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Charles II - 1660-1685

Key Facts about Charles II

When Charles I was executed, his elder son, Charles, in exile in France, declared himself King. He began negotiations with the Covenanters in Scotland to lead an army against Cromwell's successor in England.

Charles, having agreed to terms laid down by the Scottish Commissioners, was crowned King at Scone on 1 January 1651. The Covenanters supplied him with an ill-prepared and ill-led army, which was heavily defeated at Worcester in 1651. For the next nine years, Charles lived the life of an impoverished exile in France.

The failure of Oliver Cromwell's son, Richard, to control Parliament, aroused such fears in England of a repeat of Cromwellian military despotism, that it was not too difficult for General George Monck to engineer Charles's recall to England. His triumphant return in May 1660 began the Restoration period, when England, ruled by its self-indulgent, pleasure-loving 'Merrie Monarch', rejected Puritanism. Unlike his father, Charles was a shrewd politician and knew how to negotiate the minefield of public opinion and keep the country on an even keel.

Religious differences were still a major field of contention in England, and Charles, who privately had Catholic sympathies, supported the Act of Uniformity of 1662. This Act obliged Puritans to accept the doctrines of the Church of England and ordered nonconformist clergy to remain five miles away from their parish.

The Puritans were at one extreme of the religious spectrum, and at the other, was a Catholic element. The Puritans were accused of hatching the 'Popish Plot' to kill the King, though there was a strong suspicion that the plot was a fabrication to discredit Catholics.

Charles' means of dealing with enemies and financial problems were devious, but effective. By the secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV of France, Charles gained great support. This support was mainly financial. In his continuing battle with the Dutch over the valuable shipping trade, he managed to guide England back to Roman Catholicism without using the money, as Louis expected. The British navy was greatly strengthened and the Dutch quarrel was eventually settled by the marriage of Charles' niece, Mary, to the Prince of Orange.

Charles' peaceful and entertaining capital with its theatres and masques received a damaging blow in 1666 when a severe fire broke out following a plague. Both these disasters turned out to have a silver lining when the city was rebuilt with some of the superb buildings and churches that have survived to this day.

Although a married man Charles kept a succession of mistresses. His favourite was Nell Gwynne who was one of the leading actresses of the day and adored by the general public.

Key Events during the Reign of Charles II

1660 - Charles returns to England from Holland and is restored to the throne. Pepys begins his diary. Edward Hyde becomes Charles's chief minister.

1661 - Edward Hyde is created Earl of Clarendon. First Parliament of the reign meets at Westminster.

1662 - Act of Uniformity compels Puritans to accept the doctrines of the Church of England. Royal Society given its royal charter by Charles.

1665-7 - Second Dutch War, caused by commercial rivalry between England and Holland.

1665 - Plague strikes London.

1666 - Great Fire of London.

1670 - Secret Treaty of Dover.

1672-4 - Third Dutch War.

1678 - Popish Plot fabricated by Titus Oates.

1679 - Whig and Tory first used as names for political parties.

1683 - Rye House Plot to murder Charles is discovered.

1685 - Charles reveals his Catholicism on his deathbed.

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