top of page

King Charles II


Like Henry VIII in The Falconer's Quarry, Charles II appears off-stage in The Demon in the Embers" Unlike Henry, however, Lucy may well have actually seen Charles. At the time of the Great Fire of London, only the area inside the city walls - the part we now think of as the financial district - was classed as 'London'. But the Palace of Whitehall where Charles lived - which would now be considered part of central London - was very nearby. Lucy might well have seen Charles in the streets of London, or as part of a royal procession, and it was even possible for members of the public to watch the king eat three times a week!

Charles II was known as the Merry Monarch, which he probably was by comparison to what had gone before. The English Civil War had raged on and off between 1642 and 1651. On one side were the Royalists (known as the 'Cavaliers') supporting Charles' father, King Charles I. On the other side were the Parliamentarians (nicknamed the 'Roundheads' after their short haircuts) led by Oliver Cromwell. From 1642 onwards, the Parliamentarians were in control of the country. They banned theatre, sports, and all sort of festivities. They even tried to ban Christmas!

After Charles I was beheaded by the Parliamentarians in 1649, his son, Charles II, led an army from Scotland to try to defeat Cromwell. When he lost the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, Charles had to escape, hiding in an oak tree while Cromwell's men searched the ground below. After six weeks on the run, he made it to France where he lived in exile for the next eight years.

Charles II, by John Michael Wright

During this time, Oliver Cromwell made England a republic which he ruled as Lord Protector. Under Cromwell, England continued to live by Puritan values - in particular, clean living and strictly limited pleasure. When Cromwell died in 1658, his son, Richard, became Lord Protector. He was weak, however, and less than two years after he came to power, the army rose up against him. In 1660, Charles II was able to return from France and reclaim the English throne. This is known as the Restoration.

Charles II reigned until 1685, and was well-known for his love of fun. His very first procession into London in 1660 included maypole dancing and morris dancers to show that the Puritan years were over. Christmas was celebrated with feasting once more, new plays opened (with women acting in them for the first time, which some people thought was scandalous), bear-baiting, cock-fighting and other entertainments started again, and fashions became more flamboyant, as you might guess from the picture of Charles above. Charles himself lived a life of excess: although he was married, he had a series of mistresses by whom he fathered at least 12 illegitimate children.

However, his reign wasn't all pleasure for him or his people: it included two of the most catastrophic events in English history - the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 - which changed the country completely.

bottom of page