Charles II, 1630-85

Exiled after the execution of his father and the failure of his attempts to regain the throne, he was finally invited to return as King Charles II after the collapse of the Cromwellian régime

Portrait of Charles Stuart, Prince of WalesThe second and eldest surviving son of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, Charles Stuart was born in St James's Palace, London, on 29 May 1630. He was placed under the governorship of William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle. His tutor was Dr Brian Duppa, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, a protégé of Archbishop Laud.

In view of Henrietta Maria's Roman Catholicism, the Long Parliament took a keen interest in Prince Charles' education and religious development. In 1641, Parliament insisted that the Earl of Newcastle be removed from the Prince's governorship after allegations of his involvement in the Army Plot. Newcastle was replaced by William Seymour, Marquis of Hertford.

Early in 1642, as relations between King Charles and Parliament continued to deteriorate, the King sent Henrietta Maria to The Hague and took steps to regain custody of the Prince, despite the protests of Parliament. The King took Charles with him when he left London for the north in the spring of 1642.

The Civil Wars

Charles was 12 years old when the English Civil War broke out in August 1642. Although he took the title Prince of Wales, he was never formally invested. He was made an honorary captain in the King's Horse Guards and was present at the battle of Edgehill (1642), where he had to be dissuaded from making a high-spirited charge at a troop of Roundhead cavalry. Charles accompanied the King either at Oxford or on campaign until March 1645 when he was appointed captain-general of Royalist forces in the West. With his headquarters at Bristol, Charles nominally presided over a council composed of moderate Royalists, including Lord Hopton and Sir Edward Hyde. During the final stages of the First Civil War, the Prince's Council struggled to co-ordinate the volatile commanders Sir Richard Grenville and Lord Goring, until Fairfax led the New Model Army on its triumphant invasion of the West in 1645-6.

After the fall of Bristol in September 1645, the Prince withdrew into Cornwall. King Charles issued orders that he should escape to France to join Queen Henrietta Maria, but Hyde and others on the Prince's Council were concerned that the move would damage the Royalist cause because of the Queen's Catholicism. After Lord Hopton's defeat at Torrington in February 1646, the Prince and his Council sailed from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly. A Parliamentarian fleet sent after them was providentially dispersed in a storm, after which the Prince went to Jersey. Finally, with the support of the Queen's envoy Lord Jermyn, Charles overruled his Council and joined his mother at St Germain near Paris in June 1646 where he remained for two years at the expense of the French government.

In the spring and early summer of 1648, uprisings in England and Wales signalled the beginning of the Second Civil War. Prince Charles moved to the Netherlands to take command of ten warships that had defected to the Royalists during the naval revolt against Parliament, but his attempts to support the uprisings in East Anglia and Kent were thwarted. A Parliamentarian fleet confronted him in the Thames estuary during late August. The two fleets prepared for battle, but were driven apart by a sudden storm. Prince Charles sailed back to the Netherlands and retired to The Hague while his cousin Prince Rupert took over command of the Royalist fleet.

King of Scots

After the execution of King Charles I by the English Parliament in January 1649, Prince Charles was proclaimed King of Scotland in Edinburgh—on condition that he would sign the Covenant and undertake to enforce a Presbyterian religious settlement in England. Moderate English Royalists were opposed to an alliance with the Covenanters, but Charles' appeals to other European heads of state for military help against the new republican government of England came to nothing. After the defeat of the Marquis of Ormond's army in Ireland, the possibility of a Scottish army appeared to be Charles' only hope for regaining the English throne. In May 1650, Charles signed the Treaty of Breda in which he agreed to the Covenanters' terms, abandoned the loyal Marquis of Montrose and repudiated Ormond's treaty with the Irish. Charles landed in Scotland in June 1650.

Meanwhile, an English army commanded by Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland and defeated the Scots at the battle of Dunbar (September 1650). Covenanters on the ruling Committee of Estates blamed the defeat on the lack of religious commitment shown by Charles and his followers. They demanded the removal of all former Engagers and ungodly Cavaliers from the army and from Charles' retinue. Charles attempted to overthrow the Covenanters in October 1650. The plot, known as "The Start", failed through Charles' last-minute indecision, but it helped to weaken the power of the Kirk Party on the Committee of Estates in favour of the Royalists and Engagers. Charles was crowned King of Scots at Scone on 1 January 1651.

Charles II and the Scots"The Scots holding their young King's nose to the grindstone":
English satirical broadside of 1651

With Cromwell's army tightening its grip on Scotland, Charles decided to lead his Scots-Royalist army into England. He marched from Scotland on 31 July 1651 but the expected uprising of English Royalists failed to materialise. Cromwell followed him south and gathered an overwhelming concentration of forces at Worcester, where Charles was decisively defeated on 3 September 1651. Charles' escape through England after the battle of Worcester became legendary. He evaded capture for six weeks, travelling in disguise, helped by loyal subjects and at one point hiding from Roundhead soldiers in the famous oak tree at Boscobel. He finally got away to France in mid-October.

Charles in Exile

Following his dramatic escape from England, Charles rejoined his mother in exile at the palace of the Louvre in Paris. Reliant upon a pension granted by the government of France and surrounded by a group of quarrelsome advisers, Charles became gloomy and withdrawn. The Royalist court-in-exile split into three main factions: the "Louvre" party, which revolved around Henrietta Maria and her close confidante Lord Jermyn; the "Old Royalist" faction, led by conservatives like Sir Edward Hyde, Sir Edward Nicholas and Lord Hopton; and the "Swordsmen" who looked to Prince Rupert for leadership.

The Louvre group was willing to seek alliances with foreign powers or to make concessions to the Presbyterians and other parliamentary factions in order to restore the monarchy at the earliest opportunity, whereas Hyde and his followers argued that it was better to rely exclusively upon old Royalists whose loyalty was assured and to wait for opinion in England to swing over to the King rather than to make compromises for short-term gains. The Swordsmen had no coherent policies but were largely motivated by personal feuds and jealousies against members of the other factions.

By 1654, Cromwell was negotiating with Cardinal Mazarin of France for an alliance against Spain. For diplomatic reasons, Charles and his entourage were obliged to leave Paris. Charles moved to Cologne and then to Bruges in the Spanish Netherlands when the Anglo-Spanish War broke out between Spain and the English Protectorate in alliance with France. Charles' representatives negotiated with Spain for help in regaining the throne of England and the exiled Royalists raised an army of 3,000 English, Scottish and Irish soldiers commanded by Charles' brother James, Duke of York (later James II), to help the Spanish defend Flanders against Marshal Turenne's Anglo-French army.

During Charles' exile, there were three serious attempts to incite Royalist uprisings in Britain: Glencairn's Uprising in Scotland during 1653-4, Penruddock's Uprising in the West Country of 1655 and Booth's Uprising in Cheshire of 1659. All three were easily suppressed through superior military strength and, in the case of the English uprisings, an efficient intelligence network that infiltrated Royalist conspiracies and allowed the Protectorate government to stay one step ahead of its enemies.

The Restoration

The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 came about after the death of Oliver Cromwell when the collapse of the Protectorate resulted in a power struggle between republicans and army officers that brought political turmoil to England. Popular calls for the return of the monarchy were given vital military backing by General Monck who, during the early months of 1660, moved cautiously from a position of support for the Commonwealth to support for the Restoration. Charles was acknowledged rightful king by the newly-elected Convention Parliament on 8 May 1660 and invited to return to England. He landed at Dover on 25 May. Amid wild rejoicing across the nation, he made a triumphal entry into London on his 30th birthday, 29 May 1660. His coronation at Westminster Abbey took place on St George's Day, 1661.

Charles II at his coronation 1661Charles II at his coronation, 1661

The Restoration Settlement resulted in the return of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican church. Separate parliaments for Ireland and Scotland were also reinstated. However, the reforms introduced by the Long Parliament during 1640-2 abolishing the prerogative courts that had allowed Charles I to rule alone were retained. Despite the misgivings of Parliament, Charles II maintained a small standing army.

The Restoration is a distinctive period in British history, characterised by the establishment of the Royal Society for scientific research in 1662 and the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. The re-opening of theatres resulted in the new theatrical genre known as Restoration Comedy, concerned with fashionable society and characterised by wit, cynicism and bawdy language. The loose morals associated with the Restoration court stand in marked contrast to the sobriety of Charles I's reign and the Cromwellian régime.

In England, 29 May was kept as an offical public holiday known as Oak Apple Day in commemoration of the Restoration. The official holiday was abolished in 1859, yet traditional ceremonies and customs persist in a few places to this day.

Charles reigned for a further twenty-five years. Despite his considerable political skills, the power of Parliament steadily increased during this time. Towards the end of his reign, an embryonic party political system appeared. The Whig and Tory parties emerged when Charles' Roman Catholic sympathies brought him into conflict with Parliament. Although he was notorious for keeping a string of mistresses and fathering numerous illigitimate children, Charles' marriage to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza produced no legitimate heir. The Whigs in Parliament tried to exclude Charles' brother, James, Duke of York, from the succession because he was an avowed Roman Catholic. In response to the Exclusion Crisis, Charles dissolved Parliament in 1681 and ruled as an absolute monarch for the final four years of his reign. He died in 1685 professing that he was a Catholic on his deathbed. He was succeeded by his brother, James II.


Ronald Hutton, Charles II, King of England, Scotland & Ireland, 1989

Paul Seaward, Charles II, King of England, Scotland & Ireland, Oxford DNB, 2004

David Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy in England 1649-60, 1960

A.W. Ward, Charles II, King of England, Scotland & Ireland, DNB, 1887