When the Monument to the victims of the Great Fire of London was being made, architect Sir Christopher Wren wanted to place a statue of King Charles II at the top. The king refused, saying, “I was not the one who started the fire.” This shows what kind of man and ruler he was.
King Charles II was born on May 29, 1630. He was the first son born to the current king, Charles I (1600 – 1649). His mother was Queen Consort Henrietta Maria (1609 – 1669), a princess of France. She never had an official coronation or crowning ceremony so she is officially called a Queen Consort instead of Queen.
The Rule of King Charles I
Charles I had a lot more power than British Kings and Queens have today. It is because of Charles I’s misuse of that power that made Parliament demand that Kings and Queens have very little actual power to make laws. Charles was called “Tyrant” because he disbanded Parliament and ruled England, Ireland and Scotland single-handedly for eleven years. He did such a bad job that civil war broke out.
Charles I did many things to upset Parliament. He raised taxes whenever he felt like it, even when Parliament pleaded for him not to. He married a Catholic French princess when most of England was Protestant. The King lived a lavish lifestyle while many people in Great Britain starved.
The Civil Wars
The first Civil War (1642 – 1646) was fought between people loyal to the Monarchy, called Royalists and people loyal to Parliament, called Parliamentarians. The Parliamentary army was led by future Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658.) When Irish people rebelled, Charles I wanted to command the army to punish the Irish. Parliament claimed that it was the rightful commander of the army, not the King. Cromwell won the first Civil War in 1646, but another soon broke out.
There was a brief peace until yet another civil war broke out. Great Britain went through three civil wars in about 20 years. All of the wars finally ended in 1660, with over 200,000 dead from either battle or the starvation and sickness brought on by the wars. The official end of the war was when Charles II was crowned King.
Death of Charles I
The first civil war began when Charles II was 12 years old. His mother was in the Netherlands at the time trying to get money to pay for the Royalist army. When Charles II turned 14, he was given command of the Royalist army in West England. He did not do too well and was beaten. He managed to escape to the Netherlands. His father was not so lucky.
Charles I was captured by Cromwell’s army and put on trial. The King was charged with treason because he started a civil war where so many died and many more suffered. He was sentenced to death. He was executed on January 30, 1649 by having his head chopped off with a large ax. With Charles I dead and Charles II in exile, Cromwell became supreme commander of England until he died in 1658.
The Return of Charles II
Cromwell managed to be an even worse ruler than King Charles I. He had anyone who was not a Protestant or a Jew put to death. He banned horse racing and the theatre because he felt they were sinful. Cromwell’s reign is called the Protectorate, since Cromwell gave himself the title Lord Protector. He did give parliament back its powers.
After Cromwell’s death, his oldest son Robert became Lord Protectorate. He was unpopular and weak. Charles II realized that if he returned to England, he would have many supporters who wanted a Monarchy back instead of a future consisting of Lord Protectors. Charles II returned in 1650 with the strong support of Scotland, long before Oliver Cromwell died. Cromwell beat Charles II’s forces in 1651. Charles II fled England and waited for another good time to return. Charles II finally came home and smashed Robert Cromwell’s army in 1660. With his victory, he became ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Dogs and Horses
Charles II loved dogs, particularly small friendly spaniels. He often held court while playing with his dogs. He helped develop two small spaniel breeds today called the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the lesser-known English toy spaniel, which used to be called the King Charles Spaniel or “Charlies.” Many paintings of King Charles II and his family members include spaniels.
Charles II was completely unlike Oliver Cromwell when it came to horse racing. Charles II loved it. He required his entire court to attend the Newmarket races. When he lifted the ban on horse racing, Newmarket Racecourse started to be called “Old Rowley” which was Charles II’s nickname. He owned a successful thoroughbred stallion named Old Rowley who sired many offspring. Charles II would also have many offspring, although not as many as Old Rowley.
Charles II’s Rule
Charles II allowed Parliament to have much more power but he still retained the power to disband Parliament. This gave Charles II a lot of free time, which he spent at the races and having many extra marital affairs. He hoped that Great Britain would allow religious freedom. He even became a Catholic in order to help end a war with the Dutch. The French would not join Great Britain against the Dutch unless Charles II became Catholic.
Charles II’s reign saw many notable events, including three wars with the Dutch, The Great Fire of London in 1666 and a horrible plague in 1665. His becoming Catholic Angered Parliament and in 1681 Charles I banned Parliament for the last years of his life. However, he was a far more tolerant tyrant than his father.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "King Charles II" https://englishhistory.net/stuarts/king-charles-ii/, February 16, 2017