Room 7: Charles II: The Restoration of the Monarchy

See the portraits currently on display in Room 7 here

Room 7

© The National Portrait Gallery, London

The death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 marked the beginning of the end of the Interregnum. Cromwell's son Richard inherited the title of Protector, but he lacked his father's abilities; the army was disaffected, Parliament was in disarray and there was increasing popular support for the restoration of the monarchy. In January 1660 General George Monck marched to London with an army, demanding a free parliament, in which previously excluded Members would again take their place. This was to be the Convention Parliament which voted to restore Charles II to the throne.

Charles arrived in Dover on 23 May 1660, entering London on his birthday, 29 May, amid great rejoicing. The first decade of his reign was dominated politically by the cautious policies of his chancellor and chief minister, Clarendon, and by war against the Dutch. After Clarendon's dismissal and exile in 1667, his place was taken by a disparate group of ministers, Clifford, Ashley-Cooper, Buckingham, Arlington and Lauderdale, united by the acronym the 'Cabal'. With their support the King signed the Treaty of Dover in 1670, an alliance with Louis XIV of France against the Dutch. A secret version of the treaty, known only to a few, and not implemented, also committed Charles to declare himself a Roman Catholic and return England to Catholicism. Although a convert to Catholicism on his deathbed, the King supported the Church of England during his reign and favoured religious toleration.

Charles II's reign is popularly remembered not for religion or politics, but for the easy morality of his court, reflected in much of the literary and artistic production of his day. The theatre flourished, fed by the witty dramas of playwrights like Dryden and Wycherley, and with the added attraction of, for the first time, women on stage. Politicians, the Church and the Court were satirised in verse. Painters, above all Sir Peter Lely, deployed new styles to depict both the sumptuousness and the licentiousness of court life.