, in both foreign and domestic affairs. Popular biographies and works of creative literature (and cinema) emphasize his charm, accessibility, affability, wit, and love of novelty, which undoubtedly encouraged the growth of science, architecture, and theater in England. He introduced the ruling classes to yachting, croquet, and champagne, and fathered at least twelve illegitimate children by seven different mistresses. Both portraits are just, but in the last analysis a king is expected to rule, and his shortcomings as a political leader contributed significantly to the instability of the British Isles during his reign. He has enjoyed a popularity in the twentieth century that he never knew in the seventeenth.

See also Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars ; Charles I (England) ; Cromwell, Oliver ; English Civil War and Interregnum ; English Civil War Radicalism .


Bryant, Sir Arthur. King Charles II. London, 1931. A typical admiring popular biography.

Fraser, Antonia. King Charles II. London, 1979. A more recent popular biography.

Hutton, Ronald. Charles II: King of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Oxford and New York, 1989. The first full-length scholarly study.

Miller, John. After the Civil Wars: English Politics and Government in the Reign of Charles II. London, 2000. An evaluation of the nature and impact of policy making during Charles's regime.

. Charles II. London, 1991. Another complete study by a scholar.

Spurr, John. England in the 1670s: This Masquerading Age. Oxford, 2000. An analysis of one decade in Charles's reign, especially valuable for its analysis of popular attitudes toward the government.

Ronald Hutton

Charles II

views updated Jun 11 2018

Charles II (1630–85), king of England, Ireland, and Scotland (acceded 1649, restored 1660–85). Charles received his practical education in 1648–51 when he learnt how to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, win and discard allies, make use of others, and trust no one. He also fathered his first bastards. He commissioned Montrose to raise the Scottish Highlands, but withdrew his support to conclude an agreement with the more powerful covenanting party, who defeated and then hanged Montrose (April 1650). Invited to Scotland by Argyll, whom Charles executed in 1661, he took the covenant and publicly condemned the religions and policies of his father and mother. At first Argyll's puppet, Charles freed himself by devious manœuvring, but when Cromwell's army advanced he took the gamble of invading England, where few rallied to him. After a disastrous defeat at Worcester (September 1651) he made a romantic escape to France. Subsequent royalist plots to restore Charles failed. Foreign assistance proved ineffective: France preferred Cromwell as an ally, leaving Charles to an unhelpful combination with Spain, the weaker power. Divisions among the republican factions brought about his 1660 Restoration, which was unconditional. It was old cavaliers who in 1661–2 imposed conditions by restoring strict Anglican religious uniformity and making Charles abandon his Declaration of Indulgence (1662). In his first years Charles was advised by his principal minister, Clarendon, to rule within the laws whereas younger ministers urged him to free the crown from constitutional restrictions. After the failure of the Anglo-Dutch war of 1665–7 he abandoned Clarendon and initiated a new line of policy.

Charles, his brother James, and the cabal ministers concluded treaties with France because it was the strongest European power. Victory in a new Dutch war would be assured. French subsidies and increased revenues from expanded trade (as occurred in 1681–8) would reduce, and might eventually eliminate, dependence on Parliament. War would enable the army to be expanded. Charles, James, and Clifford also thought that they could become catholics and institute religious toleration: in the secret treaty of Dover (1670) Louis XIV promised military aid if a rebellion resulted. In the event, unlike the other two, Charles delayed his conversion until his death-bed in 1685. For the first time no parliamentary session occurred in 1672, and had the Dutch War succeeded Charles would have been able to dictate from a position of strength. But stalemate at sea enabled Parliament to make Charles withdraw his Declaration of Indulgence and assent to the Test Act barring catholics from office, forcing James and Clifford to resign. In 1673–4 Dutch propaganda fed MPs' suspicions of Charles's absolutist intentions: they refused to vote money, compelling Charles to desert France and make peace.

Charles also retreated in domestic politics, allowing his new lord treasurer Danby to return to upholding the interests of the church, enforcing the penal laws against catholics and dissenters. Danby was needed to restore royal solvency and manage Parliament, but Charles never liked or trusted him (nor Danby, Charles). The king persisted in trying to maintain a personal connection with Louis XIV and barter English neutrality for subsidies. Danby was alarmed at the increase in French power and wished to balance it by championing William of Orange, furthering this policy by negotiating the marriage of William to James's daughter and heir Mary. Charles allowed the marriage in order to put up the price that Louis would pay for English neutrality, but Louis found it cheaper to bribe the opposition and give them secret papers incriminating Danby. This forced Charles to dismiss Danby and dissolve Parliament. At the same time ‘revelations’ broke of a Popish plot to murder Charles. James's catholicism, absolutist and French sympathies, and the deciphering of correspondence by an employee, Coleman, made him seem the obvious beneficiary. By sending James into exile Charles raised doubts whether he would steadfastly resist the Whig bill to exclude James from the succession, since he had not protected ministers when they came under attack.

However Charles saw Exclusion of the rightful heir as changing the monarchy from a hereditary, divinely appointed institution into an elective, limited office that could soon give way to a new commonwealth. He stopped the first Exclusion Bill by dissolving Parliament (July 1679). When Charles fell ill and James returned from exile to defend his right, Charles sent him to rule Scotland, where he could prevent covenanting militants intervening in England (as they had done in 1639–45) to help the Whigs. In 1680 Charles blocked exclusion by encouraging the Lords to reject a second bill, and in March 1681 he dissolved the third Whig Parliament which he had ordered to meet at Oxford, to separate the Whigs from their London supporters. No further meetings of Parliament were allowed, Charles being financially secure with a new secret treaty with France giving him subsidies in return for non-intervention in Europe.

The term ‘Stuart revenge’ does not accurately describe Charles's last years after 1681, apart from renewed prosecutions of dissenters. Charles strengthened the crown by obtaining the surrender or forfeiture of the charters of corporations. He purged Whigs from offices. When evidence surfaced of two separate Whig plots, one by popular activists to murder Charles and James, the other by aristocrats to stage a coup, he relentlessly prosecuted those involved. He used the law against opponents, but he cannot be said to have tried to undermine it or set up royal absolutism. His main interest at the end was politically trivial, to build a new palace near Winchester.

Charles had two constructive achievements to his credit. He successfully resisted intense cavalier pressure in the early 1660s to go back on the Act of Indemnity that was intended to heal the divisions caused by the civil wars. This enabled him later to defend and conserve the rights of the crown without the nation being plunged into the catastrophe of another civil war. Secondly his personal tolerance, ineffective in trying to suspend religious persecution, found full play in his protection of intellectual freedom, although he did little more in science than observe the experiments of the Royal Society.

Charles's irregular private life resembled that of his French grandfather Henri IV. It seldom affected politics: the only politically active and influential mistress, the duchess of Portsmouth, worked in the French interest, having been sent by Louis for that purpose. The barren Portuguese queen, Catherine, counted for nothing.

J. R. Jones


Hutton, R. , Charles the Second: King of England, Scotland and Ireland (1989);
Jones, J. R. , Charles II, Royal Politician (1987);
Miller, J. , Charles II (1991).

Charles II

views updated May 18 2018

Charles II

Charles II (1630-1685) was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1660 to 1685. Restored to the throne after the Cromwellian experiment, he prevented a renewed outbreak of civil strife for a critical generation.

Charles II, the son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was born in London on May 29, 1630. For the first 8 years of his life, he was heir apparent in what seemed a quiet land. By 1638 he must have been aware that the calm was that deceptive moment before the storm. By the time he was 12, his father's kingdom had been torn apart by civil war, and by 1646 Charles was in exile. In 1649 he watched helplessly from the Continent while his father was tried and executed in England. This set of circumstances, and the demeaning 10 years of poverty and plotting that followed, seemed to be the paramount influence in his life. Unlike his brother James, the Duke of York and later King James II, he developed a suspicion not of men but of the ideologies that moved men. Ironically it was lack of ideological commitment, and his suspicion of such commitment, that made him suspect in his own times and that has condemned him in the eyes of many historians.

After 1649 Charles's principal interest was the reestablishment of the monarchy, and he used whatever means he thought necessary to achieve this end. In March 1650 he accepted the Scots' offer of support in his effort and accepted the Scots' covenant and Presbyterianism as a concomitant to such support. With the failure of Charles and the Scots at the battle of Worcester in 1651, the prince never again evidenced any interest in Presbyterianism other than repugnance.

His Accession

On his accession in 1660 Charles ended the trails and execution of regicides long before royalist appetites were appeased, and he refused to sponsor any attempts to appropriate, from former supporters of the Commonwealth, land sold by royalists during the interregnum. Moreover, he tried without success to arrive at a broader Anglican religious dispensation in 1660 and to contradict the St. Bartholomew's Day oath, which turned Nonconformist ministers out of ecclesiastical livings in 1662. These actions proceeded from the declaration he had made at Breda in April 1660, in which he attempted to persuade Gen. Monck and Parliament to return England to the monarchical form. His attempts, however, to implement this declaration came long after Monck's army had disbanded and after the Cavalier Parliament had been elected. Historians point out that this declaration was in keeping with Charles's disposition, which was marked by a reluctance to act and a tendency to make enemies and to mask intention with the appearance of wit and love of pleasure.

Although Charles could and did act decisively in moments of crisis, he preferred to act through ministers who would serve as lightning rods to consume popular displeasure. When it served his purposes, he would undermine and deceive his own ministries. Thus, although the Earl of Clarendon served as Charles's first minister from 1660 to 1666, during the last 3 of those years he could only partially depend on royal support. In 1666, because of the disgrace of defeat in the Dutch war and the loss of Clarendon's abilities to control the lower house and produce revenues, his enemies pushed for his impeachment. Charles, who had never approved of Clarendon's religious policies or his high-handedness in government, joined in the destruction of the ministry.

The Cabal

Following the attempted impeachment and the exile of Clarendon, Charles turned to the formation of a government whose chief ministers were those who sponsored the old opposition. This group, known collectively by the initials of their names as the Cabal, was never used in a truly collective sense. To Charles, the Cabal's principal function was to lead the lower house of Parliament to a more generous posture in funding the government and to an acceptance of the royal policy on religion. The members of the Cabal were more likely to be consulted individually rather than collectively by the King, and certain members of this ministry were privy to, and sponsors of, certain aspects of the royal policy in which the others had no knowledge or interest. The ministry was not successful in leading Parliament and was already breaking up when Charles promulgated his Declaration of indulgence in 1672. On this issue—the use of the royal power to suspend religious statutes and to establish by administrative fiat Charles's goal of religious toleration— the ministry was shattered.

To Charles, the Cabal had been disappointing from its earliest days. It had not produced a subsidy-granting majority from the anti-Clarendonians in the lower house. Further, the attempts by two of its members, the 2d Duke of Buckingham and the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, to build a power structure through anti-Catholicism and suspicion of the heir apparent frightened both other members of the ministry as well as the King.

Later Reign

The failure of the King's Indulgence and the subsequent anti-Catholic Test Act of 1673 forced Charles to look for new ministerial leadership. In Sir Thomas Osborne, soon to be Earl of Danby, Charles found a new figure to lead his government. Danby had been instrumental in bringing down Clarendon, but his policy and supporters closely followed Clarendon lines with the single exception of an anti-French rather than an anti-Dutch foreign policy. Danby, however, demonstrated a genius at finance that had never been a strength of Clarendon's government.

From its inception Danby's coalition was faced with an opposition led by Shaftesbury and Buckingham and their followers. The principal issue used by this opposition was the suspected Catholicism of the King and court and the known Catholicism of the Duke of York, the heir apparent. From 1674 Parliament spent progressively more time on debating whether Danby and his supporters or Shaftesbury and his were more virtuously anti-Catholic. In the meantime the King was, in the late 1670s, forming a northern alliance against French expansion.

In 1678 Titus Oates appeared with the tale of a Popish Plot to assassinate the King. Although Shaftesbury and the opposition were not connected with Oates, they soon turned national hysteria over the plot to their advantage. They launched a double-pronged attack to overturn Danby and to exclude York as the heir apparent. Supplied with evidence and funds from the French ambassador, Shaftesbury's party demanded Danby's impeachment. At this point Charles was forced to take over the management of the government. With enormous skill, he used the controversy over Danby to distract Parliament from Shaftesbury's primary aim—changing the succession to the throne.

During the 3 years of the plot hysteria, the King used every device to divert, split, and madden the opposition with the hopes that in time the nation would become suspicious of Shaftesbury's intentions. By 1681, Charles was able to dismiss Parliament.

From that time until his death, on Feb. 6, 1685, Charles personally directed the government. He was able to destroy the opposition, and on his death he left a possibility for absolutism which was greater than any seen in England since the time of Henry VIII.

Further Reading

Arthur Bryant, King Charles II (1935; rev. ed. 1955), is the best study of Charles, but it is idolatrous and should be balanced with the more Whiggish general work by David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II (2 vols., 1934; rev. ed. 1962), and the neutral, disappointing volume by G. N. Clarke, The Later Stuarts, 1660-1714 (1934; 2d ed. 1955), vol. 10 in "The Oxford History of England" series. Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies (1907), contains a highly romantic and not very trustworthy chapter on Charles II. Godfrey Davies, The Restoration of Charles II, 1658-1660 (1955), is a specialized study.

Additional Sources

Fraser, Antonia, Charles II: his life and times, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993.

Fraser, Antonia, Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration, New York: Knopf: distributed by Random House, 1979.

Hutton, Ronald, Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Oxford England: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Jones, J. R. (James Rees), Charles II: royal politician, London; Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987.

Miller, John, Charles II, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1991.

Ollard, Richard Lawrence, The image of the king: Charles I and Charles II, New York: Atheneum, 1979.

Palmer, Tony, Charles II: portrait of an age, London: Cassell, 1979.

Wheatley, Dennis, "Old Rowley": a very private life of Charles II, London: Arrow Books, 1977. □

Charles II

views updated May 18 2018

Charles II

Charles II (1661-1700), the last Hapsburg king of Spain, reigned from 1665 to 1700. Known as "the Bewitched," he was a foolish and weak monarch at a time when Spain direly needed strong leadership.

Charles II, the son of Philip IV of Spain and his second wife, Mariana of Austria, was born in Madrid on Nov. 6, 1661. On his father's death in 1665, Mariana became queen regent, and until her death in 1696 Charles was almost completely under her control. He was a rachitic, ugly, and feeble-minded weakling who by the age of 6 could barely stand and could not walk at all. His education was very poor; when he was 14, he could read only with great difficulty. Throughout his life he remained an ignorant and sickly man.

In 1675 the 14-year old Charles was officially crowned king of Spain. For his country these were agonizing years. The economy was stagnant, there was hunger in the land, and the power of the monarchy over the various Spanish provinces was extremely weak. In foreign affairs Spain was experiencing defeat after defeat; in 1697 French armies would easily occupy Catalonia, one of the most important Spanish provinces.

Charles reigned but did not rule. Effective power was wielded either by the incapable Mariana or by powerful noblemen such as the Count of Oropesa, who later served as first minister from 1685 to 1691. In 1680 Charles married the pretty French princess Marie Louise, but she died childless in 1689. He then married Maria Ana of Neuburg, who became the controlling influence in his life after his mother's death.

As the century drew to a close, all Europe was aware that Charles was sterile and dying. France, Austria, England, and the Netherlands had designs on the Spanish Empire. In Madrid the dying king presented a pathetic spectacle. Afflicted with convulsive fits, Charles was believed to have been bewitched, and exorcists and visionary nuns employed every means known to the Church to free him from the devil.

The unfortunate monarch felt increasing pressure from those who wanted him to will his empire to Archduke Charles of Austria and from those who argued that the empire could be kept together only if it were willed to Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV of France. Charles decided for Philip and on Oct. 2, 1700, named him heir. On November 1 Charles died. When his heir entered Spain as Philip V, however, England, Austria, and the Netherlands would not recognize him as the legitimate Spanish king. In 1703 they declared war against Philip and France, and the long and bloody War of the Spanish Succession began.

Further Reading

The life of Charles II, as well as the history of his reign, has been generally ignored by historians. In English, the only account of Charles II is John Nada's gloomy biography, Carlos: The King Who Would Not Die (1963). For a brief but scholarly account of the situation in Spain during Charles's reign, J. H. Elliott, Imperial Spain: 1469-1716 (1963), is highly recommended. □

Charles II

views updated Jun 08 2018

Charles II (1630–85) King of England, Scotland and Ireland (1660–85). After the execution of his father, Charles I, he fled to France, but in 1650 was invited to Scotland by the Covenanters and crowned king in 1651. Charles' attempted invasion of England was repulsed by Cromwell, and he was forced back into exile. In 1660, Charles issued the Declaration of Breda, in which he promised religious toleration and an amnesty for his enemies. Parliament agreed to the Declaration and Charles was crowned king in May 1660, ushering in the Restoration. He attempted to preserve royal power, accepting secret subsidies from Louis XIV in exchange for promoting Roman Catholicism. Charles' support of Louis led to a war with the Netherlands (1672–74). He clashed with Parliament over both the war and his support of the Catholics. Conflict was further fuelled by anti-Catholic feeling, manifest in the ‘Popish Plot’ rumour spread by Titus Oates and the Exclusion Crisis (1679–81), when attempts were made to exclude Charles' brother, the Catholic Duke of York (later James II), from the succession. Unable to resolve his differences with Parliament, Charles dissolved it and ruled with financial support from Louis XIV. Known as the Merry Monarch, Charles had many mistresses (including Nell Gwyn), but left no legitimate heir.

Charles II

views updated May 29 2018

Charles II ( the Bald) (823–77) King of the West Franks (843–77) and Holy Roman Emperor (875–77). Younger son of Emperor Louis I, he was involved in the ambitious disputes of his elder brothers. The Treaty of Verdun (843) made him king of the West Franks, in effect the first king of France. Continuing family conflict, rebellion and Viking attacks resulted in territorial losses. Yet, after the death of Emperor Louis II, Charles was recognized as Holy Roman Emperor.

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Charles II (England)

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