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Charles I

king of Great Britain and Ireland

Charles I

November 19, 1600 Scotland
January 30, 1649 (aged 48) London England
Title / Office:
king (1625-1649), Scotland king (1625-1649), England king (1625-1649), Ireland
Political Affiliation:
House / Dynasty:
House of Stuart

Charles I, (born November 19, 1600, Dunfermline Palace, Fife, Scotland—died January 30, 1649, London, England), king of Great Britain and Ireland (1625–49), whose authoritarian rule and quarrels with Parliament provoked a civil war that led to his execution.

Charles was the second surviving son of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark. He was a sickly child, and, when his father became king of England in March 1603 (see James I), he was temporarily left behind in Scotland because of the risks of the journey. Devoted to his elder brother, Henry, and to his sister, Elizabeth, he became lonely when Henry died (1612) and his sister left England in 1613 to marry Frederick V, elector of the Rhine Palatinate.

All his life Charles had a Scots accent and a slight stammer. Small in stature, he was less dignified than his portraits by the Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck suggest. He was always shy and struck observers as being silent and reserved. His excellent temper, courteous manners, and lack of vices impressed all those who met him, but he lacked the common touch, travelled about little, and never mixed with ordinary people. A patron of the arts (notably of painting and tapestry; he brought both Van Dyck and another famous Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, to England), he was, like all the Stuarts, also a lover of horses and hunting. He was sincerely religious, and the character of the court became less coarse as soon as he became king. From his father he acquired a stubborn belief that kings are intended by God to rule, and his earliest surviving letters reveal a distrust of the unruly House of Commons with which he proved incapable of coming to terms. Lacking flexibility or imagination, he was unable to understand that those political deceits that he always practiced in increasingly vain attempts to uphold his authority eventually impugned his honour and damaged his credit.

In 1623, before succeeding to the throne, Charles, accompanied by the duke of Buckingham, King James I’s favourite, made an incognito visit to Spain in order to conclude a marriage treaty with the daughter of King Philip III. When the mission failed, largely because of Buckingham’s arrogance and the Spanish court’s insistence that Charles become a Roman Catholic, he joined Buckingham in pressing his father for war against Spain. In the meantime a marriage treaty was arranged on his behalf with Henrietta Maria, sister of the French king, Louis XIII.

Conflict with Parliament

In March 1625, Charles I became king and married Henrietta Maria soon afterward. When his first Parliament met in June, trouble immediately arose because of the general distrust of Buckingham, who had retained his ascendancy over the new king. The Spanish war was proving a failure and Charles offered Parliament no explanations of his foreign policy or its costs. Moreover, the Puritans, who advocated extemporaneous prayer and preaching in the Church of England, predominated in the House of Commons, whereas the sympathies of the king were with what came to be known as the High Church Party, which stressed the value of the prayer book and the maintenance of ritual. Thus antagonism soon arose between the new king and the Commons, and Parliament refused to vote him the right to levy tonnage and poundage (customs duties) except on conditions that increased its powers, though this right had been granted to previous monarchs for life.

The second Parliament of the reign, meeting in February 1626, proved even more critical of the king’s government, though some of the former leaders of the Commons were kept away because Charles had ingeniously appointed them sheriffs in their counties. The failure of a naval expedition against the Spanish port of Cádiz in the previous autumn was blamed on Buckingham and the Commons tried to impeach him for treason. To prevent this, Charles dissolved Parliament in June. Largely through the incompetence of Buckingham, the country now became involved in a war with France as well as with Spain and, in desperate need of funds, the king imposed a forced loan, which his judges declared illegal. He dismissed the chief justice and ordered the arrest of more than 70 knights and gentlemen who refused to contribute. His high-handed actions added to the sense of grievance that was widely discussed in the next Parliament.

By the time Charles’s third Parliament met (March 1628), Buckingham’s expedition to aid the French Protestants at La Rochelle had been decisively repelled and the king’s government was thoroughly discredited. The House of Commons at once passed resolutions condemning arbitrary taxation and arbitrary imprisonment and then set out its complaints in the Petition of Right, which sought recognition of four principles—no taxes without consent of Parliament; no imprisonment without cause; no quartering of soldiers on subjects; no martial law in peacetime. The king, despite his efforts to avoid approving this petition, was compelled to give his formal consent. By the time the fourth Parliament met in January 1629, Buckingham had been assassinated. The House of Commons now objected both to what it called the revival of “popish practices” in the churches and to the levying of tonnage and poundage by the king’s officers without its consent. The king ordered the adjournment of Parliament on March 2, 1629, but before that the speaker was held down in his chair and three resolutions were passed condemning the king’s conduct. Charles realized that such behaviour was revolutionary. For the next 11 years he ruled his kingdom without calling a Parliament.

In order that he might no longer be dependent upon parliamentary grants, he now made peace with both France and Spain, for, although the royal debt amounted to more than £1,000,000, the proceeds of the customs duties at a time of expanding trade and the exaction of traditional crown dues combined to produce a revenue that was just adequate in time of peace. The king also tried to economize in the expenditure of his household. To pay for the Royal Navy, so-called ship money was levied, first in 1634 on ports and later on inland towns as well. The demands for ship money aroused obstinate and widespread resistance by 1638, even though a majority of the judges of the court of Exchequer found in a test case that the levy was legal.

These in fact were the happiest years of Charles’s life. At first he and Henrietta Maria had not been happy, and in July 1626 he peremptorily ordered all of her French entourage to quit Whitehall. After the death of Buckingham, however, he fell in love with his wife and came to value her counsel. Though the king regarded himself as responsible for his actions—not to his people or Parliament but to God alone according to the doctrine of the divine right of kings—he recognized his duty to his subjects as “an indulgent nursing father.” If he was often indolent, he exhibited spasmodic bursts of energy, principally in ordering administrative reforms, although little impression was made upon the elaborate network of private interests in the armed services and at court. On the whole, the kingdom seems to have enjoyed some degree of prosperity until 1639, when Charles became involved in a war against the Scots.

The early Stuarts neglected Scotland. At the beginning of his reign Charles alienated the Scottish nobility by an act of revocation whereby lands claimed by the crown or the church were subject to forfeiture. His decision in 1637 to impose upon his northern kingdom a new liturgy, based on the English Book of Common Prayer, although approved by the Scottish bishops, met with concerted resistance. When many Scots signed a national covenant to defend their Presbyterian religion, the king decided to enforce his ecclesiastical policy with the sword. He was outmanoeuvred by a well-organized Scottish covenanting army, and by the time he reached York in March 1639 the first of the so-called Bishops’ Wars was already lost. A truce was signed at Berwick-upon-Tweed on June 18.

On the advice of the two men who had replaced Buckingham as the closest advisers of the king—William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, and the earl of Strafford, his able lord deputy in Ireland—Charles summoned a Parliament that met in April 1640—later known as the Short Parliament—in order to raise money for the war against Scotland. The House insisted first on discussing grievances against the government and showed itself opposed to a renewal of the war; so, on May 5, the king dissolved Parliament again. The collection of ship money was continued and so was the war. A Scottish army crossed the border in August and the king’s troops panicked before a cannonade at Newburn. Charles, deeply perturbed at his second defeat, convened a council of peers on whose advice he summoned another Parliament, the Long Parliament, which met at Westminster in November 1640.

The new House of Commons, proving to be just as uncooperative as the last, condemned Charles’s recent actions and made preparations to impeach Strafford and other ministers for treason. The king adopted a conciliatory attitude—he agreed to the Triennial Act that ensured the meeting of Parliament once every three years—but expressed his resolve to save Strafford, to whom he promised protection. He was unsuccessful even in this, however. Strafford was beheaded on May 12, 1641.

Charles was forced to agree to a measure whereby the existing Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. He also accepted bills declaring ship money and other arbitrary fiscal measures illegal, and in general condemning his methods of government during the previous 11 years. But while making these concessions, he visited Scotland in August to try to enlist anti-parliamentary support there. He agreed to the full establishment of Presbyterianism in his northern kingdom and allowed the Scottish estates to nominate royal officials.

Meanwhile, Parliament reassembled in London after a recess, and, on November 22, 1641, the Commons passed by 159 to 148 votes the Grand Remonstrance to the king, setting out all that had gone wrong since his accession. At the same time news of a rebellion in Ireland had reached Westminster. Leaders of the Commons, fearing that if any army were raised to repress the Irish rebellion it might be used against them, planned to gain control of the army by forcing the king to agree to a militia bill. When asked to surrender his command of the army, Charles exclaimed “By God, not for an hour.” Now fearing an impeachment of his Catholic queen, he prepared to take desperate action. He ordered the arrest of one member of the House of Lords and five of the Commons for treason and went with about 400 men to enforce the order himself. The accused members escaped, however, and hid in the city. After this rebuff the king left London on January 10, this time for the north of England. The queen went to Holland in February to raise funds for her husband by pawning the crown jewels.

A lull followed, during which both Royalists and Parliamentarians enlisted troops and collected arms, although Charles had not completely given up hopes of peace. After a vain attempt to secure the arsenal at Hull, in April the king settled in York, where he ordered the courts of justice to assemble and where royalist members of both houses gradually joined him. In June the majority of the members remaining in London sent the king the Nineteen Propositions, which included demands that no ministers should be appointed without parliamentary approval, that the army should be put under parliamentary control, and that Parliament should decide about the future of the church. Charles realized that these proposals were an ultimatum; yet he returned a careful answer in which he gave recognition to the idea that his was a “mixed government” and not an autocracy. But in July both sides were urgently making ready for war. The king formally raised the royal standard at Nottingham on August 22 and sporadic fighting soon broke out all over the kingdom.

Civil War of Charles I

In September 1642 the earl of Essex, in command of the Parliamentarian forces, left London for the midlands, while Charles moved his headquarters to Shrewsbury to recruit and train an army on the Welsh marches. During a drawn battle fought at Edgehill near Warwick on October 23, the king addressed his troops in these words: “Your king is both your cause, your quarrel, and your captain. The foe is in sight. The best encouragement I can give you is that, come life or death, your king will bear you company, and ever keep this field, this place, and this day’s service in his grateful remembrance.” Charles I was a brave man but no general, and he was deeply perturbed by the slaughter on the battlefield.

In 1643 the royal cause prospered, particularly in Yorkshire and the southwest. At Oxford, where Charles had moved his court and military headquarters, he dwelt pleasantly enough in Christ Church College. The queen, having sold some of her jewels and bought a shipload of arms from Holland, landed in Yorkshire in February and joined her husband in Oxford in mid-July. Both by letters and by personal appeal she roused him to action and warned him against indecision; “delays have always ruined you,” she observed. The king seems to have assented to a scheme for a three-pronged attack on London—from the west, from Oxford, and from Yorkshire—but neither the westerners nor the Yorkshiremen were anxious to leave their own districts.

In the course of 1643 a peace party of the Parliamentarian side made some approaches to Charles in Oxford, but these failed and the Parliamentarians concluded an alliance with the Scottish covenanters. The entry of a Scottish army into England in January 1644 thrust the king’s armies upon the defensive and the plan for a converging movement on London was abandoned. Charles successfully held his inner lines at Oxford and throughout the west and southwest of England, while he dispatched his nephew, Prince Rupert, on cavalry raids elsewhere. For about a year the king’s forces had the upper hand; yet eventually he put out a number of peace feelers. These came to nothing, but he was cheered by reports that his opponents were beginning to quarrel among themselves.

The year 1645 proved to be one of decision. Charles may have had some foreboding of what was to come, for in the spring he sent his eldest son, Charles, into the west, whence he escaped to France and rejoined his mother, who had arrived there the previous year. On June 14 the highly disciplined and professionally led New Model Army organized and commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax with Oliver Cromwell as his second in command, defeated the king and Prince Rupert at the Battle of Naseby. This was the first of a long row of defeats the king’s forces suffered through the summer and fall. Charles returned to Oxford on November 5, and by the spring of 1646 Oxford was surrounded. Charles left the city in disguise with two companions late in April and arrived at the camp of the Scottish covenanters at Newark on May 5. But when the covenanters came to terms with the victorious English Parliament in January 1647, they left for home, handing over Charles I to parliamentary commissioners. He was held in Northamptonshire, where he lived a placid, healthy existence and, learning of the quarrels between the New Model Army and Parliament, hoped to come to a treaty with one or the other and regain his power. In June, however, a junior officer with a force of some 500 men seized the king and carried him away to the army headquarters at Newmarket.

After the army marched on London in August, the king was moved to Hampton Court, where he was reunited with two of his children, Henry and Elizabeth. He escaped on November 11, but his friends’ plans to take him to Jersey and thence to France went astray and instead Charles found himself in the Isle of Wight, where the governor was loyal to Parliament and kept him under surveillance at Carisbrooke Castle. There Charles conducted complicated negotiations with the army leaders, with the English Parliament, and with the Scots; he did not scruple to promise one thing to one side and the opposite to the other. He came to a secret understanding with the Scots on December 26, 1647, whereby the Scots offered to support the king’s restoration to power in return for his acceptance of Presbyterianism in Scotland and its establishment in England for three years. Charles then twice refused the terms offered by the English Parliament and was put under closer guard, from which he vainly tried again to escape.

In August 1648 the last of Charles’s Scottish supporters were defeated at the Battle of Preston and the second Civil War ended. The army now began to demand that the king should be put on trial for treason as “the grand author of our troubles” and the cause of bloodshed. He was removed to Hurst Castle in Hampshire at the end of 1648 and thence taken to Windsor Castle for Christmas. On January 20, 1649, he was brought before a specially constituted high court of justice in Westminster Hall.

Execution of the king

Witness the trial records and the death warrant of King Charles I with Oliver Cromwell's signature and seal, in the United Kingdom Parliamentary Archives

Charles I was charged with high treason and “other high crimes against the realm of England.” He at once refused to recognize the legality of the court because “a king cannot be tried by any superior jurisdiction on earth.” He therefore refused to plead but maintained that he stood for “the liberty of the people of England.” The sentence of death was read on January 27; his execution was ordered as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy. The sentence was carried out on a scaffold erected outside the banqueting hall of Whitehall on the morning of Tuesday, January 30, 1649. The king went bravely to his death, still claiming that he was “a martyr for the people.” A week later he was buried at Windsor.

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Why was King Charles I executed?

Learn about the events that led up to the beheading of a monarch

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Charles I, after Sir Anthony van Dyck, 17th century

Charles I succeeded his father James I in 1625 as King of England and Scotland. During Charles’ reign, his actions frustrated his Parliament and resulted in the wars of the English Civil War, eventually leading to his execution in 1649.

  • Charles married the Catholic Henrietta Maria in the first year of his reign. This offended many English Protestants. Charles believed that the heads of the church should be treated with deference. This was a Catholic idea and something that the Puritan’s did not like.
  • He dissolved Parliament when faced with opposition, effectively ruling alone on a number of occasions. In his first four years of ruling he dissolved parliament three times, once for 11 years. He would only reassemble Parliament to raise funds when he ran out of money because of expensive foreign wars.
  • He lost popular support over public welfare issues such as the imposition of drainage schemes in The Fens. This affected thousands of people.
  • Both his father James I and Charles himself believed in the divine right of kings. This meant that they thought that as King they were above the law, and had been chosen by God.

Trial and conviction

After his defeat by Parliament in the Civil Wars, Charles I was imprisoned. On 20 January 1649 the High Court of Justice at Westminster Hall put him on trial for treason.

Putting a king on trial was a contentious issue. When it came to the trial, those who were against it were turned away or arrested. The remaining parliament was known as the 'rump' parliament.

The King refused to cooperate. He did not enter a plea or recognise the legitimacy of the court. Yet just seven days later, the judges returned a guilty verdict and passed the sentence of execution:

‘This Court doth adjudge that he the said Charles Stuart, as a Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer and Public Enemy to the good people of this Nation, [and] shall be put to death, by the severing of his head from his body’.

For the next three days Charles was kept under house arrest at St James’s Palace. 59 signatures were collected for his death warrant. Politicians pushed through legislation to prevent his son, Charles (later Charles II), from succeeding him. He said goodbye to his two youngest children, Elizabeth and Henry. The Queen, Henrietta Maria, and his two eldest sons were living in exile on the Continent. He took Holy Communion given by William Juxon, Bishop of London.

When was Charles I executed?

30 January 1649 was a day like no other. Early that winter’s morning, a large crowd of men, women and children assembled in the ‘open street before Whitehall’. They waited in anticipation of an unprecedented event that would shake the nation to its very core. They had turned out to watch the execution of their king.

Where was Charles I executed?

At about ten o’clock, to the beat of military drums, the King was marched by soldiers across St James’s Park to the Palace of Whitehall. On the cold morning of his execution, Charles requested two shirts to wear stating that:

‘The season is so sharp as probably may make me shake, which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear. I would have no such imputation’.

Just after two o’clock he was led into Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House, passing under Rubens’s painted ceiling that glorified his father and monarchy. He was then led out of an upper window onto a specially erected scaffold draped in black. There Charles was met by two heavily disguised executioners, a coffin covered in black velvet, and a low wooden block. He put a cap on his head, tucked his long hair beneath it and prayed with Bishop Juxon once more. He then addressed the crowd, but they were kept at a distance by Parliamentarian troops and could hear very little.

‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.

He took off his cloak, gloves and garter badge and handed them to the Bishop. He laid his neck on the block and stretched forth his hands as a signal to the axeman that he was ready.[National%20archives%29_edited-1.jpg?itok=72Pj6sIR

Execution of Charles I, after unknown artist © National Portrait Gallery, London

How did Charles I die?

With one blow of his axe the executioner severed the King’s head from his body killing him instantly. A young boy described how the blow of the axe was not met with a cheer but with ‘such a groan as I have never heard before, and desire I may never hear again’.

The King’s head was held up to the crowd. The spectators, some who had watched in approval and some in dismay, were quickly dispersed by officials. A few sought grisly souvenirs of the event rushing forward to dip their handkerchiefs into the royal blood, ‘by some as trophies of their villainy; by others as relics of a martyr’. A week later the monarchy was officially abolished.

Samuel Pepys: Witness to the Execution

Samuel Pepys saw the King’s execution with his own eyes. As a curious 15-year-old, he and some friends played truant from St Paul’s School to watch the gruesome act. Among the bystanders he seems to have been in the Republican camp. Although the occasion pre-dated his diary by some eleven years, the few tantalising words Pepys wrote in his journal, after being reminded of the event by an old school friend, make it clear where his loyalties had been that day:

‘He did remember that I was a great roundhead when I was a boy, and I was much afeared that he would have remembered the words that I said the day the King was beheaded that, were I to preach upon him, my text should be “The memory of the wicked shall rot”. (1 November 1660)

Now, basking in the glow and opportunity of Restoration London, it was wise for Pepys to keep quiet about those Republican sympathies.



King Charles II | The public and personal life of a British monarch

Source ---[1630-1685%29.jpg?itok=6TaOBdPG

Charles II by Peter Lely (1630-1685)

King Charles II | The public and personal life of a British monarch

He was certainly mercurial and brilliant, and quite possibly lustful and in the grip of dark and foreign powers. King Charles II was however, one of the nation’s most interesting and beguiling rulers.

As a teen, his golden childhood was ripped away from him by the Civil War. Fight and flight marked these years with the execution of his beloved father shattering his world. His twenties were spent hopping around continental courts, begging favours and finances.

A time to celebrate

On his thirtieth birthday, he left all that behind and triumphantly returned to London as King. In the end, the national experiment with republicanism had collapsed and the dour days of Cromwell and the Commonwealth were swept away with festivities and mirth.

Charles II was tall, handsome, sharp of mind, impeccably attired and charming. But he would need all his guile to manoeuvre and survive the tempestuous times in which he ruled.

Charles II's coronation

After the death of Oliver Cromwell, his son Richard became Lord Protector. However Richard lacked the leadership qualities of his father, and he was quickly resigned.

It was decided that Charles' son should return to his rightful role, and become king. He would rule closely with parliament, and returned to popular acclaim.

New regalia was made (the previous crown had been melted down when Charles I was executed) and the coronation took place on 23 April 1661.

Affairs of the heart: Charles II's mistresses

The young King’s heart was soon taken by the married beauty Barbara Villiers who Charles would show off publicly. Villiers came to symbolise the excess and promiscuity of the Restoration court. His brother’s secret marriage to a commoner also added an air of scandal to the crown.

The early years of his reign were marked by a flair for public spectacle, winning over nobility and commoner alike. There was also private tragedy with the death of two of his closest family members.

Despite having fathered a child by his mistress, Charles was keen to marry. Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal, was chosen. Her dowry was generous indeed: two million crowns and the cities of Bombay and Tangiers thrown in for good measure.

Catherine of Braganza, the Royal Collection

The marriage was to be courteous rather than passionate. The couple spoke no common language and the Portuguese Catherine was considered to measure up poorly next to the beauty of the King’s mistress. Worse, the King insisted on openly carrying on his affair and fathering a second child with Barbara.

Charles II and religion

Just as Charles negotiated the conflicts of marriage and mistresses, the nation was an irreconcilable tangle of religious conflicts. Puritanical Protestants still had great sway in England and even more so in Scotland. The King was personally close to many Catholics and their sympathisers. Somewhere in the middle lay the established Church of England, itself wracked by similar tensions.

To show favouritism to one side or even tolerance was potentially fatal. Although Charles managed to please no one in this respect he somehow managed to avert open rebellion. Nevertheless, Charles was to be frustrated constantly by warring factions in Parliament divided along religious lines.

Because Charles had no legitimate children, there was a widespread fear that his Roman Catholic brother James would inherit the throne.

Plague, Fire, War and Peace

Although it would be remembered as a time of great scientific advances with Charles’ Royal Society at the forefront, the 1660s were still dominated by superstition. What could speak more strongly of divine displeasure than pestilence and disaster? The Great Plague of London came a mere five years into his rule. Followed by the Great Fire of London the following year should surely have seen off the King but with guile Charles survived these events. As well as this the English lost the Second Anglo-Dutch war in 1667.

Just as the City seemed to spring anew from the ashes of the Great Fire of London, science and commerce offered hope of a better future. The misery of the recent past was perhaps enough to discourage the discontent from rebellion. Charles sued for peace abroad with the Dutch and signed the Treaty of Breda. Soon after, a formal alliance with Holland and Sweden was created.

Peace seemed to unleash the King’s loins and now he would be linked with a long list of women, presumably overlapping. Countesses, singers and, famously, the orange seller turned actress Nell Gwyn graced the royal bed. Barbara was pensioned off.

Charles II and the founding of the Royal Observatory

Improving navigation at sea was a major challenge for 17th century merchants and their sailors. Thanks to Charles II’s French mistress, Louise de Kéroualle, rumours started to circulate at court that French astronomer, Sieur de St. Pierre, had devised a means of determining longitude at sea by using observations of the Moon’s position in relation to the background stars.

On 4 March 1675, the King signed a Royal Warrant appointing John Flamsteed as 'astronomical observator..[..] as to find out the so much-desired longitude of places for the perfecting the art of navigation'. It was the founding of Britain’s first state-funded scientific research institution.

Find out more about the history of the Royal Observatory[1630-1685%29.jpg?itok=6TaOBdPG

Charles II by Peter Lely (1630-1685)


Charles had survived so far, and wisely kept his distance from his competing ministers and mistresses. Somehow he managed to keep them all in play but none ascendant.

Charles II signed a secret treaty with King Louis XIV of France in which England offered aid in a war against the Dutch in return for the French stalling their naval expansion.

Sensationally, he also offered to declare himself a Catholic in return for money. Although the funds began to flow, (freeing Charles of some of the influence of Parliament) the conversion never seemed to happen, at least not publicly.

His brother James was forced to resign as Lord Admiral, despite noted service, when he refused to renounce his own new-found Catholicism. At once this explosive secret about the heir to the throne became public news.

How did Charles II die?

Charles was caught between support for his brother and a hysterical reaction to ‘Popish’ plotting. Parliament tried to cut James out of the succession and Charles looked to marry off James’ daughter to Protestant Prince William of Orange in Holland.

In 1681 with Parliament poised to declare itself in charge of the royal succession, the King dissolved it to sit no more in his reign. At the very edge of the precipice, somehow Charles clung on. His final years were spent settling scores and concentrating power.

On his deathbed, he finally converted to Catholicism and on 6 February 1685 he passed away peacefully. His brother James fared less well and ruled for only three years before fleeing the country to make way for William of Orange.



What King Charles III's Past Controversies Could Tell Us About How He'll Reign

By Olivia B. Waxman --- September 8, 2022 9:43 PM EDT --- Source --

Prince Charles, now King Charles III, attends the Braemar Highland Gathering on Sep. 3, 2022 in Braemar, Scotland.
Chris Jackson–Getty Images

King Charles III has succeeded Queen Elizabeth II on the throne following a lifetime of scrutiny as Britain’s longest serving heir-apparent.

While the national mourning period for his mother and his coronation in the coming months will help him to define his image as king, examining his decades of controversy could offer some clues to how he might behave as sovereign.

The revelations of infidelity in his marriage to Princess Diana left him, and now-Queen consort, deeply unpopular. While he has managed to regain some positive sentiment in the British public, he remains less esteemed than many other members of the Royal family.

Indeed, one Ipsos poll showed in April 2022 that nearly half of Britons think Charles should let his son Prince William be the next king. And YouGov polling ranks him as the seventh most popular royal—behind his mother, daughter-in-law Kate, son William, father Prince Philip, sister Princess Anne, and niece Zara Tindall. Among Millennial-age Britons, he ranks 12th.

Read more: Mourners pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II

Most recently, he has been embroiled in controversy over donations to his charities. In July, the Sunday Times of London reported that the half brothers of September 11th terrorist Osama bin Laden made a $1.2 million donation to the Prince of Wales’ Charitable Fund back in 2013. Charles’ official office Clarence House said the royal did not personally solicit the donation.

However, the first major brush with disapproving public opinion came amid his marriage to Princess Diana—the 25th anniversary of whose death the world recently marked. A new HBO documentary The Princess shows archival footage of the duo touring Australia that suggests he was jealous at how much more popular she was.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana attending a presidential banquet at the Blue House on Nov. 3, 1992, in Seoul, South Korea, on their last official trip together.
Tim Graham Photo Library—Getty Images

The dam broke when she called him out for having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles’ now-wife whom he met in the early 1970s. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” Diana said in her famous 1995 BBC interview.

Even his well-known stewardship of charity causes has not gone un-criticized. While he has been lauded for his efforts to protect the environment and speak out about climate change, scientists have also raised concerns about other issues Charles has championed. For example, in 2019, after becoming a patron of a group focused on homeopathic medicine, the Good Thinking Society, which promotes evidence-based science, called him “anti-science.”

Read more: Queen Elizabeth II’s Death at Balmoral Has Major Implications for Scotland

But Robert Lacey, a biographer who was a historical consultant to the Netflix show The Crown, argues that the royal was careful about the causes he got involved with, as he had the challenge of waiting in the wings for seven decades and making a career for himself in the meantime. Lacey, who spoke to TIME prior to Queen Elizabeth II’s death, believes Charles steered clear of “politically contentious areas” by concentrating on issues that have to do with the countryside, ecology, and British heritage.

Perhaps most relevant now that he is king, Charles was also accused of attempting to influence the British government. In 2015, it was revealed that Charles received confidential papers on the inner workings of the British government that even elected ministers had not seen, prompting a senior Member of Parliament to call him Britain’s “best informed lobbyist.” The Guardian received 27 memos—dubbed the ’black spider memos’ because of Charles’ scrawl—that showed the royal engaged in personal lobbying efforts to senior politicians about a range of issues from orders of military helicopters during the Iraq War to “illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothfish.” At the time, Clarence House said it’s typical for heirs to the throne to be briefed on political topics, but critics argued that members of the royal family should stay out of politics.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attends the "A Starry Night In The Nilgiri Hills" event hosted by the Elephant Family in partnership with the British Asian Trust at Lancaster House on July 14, 2021 in London, England. The event is the finale of "CoExistence", a campaign by wildlife conservation charity Elephant Family. Jonathan Brady–WPA Pool/Getty Images

Given his activism on political issues, it remains to be seen whether King Charles III will be a politically outspoken monarch. As James Vaughn, an expert on British history at the University of Chicago, told Politico, “The question mark would be: Would he try and use his role in the unwritten constitution to have more influence over policies and thinking of [the British government] than probably his mother was ever willing to try to do?”

Now as king, scrutiny of Charles will only heighten. But a comment he made to TIME in a 2013 profile of the royal could be directed toward anyone who questions whether he deserves his reign and is up to the job: “If you chuck away too many things,” he told the magazine, “you end up discovering there was value in them.”


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