Here lies our Sovran Lord, the
King, Whose Word no-man relies on, Who never said a foolish Thing, Or ever did a wise one.
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, Mock Epitaph on Charles IInote
of The House of Stuart
, (1630 - 1685) King of England and Scotland, is most famous for restoring Stuart rule in England after the English Civil War
and the days of the Protectorate. He's known as "Old Rowley" and also as the "Merry Monarch", mainly because he removed bans on entertainment like plays and bear-baiting. He also allowed women to play on stage, a fashion picked up by him during his French exile, and previously unheard of in England. One of these was Nell Gwynn
, perhaps the most infamous of his many, many mistresses.
His reign was somewhat marred by the return of the Great Plague (i.e. The Black Death
) in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 (although he did participate in the fire-fighting and rewarded the firefighters with a purse of 100 guineas). There also was the "Popish Plot," a brief "reign of terror" of sorts, wherein the English populace, driven by the lies of one Titus Oates
and other "witnesses" of his ilk, degenerated into paranoia and fear of Catholic uprisings and invasions. Charles, like his father, was something of an autocrat in intent and although he had promised to work with Parliament when returning from exile he clashed with his legislature constantly, most infamously over the issue of his brother's succession for which he dismissed the body, ruling alone. Continuing political tensions led to one plot against him and his brother to restore a "government of the Cromwellian style" which was foiled. Implicated in the plot was Charles' illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth who was exiled to the Netherlands (he returned after his father's death in an attempt to overthrow James II and have himself declared King for which he was executed).
Apart from these events, Charles's rule wasn't all that eventful, another war with the Dutch and the king's being presented with England's first pineapple aside. He is also credited with introducing the periwig to the British isles. This type of long, curly wig (seen in the portrait above) became extremely popular and is now synonymous with European fashion in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Part of the reason for its success, along with the fact that King had one, was that it immitated the long hair fashionable amongst men in the mid-17th century whilst allowing the wearer to have his natural hair cut very short thus avoiding the common problem of head lice.
One thing that irks folks about Charles II was his notable dishonesty (perceived or otherwise) about his religion: he declared himself a Protestant Anglican (lest Parliament should be in an uproar), then "converted" to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed. Catholics and Protestants disagree about which is the true religion, but both join in insisting he should have been more forthright about it. "'He could not have resisted without losing his throne?'," said Hilaire Belloc
, "He should have resisted and lost his throne. For there are other things a man may lose."
Despite having many, many
illegitimate children with the aforementioned numerous mistresses (all of whom, to his credit, he acknowledged, so far as we know), Charles II's prowess failed to produce a legitimate son or daughter with his queen, leaving the throne to his deeply unpopular brother James. The Catholic James was so unpopular that he was overthrown and replaced with the Protestant William III (of Orange) and Mary II.
Tropes Associated With Charles II:
- Brits with Battleships: A spectacular aversion (or even subversion, given the strength of the Parliamentary/Republican navy he inherited) in British history. The inept handling of his government in war led to Britain's titular battleships being put at the bottom of the sea or carted away by the Dutch during his wars with them. That this was the exact same enemy the British/English navy had curbstomped as Cromwell just a few years earlier merely highlights it.
- The Cavalier Years
- Chivalrous Pervert: He provided very well for his mistresses, even after he was done with them. He also did actually care deeply for his queen, Catherine of Braganza; he defended her vigourously against the anti-Catholic propaganda levied at her and flatly refused to divorce her for not giving him an heir (or for any other reason).
- Dead Guy on Display: Upon his crowning Charles II had Oliver Cromwell exhumed from his grave. After putting his corpse on trial and finding him guilty, Cromwell's dead body was beheaded and his body was chained up.
- Deadly Decadent Court
- Deadpan Snarker: As when, warned by his Catholic brother James, Duke of York, that the extreme Protestant faction might try to assassinate him, Charles replied: "They will never kill me to make you king."
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Charles seems to have met his match in Nell Gwynn, his favorite mistress. She managed to acquire a title for their illegitimate son via the following exchange:
Nell: (pulling along her son) Come here, you little bastard, and say hello to your father.
Charles: (protests at the term)
Nell: Your Majesty has given me no other name by which to call him.
- There was also the occasion when her coachman started a fight with a man who called her a whore: "I am a whore. Find something else to fight about."
- Determinator: When he became King he dug up his father's death warrant and order the arrest of everyone who signed it. While many fled abroad, those who were captured were either subjected to an extremely painful execution or life in prison.
- English Civil War
- Famous Last Words 'Let not poor Nelly starve.' Nell Gwynn was his favorite mistress - a formerly poor actress.
- General Failure: For whatever his other gifts, he was miserable in war. His English Civil War career saw him lose three armies (at Preston, Dunbar, and Worcester) to outnumbered Parliamentarian ones back to back, making him flee for his life, breaking the back of absolute monarchy in Britain. Then when he returned and took power, he got into two wards with the Netherlands and managed to avert Brits with Battleships by having the Dutch curbstomp his navy.
- Happily Married: Which, it must be admitted, did not stop him from taking any number of mistresses.
- Historical-Domain Character
- Historical Hero Upgrade: People tend to remember him as a fun-loving, sophisticated king who brought back the good things in life after the Puritan excesses of Cromwell's Republic and the bloody civil war. He also was a diehard absolutist, amazingly unprincipled and willing to forsake freedom of religion even more than Cromwell did (as per his agreement with the Scots in the later civil wars. When he actually got into power, he was somewhat inept in actual government, and brought England to the nadir of its' strength in two disastrous wars against a nation that had sheltered him in exile.
- King Incognito: Went through a variety of disguises (including as a woman) in order to escape when Parliament won the Civil War. Some say that this experience, rubbing shoulders with ordinary people, later on helped him be a better monarch than his father.
- Knight Fever
- The Mistresses
- Restoration Comedy
- Wicked Cultured
- Young Conqueror - Averted. All his attempts to get back the crown by force failed. He only became king because Parliament asked him to come back.
Works associated with Charles II:
- The Exile — In which Charles is played as a Swashbuckling hero by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
- Forever Amber — In which he was played by George Sanders
- Hudson's Bay — In which he was played by Vincent Price
- The King's Thief — In which he was played by George Sanders, again
- The Libertine — Starring Johnny Depp as this page's quote-provider, Rochester, with the King played by John Malkovich
- The 1934 version of Nell Gwynn
- Restoration — In which he was played by Sam Neill
- Stage Beauty
- The 1983 version of The Wicked Lady
- Marryat's Children of the New Forest
- The Vicomte De Bragelonne, the third novel of The Three Musketeers trilogy, features Charles II. The first part of the story involves d'Artagnan's efforts to restore Charles to the throne.
- The Baroque Cycle
- Lorna Doone, though Charles is an offstage character; his main importance comes in the political maneuvering surrounding his death and succession by his unpopular brother James and the brief rebellion against James by Charles' illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth.
- Orlando: A Biography, where Charles gives the title character the appointment as Ambassador to Constantinople that changed his life so dramatically.
- In the Young Blades episode "The Exile," Charles attempts to assassinate Oliver Cromwell in order to prevent a treaty with King Louis XIV of France.
- Charles II The Power And The Passion, a 2003 mini-series starring Rufus Sewell as Charles who returns to the throne from exile.
- Played by Mathew Baynton in Horrible Histories, ostensibly as a rapper due to his liberal spending and partaking of many mistresses.