1902 Encyclopedia > Charles II

Charles II
King of Great Britain and Ireland (from 1660)

CHARLES II. (1030-1685), king of England, born in 1630, though the second son of Charles I., was Prince of Wales from his birth. In the earlier and more important campaigns of the Civil War he held a nominal command in the west, but he was too young to take any real part in the conflict. After the battle of Naseby he passed by way of Scilly and Jersey to join his mother at St Germain Till 1649 he spent his time either at Paris or at the Hague, with-out interfering in public affairs, except when he attempted to save his father's life by forwarding a signed carte blanche to the Parliament to be filled up with any terms which they would accept as the price 'of his safety. On the execution of Charles I., he immediately assumed the title of king. The Scotch Government offered to place him on the throne by force, and sent a deputation to the Hague. For a time Charles protracted the négociations, meanwhile urging Montrose to make him independent of the Presbyterians. But when the rising was crushed, and Montrose himself executed, he accepted their invitation. In June 1650 he landed in Scotland ; and he was crowned at Scone on the 1st January 1651. Butas he had been obliged to sign the Covenant, and conform to the austere manners of the Covenanters, he soon began to feel the price of their assistance intolerably heavy. The secret efforts which, during the whole time he was treating with the Presbyterians, he had been making to bring together a sufficient force of Highlanders proved unsuccessful ; and, on the defeat of Leslie at Dunbar, he was glad to march south, with the hope of arousing the loyalty of the English. The appeal failed ; and the royalist forces were again routed by Cromwell at Worcester (1651). Thanks to his own great coolness and address, and the fidelity of those in whom he confided, Charles contrived to reach France. Here he remained till 1654, when, having received a pension from the French king, he retired to Cologne. Thence he removed to Bruges, where he principally resided till the death of Cromwell. For the most part, notwithstanding the small-ness of his means and the wretchedness of his circumstances, he passed his time in careless dissipation, surrounded by a little court in which the few old cavaliers, like Clarendon, who maintained the dignified manners which had adorned the court of Charles I., were lost in a crowd of gay young libertines and sprightly women of disreputable character. His applications for assistance to France and Borne were all unheeded ; and he was equally unsuccessful in his attempts to contract an advantageous marriage. At length, through the contrivance of General Monk, but still more through the open and enthusiastic wish of a large portion of the people, he was recalled to England ; his conoiliatory declaration from Breda was well received ; and ha entered London amid sincere public rejoicings on his thirtieth birthday, May 29, 1660.

Charles's course was at first attended by no difficulty. The loyalty of the Convention summoned by Monk was sufficient for the time. It sympathized in the one desire for vengeance in which he was earnest ; it was resolved on the punishment of the regicides. Thirteen were executed, some in direct opposition to the apparent intention of the king's declaration of oblivion ; the bodies of Cromwell and Ireton were hung in chains ; and even the coffin which con-tained the ashes of Blake was cast out of Westminster Abbey, and thrown into a common churchyard. And, finally, though some of the measures of the Convention prove that it had not lost all the spirit of the Long Parlia-ment which preceded it, it showed its enthusiastic loyalty in a manner very agreeable to Charles, viz., by granting him the dangerous gift of £1,200,000 a year for life, But if the Convention was sufficiently loyal, the royalism of the first regular Parliament of the reign was extravagant. It insisted on the prerogative of the sovereign, and abased itself before him. At his express request it repealed the Triennial Act; and it allowed him to declare that he would not be forced by that Act to summon frequent parliaments, if he believed that they would be disadvantageous to the Crown. It showed much reluctance to confirm the Act of Indemnity. It assisted him to complete his revenge by the sacrifice of Vane and Lambert, whom he had pledged his word to spare. But its royalism was equalled by its attachment to the Church of England; and thus commenced its opposition to the sovereign it professed to worship. Charles desired to tolerate the Catholics, and accordingly issued a General Declaration of Indulgence. Its illegality, however, raised so much opposition, even among the Protestant dissenters whom it benefited, that he prudently recalled it, and even published a proclamation banishing all Roman Catholic priests.

It was, indeed, the Protestant temper of the nation which was the most powerful influence against which Charles's policy had to contend. Fortunately for himself he was able to scorn, and even with familiarity In short, the court of Charles was the most scandalous which England has seen. Yet, being affable and witty, and free from all vindictive-ness, Charles enjoyed a good deal of popularity, if nothing of respect.

In 1662 Charles married Catherine, princess of Portugal, who brought him half a million of money, Bombay, and the fortress of Tangiers. He died, probably of apoplexy, without legitimate issue—for there is no evidence to sup-port the popular belief in, the legitimacy of Monmouth— on the 6th February 1685. after receiving extreme unction from a Boman Catholic priest named Huddlestone.

Throughout his whole reign, and especially by his secret négociations with Louis XIV. of France, whose pensioner he was not ashamed to be, Charles exerted a powerful and harmful influence on English politics ; but his political action is matter of history, and is treated elsewhere.

See the Diaries of Pepys and Evelyn ; The Mémoires de Gramont ; the English histories of Burnet, Hallam, and Macaulay ; Kennet's Register ; and The Calendar of State Papers of the Reign of Charles II., edited by Mary Anne Everett Green (1860-66).

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