Charles II (May 29, 1630 – February 6, 1685) was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy until his death in 1685.
Charles II was the eldest surviving child of Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and Henrietta-Maria de Bourbon of France, daughter of King Henri IV of France and Navarre and his second wife, Marie de Medici. After Charles I’s execution at Whitehall on January 30, 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War, the Parliament of Scotland proclaimed Charles II king of Scotland on February 5, 1649.
However, England entered the period known as the English Interregnum or the English Commonwealth, and the country was a de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell defeated Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651, and Charles fled to mainland Europe. Cromwell became virtual dictator of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Charles spent the next nine years in exile in France, the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands. A political crisis that followed the death of Cromwell in 1658 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy, and Charles was invited to return to Britain. On May 29,:1660, his 30th birthday, he was received in London to public acclaim. After 1660, all legal documents stating a regnal year did so as if he had succeeded his father as king in 1649.
Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Charles’s English parliament enacted laws known as the Clarendon Code, designed to shore up the position of the re-established Church of England. Charles acquiesced to the Clarendon Code even though he favoured a policy of religious tolerance. The major foreign policy issue of his early reign was the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
Infanta Catherine of Braganza (November 25, 1638 – December 31, 1705) was the second surviving daughter of João, 8th Duke of Braganza and his wife, Luisa de Guzmán. Following the Portuguese Restoration War, which overthrew 60 years of Habsburg rule, her father was acclaimed King João IV of Portugal, on December 1, 1640. With her father’s new position as one of Europe’s most important monarchs, Portugal then possessing a widespread colonial empire, Catherine became a prime choice for a wife for European royalty, and she was proposed as a bride for Johann of Austria, François de Vendôme, duc de Beaufort, Louis XIV and Charles II.
Catherine de Braganza, Infanta of Portugal
Negotiations with Portugal for Charles’s marriage to Catherine of Braganza began during his father’s reign and upon the restoration, Queen Luísa of Portugal, acting as regent, reopened negotiations with England that resulted in an alliance. On June 23, 1661, a marriage treaty was signed; England acquired Catherine’s dowry of Tangier (in North Africa) and the Seven islands of Bombay, the latter having a major influence on the development of the British Empire in India.
Under the terms of the treaty Portugal obtained military and naval support against Spain and liberty of worship for Catherine. Catherine journeyed from Portugal to Portsmouth on May 13–14 1662, but was not visited by Charles there until 20 May 20. The next day the couple were married at Portsmouth in two ceremonies—a Catholic one conducted in secret, followed by a public Anglican service.
In 1670, he entered into the Treaty of Dover, an alliance with his cousin King Louis XIV of France and Navarre. Louis agreed to aid him in the Third Anglo-Dutch War and pay him a pension, and Charles secretly promised to convert to Catholicism at an unspecified future date. Charles attempted to introduce religious freedom for Catholics and Protestant dissenters with his 1672 Royal Declaration of Indulgence, but the English Parliament forced him to withdraw it.
Charles II near the end of his reign.
In 1679, Titus Oates’s revelations of a supposed Popish Plot sparked the Exclusion Crisis when it was revealed that Charles’s brother and heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, was a Catholic. The crisis saw the birth of the Party Politics in England with the birth of pro-exclusion Whig and anti-exclusion Tory parties.
Fearing that the Exclusion Bill, which would exclude James, Duke of York from the throne due to his Catholicism, would be passed, and bolstered by some acquittals in the continuing Plot trials, which seemed to him to indicate a more favourable public mood towards Catholicism, Charles dissolved the English Parliament, for a second time that year, in mid-1679.
Charles II’s hopes for a more moderate Parliament were not fulfilled; within a few months he had dissolved Parliament yet again, after it sought to pass the Exclusion Bill. When a new Parliament assembled at Oxford in March 1681, Charles dissolved it for a fourth time after just a few days.
During the 1680s, however, popular support for the Exclusion Bill ebbed, and as Charles ruled as a virtual absolute monarch, he experienced a nationwide surge of loyalty. Lord Shaftesbury was prosecuted (albeit unsuccessfully) for treason in 1681 and later fled to Holland, where he died.
Charles’s opposition to the Exclusion Bill angered some Protestants. Protestant conspirators formulated the Rye House Plot, a plan to murder him and the Duke of York as they returned to London after horse races in Newmarket. A great fire, however, destroyed Charles’s lodgings at Newmarket, which forced him to leave the races early, thus inadvertently avoiding the planned attack. News of the failed plot was leaked.
During the exclusion crisis Charles sided with the Tories, and, following the discovery of the Rye House Plot to murder Charles and James in 1683, some Whig leaders were executed or forced into exile. Charles dissolved the English Parliament in 1681, and for the remainder of his reign, Charles ruled without Parliament.
Charles was always favorable toward the Catholic faith, his mother, Marie-Henrietta was a devout Catholic, and Charles II was received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed.
King Charles II was one of the most popular and beloved kings of England, known as the Merry Monarch, in reference to both the liveliness and hedonism of his court and the general relief at the return to normality after over a decade of rule by Cromwell and the Puritans.
Charles’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, bore no live children, but Charles acknowledged at least twelve illegitimate children by various mistresses. He was succeeded by his brother James who became James II-VII, King of England, Scotland and Ireland.