King Charles II of England
Charles II (29 May 1630 – 6 February 1685) was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
He was also a hottie.
What? Take a look at that picture. Hooded eyes? Check. Cleft chin? Check. Long, luxurious, dark curly hair? Well, okay, it was probably a wig. That’s how they rolled in those days.
The heroine of my mystery series, Isabel Wilde, is a mistress to King Charles II. She first met him when she was only fourteen years old, and she was immediately smitten. Who wouldn’t be? They became lovers in 1663, when she was sixteen (don’t judge), and by the time Mistress of Fortune takes place (1678) they’ve been together (off and on) for over fifteen years.
This is what Charles would’ve looked like around the time the novel takes place (circa 1678):
In real life, Charles was a notorious ladies’ man, and while he never had a legitimate heir with his wife, Catherine of Braganza, he had a host of illegitimate children. Indeed, there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to his descendants. Fun fact: Diana, Princess of Wales, Sarah, Duchess of York, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are all descendants of Charles II. Another fun fact: Diana’s son, Prince William, is likely to be the first British monarch descended from Charles II.
It’s kind of tough to write a concise account of King Charles’s life and reign, but here are some of the highlights:
1649: His father, King Charles I, is beheaded in the courtyard of the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace, forcing Charles into exile. England temporarily becomes a de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protecter).
1658: Oliver Cromwell dies, his son, Richard, fails as Lord Protector, and the monarchy is restored. Charles is invited by the English Parliament to return to England.
1660: Charles returns to England (on May 29, his 30th birthday). The public, tired of Cromwell’s bleak, puritanical leadership, loves him (and really, what’s not to love?)
1661: Charles’s coronation takes place at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. Yet another fun fact: Charles was the last sovereign to make the traditional procession from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey the day before the coronation.
1662: Marries Catherine of Braganza
1665: The Great Plague of London
(Are you sensing a theme here)?
1665-1667: The Second Dutch-Anglo War
1672: The Third Dutch-Anglo War
1678: The Popish Plot is fabricated by Titus Oates. He alleges a Catholic plot to murder the King and restore Catholicism. The Government over-reacts, and many Catholic subjects are persecuted. (Key to the plot of Diary of Bedlam, by the way)
1683: The Rye House Plot (a conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York)
1685: Charles dies four days after an apoplectic fit (stroke) on 2 February 1685.
Politically, Charles was a pragmatist. Though he tended toward absolutism (what King wouldn’t?), the English Parliament had a much stronger role in his reign than in those of previous monarchs so he resorted to secret deals to get what he wanted on more than one occasion.
Charles was also deeply interested in science and learning and promoted it throughout his reign. In fact, the Royal Society of London was chartered by King Charles II in 1662.
One of the hallmarks of his reign was the battle between Protestantism and Catholicism. England was, of course, a Protestant nation, and as King, he was the head of the Church. However, Charles had no legitimate heirs, leaving his brother, the Duke of York, his successor. For a variety of reasons, York did not enjoy a great deal of popularity, and his religious affiliation topped the list. The English Parliament introduced the Exclusion Bill, which sought to exclude the Duke of York from the throne, but Charles would have none of it. In his later years, he dissolved parliament four times because of it.
But I think his religious tolerance goes back to his pragmatism, not his morality. His own religion ran mostly toward Catholicism but even in that, not too strongly. He converted to Catholicism on his deathbed but I think he would have done it a lot earlier if he truly believed religion to be an integral part of life. It may have ultimately been a means of salvation, but certainly not something to adhere to day-to-day so he waited until the last minute to convert. He kind of had a live and let live attitude, though critics would probably call him wishy-washy.
Overall, the Restoration was a unique period in English history and I find the contrast between puritanism and the “merry” time that followed appealing. He was looked upon as a savior (from puritanism at least) of sorts by the English populace, and though he believed in the “Divine Right of Kings” and his rightful place on the throne, in the end, he was just a man who wanted to enjoy life and didn’t mind so much if his subjects did too.