- Charles I had a son who was eight years old when the Civil War started.
- Charles II was with his father at the Battle of Edgehill and in Oxford until his father told him to go to France for safety.
- Charles II was the king of Great Britain and Ireland.
- After years of exile, he was restored to the throne during the Puritan Commonwealth.
- The years of his reign are known as the Restoration period in English history.
Table of Contents
Childhood and Youth
King Charles II was a fascinating and intelligent ruler. He may have been under the influence of bad people, but he was still a great king.
He lost his childhood when the Civil War happened. He fled to France with his mother.
The Scots were shocked when Charles I was executed.
While England became a republic, they invited his son to become the new king.
After defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar, Cromwell marched north.
Charles II got crowned at Scone, which turned out to be the last such coronation at Scone.
The English army invaded Fife and Perth, while the Scottish forces pushed south into England, defeated at the Battle of Worcester.
Charles II escaped and fled to France once more for nine years.
Scottish resistance was no longer effective.
The English government announced that England and Scotland were one unified state.
With only two Scots, Scotland got underrepresented in Parliament.
Although the administrative and legal structure was efficient, many people went bankrupt.
The religious divisions continued for a long time.
After Oliver Cromwell’s death, his son Richard became the Lord Protector.
However, Richard Cromwell lacked the leadership qualities of his father and got quickly replaced.
Charles’ son got chosen to be the new king, and he would rule with parliament, and people were happy with the decision.
Charles II was recalled to London and reinstated on the throne.
On his thirtieth birthday, he left everything behind and returned to London as King.
The previous crown melted down when Charles I was executed, so new regalia was made.
The coronation happened on April 23, 1661. People celebrated by having fun and being happy.
Science and Advances
During the early years of his reign, Charles II won over the support of both nobles and commoners.
This was a time of significant advances in science, with Charles’ Royal Society leading the way.
Making navigation easier for 17th-century merchants and their sailors was a major challenge.
Rumors were going around the court that a French astronomer, Sieur de St. Pierre, had found a way to measure longitude at sea using observations of the Moon’s position about the background stars.
The King signed a Royal Warrant appointing John Flamsteed as the official astronomer. This was the beginning of Britain’s first state-funded scientific research institution.
Private Life and Marriage
Even though he had a child outside of marriage, Charles was eager to marry.
Catherine of Braganza got chosen to be the wife of Charles II.
She came from a wealthy family, and her dowry was very generous. She brought two million crowns to the marriage and the cities of Bombay and Tangiers.
The couple could not speak the same language, and Catherine, who was Portuguese, was considered less attractive than the King’s mistress.
There was a lot of fear that Charles’ brother James would inherit the throne because Charles had no legitimate children, and James was a Catholic, and many people found that terrible.
The nation got divided because of religious conflicts. Puritanical Protestants had more control in England and Scotland.
The King was close to many Catholics and their supporters. There were tensions between the Catholic and Protestant groups, with the Church of England in the middle.
Charles was frustrated by the warring factions in Parliament that were divided along religious lines, but somehow he avoided rebellion.
The Plague and the Great Fire
The Great Plague of London struck only five years after the Restoration of Charles II.
This was the worst case of the plague in which London lost about 15% of its population.
Rats carried the fleas that caused the plague. They were attracted to the city streets where there was a lot of rubbish and waste, especially in the poorest areas.
While 68,596 deaths got officially recorded in the city, the actual number was probably over 100,000. Other parts of the country also suffered greatly from the pandemic.
The death rate rose during the hot season. The worst moment was September when more than 7,000 Londoners died in just one week.
People who could flee, including many doctors, lawyers, and merchants, left the city. Charles II also left for Hampton Court and then Oxford.
Parliament got postponed because the plague was so bad. Court cases were also moved to Oxford.
The Lord Mayor and town councilors stayed to enforce the King’s orders to try and stop the spread of the disease.
People in charge of the village locked up and guarded houses with the plague. Officials from the church provided food for the people. Searchers looked for dead bodies and took them at night to bury them.
All trade with London and other plague-infested towns was stopped.
Many people lost their jobs, like servants, shoemakers, and those who worked on the River Thames.
People in London who had survived the Great Plague must have thought that 1666 would only be better. They couldn’t have known that it would get worse.
A fire started in the King’s bakery near London Bridge. Fires were quite common back then, and they got quickly put out.
However, that summer in London had been very hot with no rain. As a result, the wooden houses and buildings were very dry and could easily catch on fire.
The fire quickly spread. 300 houses collapsed. The wind helped the fire to spread from one home to another.
The fire raced through the streets lined with houses. The upper stories of the homes were very close to each other, and the fire moved quickly through the streets.
Attempts to put out the fire with buckets quickly failed, and this caused panic to spread throughout the city.
People tried to escape London, and they went down to the River Thames to escape by boat.
Many people came to see the disaster. Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, who kept diaries, wrote about what happened in the days after the disaster.
Samuel Pepys, a clerk of the Privy Seal, quickly ran to tell King Charles II.
The King immediately ordered that all the houses in the path of the fire get pulled down to create a ‘fire-break.’ This was done with hooked poles, but it didn’t help because the fire was too fast.
The fire in London raged on for days. The King himself tried to help by passing buckets of water to the firefighters, but it was no use. Half of London got destroyed.
Gunpowder got used sometimes to blow up houses that were in the way of a fire. This would create a bigger fire break, but it would also make a lot of noise, and people would start to think that a French invasion was happening.
The refugees poured out of the city, and St. Paul’s Cathedral was caught in the flames. The lead roof melted and poured down onto the street like a river, and the great cathedral collapsed.
The Tower of London was not destroyed in the fire, and the fire was eventually put out, and it was all over by September 6th.
Only one-fifth of London was left standing. All government buildings had gotten destroyed, and more than 12,000 dwellings, but amazingly only six people had died.
Politics and Treaties
Charles managed to stay alive by keeping his distance from his competing ministers and mistresses. He made sure that none of them were too powerful.
Charles II signed a treaty with the king of France. In this treaty, England offered to help France in a war against the Dutch if France stopped expanding their navy.
He also offered to publicly say he was a Catholic if people would give him money. Even though he started getting money, the conversion never seemed to happen–at least not publicly.
James, the king’s brother, was forced to resign from his job as Lord Admiral. He had to leave because he would not stop being a Catholic. Once the public knew this, it became a big deal.
Charles’s reign saw an increase in colonization and trade with India, the East Indies, and America.
The British captured New York. This was an important victory because it allowed Britain to control the trade routes in the region.
The Passage of Navigation Acts also helped solidify Britain’s status as a major sea power.
Charles II had 14 children, though none of them was legitimate.
Parliament tried to stop James from being the next king, and Charles looked to marry James’ daughter to a Protestant prince.
Parliament was getting ready to be in charge of the royal succession, and the King didn’t want them to be in control, so he dissolved Parliament.
The Last Years
Charles spent his final years taking care of unfinished business and becoming more powerful.
On his deathbed, he converted to Catholicism and passed away peacefully.
His brother James was less successful and only ruled for three years before fleeing the country.
William of Orange then took over.