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Charles II and James II (1660 - 1688)
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Charles II and James II (1660 - 1688)
'He is so ugly I am ashamed... but his size and fatness supply what he lacks in beauty!
Queen Henrietta Maria, on her two-year-old son Charles, later Charles II


CHARLES II (1660-85)
CHARLES GREW TO BE taller than most, dark-complexioned with sparkling eyes and a mass of curly hair. Just 12 when the Civil War began, his adventures as a fugitive after the Battle of Worcester (1651) passed into folklore. Restored to the throne in 1660, he returned from exile to a triumphant coronation and, on the whole, the Restoration was tolerant, with no great persecution of Cromwell's supporters. In 1662, the king married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess. There were no children of the marriage, but Charles had plenty of illegitimate offspring by his many mistresses.

Most capable of all the English Stuarts, Charles was astute enough to avoid political pitfalls, while enjoying court life to the full. He liked dogs, horse racing, yachts and actresses, but was also interested in science - the Greenwich Observatory and Royal Society were founded during his reign. Though Samuel Pepys might tut-tut over the 'sad, vicious and negligent Court', the Merry Monarch's reign saw the nation survive two major disasters: the Great Plague of 1665, in which more than 100,000 people died, and the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed 13,000 homes in the city but miraculously killed not a single person.
Before he died, Charles was quietly accepted into the Roman Catholic faith. His brother James's more aggressive Catholicism plunged the country back into crisis.

Charles II and James II (1660 - 1688)


JAMES II (1685-88)
Three years younger than his brother, James had escaped to Holland during the Civil War in 1648, dressed as a girl. A brave soldier who served with the French and Spanish armies, he was given command of the English navy by King Charles II.

Bravery was not enough, for 'Dismal Jimmy' was humourless and stubborn to a fault. His first marriage, to Anne Hyde, produced two daughters - Mary and Anne -who were raised as Protestants though James became openly Catholic. His second marriage (1673) to the Catholic princess Mary of Modena was unpopular and Parliament tried to bar James from the throne.

Soon after he became king in 1685, rebellions by the Duke of Argyll in Scotland and in England by the Duke of Monmouth (son of Charles II) fizzled out; the repression that followed was counter-productive.

Fears of a new Catholic dynasty were raised by the birth in June 1688 of a son to James's queen. Messages went to the king's Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange, offering him the throne and William duly landed with an army on 15 November. James hurriedly sent his wife and son abroad. After a futile attempt to bargain, he fled but was caught, returned to London and was then allowed to sail for France. In 1689, James landed with an army in Ireland, but his hopes ended in defeat at the Battle of the Boyne (1 July 1690). He died in exile in 1701.

'He was perpetually in one amour or the other, without being very nice in his choice!
Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, on James II


THE GREAT FIRE
2 September 1666. 'Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City Thus the diarist Samuel Pepys first learned of the Great Fire of London. The day was one of confusion, people rushing to fling their belongings into boats on the Thames, or staying in their houses until the last minute before fleeing. Pepys ended the day in a little alehouse, from where '... it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge [London Bridge],' and he wept to see 'the churches, houses, and all on fire.'


'AN EXACT KNOWER OF MANKIND'
This was one description of Charles II. In this regal portrait, some may see the cynicism that such knowledge imparted.

Charles II and James II (1660 - 1688)


JAMES IN EXILE
Painted in France after James II"s humiliating departure from England, this portrait shows a man who knows he has thrown away a kingdom.

Charles II and James II (1660 - 1688)



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