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King Charles II Ended His Debaucherous Reign With One Last Naughty Party

Ryan McLachlan
Photo Credit: 
John Michael Wright / Royal Collection / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: John Michael Wright / Royal Collection / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

On February 1, 1685, feeling better after a period of illness, King Charles II wanted to have some fun. He headed down to the Whitehall apartments of Louise de Kérouaille, his mistress. What followed was an evening that could only be described as incredibly raunchy. A French boy sang love songs, while for those inclined to gamble, £2ooo worth of gold was up for grabs. Mistresses were abundant among the king and his courtiers.

Becoming ill again and dying on February 6th, it was ultimately to be Charles’ final fête, although it certainly was not the Merry Monarch’s first.

Reign of Charles II

Charles II was King of Scotland from 1649 until 1651 and reigned over England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1660 to his 1685 death. His reign marked a significant period in British history, characterized by the restoration of the monarchy following the tumultuous era of the English Civil War and the Interregnum.

Portrait of King Charles II in the Robes of the Garter by John Michael Wright between 1660 and 1665. From the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 531).
King Charles II by John Michael Wright (1660-1665). (Photo Credit: John Michael Wright / National Portrait Gallery / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

One of the defining features of Charles’ reign was his ability to cultivate a relaxed and jovial atmosphere, earning him the moniker the Merry Monarch. This contrasted with the stern and puritanical rule of the Commonwealth, and it ushered in the Restoration Period.

Despite the outward merriment, Charles faced numerous challenges during his reign. The restoration of the monarchy brought about debates regarding the balance of power between the king and Parliament. This period also saw wars and alliances with various European powers, and it was early on in his reign in 1666 that the Great Fire of London devastated much of the city.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of Charles’ reign was himself, an outrageous womanizer.

The debauchery of Charles’ reign

Charles was well known for his amorous nature and had numerous love affairs throughout his reign, despite being married to Catherine of Braganza from 1662 until his death.

Charles’ romantic entanglements were a source of fascination and scandal and certainly added color to his nickname, the Merry Monarch. These affairs began at an early age, when Charles reportedly lost his virginity to Christabella Wyndham, his former wet nurse, when he was 15 and she was in her late 30s.

John Michael Wright portrait of Barbara Palmer, circa 1670.
Barbara Palmer by John Michael Wright, circa 1670. (Photo Credit: John Michael Wright / National Portrait Gallery / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

One of Charles’ most famous love affairs was with Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, later known as the Duchess of Cleveland. Their relationship began in the early years of his reign and lasted for over a decade. The affair resulted in five children and gave Barbara so much power and influence she was referred to as “The Uncrowned Queen.”

Another notable love interest of Charles’ was Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. Louise met Charles through Henrietta Anne Stuart, the King’s sister. Their affair began in the late 1660s and lasted until the end of his reign. Louise received titles and money allowances from Charles, which included £136,000 in 1681 alone.

Famous liaisons

Nell Gwyn, a popular actress, was another prominent figure in Charles’ love life. Their relationship began in the early 1660s and endured until the king’s death. Nell was known for her wit and charm, and she seemed to capture his heart with her vivacious personality. Charles was so taken by her that he had a risque portrait of Nell hidden in his bedroom. Before his death, Charles requested that his brother take care of Nell, which he did. This included an annual payment of £1,500.

Portrait of Louise de Kérouaille by Peter Lely dating to the 17th century.
Louise de Kérouaille by Peter Lely. (Photo Cedit: Peter Lely / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

In addition to these well-known affairs, Charles had numerous other liaisons and mistresses, including Moll Davis, Hortense Mancini, and Catherine Pegge, among others. It has long been rumored that Charles had a special wig made from the intimate hairs of his favorite mistresses, although if true, the hairpiece has been lost to the ages.

All of his extramarital relationships were characterized by passion, intrigue, and political ramifications, as they often involved alliances, rivalries, and tensions among the courtiers and aristocracy.

One example of Charles’ affairs going too far was in 1667 when a Dutch fleet sailed up the River Medway and bombarded the English fleet at anchor. Charles was reprimanded for having spent money on lavish and luxurious jewelry for Barbara Palmer instead of investing in the Royal Navy.  Such instances did not stop him from indulging his mistresses with gifts from money and jewelry to titles and estates.

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Charles’ affairs resulted in the birth of many illegitimate heirs. This, in turn, resulted in James II, Charles’ brother, ascending to the throne following his death in 1685.

Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.