King Charles II

King Charles II (born 29 May, 1630; ascended to throne of Scotland 30 January, 1649; ascended joint thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland 29 May 1660 until death 6 February 1685)

Son of the beheaded Charles I, Charles II should immediately have followed his father to the thrones of England and Scotland; The Scots said he had, the English said he hadn’t. However, after the death of Cromwell and the dissatisfaction with his son, led by General Monk Charles was restored to the throne of England. He had played a brave part during the civil war, but had been sent by his father to the safety of the continent where he lived with his mother in France and also in Holland, part of the Spanish Empire.

Two years after taking the throne in England, Charles was married 23rd May 1662 to Catherine of Braganza, the Infanta of Portugal. He met her at Portsmouth where they were married, and then went on to travel with a large number of carriages in a splendid display to the people, and stay at Hampton Court where a massive reception committee was organized. The situation for Charles II was marred as it had been for Charles I by his wife’s refusal to adopt the dress and customs of the country into which she had married – eventually she did. While at Hampton Court there were excursions on the river, games in the parks and gardens, theatrical plays, music and balls, in all of which the King excelled.

Charles’ domestic life was complicated by Barbara Villiers, created Lady Castlemaine who was pregnant by him before his marriage. She wished to have her baby at Hampton Court and to be designated, as in France, as maîtresse en titre; she did not get the former but Charles did at Hampton Court present her formally to his wife, who when she understood the insult, had a nose bleed, burst into tears and fainted. Despite all of that, Charles insisted the Lord Chancellor make his mistress a lady of his wife’s bedchamber. Catherine under a great deal of pressure would not consent to this abuse. Charles bullied her and sent many of her retinue back to Portugal, and insulted the Portuguese ambassador. Lady Castlemaine was given her own apartments in Hampton Court, at table and in the court Charles conversed brightly with her and ignored his wife. Eventually poor Catherine surrendered and spoke cheerfully with Lady Castlemaine.

In 1662 Hampton Court was visited by Queen Henrietta, the French widow of Charles I, she had herself been so ill treated there – neither of the Queens spoke the other’s language.

In August Charles and his Queen made their State entry to the City of London, proceeding in company with numerous other barges, the diarist Pepys recorded a thousand, effectively a great aquatic pageant. As they descended down river they transferred to larger barges, ultimately to one with 24 oarsmen in scarlet uniforms. The banks were lined by the adoring and cheering populace.

Once they had left Hampton Court in 1662 there were few occasions when the King and Queen returned to stay there, until the Great Plague of 1665 when they spent the middle of the summer there, and eventually went to Salisbury as the plague worsened in London. They were back in Hampton Court in January 1966, much of the knowledge of their travels recorded by Pepys and Evelyn in their diaries.

Then in 1666 came the Great Fire of London and Charles sent many of his treasures by boat to Hampton Court for safe keeping. Charles paid only fleeting visits to Hampton Court; he and his brother stayed there after the death of their mother, Henrietta in August 1669.

At Hampton Court a number of renovations and repairs were undertaken. Charles was fond of tennis, the rules had changed since Henry VIII’s time, and any way the Puritans thought it ungodly to do anything pleasurable and had banned tennis. Since the Restoration tennis had again become popular and he rebuilt the court according to the new lines developed on the continent, in particular, in France. A new floor was laid down with black marble lines, the galleries and the roof were reconstructed. Charles was said to go often to play at this court, returning to London the same day, but also had courts built in the palaces of Whitehall and St. James. A guardhouse was built in the Tilt Yard and the stables repaired.

Although Charles proved his abundant talent for procreation, none of his children were with the help of his wife Catherine, and the throne passed to his brother, designated Duke of York. What, if anything, Charles believed during his life is unclear, but on his deathbed he was received into the Catholic church.

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