Who were Kings Charles I and II when King Charles III began his reign?


Shortly after Queen Elizabeth II’s death on Thursday, a royal announcement announced that her heir, eldest son Charles, would be known as King Charles III. He spoke as monarch for the first time on Friday, echoing his mother’s commitment to serve the UK and “uphold constitutional principles at the heart of our nation”.

King Charles III ascends the throne and speaks to the nation for the first time as a monarch

There had been speculation for years that Charles might choose a different name (he could have chosen any of his four names – Charles, Philip, arthur or George – according to the BBC) if and when he took the throne.

So who were the first two British monarchs named King Charles? Well, they had a little trouble.

One was caught up in a civil war and beheaded; the other spent the first decade of his reign in exile.

The first Charles was born in Scotland in 1600, the second son of the King and Queen of Scotland. When the first Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, Charles’ father succeeded her, becoming King James I. Charles was raised in privilege and wealth, but he did not have it easy: he was often ill, had difficulty walking, struggled with stuttering, and was generally overshadowed by his burly older brother, the heir apparent.

But then his eldest brother suddenly dies of an illness, propelling Charles, still a boy, to the head of the line of succession. He was in his twenties when his father died and he became king.

His father had already had problems with Parliament for years, and this continued during Charles’s reign, especially after his marriage to a Catholic. Here we’ll skip a lot of complicated and still disputed history – the Puritans! Spain! Send money! Ireland! – and cut to the hunt: in 1642, Parliament had chased the King of London and England sank into civil war.

Eventually, the king was captured, tried for treason, and beheaded. On the way to his execution on a cold January day in 1649, he asked for an extra shirt. According to historian Charles Carlton, he did not want to shiver from the cold and lead witnesses to believe that he was shaking with fear.

The second Charles was only 18 and was in exile when his father was killed. Scotland declared him King Charles II, but the English Parliament abolished the monarchy and declared England a republic. For the next decade, he could only watch from afar as the Puritan Oliver Cromwell took control of the republic, essentially becoming a dictator and banning all things fun: theater, sports, parties, make-up, swearing. He even banned Christmas.

There really was a war at Christmas. It was led by Christians.

After Cromwell’s death in 1658, his son tried to take the reins, but everyone was fed up. Parliament has invited King Charles II to return to the throne on his 30th birthday. Certainly resentful, Charles made sure that anyone who signed his father’s death warrant was executed; even Cromwell’s body was dug up and beheaded.

King Charles II oversaw the Restoration, a period defined by bawdy comedy, sexy clothing and general post-Puritan bawdy. Even so, the King still had hard times – there was the Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Parliament continued to annoy and constrain him as it had at his father and his grandfather.

During the Great Plague, Isaac Newton had to work from home. He used the time wisely.

So how will it go for King Charles III? Only time will tell, but chances are it won’t end in a decapitation.


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