Charles II

(1630—1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland

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'Charles II' can also refer to...

Charles Bassett, II (1931—1966)

Charles II (1661—1700)

Charles II (b. 1332)

Charles II of Anjou (1254—1309)


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king of England, Ireland, and Scotland (acceded 1649, restored 1660–85). Charles received his practical education in 1648–51 when he learnt how to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, and trust no one. He commissioned Montrose to raise the Scottish Highlands, but withdrew his support to conclude an agreement with the more powerful covenanting party, who defeated and hanged Montrose (April 1650). Invited to Scotland by Argyll, he took the covenant and publicly condemned the religions and policies of his father and mother. When Cromwell's army advanced he took the gamble of invading England. After a disastrous defeat at Worcester (September 1651) he made a romantic escape to France. Divisions among the republican factions brought about his 1660 Restoration, which was unconditional. It was old cavaliers who in 1661–2 imposed conditions by restoring strict Anglican religious uniformity and making Charles abandon his Declaration of Indulgence (1662). In his first years Charles was advised by his principal minister, Clarendon, to rule within the laws. After the failure of the Anglo‐Dutch War of 1665–7 he abandoned Clarendon and initiated a new line of policy.

Charles, his brother James, and the cabal ministers concluded treaties with France because it was the strongest European power. Victory in a new Dutch war would be assured. French subsidies and increased revenues from expanded trade would reduce, or even eliminate, dependence on Parliament. Charles, James, and Clifford also thought that they could become catholics and institute religious toleration: in the secret treaty of Dover (1670) Louis XIV promised military aid if a rebellion resulted. In the event, unlike the other two, Charles delayed his conversion until his death‐bed in 1685. For the first time no parliamentary session occurred in 1672, and had the Dutch War succeeded Charles would have been able to dictate from a position of strength. But stalemate at sea enabled Parliament to make Charles withdraw his Declaration of Indulgence and assent to the Test Act barring catholics from office, forcing James and Clifford to resign. In 1673–4 Parliament refused to vote money, compelling Charles to desert France and make peace.

Charles also retreated in domestic politics, allowing his new lord treasurer Danby to return to upholding the interests of the church, enforcing the penal laws against catholics and dissenters. Danby was alarmed at the increase in French power and wished to balance it by championing William of Orange, furthering this policy by negotiating the marriage of William to James's daughter and heir Mary. Charles allowed the marriage in order to put up the price that Louis would pay for English neutrality, but Louis found it cheaper to bribe the opposition and give them secret papers incriminating Danby. This forced Charles to dismiss Danby and dissolve Parliament. At the same time ‘revelations’ broke of a Popish plot to murder Charles. James's catholicism and absolutist and French sympathies made him seem the obvious beneficiary. By sending James into exile Charles raised doubts whether he would steadfastly resist the Whig bill to exclude James from the succession.

However Charles saw exclusion of the rightful heir as changing the monarchy from a hereditary, divinely appointed institution into an elective, limited office. He stopped the first Exclusion Bill by dissolving Parliament (July 1679). When Charles fell ill and James returned from exile to defend his right, Charles sent him to rule Scotland. In 1680 Charles blocked exclusion by encouraging the Lords to reject a second bill, and in March 1681 he dissolved the third Whig Parliament which he had ordered to meet at Oxford. No further meetings of Parliament were allowed, Charles being financially secure with a new secret treaty with France giving him subsidies.


Subjects: British History.

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