Charles II and the Restoration of the Monarchy

I remember a long time ago sitting down and watching the BBC Drama “Charles II: The Power & The Passion” and falling in love with the exiled King, forced to flee from England during the English Civil War and live out his exile across the sea in France and the Netherlands. Watching as Rufus Sewell brought Charles II to life amazed me, and I began to look more into the Restoration period. Unfortunately for me, we ended up studying the period during A-Level history and it really put me off. I may have had one of the best history teachers in the world, a man who really knew his stuff and knew how to bring the subject to life, but in this case the subject material came across as very dry and so full of politics. I wish I had paid more attention, but part of me sat there in lessons wondering what the human Charles would have been thinking as he fought to have his crown restored. Did he miss his father? Did he ever want to become Catholic? What was he thinking as London burned to the ground in 1666? It is only recently that I started looking into the human side of Charles.

But before that, whilst I was studying at University I fell in love with the English Civil War. Again, this was a subject I despised at A-Level but after seeing a group of English Civil War reenactors do a show in our town I decided to join. My first major muster with the Sealed Knot was at a reenactment of the Battle of Cheriton (my chosen site), I fought as a musketeer in an army fighting for King Charles I against Parliament and Oliver Cromwell. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Knot, and it gave me a thirst for this period. I knew how to work the same guns that men would have fought with, I knew what it felt like to be in a pike push (and let me tell you, being the only girl in the middle of what was strikingly similar to a rugby scrum was a very frightening thing!) and I began to learn more and more about it. I read eye-witness accounts of the battles. I read up on the Civil War in my area. I read about the politics defining the civil war, learnt about its causes and I kept falling deeper in love with this time period. From the moment go I was a staunch royalist, believing firmly that Parliament should never have gone against its King, deposed him and executed. I could write an entire book on the causes of the English Civil War and why I think King Charles I was the one who should have one but well…we’ll save that for another time. But as I was researching this time period, and coming up with the subject for my BA Dissertation I began to come across little snippets of Charles II. It began to whet my appetite and I began to read little snippets here and there. I had always had plenty of books kicking around on the subject of the Civil Wars and the restoration, many of which hadn’t been touched in a very long time but I began to look at them again. And I began to remember why I was so interested in Charles II – not because I was forced to study the restoration at school, but because I was fascinated with the man who had endured so much, the man who lost his father to the tyranny of Cromwell.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was getting ready for work one morning, and a show comes on called “Horrible Histories”. I may be 23, but as a girl I had grown up with the books of the same title, so I left it on. Only to be greeted by the following video:

A bit of silliness I know, but it gets the point across and very well. I thought it a wonderful way of introducing the Restoration to children, and more so it gets Charles’ story rather accurate (accurat! as HH says!) – he brought back Christmas, makeup and general partying and yes he really did break the wedding rules!! Plus, you have to admit that the song is rather catchy!

I have recently begun delving into my collection of books on Charles and the Restoration, learning the stuff I should have been paying attention to at school (when I was much more interested in The Tudors and learning about Henry VIII!). And I am really rather enjoying what I’m reading. I’ve recently started reading Antonia Fraser’s biography “King Charles II” and have already learnt a lot that I didn’t ever know before. Right now I have read of his early life and his exile up to the point of his fathers execution, and Charles being proclaimed King on the tiny island of Jersey where out of desperation he agreed to the Scot’s demands of Presbyterianism (something I don’t think he ever had any inkling of staying true too!) but already I am getting a sense of the more human side of King Charles.

The following quote made me tear up as I read it, regarding how Charles found out that his father had been executed:

“Once his advisers had to accept the worst had happened, there was a terrible debate amongst them as to how they should tell him (Charles). The method chosen provided a bitter contrast to that famous romantic night scene at Kensington Palace by which the young Victoria, two hundred years later, would learn, from the royal address of her courtiers, that she had become Queen.

Charles’ chaplain, Stephen Goffe, used the same expedient. He entered the room and, after a slight hesitation, began; “Your Majesty…”

To the agonized son, he needed to say no more. After the weeks of uncertainty, Charles burst into bitter weeping. To Goffe he could not speak. Eventually he made a sign for him to leave. For several hours, Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, otherwise Charles Stuart, son of that man of blood Charles Stuart the eldar, remained quite alone.” (Fraser 1979, 78)

A very powerful passage and one that I believe would have rang very true. I cannot even begin to imagine the grief that Charles felt upon learning that his father had been murdered by the Parliamentarians and that, for now at least, royalty had been ousted from England. I can imagine Charles sitting on his own in floods of anguished tears as he thought on what had been said. Just two simple words had brought the news home to him – his father was dead, and the future of England rested in his hands, his own paupered hands. Because Charles was not rich, for want of a better word he was a beggar. And he would be until Cromwell passed away and he returned in triumph to London in 1660, at the age of 30.

Much as I did for Cesare Borgia, below are some key points for Charles II and his reign. I hope soon to complete more work on Charles II.

  • Born 29th May 1630
  • Father: Charles I of England
  • Mother: Henrietta Maria of France
  • Through his mother, the young Charles was related to the Medici family of Italy. His maternal grandmother was Marie De’Medici. Because of this, Charles had Mediterranean complexion, a look which was not favoured among the English at the time. 
  • When Charles I became embroiled in the English Civil War, Charles joined his father at the Battle of Edgehill and when he turned 14 took part in the campaigns of the west country.
  • Charles left England in 1646 as his father began losing the war and fears for the Prince’s safety became paramount.
  • In 1648 Charles moved to the Hague to stay with his sister Mary and brother in law William of Orange. It was here that Charles had an affair with Lucy Walter who gave birth to James Duke of Monmouth. Rumours later spread that Charles and Lucy had been secretly married.
  • On 6th Feb 1650 the Scottish proclaimed Charles as King of Great Britain, but he was not allowed to enter Scotland until he had sworn that he would take England into Presbyterianism. Charles formerly agreed to this in June 1650.
  • Charles narrowly escaped capture by Parliament in 1651 after the Battle of Worcester when he hid up an Oak Tree, now known as the Boscobel Oak. A reward of £1000 was placed upon his neck, but still Charles managed to flee to Normandy.
  • In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died leaving his son Richard to run the country. But Richard abdicated and in May 1660 Charles was invited by Parliament to return to England.
  • Charles arrived in England on 25th May 1660. Despite the fact he had agreed to stay his hand with the revenge against those that had murdered his father, he had many people executed especially those that signed his fathers death warrant.
  • Charles was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23rd April 1661. He was the last monarch in England to make the procession from the Tower of London to the abbey the day before his coronation.
  • Theatres reopened, inviting the new restoration comedy to come into fashion, and the licences granted by Charles were the first to permit female actresses to play female roles!
  • 1665, Charles faced the Great Plague
  • And in 1666 the Great Fire spread through London
  • After a reign fighting against Parliament (much like his father), and fathering many a bastard upon his mistresses – a whole new post in the fights and the mistresses I think – Charles suffered from a fit on 2nd February 1685 and died 4 days later at Whitehall palace. 

Charles really had a remarkable life, filled with gaiety yet also with grief. But he also comes across as a lovable rogue, a man who loved his women and a man who loved to party. He is the man who helped bring the monarchy back to the United Kingdom, and he had to fight for it. Something that I think he did very well in doing. By the time Cromwell had died, I honestly think that England was fed up of his rule and wanted their King back. After all, whilst the country had been divided by the previous wars, no one expected the life of the previous king to end in such a way. And the return of Charles II would have been a welcome site.

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