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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Charles II

King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1660; eldest surviving son of *Charles I and Henrietta Maria; married Catherine of Braganza in 1662.

Living abroad from 1646 (in France, the Netherlands, Spain), Charles made only one military attempt to recover his throne after the execution of his father in 1649. With the promise of support from the *Covenanters, he landed in Scotland in June 1650 and was crowned at Scone in January. A march south ended in defeat by *Cromwell at Worcester (3 Sept. 1651), from which Charles escaped after hiding in an oak tree at *Boscobel. The Commonwealth was now secure under Cromwell. But after Cromwell's death there was a gradual drift towards anarchy, and in 1660 parliament opened negotiations with Charles for his return.

Politically his reign was dominated by religion. He was by nature tolerant, partly because he wished to heal national wounds and partly because the influence of his years in exile predisposed him to freedom for Roman Catholics. But the Cavalier Parliament (1661–79) was in a vindictive mood against Roundheads and passed the acts known collectively as the *Clarendon Code, restricting Nonconformists and Catholics alike. Anti-Catholic feeling was whipped up in 1678 by the *Popish Plot, and this was immediately followed by a campaign to exclude the king's heir (his brother, the future *James II), from the succession because he was a Roman Catholic – a bitter dispute which introduced *Tories and Whigs into British politics.

The *Restoration period, one of licentiousness and cynicism, was a reaction against the drab years of the Commonwealth but also reflected the king's own pleasure-loving character. No other monarch has spawned so many new ducal families from the offspring of his acknowledged mistresses, of whom the best known were Barbara Villiers (Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, 1641–1709), Louise de Kéroualle (Duchess of Portsmouth, 1649–1734) and Nell *Gwyn.
Charles became a Roman Catholic, typically late and rather casually, on his deathbed. He is credited with two last sayings, both very human: 'Let not poor Nelly starve', and the hope that the bystanders would excuse him for being 'an unconscionable time dying'.

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