CHARLES II, 1660-1685, was the shrewder but morally worthless elder son of Charles I. When his father was beheaded in 1649, the younger Charles was 19 years old and safe in France. The royalists of Scotland at once summoned him to be their king, and in 1650 he landed in that kingdom, was crowned at Scone, and with 10,000 Scots marched into Eng land. There he was defeated and his army put to rout by Cromwell, at Worcester. For six weeks Charles wandered about, a fugitive with a price of S1,000 set on his head, now hiding in an oak tree and anon disguised as a serving man. More than 40 persons shared his secret, yet not one betrayed him; and after countless adventures he escaped once more to France. After ten years more of exile, dur ing which Cromwellians and Commonwealth men ruled the British Isles, Charles II was recalled, some time after Cromwell's death, to the thrones of his father.
Charles II was not an admirable character, but he was an interesting one. Utterly selfish, he had an easy good nature and charm of manner that capti vated everyone who came in contact with him.
One of his courtiers once said that he never said a foolish thing or did a wise one." Charles' reply was that his acts were those of his ministers, but his words were his own. A constant talker, he was well read, a patron of the drama, of painting, and of archi tecture. He was much interested ' in science and actually performed chemical experiments himself.
But the license which prevailed at the court of this " Merry Monarch" became a scandal to more than the old Puritan party.
He Follows a "Crooked Course" Charles' one purpose all through his reign was to make himself an absolute monarch like his contem porary, Louis XIV of France. This led him to try to raise a standing army, to restore Catholicism, and to secure a close alliance with Louis XIV, to whom he looked for money and (in case of need) for troops. But this policy brought him into conflict with his old and loyal counselor Lord Clarendon (earlier Edward Hyde), and Charles heartlessly allowed the" Cavalier" Parlia ment to impeach Clarendon and force him into exile.
Charles followed a crooked course, bribing, and flatter ing Parliament. But he was fully resolved " never to set forth on his wanderings again," and yielded when ever opposition proved too strong.
During his reign occurred the great plague in London, when nearly 70,000 citizens died; and the great fire in that metropolis, which burned 13,200 houses. Also there took place two wars with the Dutch; but Parliament finally compelled Charles to make peace with this Protestant power. England retained New Amsterdam, taken from the Dutch in America, naming it " New York" after Charles' brother James, Duke of York. Perhaps the most important development of Charles' reign was the beginning of the modern party system. Charles, through one of his supporters, was the first to organize a Government " machine," while his opponents put on a permanent footing one of the two great modern political parties, known for many years after as the " Whig" party.
During the last five years of his reign Charles attained a great degree of success in all his policies.
He prevented Parliament from excluding his Catholic brother James from the succession to the throne, and he himself on his deathbed was received into the Church of Rome. But James II proved incapable of using the advantages won by his cynical brother, and the net result of Charles' reign was to leave both England and Scotland more determined than ever before to remain Protestant and politically free. (See James, Kings of England and Scotland.)