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Sunday, 9 March 2014

Charles II of England

Charles II  was born on May 29, 1630 the second but oldest surviving son of Charles I. He was called by Parliament “the Son of the Last” as they thought his father would be the last King of England.

Charles II aged 4 months and 15 days painting attributed to Justus van Egmont

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes was his maths tutor.

The 12 year old Charles was present at the Civil War Battle of Edgehill. At the age of fourteen, he participated in the campaigns of 1645, when he was made titular commander of the English forces in the West Country.

In 1646, his father, fearing for his safety, ordered him to go to France. In 1650 he returned to Scotland and was crowned Charles II  of Scotland at Scone. However, after defeat at Worcester he fled to the continent again.

Charles eluded capture by hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House, Shropshire climbing up the tree by means of a hen roost ladder. He spent the night of September 6, 1651 there. Charles spent another night hiding in one of Boscobel's Priest holes before moving to Moseley Old Hall, another Catholic redoubt near Wolverhampton. He ultimately escaped the region posing as the servant of Jane Lane of Bentley and was scolded for incompetence in the kitchen of the King's Lodge.

King Charles II & Colonel William Careless in the Royal Oak by Isaac Fuller

The secret hiding hole where Prince Charles hid after the Battle of Worcester in 1651 still remains at Boscopel House and the royal oak there is said to be the descendant of the original tree in which the King once took refuge.

When fleeing the country Charles had a price of £1000 on his head. He entered Bridport disguised with his curls cropped and his face smeared in walnut juice wearing green breeches. Bridport was full of Cromwellian troops but he managed to stop off at a local inn, before escaping to Normandy.

Charles was aided in his escape to France by the Pendrill family. After the restoration of the crown in 1660, the king rewarded them, and a yearly pension is still paid to the descendants of the Pendrill family to this day.

Charles spent eight years in poverty living in France, the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands.

Charles sailing from his Netherlands exile in May 1660 by Lieve Verschuier

Charles II returned from Holland in 1660 with a fleet of 100 ships and on May 29, 1660, his 30th birthday, he was received in London to public acclaim. Charles marked his Restoration to the throne by riding over London Bridge with 300 gentlemen, brandishing swords and wearing ‘cloth-of-silver’ doublets.

To celebrate Charles II 's return to the country of his birth, May 29th was made a public holiday, popularly known as Oak Apple Day.

Charles was crowned at Westminster Abbey on April 23, 1661. He was the last sovereign to make the traditional procession from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey the day before the coronation.

Coronation portrait by John Michael Wright, c. 1661

As soon as he was on the throne, Charles' supporters rushed into print details of his escape to France recording every detail in His Most Sacred Majesty's Most Miraculous Preservation.

Charles agreed to give up antiquated feudal dues which had been revived by his father; in return, he was granted an annual income of £1,200,000 by Parliament. The grant, however, proved to be of little use for most of Charles' reign. The aforesaid sum was only an indication of the maximum the King was allowed to withdraw from the Treasury each year; for the most part, the amount actually in the coffers was much lower.

To avoid further financial problems, Charles appointed George Downing (the builder of Downing Street) to reform the management of the Treasury and the collection of taxes.

Charles was 6ft tall with a dark complexion and dark hair down to his shoulders. He used wigs to cover up ever increasing bald patches. His face was deeply lined from an early age. Charles was described in a "Wanted" poster during the Civil war as "a tall, dark man above 2 yards high."


At the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, there is a statue of Charles clad in a Roman toga which was a favorite costume of his.

Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that Charles had started wearing the first known waistcoat- a highly patterned waistcoat.

Charles had a passion for curly wigs and lace. He once paid over £20 for a new lace cravat. He wore a Persian coat underneath the recently introduced waistcoat.

The merry monarch enjoyed talking, especially telling stories of his own life. His courtiers would, having heard the same story for the thousandth time, try to get away if they could, using any excuse to withdraw.

William Penn, the founder of the Quakers, refused to remove his hat in the presence of royalty. Once, upon meeting Charles II and retaining his hat, the King removed his own. When Penn asked why he had done this, the monarch replied that it was his custom that only one person wears his hat in the King's presence.

In 1645 Catherine of Bragenza's father, John IV, King of Portugal, proposed her marriage to the then Prince Charles. The wedding  eventually took place on May 21, 1662 at Portsmouth in two ceremonies – a Catholic one conducted in secret, followed by a public Anglican service at the chapel of Domus Dei.

Catherine of Braganza brought Charles the territories of Bombay and Tangier as dowry.

Tea drinking was popularised when the then to be wed Catherine brought chests of tea with her to England.

The prim and proper, quiet but fiery Catherine was marginalised by her childlessness (she had nine miscarriages) , her lack of education and the poverty caused by non payment of her royal allowances. Her husband often neglected her. She found his licentious court hard to handle, but surprisingly she adored him.

Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, a line engraving by an Unknown Artist

Charles had at least 13 mistresses and fathered up to 17 illegitimate children but had no legitimate kids.  He publicly acknowledged fourteen children by seven mistresses; six of those children were borne by a single woman, the notorious Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, whom Charles granted the Dukedom of Cleveland.

His first mistress Lucy Walters bore him a son who was to become the Protestant Pretender, the ill-fated Duke of Monmouth. Other sons became Dukes of  Southampton, Grafton and Richmond but the Duke of Monmouth was the only one of Charles II's children who would later play a significant part in politics.

About one fifth of all Dukes today are descended from Charles and his mistresses.

He was sometimes called "Old Rowley" after a stallion with a reputation for breeding fine foals. One of the King's young ladies was sitting in her apartment singing the satirical ballad "Old Rowley the King" when Charles knocked on the door. She asked who was there. "Old Rowley himself, Madam" the King replied with his customary good humour.

His most famous mistress was the lively Nell Gwyn, a former orange seller who became a comedy actress. Whilst walking in St James’ Park Charles spotted Nell and was immediately captivated. A single mother, her relationship with Charles provoked juicy gossip. She called him "Charles the Third" as she already had two lovers called Charles.

Charles had two sons by Nell Gwyn- the Duke of St Albans and James Lord Beauclerk. Nell got the Duke of St Albans his title by threatening to throw him out of the window in front of the King.

One of Charles' last wishes was "let not poor Nellie starve." She died in 1687 and was buried at St Martin in the Fields.

When Charles died in 1685 Queen Catherine mourned him greatly, and retired to live at Somerset House. In 1692 she returned to her native Lisbon and from 1703-05 was regent for her brother, Pedro. She died in 1705.

Charles became the first king to go to the theatre when he attended an opera called The Siege of Rhodes.

In 1662 Charles allowed women to take women's parts in plays rather than young men or boys. The first being Desdemora in The Moor of Venice.

Charles fought the Great Fire of London personally scattering guineas to the bucket brigades.

Charles' religious faith hovered between Catholicism and scepticism, though officially he was a member of the Church of England. He favored Catholicism, as it was most consistent with his belief of absolute monarchy.

Of his approximately 13 mistresses all of them bar Nell Gwyn were Catholic.

Charles II and Louis XIV of France signed the Secret Treaty of Dover on June 1, 1670. This meant that Charles publicly declared his politically expedient conversion to Catholicism as it required France to assist England in the king's aim that it would rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. England was also required to assist France in its war of conquest against the Dutch Republic and the treaty force England into the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

Secret Treaty of Dover

One of first ever yachts was the 100 tonne "Mary" was presented by the Dutch to Charles for his own use.

Charles adored dogs, each dog had its own special cushion. He liked walking them in St James Park often accompanied by his friend the diarist John Evelyn.

Spaniels were often used by the ladies of his court as comforters and warmers as they kept them warm under their enormous skirts. His passion for the breed gave rise to the name King Charles Spaniels.  His spaniels slept on his bed despite the fact they were not terribly house trained. His courtiers complained of the terrible smell.

The English king also liked birds, he was very fond of the aviaries in St James Park.

Giles Rose, Charles' chef, could fold a table napkin 26 ways.

He was fascinated by mechanical things such as clocks. Charles' chambers were full of them chiming at different times. He had a laboratory at Whitehall where he spent a lot of time on experiments.

In his last few years Charles ruled without Parliament, obtaining his money from subsidies from his cousin, King Louis XIV of France. In 1675 the French King bribed him 500,000 crowns to defer Parliament for 15 months.

Portrait by John Riley, c. 1680–1685

During Charles' reign he touched 92,107 sufferers from scrotula who believed the King's touch would cure them. Everyone was left with a specially minted gold angel. This was due to the concept of the King as anointed by God. The ceremony was done to the music of massed choirs and in one session six people were trampled to death in the rush to be cured by the King.

Charles suffered from syphilis possibly caught from his mistress Nell Gwyn. He was treated with mercury, and on the morning of February 2, 1685, whilst shaving, he suddenly collapsed when the resulting kidney poisoning kicked in. Fourteen doctors attended the ailing monarch, they forced him to vomit violently and gave him a strong laxative. Then they shaved his head, applied blistering agents to his scalp, put a special potion made from pigeon droppings on his feet and made him drink 40 drops of extract from a mixture of powdered  human skull and stones from the intestines of a Persian goat. Charles passed away four days later at 11:45 am on February 6, 1685.

Sources Book of ListsFaber Book of Anecdotes

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