Charles II – The Rocky Road to Rule

Charles II

Charles II

Charles Stuart, second child and second son of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria, sister of King Louis XIII of France, was born on 29th May, 1630. His older brother, born the year before, died after only a few hours, and was named Charles James. As soon as it was apparent that Charles was a healthy baby, his birth was announced and he was taken away at a few hours old, to his own rooms, to begin his raising by a team of maids, nurses and rockers. Charles was a large baby, his mother writing to a friend that at only four months old, Charles was both ‘tall and fat’ and could easily pass for a child of a year. Within a few years he was joined by siblings, Mary, James, Elizabeth, Anne, Henry and Henrietta. A further child, Catherine was stillborn. Anne was to die aged just three years old, and was buried beside her brother Charles James, in Westminster Abbey.

From infancy, Charles was noted to be a happy, fairly outgoing child, who was affectionate to those around him – a trait which continued into adulthood, and spent his early years alongside the three children of the late Duke of Buckingham who was assassinated in 1628. At aged 8, Charles was given the title Prince of Wales although his investiture never formally took place, and as befitting an heir to the throne, was considered old enough to be removed from the care of nurses and nannies, and was given his own household at Richmond, along with a governor. The man chosen for the role was the Earl of Newcastle. His influence on Charles was to become apparent in later years; the Earl was a quiet, studious, optimistic gentleman who was kind and courteous. He would be the man to turn the young Charles into the epitome of what a gentleman of Court should be.

His instruction to Charles ‘I would not have you too studious, for too much contemplation spoils action. The things that I have discoursed to you most is to be courteous and civil to everybody; and believe it, the putting off of your hat and making a leg pleases more than reward or preservation. To women you cannot be too civil, especially the great ones.’ Charles heeded his tutor’s advice and as he grew, was intelligent enough to be curious, sporting enough to be considered enthusiastic and always the most attentive to the ladies. Later, Charles would have other tutors, but none were as influential on the young heir as the Earl of Newcastle. Even his parents the King and Queen, were generally too distracted by State matters to pay much attention to their children, and Charles appears not to have inherited much of his disposition from either of them.

Charles II

Charles II

As Charles reached his adolescence, the country was sliding into civil war, with several factions rising against each other. The Parliamentarians, under Cromwell and his New Model Army rising against the Monarch and his Royalist supporters. In October 1642, at the age of twelve, Charles accompanied his father to the Battle of Edgehill, the first pitched battle of the first English civil war following failed attempts to reach a compromise between the King and Parliament. The battle was fought long and hard but ended inconclusively.

In 1635, at the age of 14 Charles was made titular commander of the Royalist forces in the West Country, by the following year, it was apparent that his father was losing to the Parliament forces. Charles escaped via Jersey to join his mother in France at the court of his young 8 year old cousin King Louis XIV. Shortly afterwards, in 1636, his father surrendered to the Parliament force and following his initial imprisonment, escape and recapture in 1648 was imprisoned at Carisbrooke castle. The following year, in 1649 Charles I was executed, Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, and the exiled Charles became titular King Charles II of England and Scotland.

Phoebe