CHARLES II  1660 - 1685  (C2)  Lived 1630 - 1685


The Englishman Samuel Pepys begins writing his famous Diary. His writings throw a great deal of light upon the first nine years of the Restoration period, including The Plague and the Great Fire of London.


Robert  Boyle, the Irish scientist, publishes his major work, The Sceptical Chymist. A year

later he formulates the law of physics (Boyle's Law) concerning the properties of gases.

The Italian physiologist Marcello Malpighi, one of the founders of microscopic anatomy,

discovers the capillaries which connect arteries and veins in the circulation of blood.

Louis XIV, the "Sun King", makes himself the absolute ruler of France and begins to build the Palace of Versailles just outside Paris, a magnificent complex of buildings in which to house his Court and government offices.


The Royal Society is established in London to promote scientific learning. One of the oldest scientific bodies in Europe, Wren and Boyle are among its first members.

The Trappist Order of monks and nuns, known for its harsh rules, is founded at La Trappe monastery near Seez in Normandy, France, by the Cistercian abbot Armand de Rance.



The Ottoman Turks attack Austria and gain Transylvania. Later (1672) they take land from Poland, but in 1683, towards the end of this reign, they are soundly defeated while advancing on Vienna.

ThexEnglish seize New Amsterdam and rename the city New York. This sparks of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, a conflict over colonial territories and trade in which the Dutch attack and destroy Chatham.


The Great Plague of London, the worst since the Black Death of 1347 (E3), rages through London and kills some 70,000 people. It begins to subside the following year.

Over the next two years the English scientist Isaac Newton invents differential calculus, and discovers the law of universal gravity, but his findings are not published until 1687 (J2).

The French astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini, making a close study of the planet of

Jupiter, discovers the huge atmospheric feature known as the Great Red Spot.  

The first three parts of Ethics are completed by the Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the foremost exponent of rationalism and pantheism in this century.


The Great Fire of London rages for four days and destroys thousands of homes and more than eighty churches. Ironically, it also helps to bring an end to the Great Plague which had broken out two years earlier.

The famous French playwright Jean-Baptiste Molière writes one of his best known plays, Le Misanthrope. His major satires were written during this reign and mark him out as one of the world's greatest writers of comedy.

The Italian violin-maker, Antonio Stradivarius, makes his first violin. His family work shop goes on to produce over 1,000 superlative instruments, including violas and cellos.


The Treaty of Breda ends the Second Anglo-Dutch War, but in 1672 the British are joined by Louis XIV of France in a third war against the Dutch. Only the French make some gains.


One of the greatest of English poets, John Milton, publishes his major work, Paradise Lost. The sequel, Paradise Regained, appeared in 1671 along with Samson Agonistes.

Jean Baptiste Racine, the outstanding French dramatist, produces his first masterpiece, Andromaque. His tragedies, centred around the heroes and heroines of antiquity, place him among the world’s greatest playwrights.  

The English poet and dramatist John Dryden, writes his poem Annus Mirabilis, in which he gives a vivid description of the war at sea against the Dutch, and the Great Fire of London.

The Italian architect and sculptor, Giovanni Bernini, completes the magnificent colonnaded piazza in front of St. Peter's, Rome, his greatest and grandest architectural achievement.


Spain, a country in decline, agrees to Portugal's independence by the Treaty of Lisbon, and, by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, loses part of the Spanish Netherlands to Louis XIV.


Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal Emperors, bans the Hindu religion. His wars to extend Muslim power are generally successful, but they sap the empire's material strength.


The British Hudson Bay Company is founded to increase trade in furs. Its first governor is the king's cousin, Prince Rupert, so the vast territory is known for years as Rupert's Land.


Thoughts, the work of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, is published. In it he defends the Christian religion. His Provincial Letters attacking the Jesuits were written in 1656 (CW).

In Russia a serious peasant revolt breaks out in the south east. Led by the Cossack Stenka Razin, it was crushed by the Tsar’s troops the following year, but only after great difficulty.


The brilliant landscape artist Jacob Ruisdael completes The Windmill at Wijk, one of his many works depicting his native Holland. He was also a master draughtsman and etcher.


André Boulle, the brilliant French cabinet maker, begins to work for Louis XIV at the palace of Versailles. His furniture is noted for its inlays of marble, tortoiseshell and various metals.

The Third Anglo-Dutch War begins following a secret treaty between Charles II and Louis XIV of France. French troops invade the Dutch Republic, supported by the British navy.



Emperor K’ang-hsi attacks warlords in the south. He consolidates his hold on China and then goes on to capture Taiwan and to strengthen his position along the Russian border.

The Ottoman Turks, having attacked Austria ten years earlier and gained Transylvania, are defeated by the Poles at Khotyn, but still retain large areas of Polish territory. They advance on Vienna  in 1683.

The English architect Christopher Wren begins work on the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The largest Protestant church in England, it is completed in 1710.


The Englishman Thomas Tompion is appointed clockmaker at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. During his career he makes many improvements in watch and clock design.


Titus Oates creates a panic with the story of a Popish Plot to kill the King and put James, the Catholic Duke of York, on the throne. Although untrue, 35 Catholics are executed.

The first part of the story The Pilgrim's Progress is published.  Written by the English Puritan preacher John Bunyan while in prison, he completes the second part in 1684.

The French military engineer Sébastien de Vauban, expert on siege warfare and the construction of fortifications, starts to build 160 fortresses to defend France's frontiers.


After two years on the island of St. Helena charting the stars of the southern hemisphere, the English astronomer Edmund Halley writes his Catalogus Stellarum Australium.


The Frenchman La Salle begins his two-year exploration of the Mississippi basin and claims this vast territory for France, naming it Louisiana in honour of his king, Louis XIV.


William Penn founds Pennsylvania in North America as a colony for Quakers and other persecuted minorities. By this time twelve English colonies had been established there.

Ts’ang Ying-hsuan is appointed director of the imperial kilns at Ching-te-chen and this marks the beginning of one of the finest periods in the history of Chinese porcelain.

The English botanist, Nehemiah Grew, regarded as one of the founders of plant anatomy, writes the pioneer work Anatomy of Plants. He worked for the Royal Society in London for a number of years.


The Rye House Plot, a Whig attempt to assassinate Charles II and his brother the Duke of York, is discovered. The Duke of Monmouth, the likely leader of the plot, flees to Holland.

The Ottoman Turks, having earlier gained territory from Austria (1663) and Poland (1672), advance on Vienna, but are defeated by a combined force at the Battle of Kahlenberg.

The Royal Society in London publishes the first drawing of bacteria, observed by the Dutch microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, a pioneer in the study of cells, tissue and organs.


Charles II dies peacefully at Whitehall Palace soon after converting to Roman Catholicism. He is succeeded by his brother, the Roman Catholic Duke of York with the title of James II.


Charles II: by the German/British portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) – Kenwood House, London. Coronation: by the Dutch artist Dirk Stoop (c1614-1686), 1662 – Museum of London. Queen: by the Flemish painter Jacob Huysmans (c1633-1696), c1670 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Map (Europe): from Coat of Arms: licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Sodacan – https://commons.

xxxxxThe RESTORATION of the monarchy in 1660 in the person of Charles II - a handsome, intelligent, cultured young man - was widely welcomed by the mass of the people, concerned as they had been over the political uncertainty of Cromwell's Protectorate, and tired as they had become of the drabness and restrictions of Puritanical rule. At parliamentary level, too, there was relief at the return of a more dependable system of succession, and cautious optimism at their new monarch's assurance that the authority of Parliament was "most necessary for the government of our kingdom". If such could be taken on its face value, then this was indeed a welcome change from the attitude of his father who, as we have seen (C1), had governed in his own right for eleven years, and then plunged the country into five years or more of bloody civil war.

xxxxxCharles II was just twelve years old at the start of the Civil War, and during the conflict lived at his father's headquarters in Oxford. In 1645, when the royalist cause was all but lost, he fled first to the Scilly Isles and then to Jersey before joining his mother in Paris. Following his father's execution in 1649, the young Charles Stuart formed an ill-advised alliance with the Presbyterian Scots and, having been "crowned" Charles II at Scone in 1650, led an army into England. At the Battle of Worcester in 1651, however, his force was soundly defeated by Oliver Cromwell, and he only just managed to escape. After six weeks on the run, he eventually made it back to France, and returned to a life of waiting and wandering. In 1658, however, events moved in his favour. The sudden death of Oliver Cromwell, and the reluctance of his son, Richard, to assume control of a country in chaos, brought the cavalry to the rescue. As we have seen, in 1660 (CW), General Monck led his army to London and recalled the Long Parliament. Its members invited Charles Stuart to take the throne, and this he did after promising - via the Declaration of Breda - a general amnesty, religious toleration, and a "free Parliament".




















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xxxxxCharles arrived in London amid much rejoicing and was soon dubbed the "Merry Monarch". Within a few days theatres were reopened, secular music was heard once again, and children and adults alike enjoyed a variety of sports and games. But beyond the first flush of jubilation, loomed a reign which was to be beset with problems. There were, first and foremost, two natural catastrophes, the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of London the following year. In the first, some 70,000 lost their lives in the capital alone; in the second 400 acres of the city were laid to waste. And at the same time the navy, starved of funds, suffered a humiliating defeat in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, with Dutch warships sailing unchallenged up the Thames and Medway, and destroying much of the English fleet moored at Chatham. This miserable performance gave Charles the opportunity to dismiss his austere chief minister, the Earl of Clarendon, and replace him with a group of five ministers on whom he could rely - known as his “Cabal” because the initial letter of their names made up that word. Via these close friends he hoped to rely on Parliament as little as possible, draw closer to France, and take his revenge on the Dutch.

xxxxxAnother problem, and one that loomed large, was the monarch's desperate need for money to maintain his extravagant life style. As early as 1662 he had sold Dunkirk, England's only possession on the continent, to France for £400,000. And in the same year he married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza (illustrated) for her large dowry. He now conjured up another and more lucrative source of income. Whilst a Protestant in public, he was secretly attracted to the Roman Catholic faith. Inx1670, in order to wring some money out of his young nephew, Louis XIV of France, he signed a deal with him known as the Treaty of Dover. This not only allied England with Catholic France against Protestant Holland - a most unpopular move - but, by a secret clause, Charles agreed to restore Roman Catholicism in England in return for an annual pension and the provision of troops if this action provoked armed rebellion. But the payments proved insufficient to keep up the war, and England made its own separate peace with Holland to end the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1674.

xxxxxBut by this time another problem was emerging, the question of the succession. Whilst Charles had fathered 14 children by his large bevy of mistresses - including the famous Nell Gwynne - his wife had not produced an heir. The successor to the throne, therefore, was his brother, James, Duke of York, an avowed Roman Catholic, and a man disliked for his belief in absolute authority. Matters came to a head with the disclosure of the Popish Plot of 1678, put forward by the discredited cleric Titus Oates. This alleged that Roman Catholics were planning to kill the king and replace him by his brother. Although later proved to have little foundation, this revelation resulted in widespread panic, and the king felt obliged to send his brother out of the country. Three parliaments followed and fell in quick succession. Eventually Shaftsbury and his anti-Catholic Whig supporters managed to seize key positions in the government and put forward the Exclusion Bill of 1679, banning the Duke of York from the succession. At this point the country was near to civil conflict again, but in 1680 the Lords turned down the bill, and the following year Charles abruptly dismissed parliament and ruled alone, living comfortably off a generous annual allowance from Louis XIV. For the general public this was preferable to yet another open conflict between Parliament and Crown.

xxxxxThen two years later the Rye House Plot came to light, a plan allegedly drawn up by a group of leading Whigs to kill both the king and his brother as they returned to London after a race meeting at Newmarket. Charles seized the opportunity to rid himself of some of his opponents in Parliament. A number of Whigs were arrested, and the Earl of Essex, Lord William Russell and Algernon Sidney were convicted of treason on somewhat flimsy evidence. The Earl of Essex took his own life in the Tower; the other two were beheaded. The probable leader of the plot, the Duke of Monmouth (one of the king's illegitimate sons) escaped to Holland, together with Shaftsbury.

xxxxxBy no means could Charles II be regarded as a great monarch. A bon viveur, gambler and womaniser, he clearly loved the good life above the interests of his realm. This said, he was very popular with the common people, and although he was attracted to Roman Catholicism, he was genuinely in favour of a broad church settlement. Hexopposed the Clarendon Code, a series of measures passed by the Cavalier parliament (beginning in 1661) to penalise dissenters, and in 1672 attempted to suspend the laws against all Nonconformists in his Declaration of Indulgence - thwarted by parliament's Test Acts of 1673 and 1678, a set of harsh laws against all non-Anglicans.

xxxxxHe was, too, a cultured man who took an interest in the arts - particularly in music - and, by his patronage, enhanced the work of the Royal Academy. Perhaps, then, the epitaph conjured up by the Earl of Rochester, one of his high-life revellers, was a little too severe - "Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King, Whose word no man relies on, who never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one".

xxxxxAnd the reign as a whole, despite its ups and downs, brought a large measure of stability to a country which, well within living memory, had seen the ravages of a civil war and the disquieting uncertainties of a pioneer experiment in republicanism. And the two Anglo-Dutch Wars, disastrous though the first one was in the military sense, were not devoid of success. They proved a triumph in economic terms - opening up the trade routes to an expanding mercantile marine -, whilst the capture of New Amsterdam (renamed New York), with its fine harbour and commanding position, served to consolidate the British colonies then developing in North America.

xxxxxCharles died peacefully at Whitehall Palace in February 1685. Evidently his last words were "And let not poor Nelly starve". (We are not told whether the Queen was there at the time!).  Despite widespread fears for the consequences, he was succeeded by his bother as James II.

xxxxxIncidentally, Frances Stewart, one of the king's few lady friends whom he failed to entice into his bed, gained a greater claim to fame. Charles commissioned a goldsmith to trace her profile and this was used to personify "Britannia", a figure depicted on English coinage ever since. ……

xxxxx…… The terms "Whigs" and "Tories" were terms of abuse which came into use to denote the two major political parties in parliament during the heated dispute over the Exclusion Bill of 1679. Whigs - the anti-Catholic party - was a name generally applied to horse thieves, though it might have derived from Whiggamore, a derogatory term for Covenanters in Scotland. Tories - those supporting the succession of the Catholic James, Duke of York - meant, in Old Irish, papist outlaws or fugitives. The names have stuck, but what each party stands for has substantially changed, of course, over the years.




















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