Charles II, King of England

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CHARLES II, KING OF ENGLAND

Reigned 1660 to 1685, second son of Charles I, of the royal house of Stuart, and Henrietta Maria; b. London, May 29, 1630; d. London, Feb. 6, 1685. The education of the young prince was cut short by the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Young Charles took an active role in the struggle and witnessed a number of battles during the war. When his father's cause collapsed he fled the country and found a refuge on the Continent.

Following the execution of his father, Charles was proclaimed king in Scotland in February 1649. After extensive negotiations Charles accepted the condition of the Scots that he become a Presbyterian, and landed in that country in June 1650; he was finally crowned king at Scone on Jan. 1, 1651. The defeat of the Presbyterian forces by Oliver cromwell allowed Charles to assume command of the army, and he invaded England. Defeated at Worcester in September 1651 by Cromwell, Charles was forced to flee for his life. After some 40 days of wandering, he arrived safely in France. Often destitute, the king spent the next few years moving about the Continent seeking support. The death of Cromwell paved the way for his restoration. Charles landed at Dover in May 1660 to resume his throne. In May of the following year Charles married Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of the king of Portugal. They had no children; and although Charles showed the queen respect, he became notorious for the large number of mistresses he maintained.

It is doubtful whether Charles was ever deeply touched by any belief, but he was virtually a Catholic by the time he returned to England. In order to grant relief to the Catholics in England and to win the support of the Dissenters, Charles issued two Declarations of Indulgence in 1662 and 1672. Both of these met intense opposition in Parliament and resulted in the passage in 1673 of the Test Act, which was intended to bar Catholics from all governmental offices. The Popish Plot, a supposed conspiracy of Catholics to kill the king and other officials, was set off in 1678 by Titus Oates and other informers (see oates plot). The news that the king's brother and heir-apparent, the Duke of York, later james ii, had become a Catholic led to an attempt in Parliament to exclude him from the throne. The exclusion failed, but the Whig and Tory political parties were born out of the struggle.

Charles triumphed over his opponents when public opinion switched to support the king and his brother with the discovery of the Rye House Plot, a Whig effort to assassinate the royal pair. John huddleston, OSB, Queen Catherine's chaplain, received Charles into the Roman Catholic Church on his deathbed.

Bibliography: j. a. williams, "English Catholics under Charles II: The Legal Position," Recusant History, 7 (196364) 123143. j. miller, Popery and Politics in England, 16601688 (Cambridge Eng. 1973). a. fraser, Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration (New York 1979). k. h. d. haley, Politics in the Reign of Charles II (New York 1985). j. r. jones, Charles II: Royal Politician (London 1987). p. seaward, The Cavalier Parliament and the Reconstruction of the Old Regime (Cambridge Eng. 1988). r. hutton, Charles the Second: King of England, Scotland and Ireland (Oxford 1989).

[a. m. schleich]