THE LIFE OF KING CHARLES II
THE FICTION BEFORE THE FACT
I was first captivated by the story of King Charles II, (should this surprise anyone?) from reading the Musketeer novels. Who was the mysterious man in the shadows, I asked myself when he was first introduced.
"This was a man scarcely thirty years of age, handsome, tall, austere, or rather melancholy, in all his gestures and looks."
"He spoke to people looking them full in the face, without affectation, it is true, but without scruple, so that the brilliancy of his black eyes became so unbearable, that more than one look had sunk beneath his, like the weaker sword in a single combat."
These are two mere quotes from the characterization which quickly became one of my favorite parts in the Musketeer novels. It was these books which really made me pursue reading more about the exiled King Charles II and the history behind the fiction.
Fiction about Restoration England Another source which really nailed it for me was the movie Restoration. I really loved the settings and the story about "The Age of Reason." Of course the costume GOD did the work on it. James Acheson was highly accurate with this film (moreso than with Man in the Iron Mask - in which he took creative liberty with the Musketeer costumes). I'm still looking for more. But really, I am quite busy with facts which I am sorely lacking.
Charles II (born in 1630) had been present at the battle of Edgehill of the English Civil War at the young age of 12 (1642). Charles II was placed as nominal commander-in-chief at the headquarters in Bristol. A year later he was forced to leave England by Parliamentarians. In 1648, certainly by protective instinct, he was ordered by his father to join his mother in Paris. Although he attempted to find ways to help his father in the second English civil war... he would hear of his father's execution in 1649.
In 1650 he was crowned King of the Scots and made an attempt to regain the throne. This effort and many of his following efforts were doomed to fail. He would be forced to make a daring escape disguised as a normal man and live for many years in anonymity. Yet despite the years of homelessness, fate would create unforeseen events which would restore Charles to the throne. One year after the death of Cromwell however, Charles II was welcomed back to England and arrived in London on his 30th birthday.
Charles II was remarkably lenient on those whom had been responsible for executing his father. Charles was officially crowned king on April 23, 1651 (even though he had been invited to return to London as King in 1650). In 1652 he would be married to Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of the King of Portugal. Although she bore him no children, King Charles II never divorced her.
Charles II's reign would be marred by three horrible calamities. In 1665 thousands of Londoners would be killed by the plague. One year later, a great fire destroyed the heart of London. In 1667 the Dutch navy sailed up the Thames and burned part of the English fleet.
Charles II was deemed the "Merry Monarch." Despite all that he had been through, he was remarkable light-hearted. He had a fondness for the style of France, as I have mentioned and much of his decorating was modeled after French inspirations. He had a great fondness for women and had many mistresses- though he apparently never had more than one mistress at a time. He frequented the theatre because of his fascination with actresses. He had four very well known mistresses: Lady Castlemaine, Lady Portsmouth, Hortense Mancini, and Nell Gwynn (an orange seller turned actress). Also an interesting legacy is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the breed that would be named after the king's fondness for the dogs.
Brief Timeline of 17th century England through the death of Charles II