by Susan Flantzer
King Charles II was born on May 29, 1630 at St. James’ Palace in London. He was the eldest surviving son of King Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of King Henri IV of France. Charles was the Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay from birth and was declared Prince of Wales in 1638, but was never formally created Prince of Wales. Charles’ mother was not happy with his appearance. She wrote in a letter: “He is so ugly. I am ashamed, but his size and fatness make up for what he lacks in beauty.”
Charles had eight siblings:
- Charles James, Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, born and died May 13, 1629
- Mary, Princess Royal (1631 – 1660), married William II, Prince of Orange, had one child: William III, Prince of Orange, later King William III of England
- King James II (1633 – 1701), married (1) Anne Hyde, had issue including Queen Mary II and Queen Anne; (2) Mary of Modena, had issue including James Francis Edward, The Old Pretender
- Princess Elizabeth, unmarried, died from pneumonia
- Princess Anne, died young from tuberculosis
- Princess Catherine, born and died June 29, 1639
- Henry, Duke of Gloucester, unmarried, died from smallpox
- Princess Henrietta (1644 – 1670), married Philip, Duke of Orléans, had issue
In 1631, Charles was placed under the care of Mary Sackville, Countess of Dorset, whose husband Edward Sackville, 4th Earl of Dorset, was lord chamberlain to Queen Henrietta Maria. His education was overseen by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle and Brian Duppa, Bishop of Winchester and then later by John Earle, Bishop of Salisbury. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes was Charles’ mathematics teacher.
Charles was still young when the English Civil War broke out between his father King Charles I and the Parliamentarian and Puritan forces. He accompanied his father to the Battle of Edgehill in 1642 and participated in the campaigns of 1645 as commander of the royalist forces in the West Country. When the situation deteriorated in the spring of 1646, Charles was sent out of England and eventually settled in France, where her mother already lived in exile with his sister Henriette and where young first cousin King Louis XIV was on the throne.
In 1648, Charles traveled to The Hague where he lived for a while with his sister Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange. It was in The Hague, that Charles met his first known mistress Lucy Walter. Her son James, who was born on April 9, 1649, was immediately recognized by Charles as his son, and later became James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth.
The execution of King Charles I on January 30, 1649 made Charles the de jure King. In 1650, he landed in Scotland and raised an army of 10.000 men. After being crowned King of Scots at Scone on January 1, 1651, Charles marched the army into England, but suffered an overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Worcester. After being a fugitive for six weeks, Charles escaped England and fled to France. Oliver Cromwell was declared Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland and England remained a Commonwealth and then a Protectorate until 1659.
During his years of exile, Charles, a de jure King, had no kingdom and therefore no income. He depended on the payments he received from his mother from the money she received from the French government. On September 3, 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. His son Richard Cromwell ruled only until April 1659 and there was a real possibility for the restoration of the monarchy. On May 1, 1660, Parliament formally invited Charles, as King Charles II, to be the English monarch in what has become known as the Restoration. On May 23, 1660, Charles landed at Dover and on his 30th birthday, May 29, 1660, King Charles II entered London in a procession. Charles was crowned at Westminster Abbey on April 23, 1661, on the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England.
Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of King João IV of Portugal, had first been suggested as a bride for Charles in 1645 during the reign of Charles’ father and again in 1660 when the monarchy was restored in England. Already there were rumors of Catherine’s inability to have children, but the newly restored King Charles II was eager to have the £300,000 dowry. The marriage contract was signed on June 23, 1661. Catherine set sail for England in April of 1662 and landed at Portsmouth, England on May 13, 1662. On May 21, 1662, King Charles II and Catherine were married in Portsmouth in two ceremonies, a private Catholic one, and a public Anglican one. Catherine’s Roman Catholicism made her an unpopular queen.
Despite fathering at many illegitimate children with his mistresses, Charles had no children with Catherine. It is thought that Catherine did have at least three miscarriages. Despite having many mistresses, Charles insisted that Catherine be treated with respect, and sided with her over his mistresses when he felt she was not receiving the respect she was due. After an initial shock at being presented to Charles’ mistress right after her marriage, Catherine maintained a dignified attitude towards her husband’s mistresses and showed many acts of kindness to his illegitimate children. When it became apparent that Catherine would not produce an heir to the throne, it was suggested that Charles divorce his wife and marry a Protestant princess. Charles refused the suggestion.
On February 2, 1685, King Charles II suffered an apparent stroke and died four days later at the age of 54. Modern analysis of his symptoms seems to indicate he may have died from uremia, a symptom of kidney failure. While Charles was dying, Catherine was ill and sent a message begging his forgiveness for being unable to come to him. Charles replied to her, “Alas, poor woman, it is I who should be begging forgiveness.” Charles asked his brother James to look after his mistresses: “…be well to Portsmouth, and let not poor Nelly starve,” referring to Louise Renée de Penancoet de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth and Nell Gwyn. He also apologized to his courtiers: “I am sorry, gentlemen, for being such a time a-dying.” The night before his death, Charles apparently converted to Roman Catholicism, although it is unclear that his level of consciousness allowed for a true commitment. On the morning of his death, February 6, 1685, Charles received the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Church from Father John Huddleston. King Charles II was buried at Westminster Abbey using the Church of England rites. He was the last monarch to have an effigy carried at his funeral. The effigy is still displayed at Westminster Abbey.
King Charles II left no legitimate offspring, but he left behind a number of illegitimate children, whom he ennobled and officially recognized. Charles was succeeded by his younger brother King James II of England/King James VII of Scotland, who had converted to Catholicism and was unpopular. James was the last Catholic King of England and was dethroned in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution.
King Charles II is an ancestor through his mistresses of many British aristocrats and of several women who married into the British Royal Family:
- Lucy Walter: ancestor of Sarah, Duchess of York and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
- Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland: ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York
- Louise Renée de Penancoet de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth: ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Sarah, Duchess of York
by Lucy Walter
- Charlotte Jemima Henrietta Maria FitzRoy (1650–1684), married (1) James Howard, had issue (2) William Paston, 2nd Earl of Yarmouth, had issue
- Charles FitzCharles, 1st Earl of Plymouth (1657–1680), married Lady Bridget Osborne, daughter of Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds, no issue
- Catherine FitzCharles (born 1658; she either died young or became a nun)
- Lady Anne Palmer (may have been the daughter of Roger Palmer, but Charles II accepted her as his child) (1661–1722), married Thomas Lennard, 1st Earl of Sussex, had issue
- Charles Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Cleveland, 1st Duke of Southampton (1662–1730), married (1) Mary Wood, no issue, (2) Anne Pulteney, had issue
- Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton (1663–1690), married Isabella Bennet, 2nd Countess of Arlington, had issue
- Charlotte Fitzroy (1664–1717), married Edward Lee, 1st Earl of Lichfield, had issue
- George Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (1665–1716), married (1) Catherine Wheatley, no issue, (2) Mary Dutton, no issue
by Nell Gwyn
- Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans (1670–1726), married Lady Diana de Vere, had issue
- Lord James Beauclerk (1671–1680), died young
by Louise Renée de Penancoet de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth (in her own right)
- Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, 1st Duke of Lennox, 1st Duke of Aubigny (1672–1723), married Anne Brudenell, had issue
- Lady Mary Tudor (1673–1726), married (1) Edward Radclyffe, 2nd Earl of Derwentwater, had issue (2) Henry Graham of Levens, no issue (3) Major James Rooke, no issue