Who was King Charles III's predecessor? The 'Merry Monarch' King Charles II

Negative image of 17th-century monarch, and of Charles I, raised speculation that Queen Elizabeth's son might choose a different name

King Charles I, left, remains the only British monarch to have been tried and executed for treason. King Charles ll, right, ruled for 25 years until his death in 1685. Courtesy Wikicommons
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With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, her son Charles is now king.

However, there was no guarantee that Charles, 73, would keep his first name on ascending to the throne.

Indeed, previous royal heirs have changed their name upon taking the throne — including Queen Victoria, who was christened Alexandrina, and King Edward VII was previously Prince Albert Edward.

Some royal experts and historians suggested Charles would change his name due to the legacy of his previous two namesakes. The Times of London previously quoted a royal source suggesting Prince Charles may become King George VII.

However, Clarence House confirmed that Prince Charles would indeed be crowned Charles III.

So, who was King Charles I and his son, King Charles II and what are they remembered for?

Who was King Charles I?

King Charles l. Courtesy Wikicommons

King Charles I remains the only British monarch to have been tried and executed for treason — a legacy that goes some way to explaining why some expected the new king to select a different name.

Charles I was crowed in 1625 but proved broadly unpopular.

His marriage to the Princess Henrietta Maria of France, a Catholic, in the early days of his reign angered many Protestants, and his belief in the divine right of kings led to frequent clashes with Parliament. A series of successive taxes passed without parliamentary approval cemented the view among much of England, Scotland and Wales that he was a tyrant.

In 1642, the English Civil War broke out and Charles I fought the combined armies of the Parliaments of England and Scotland.

He surrendered to the Scottish army and was handed to the English Parliament but refused a constitutional monarchy. The forces of the English Parliament had consolidated control over much of the country by 1648. Charles I was tried and executed for high treason on January 30, 1649.

The monarchy was abolished and the Commonwealth of England was established as a republic under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Who was King Charles II?

King Charles ll.  Courtesy Wikicommons

Cromwell’s army defeated the forces still loyal to the crown and led by Charles I’s son, Charles II, in 1651, forcing the next king to flee to Europe.

But, the Commonwealth period did not last very long and the shambolic and autocratic rule of the English Parliament under Cromwell started to change people’s attitude towards Charles I.

The commonwealth was plunged into a constitutional crisis after the death of Cromwell in 1658, which led to Charles II being restored to the throne two years later.

He arrived in London on his 30th birthday to public celebration on May 29, 1660.

Reign of Charles II

Charles II ruled for 25 years and was beset by two disasters — the great fire of London in 1666 and the Great Plague from 1665 to1666 that killed about a quarter of the population of London.

His reign was largely defined by his several foreign wars and his handling of religious strife back home. He tried to introduce religious freedoms for Catholics and Protestant dissenters but clashed with Parliament and was forced to withdraw the bills. Relations deteriorated and the revelation that Charles’s brother and presumed heir had converted to Catholicism divided Parliament. There was a plot to kill the king and his brother and in 1681 Charles dissolved parliament and ruled alone until his death about four years later.

When did Charles II die?

Charles II died only days after suffering an apoplectic fit on February 2, 1685.

The suddenness of his death led to rumours that he was poisoned. Modern studies have determined his death was likely caused by kidney dysfunction.

However, in his final days, Charles II’s doctors subjected him to a number of aggressive treatments including bloodletting, purging fluids and cupping the skin with heated bowls. The treatments are not likely to have helped the ailing monarch.

In his final words to his courtiers, the king said “I am sorry, gentlemen, for being such a time a-dying.”

He converted to Catholicism on his deathbed and was buried at Westminster Abby without a lavish funeral.

Why was he called the Merry Monarch?

Charles II was called the Merry Monarch in part for the debauchery of his court but also for his reportedly affable, good-humoured manner. He was a raconteur who liked to regale listeners with the story of how he crossed England in disguise after losing to Cromwell’s army in 1651 as he made his way to France — accounts that were then written and published for the people.

His rule also came in stark contrast to the puritanical period of the English Commonwealth that saw the government try to ban Christmas (causing a riot in Kent), and close inns and theatres. Most sports was outlawed, as were make-up and colourful clothes, and swearing was punishable by fines or prison. Working on a holy day could land you in the stocks and even walking on a Sunday — except to church — could lead to a fine.

By contrast, Charles II’s rule saw the return of many of these activities.

Was Charles II a good king?

Historians are somewhat divided on the legacy of Charles II. While he was a popular “loveable rogue” figure in his own lifetime, something that many accounts have focused on, academics point out he was self-indulgent, lacked interest or skill in business and had a poor handle on government.

The succession of Charles II

With no legitimate children, the crown passed to his brother James II of England and Ireland and VII of Scotland.

James II was the last Catholic king of England and his rule was defined by religious strife and disputes with parliament over the right of the king. He was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the end of his rule also finally settled the status of parliament taking precedence over the monarch.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 11:42 AM
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