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17th Century England Index

Introduction : Constitutional Government
James I and the Divine Right of Kings
Towards Civil War
The First English Civil War
Cromwell and the New Model Army
The Second English Civil War
The Trial and Execution of Charles I
The English Republic (1649 - 1660)
Life in Cromwell's England
Whigs and Tories
James II and the Monmouth Rebellion (1685)
The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688
The Bill of Rights
John Locke and the "Treatises on Government"

England during the Reign of Charles II Index

Samuel Pepys
The Royal Society
The Great Plague
The Great Fire of London

History Chapters Main Index

 

Portrait of Charles II

Portrait of Charles II by Wright

Charles II was secretly a Catholic. Unknown to the majority of his Cabinet, he had signed a secret treaty, called the Treaty of Dover, with Louis XIV of France. By this agreement, Charles was to receive a substantial yearly income if he fulfilled certain conditions. One of these conditions was to restore Catholicism as the state religion in England.

In 1672, Charles tried to introduce the Declaration of Indulgences which granted religious toleration to all, including Catholics. Parliament reacted angrily and not only blocked the declaration, but also passed the Test Act. This Act excluded all Roman Catholics from holding any public office. The king's Catholic brother, the Duke of York (and future King James II), was forced out of his position as Lord High Admiral and went into exile to Brussels.

 

 

BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE

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17th Century England

Charles II : "The Merry Monarch"

The restored king, Charles II, was not at all like his father. Tall and dark, he was casual and easy-going. He was cheerful, witty and fond of a good time. After so many years of Puritan rule, the people welcomed a king who loved the theatre, horse riding and spectacular mistresses. Charles had few ambitions but was determined, as he put it, "not to go on his travels again", by which he meant not to be forced into exile.

Although most people were pleased to have Charles back, they did not want to go back to the days before 1647 when their monarch had tried to establish absolute power. Charles realised this and allowed Parliament to decide who should be punished for rebelling against his father and, more importantly, how the country's finances should be organised. In return for a million pounds a year as personal income, Charles gave up to Parliament all claims to taxation.

Although the Church of England was re-established as the only legal Church, many people, including a number of MP's, remained Puritan (or non-conformist) at heart. They were suspicious of Charles' negotiations with Louis XIV of France and alarmed when they heard that Charles's younger brother, James, Duke of York, had become a Catholic. This looked extremely dangerous. Although he had many illegitimate children, Charles had no legal heirs to his crown. Therefore, Catholic James would be the next king unless something could be done to stop it.

 

James Duke of York by Henri Gascar (circa 1660s)

James Duke of York by Henri Gascar (circa 1660s)

 

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