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CHARLES II OF ENGLAND

Charles I's son, Charles II, was born in 1630. At 1642 he fought at the battle of Edgehill in the English Civil War, but in 1646 he fled to France. invaded England with a Scots army in 1651. He was defeated at the battle of Worcester by Cromwell, and took refuge at Boscobel House in Shropshire, hiding by day in a hollow oak tree in the grounds. The 'Royal Oak' which can be seen there today is said to have grown from an acorn of that tree. From there, he escaped to France. Yet Cromwell was not an effective leader, and was soon removed by the army. The English people wanted a king again and Charles II was brought back in 1660, although he was only granted limited powers as a monarch. Happy crowds along the route cheered him all the way to London.

Sir Peter Lely's baroque portraits captured the fashionable and decadent languour of Charles's court. His reign saw the reintroduction of pastimes such as bear-baiting and theatre-going, banned during the Commonwealth. His own enthusiastic pursuit of pleasure earned him the nickname of 'the merry monarch'. Nell Gwyn was one of his many mistresses - his dying words were reportedly 'Let not poor Nelly starve.' Though his marriage was childless, he fathered at least 14 illegitimate offspring, two of them with her.

After years of wandering abroad in poverty, Charles was determined to keep his throne at all costs. Real power now lay with the aristocracy and the country squires who had seats in Parliament. They were out for revenge over their Puritan enemies and passed acts to bar Puritans from all government jobs, and to put them in prison if they held religious services.

In 1662 Charles married Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza and received Bombay, Tangier and 300,000 as a dowry. He sold Dunkirk to France for 400,000. In London, the Royal Society received its charter.

In 1665 thousands of Londoners died in an outbreak of the plague. It was the first of three calamities. The following year the heart of London was destroyed by the Great Fire. In 1667, the Dutch navy sailed up the Thames and burnt part of the English fleet.

In 1670 Charles granted a charter to the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. It gave the company the right to trade and to govern its territory.

Also in 1670 Charles signed a treaty with Louis XIV of France in which he agreed to join France in a war against the Dutch. Secretly, and in return for an annual payment, Charles also signed the Treaty of Dover, which promised to restore the Catholic religion in England, in return for an annual pension. But his plans miscarried.

In 1678 Titus Oates pretended there was a Catholic plot to murder Charles II and several innocent Catholics were executed as a result. First, Parliament refused to grant toleration to Catholics and passed the Test Act in 1678 which banned them from holding official positions. Then it withdrew England from the war against the Netherlands and made arrangements for Charles's niece, Mary, to marry the Dutch Protestant leader William of Orange.

In 1683 a plot to murder Charles was discovered.

In 1685 Charles died. He and Catherine of Braganza had no children, so his brother succeeded him as James II. Charles refused to allow parliament to exclude his brother, a Catholic, from the succession.



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