After his father was executed at Whitehall in 1649, Charles II went on the run to avoid the same fate. Eventually, he returned to England to take his seat on the throne in 1660. He was to rule for a quarter of a century but rather than come back in a blaze of glory to lead his nation into a glorious future. But Charles had other things on his mind… mainly sex.
Lots and lots of sex in fact; and the people of his court were only too happy to follow in his footsteps. Even by the standards of European courts at the time, Charles’ was particularly licentious as he preferred mistresses to meetings.
The trouble with the ‘merry monarch’ was that his bawdy behavior bled his treasury dry and resulted in humiliating setbacks in warfare. During his hedonistic reign, Charles slept with innumerable women, spent lavishly and didn’t seem to care about ruling. That he survived on the throne as long as he did was pure luck as previous monarchs had been murdered for far less. The courtier John Evelyn once said that Charles would have been an excellent king “if he had been less addicted to women” and the word ‘addiction’ is very apt when discussing the king’s relationships with the fairer sex.
A Lighthearted Exile
In 1646, the 15-year old Charles fled England due to concerns over his safety as the tide of the English Civil War had turned against his father, Charles I. Young Charles had apparently accompanied his father at the inconclusive Battle of Edgehill in 1642 and was involved in several military campaigns.
When he fled, he went to several places before settling in France. By this stage, his father had surrendered and was in captivity. Charles moved to The Hague in 1648 during the Second English Civil War, and it was here that his philandering began in earnest. Charles had probably lost his virginity aged 15, but his first real relationship was with a woman named Lucy Walter in 1648.
They had a son together, and while Charles was happy to remain by her side, his friends derided her as a ‘whore,’ and he succumbed to peer pressure by leaving Lucy and the child. Then he took the child away from her and placed his boy under the care of his mother, Henrietta Maria of France. Lucy had a miserable life thereafter and reportedly became a prostitute in Paris to make ends meet. She died there in 1658.
Charles returned to England to try and regain the crown his father had once worn but his plan failed, and he had to sneak out of the country in disguise in 1651. He landed at Normandy in France in October and spent most of the next few years wining and dining in various European courts. Charles supposedly filled his days drinking, womanizing, sailing and horse riding. After another failed attempt to regain the throne at the Battle of the Dunes in 1658, Charles finally seized his opportunity in 1660 after the English Parliament voted to restore him to the throne. In Charles’ mind, the party was only beginning.