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17th Century England Index
Introduction : Constitutional Government
England during the Reign of Charles II Index
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
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)
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