1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles II. (King of England)
CHARLES II. (1630–1685), king of Great Britain and Ireland, second son of Charles I. and Queen Henrietta Maria, was born on the 29th of May 1630 at St James’s Palace, and was brought up under the care successively of the countess of Dorset, William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle, and the marquess of Hertford. He accompanied the king during the campaigns of the Civil War, and sat in the parliament at Oxford, but on the 4th of March 1645 he was sent by Charles I. to the west, accompanied by Hyde and others who formed his council. Owing, however, to the mutual jealousies and misconduct of Goring and Grenville, and the prince’s own disregard and contempt of the council, his presence was in no way advantageous, and could not prevent the final overthrow of the king’s forces in 1646. He retired (17th of February) to Pendennis Castle at Falmouth, and on the approach of Fairfax (2nd of March) to Scilly, where he remained with Hyde till the 16th of April. Thence he fled to Jersey, and finally refusing all the overtures from the parliament, and in opposition to the counsels of Hyde, who desired the prince to remain on English territory, he repaired to the queen at Paris, where he remained for two years. He is described at this time by Mme de Motteville as “well-made, with a swarthy complexion agreeing well with his fine black eyes, a large ugly mouth, a graceful and dignified carriage and a fine figure”; and according to the description circulated later for his capture after the battle of Worcester, he was over six feet tall. He received instruction in mathematics from Hobbes, and was early initiated into all the vices of the age by Buckingham and Percy. In July 1648 the prince joined the royalist fleet and blockaded the Thames with a fleet of eleven ships, returning to Holland, where he received the news of the final royalist defeats and afterwards of the execution of his father. On the 14th of January 1649 he had forwarded to the council a signed carte blanche, granting any conditions provided his father’s life were spared. He immediately assumed the title of king, and was proclaimed in Scotland (5th of February) and in some parts of Ireland. On the 17th of September, after a visit to his mother at St Germain, Charles went to Jersey and issued a declaration proclaiming his rights; but, owing to the arrival of the fleet at Portsmouth, he was obliged, on the 13th of February 1650, to return again to Breda. The projected invasion of Ireland was delayed through want of funds till it was too late; Hyde’s mission to Spain, in the midst of Cromwell’s’ successes, brought no assistance, and Charles now turned to Scotland for aid. Employing the same unscrupulous and treacherous methods which had proved so fatal to his father, he simultaneously supported and encouraged the expedition of Montrose and the royalists, and negotiated with the covenanters. On the 1st of May he signed the first draft of a treaty at Breda with the latter, in which he accepted the Solemn League and Covenant, conceded the control of public and church affairs to the parliament and the kirk, and undertook to establish Presbyterianism in the three kingdoms. He also signed privately a paper repudiating Ormonde and the loyal Irish, and recalling the commissions granted to them. In acting thus he did not scruple to desert his own royalist followers, and to repudiate and abandon the great and noble Montrose, whose heroic efforts he was apparently merely using in order to extort better terms from the covenanters, and who, having been captured on the 4th of May, was executed on the 21st in spite of some attempts by Charles to procure for him an indemnity.
Thus perjured and disgraced the young king embarked for Scotland on the 2nd of June; on the 11th when off Heligoland he signed the treaty, and on the 23rd, on his arrival at Speymouth, before landing, he swore to both the covenants. He proceeded to Falkland near Perth and passed through Aberdeen, where he saw the mutilated arm of Montrose suspended over the city gate. He was compelled to dismiss all his followers except Buckingham, and to submit to interminable sermons, which generally contained violent invectives against his parents and himself. To Argyll he promised the payment of £40,000 at his restoration, doubtless the sum owing as arrears of the Scottish army unpaid when Charles I. was surrendered to the English at Newcastle, and entered into negotiations for marrying his daughter. In August he was forced to sign a further declaration, confessing his own wickedness in dealing with the Irish, his father’s blood-guiltiness, his mother’s idolatry, and his abhorrence of prelacy, besides ratifying his allegiance to the covenants and to Presbyterianism. At the same time he declared himself secretly to King, dean of Tuam, “a true child of the Church of England,” “a true Cavalier,” and avowed that “what concerns Ireland is in no ways binding”; while to the Roman Catholics in England he promised concessions and expressed his goodwill towards their church to Pope Innocent X. His attempt, called “The Start,” on the 4th of October 1650, to escape from the faction at Perth and to join Huntly and the royalists in the north failed, and he was overtaken and compelled to return. On the 1st of January 1651 he was crowned at Scone, when he was forced to repeat his oaths to both the covenants.
Meanwhile Cromwell had advanced and had defeated the Presbyterians at Dunbar on the 3rd of September 1650, subsequently occupying Edinburgh. This defeat was not wholly unwelcome to Charles in the circumstances; in the following summer, during Cromwell’s advance to the north, he shook off the Presbyterian influence, and on the 31st of July 1651 marched south into England with an army of about 10,000 commanded by David Leslie. He was proclaimed king at Carlisle, joined by the earl of Derby in Lancashire, evaded the troops of Lambert and Harrison in Cheshire, marched through Shropshire, meeting with a rebuff at Shrewsbury, and entered Worcester with a small, tired and dispirited force of only 16,000 men (22nd of August). Here the decisive battle, which ruined his hopes, and in which Charles distinguished himself by conspicuous courage and fortitude, was fought on the 3rd of September. After leading an unsuccessful cavalry charge against the enemy he fled, about 6 p.m., accompanied by Buckingham, Derby, Wilmot, Lauderdale and others, towards Kidderminster, taking refuge at Whiteladies, about 25 m. from Worcester, where he separated himself from all his followers except Wilmot, concealing himself in the famous oak during the 6th of September, moving subsequently to Boscobel, to Moseley and Bentley Hall, and thence, disguised as Miss Lane’s attendant, to Abbots Leigh near Bristol, to Trent in Somersetshire, and finally to the George Inn at Brighton, having been recognized during the forty-one days of his wanderings by about fifty persons, none of whom, in spite of the reward of £1000 offered for his capture, or of the death penalty threatened for aiding his concealment, had betrayed him.
He set sail from Shoreham on the 15th of October 1651, and landed at Fécamp in Normandy the next day. He resided at Paris at St Germain till June 1654, in inactivity, unable to make any further effort, and living with difficulty on a grant from Louis XIV. of 600 livres a month. Various missions to foreign powers met with failure; he was excluded from Holland by the treaty made with England in April 1654, and he anticipated his expulsion from France, owing to the new relations of friendship established with Cromwell, by quitting the country in July. He visited his sister, the princess of Orange, at Spa, and went to Aix-la-Chapelle, thence finally proceeding in November to Cologne, where he was hospitably received. The conclusion of Cromwell’s treaty with France in October 1655, and the war between England and Spain, gave hope of aid from the latter power. In April 1656 Charles went to Bruges, and on the 7th of February 1658 to Brussels, where he signed a treaty with Don John of Austria, governor of the Spanish Netherlands, by which he received an allowance in place of his French pension and undertook to assemble all his subjects in France in aid of the Spanish against the French. This plan, however, came to nothing; projected risings in England were betrayed, and by the capture of Dunkirk in June 1658, after the battle of the Dunes, by the French and Cromwell’s Ironsides, the Spanish cause in Flanders was ruined.
As long as Cromwell lived there appeared little hope of the restoration of the monarchy, and Charles and Hyde had been aware of the plots for his assassination, which had aroused no disapproval. By the protector’s death on the 3rd of September 1658 the scene was wholly changed, and amidst the consequent confusion of factions the cry for the restoration of the monarchy grew daily in strength. The premature royalist rising, however, in August 1659 was defeated, and Charles, who had awaited the result on the coast of Brittany, proceeded to Fuenterrabia on the Spanish frontier, where Mazarin and Luis de Haro were negotiating the treaty of the Pyrenees, to induce both powers to support his cause; but the failure of the attempt in England ensured the rejection of his request, and he returned to Brussels in December, visiting his mother at Paris on the way. Events had meanwhile developed fast in favour of a restoration. Charles, by Hyde’s advice, had not interfered in the movement, and had avoided inconvenient concessions to the various factions by referring all to a “free parliament.” He left Brussels for Breda, and issued in April 1660, together with the letters to the council, the officers of the army and the houses of parliament and the city, the declaration of an amnesty for all except those specially excluded afterwards by parliament, which referred to parliament the settlement of estates and promised a liberty to tender consciences in matters of religion not contrary to the peace of the kingdom.
On the 8th of May Charles II. was proclaimed king in Westminster Hall and elsewhere in London. On the 24th he sailed from the Hague, landing on the 26th at Dover, where he was met by Monk, whom he saluted as father, and by the mayor, from whom he accepted a “very rich bible,” “the thing that he loved above all things in the world.” He reached London on the 29th, his thirtieth birthday, arriving with the procession, amidst general rejoicings and “through a lane of happy faces,” at seven in the evening at Whitehall, where the houses of parliament awaited his coming, to offer in the name of the nation their congratulations and allegiance.
No event in the history of England had been attended with more lively and general rejoicing than Charles’s restoration, and none was destined to cause greater subsequent disappointment and disillusion. Indolent, sensual and dissipated by nature, Charles’s vices had greatly increased during his exile abroad, and were now, with the great turn of fortune which gave him full opportunity to indulge them, to surpass all the bounds of decency and control. A long residence till the age of thirty abroad, together with his French blood, had made him politically more of a foreigner than an Englishman, and he returned to England ignorant of the English constitution, a Roman Catholic and a secret adversary of the national religion, and untouched by the sentiment of England’s greatness or of patriotism. Pure selfishness was the basis of his policy both in domestic and foreign affairs. Abroad the great national interests were eagerly sacrificed for the sake of a pension, and at home his personal ease and pleasure alone decided every measure, and the fate of every minister and subject. During his exile he had surrounded himself with young men of the same spirit as himself, such as Buckingham and Bennet, who, without having any claim to statesmanship, inattentive to business, neglectful of the national interests and national prejudices, became Charles’s chief advisers. With them, as with their master, public office was only desirable as a means of procuring enjoyment, for which an absolute monarchy provided the most favourable conditions. Such persons were now, accordingly, destined to supplant the older and responsible ministers of the type of Clarendon and Ormonde, men of high character and patriotism, who followed definite lines of policy, while at the same time the younger men of ability and standing were shut out from office.
The first period of Charles II.’s reign (1660–1667) was that of the administration of Lord Clarendon, the principal author of the Restoration settlement. The king was granted the large revenue of £1,300,000. The naval and military forces were disbanded, but Charles managed to retain under the name of guards three regiments, which remained the nucleus of a standing army. The settlement of estates on a legal basis provided ill for a large number of the king’s adherents who had impoverished themselves in his cause. The king’s honour was directly involved in their compensation and, except for the gratification of a few individuals, was tarnished by his neglect to afford them relief. Charles used his influence to carry through parliament the act of indemnity, and the execution of some of the regicides was a measure not more severe than was to be expected in the times and circumstances; but that of Sir Henry Vane, who was not a regicide and whose life Charles had promised the parliament to spare in case of his condemnation, was brought about by Charles’s personal insistence in revenge for the victim’s high bearing during his trial, and was an act of gross cruelty and perfidy. Charles was in favour of religious toleration, and a declaration issued by him in October 1660 aroused great hopes; but he made little effort to conciliate the Presbyterians or to effect a settlement through the Savoy conference, and his real object was to gain power over all the factions and to free his co-religionists, the Roman Catholics, in favour of whom he issued his first declaration of indulgence (26th of December 1662), the bill to give effect to it being opposed by Clarendon and defeated in the Lords, and being replied to by the passing of further acts against religious liberty. Meanwhile the plot of Venner and of the Fifth Monarchy men had been suppressed in January 1661, and the king was crowned on the 23rd of April. The convention parliament had been dissolved on the 29th of December 1660, and Charles’s first parliament, the Long Parliament of the Restoration, which met on the 8th of May 1661 and continued till January 1679, declared the command of the forces inherent in the crown, repudiated the taking up of arms against the king, and repealed in 1664 the Triennial Act, adding only a provision that there should not be intermission of parliaments for more than three years. In Ireland the church was re-established, and a new settlement of land introduced by the Act of Settlement 1661 and the Act of Explanation 1665. The island was excluded from the benefit of the Navigation Laws, and in 1666 the importation of cattle and horses into England was forbidden. In Scotland episcopacy was set up, the covenant to which Charles had taken so many solemn oaths burnt by the common hangman, and Argyll brought to the scaffold, while the kingdom was given over to the savage and corrupt administration of Lauderdale. On the 21st of May 1662, in pursuance of the pro-French and anti-Spanish policy, Charles married Catherine of Braganza, daughter of John IV. of Portugal, by which alliance England obtained Tangier and Bombay. She brought him no children, and her attractions for Charles were inferior to those of his mistress, Lady Castlemaine, whom she was compelled to receive as a lady of her bedchamber. In February 1665 the ill-omened war with Holland was declared, during the progress of which it became apparent how greatly the condition of the national services and the state of administration had deteriorated since the Commonwealth, and to what extent England was isolated and abandoned abroad, Michael de Ruyter, on the 13th of June 1667, carrying out his celebrated attack on Chatham and burning several warships. The disgrace was unprecedented. Charles did not show himself and it was reported that he had abdicated, but to allay the popular panic it was given out “that he was very cheerful that night at supper with his mistresses.” The treaty of Breda with Holland (21st of July 1667) removed the danger, but not the ignominy, and Charles showed the real baseness of his character when he joined in the popular outcry against Clarendon, the upright and devoted adherent of his father and himself during twenty-five years of misfortune, and drove him into poverty and exile in his old age, recalling ominously Charles I.’s betrayal of Strafford.
To Clarendon now succeeded the ministry of Buckingham and Arlington, who with Lauderdale, Ashley (afterwards Lord Shaftesbury) and Clifford, constituted the so-called Cabal ministry in 1672. With these advisers Charles entered into those schemes so antagonistic to the national interests which have disgraced his reign. His plan was to render himself independent of parliament and of the nation by binding himself to France and the French policy of aggrandizement, and receiving a French pension with the secret intention as well of introducing the Roman Catholic religion again into England. In 1661 under Clarendon’s rule, the evil precedent had been admitted of receiving money from France, in 1662 Dunkirk had been sold to Louis, and in February 1667 during the Dutch war a secret alliance had been made with Louis, Charles promising him a free hand in the Netherlands and Louis undertaking to support Charles’s designs “in or out of the kingdom.” In January 1668 Sir W. Temple had made with Sweden and Holland the Triple Alliance against the encroachments and aggrandizement of France, but this national policy was soon upset by the king’s own secret plans. In 1668 the conversion of his brother James to Romanism became known to Charles. Already in 1662 the king had sent Sir Richard Bellings to Rome to arrange the terms of England’s conversion, and now in 1668 he was in correspondence with Oliva, the general of the Jesuits in Rome, through James de la Cloche, the eldest of his natural sons, of whom he had become the father when scarcely sixteen during his residence at Jersey. On the 25th of January 1669, at a secret meeting between the two royal brothers, with Arlington, Clifford and Arundell of Wardour, it was determined to announce to Louis XIV. the projected conversion of Charles and the realm, and subsequent negotiations terminated in the two secret treaties of Dover. The first, signed only, among the ministers, by Arlington and Clifford, the rest not being initiated, on the 20th of May 1670, provided for the return of England to Rome and the joint attack of France and England upon Holland, England’s ally, together with Charles’s support of the Bourbon claims to the throne of Spain, while Charles received a pension of £200,000 a year. In the second, signed by Arlington, Buckingham, Lauderdale and Ashley on the 31st of December 1670, nothing was said about the conversion, and the pension provided for that purpose was added to the military subsidy, neither of these treaties being communicated to parliament or to the nation. An immediate gain to Charles was the acquisition of another mistress in the person of Louise de Kéroualle, the so-called “Madam Carwell,” who had accompanied the duchess of Orleans, the king’s sister, to Dover, at the time of the negotiations, and who joined Charles’s seraglio, being created duchess of Portsmouth, and acting as the agent of the French alliance throughout the reign.
On the 24th of October 1670, at the very time that these treaties were in progress, Charles opened parliament and obtained a vote of £800,000 on the plea of supporting the Triple Alliance. Parliament was prorogued in April 1671, not assembling again till February 1673, and on the 2nd of January 1672 was announced the “stop of the exchequer,” or national bankruptcy, one of the most blameworthy and unscrupulous acts of the reign, by which the payments from the exchequer ceased, and large numbers of persons who had lent to the government were thus ruined. On the reassembling of parliament on the 4th of February 1673 a strong opposition was shown to the Cabal ministry which had been constituted at the end of 1672. The Dutch War, declared on the 17th of March 1672, though the commercial and naval jealousies of Holland had certainly not disappeared in England, was unpopular because of the alliance with France and the attack upon Protestantism, while the king’s second declaration of indulgence (15th of March 1672) aroused still further antagonism, was declared illegal by the parliament, and was followed up by the Test Act, which obliged James and Clifford to resign their offices. In February 1674 the war with Holland was closed by the treaty of London or of Westminster, though Charles still gave Louis a free hand in his aggressive policy towards the Netherlands, and the Cabal was driven from office. Danby (afterwards duke of Leeds) now became chief minister; but, though in reality a strong supporter of the national policy, he could not hope to keep his place without acquiescence in the king’s schemes. In November 1675 Charles again prorogued parliament, and did not summon it again till February 1677, when it was almost immediately prorogued. On the 17th of February 1676, with Danby’s knowledge, Charles concluded a further treaty with Louis by which he undertook to subordinate entirely his foreign policy to that of France, and received an annual pension of £100,000. On the other hand, Danby succeeded in effecting the marriage (4th of November 1677) between William of Orange and the princess Mary, which proved the most important political event in the whole reign. Louis revenged himself by intriguing with the Opposition and by turning his streams of gold in that direction, and a further treaty with France for the annual payment to Charles of £300,000 and the dismissal of his parliament, concluded on the 17th of May 1678, was not executed. Louis made peace with Holland at Nijmwegen on the 10th of August, and punished Danby by disclosing his secret negotiations, thus causing the minister’s fall and impeachment. To save Danby Charles now prorogued the parliament on the 30th of December, dissolving it on the 24th of January 1679.
Meanwhile the “Popish Plot,” the creation of a band of impostors encouraged by Shaftesbury and the most violent and unscrupulous of the extreme Protestant party in order to exclude James from the throne, had thrown the whole country into a panic. Charles’s conduct in this conjuncture was highly characteristic and was marked by his usual cynical selfishness. He carefully refrained from incurring suspicion and unpopularity by opposing the general outcry, and though he saw through the imposture from the beginning he made no attempt to moderate the popular frenzy or to save the life of any of the victims, his co-religionists, not even intervening in the case of Lord Stafford, and allowing Titus Oates to be lodged at Whitehall with a pension. His policy was to take advantage of the violence of the faction, to “give them line enough,” to use his own words, to encourage it rather than repress it, with the expectation of procuring finally a strong royalist reaction. In his resistance to the great movement for the exclusion of James from the succession, Charles was aided by moderate men such as Halifax, who desired only a restriction of James’s powers, and still more by the violence of the extreme exclusionists themselves, who headed by Shaftesbury brought about their own downfall and that of their cause by their support of the legitimacy and claims of Charles’s natural son, the duke of Monmouth. In 1679 Charles denied, in council, his supposed marriage with Lucy Walter, Monmouth’s mother, his declarations being published in 1680 to refute the legend of the black box which was supposed to contain the contract of marriage, and told Burnet he would rather see him hanged than legitimize him. He deprived him of his general’s commission in consequence of his quasi-royal progresses about the country, and in December on Monmouth’s return to England he was forbidden to appear at court. In February 1679 the king had consented to order James to go abroad, and even approved of the attempt of the primate and the bishop of Winchester to convert him to Protestantism. To weaken the opposition to his government Charles accepted Sir W Temple’s new scheme of governing by a council which included the leaders of the Opposition, and which might have become a rival to the parliament, but this was an immediate failure. In May 1679 he prorogued the new parliament which had attainted Danby, and in July dissolved it, while in October he prorogued another parliament of the same mind till January and finally till October 1680, having resolved “to wait till this violence should wear off.” He even made overtures to Shaftesbury in November 1679, but the latter insisted on the departure of both the queen and James. All attempts at compromise failed, and on the assembling of the parliament in October 1680 the Exclusion Bill passed the Commons, being, however, thrown out in the Lords through the influence of Halifax. Charles dissolved the parliament in January 1681, declaring that he would never give his consent to the Exclusion Bill, and summoned another at Oxford, which met there on the 21st of March 1681, Shaftesbury’s faction arriving accompanied by armed bands. Charles expressed his willingness to consent to the handing over of the administration to the control of a Protestant, in the case of a Roman Catholic sovereign, but the Opposition insisted on Charles’s nomination of Monmouth as his successor, and the parliament was accordingly once more (28th of March) dissolved by Charles, while a royal proclamation ordered to be read in all the churches proclaimed the ill-deeds of the parliament and the king’s affection for the Protestant religion.
Charles’s tenacity and clever tact were now rewarded. A great popular reaction ensued in favour of the monarchy, and a large number of loyal addresses were sent in, most of them condemning the Exclusion Bill. Shaftesbury was imprisoned, and though the Middlesex jury threw out his indictment and he was liberated, he never recovered his power, and in October 1682 left England for ever. The Exclusion Bill and the limitation of James’s powers were no more heard of, and full liberty was granted to the king to pursue the retrograde and arbitrary policy to which his disposition naturally inclined. In Scotland James set up a tyrannical administration of the worst type. The royal enmity towards William of Orange was increased by a visit of the latter to England in July. No more parliaments were called, and Charles subsisted on his permanent revenue and his French pensions. He continued the policy of double-dealing and treachery, deceiving his ministers as at the treaty of Dover, by pretending to support Holland and Spain while he was secretly engaged to Louis to betray them. On the 22nd of March 1681 he entered into a compact with Louis whereby he undertook to desert his allies and offer no resistance to French aggressions. In August he joined with Spain and Holland in a manifesto against France, while secretly for a million livres he engaged himself to Louis, and in 1682 he proposed himself as arbitrator with the intention of treacherously handing over Luxemburg to France, an offer which was rejected owing to Spanish suspicions of collusion. In the event, Charles’s duplicity enabled Louis to seize Strassburg in 1681 and Luxemburg in 1684. The government at home was carried on principally by Rochester, Sunderland and Godolphin, while Guilford was lord chancellor and Jeffreys lord chief justice. The laws against the Nonconformists were strictly enforced. In order to obtain servile parliaments and also obsequious juries, who with the co-operation of judges of the stamp of Jeffreys could be depended upon to carry out the wishes of the court, the borough charters were confiscated, the charter of the city of London being forfeited on the 12th of June 1683.
The popularity of Charles, now greatly increased, was raised to national enthusiasm by the discovery of the Rye House plot in 1683, said to be a scheme to assassinate Charles and James at an isolated house on the high road near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire as they returned from Newmarket to London, among those implicated being Algernon Sidney, Lord Russell and Monmouth, the two former paying the death penalty and Monmouth being finally banished to the Hague. The administration became more and more despotic, and Tangier was abandoned in order to reduce expenses and to increase the forces at home for overawing opposition. The first preliminary steps were now taken for the reintroduction of the Roman Catholic religion. Danby and those confined on account of participation in the popish plot were liberated, and Titus Oates thrown into prison. A scheme was announced for withdrawing the control of the army in Ireland from Rochester, the lord-lieutenant, and placing it in the king’s own hands, and the commission to which the king had delegated ecclesiastical patronage was revoked. In May 1684 the office of lord high admiral, in spite of the Test Act, was again given to James, who had now returned from Scotland. To all appearances the same policy afterwards pursued so recklessly and disastrously by James was now cautiously initiated by Charles, who, however, not being inspired by the same religious zeal as his brother, and not desiring “to go on his travels again,” would probably have drawn back prudently before his throne was endangered. The developments of this movement were, however, now interrupted by the death of Charles after a short illness on the 6th of February 1685. He was buried on the 17th in Henry VII.’s chapel in Westminster Abbey with funeral ceremonies criticized by contemporaries as mean and wanting in respect, but the scantiness of which was probably owing to the fact that he had died a Roman Catholic.
On his death-bed Charles had at length declared himself an adherent of that religion and had received the last rites according to the Romanist usage. There appears to be no trustworthy record of his formal conversion, assigned to various times and various agencies. As a youth, says Clarendon, “the ill-bred familiarity of the Scotch divines had given him a distaste” for Presbyterianism, which he indeed declared “no religion for gentlemen,” and the mean figure which the fallen national church made in exile repelled him at the same time that he was attracted by the “genteel part of the Catholic religion.” With Charles religion was not the serious matter it was with James, and was largely regarded from the political aspect and from that of ease and personal convenience. Presbyterianism constituted a dangerous encroachment on the royal prerogative; the national church and the cavalier party were indeed the natural supporters of the authority of the crown, but on the other hand they refused to countenance the dependence upon France; Roman Catholicism at that moment was the obvious medium of governing without parliaments, of French pensions and of reigning without trouble, and was naturally the faith of Charles’s choice. Of the two papers in defence of the Roman Catholic religion in Charles’s own hand, published by James, Halifax says “though neither his temper nor education made him very fit to be an author, yet in this case . . . he might write it all himself and yet not one word of it his own. . . .”
Of his amours and mistresses the same shrewd observer of human character, who was also well acquainted with the king, declares “that his inclinations to love were the effects of health and a good constitution with as little mixture of the seraphic part as ever man had. . . . I am apt to think his stayed as much as any man’s ever did in the lower region.” His health was the one subject to which he gave unremitting attention, and his fine constitution and devotion to all kinds of sport and physical exercise kept off the effects of uncontrolled debauchery for thirty years. In later years the society of his mistresses seems to have been chiefly acceptable as a means to avoid business and petitioners, and in the case of the duchess of Portsmouth was the price paid for ease and the continuance of the French pensions. His ministers he never scrupled to sacrifice to his ease. The love of ease exercised an entire sovereignty in his thoughts. “The motive of his giving bounties was rather to make men less uneasy to him than more easy to themselves.” He would rob his own treasury and take bribes to press a measure through the council. He had a natural affability, but too general to be much valued, and he was fickle and deceitful. Neither gratitude nor revenge moved him, and good or ill services left little impression on his mind. Halifax, however, concludes by desiring to moderate the roughness of his picture by emphasizing the excellence of his intellect and memory and his mechanical talent, by deprecating a too censorious judgment and by dwelling upon the disadvantages of his bringing up, the difficulties and temptations of his position, and on the fact that his vices were those common to human frailty. His capacity for king-craft, knowledge of the world, and easy address enabled him to surmount difficulties and dangers which would have proved fatal to his father or to his brother. “It was a common saying that he could send away a person better pleased at receiving nothing than those in the good king his father’s time that had requests granted them,” and his good-humoured tact and familiarity compensated for and concealed his ingratitude and perfidy and preserved his popularity. He had good taste in art and literature, was fond of chemistry and science, and the Royal Society was founded in his reign. According to Evelyn he was “débonnaire and easy of access, naturally kind-hearted and possessed an excellent temper,” virtues which covered a multitude of sins.
These small traits of amiability, however, which pleased his contemporaries, cannot disguise for us the broad lines of Charles’s career and character. How far the extraordinary corruption of private morals which has gained for the restoration period so unenviable a notoriety was owing to the king’s own example of flagrant debauchery, how far to the natural reaction from an artificial Puritanism, is uncertain, but it is incontestable that Charles’s cynical selfishness was the chief cause of the degradation of public life which marks his reign, and of the disgraceful and unscrupulous betrayal of the national interests which raised France to a threatening predominance and imperilled the very existence of Britain for generations. The reign of his predecessor Charles I., and even of that of his successor James II., with their mistaken principles and ideals, have a saving dignity wholly wanting in that of Charles II., and the administration of Cromwell, in spite of the popularity of the restoration, was soon regretted. “A lazy Prince.” writes Pepys, “no Council, no money, no reputation at home or abroad. It is strange how . . . everybody do nowadays reflect upon Oliver and commend him, what brave things he did and made all the neighbour princes fear him; while here a prince, come in with all the love and prayers and good liking of his people . . . hath lost all so soon. . . .”
Charles II. had no children by his queen. By his numerous mistresses he had a large illegitimate progeny. By Barbara Villiers, Mrs Palmer, afterwards countess of Castlemaine and duchess of Cleveland, mistress en titre till she was superseded by the duchess of Portsmouth, he had Charles Fitzroy, duke of Southampton and Cleveland, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Grafton, George Fitzroy, duke of Northumberland, Anne, countess of Sussex, Charlotte, countess of Lichfield, and Barbara, a nun; by Louise de Kéroualle, duchess of Portsmouth, Charles Lennox, duke of Richmond; by Lucy Walter, James, duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, and a daughter; by Nell Gwyn, Charles Beauclerk, duke of St Albans, and James Beauclerk; by Catherine Peg, Charles Fitz Charles, earl of Plymouth; by Lady Shannon, Charlotte, countess of Yarmouth; by Mary Davis, Mary Tudor, countess of Derwentwater.
- Mem. of Thomas, earl of Ailesbury, p. 95