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Charles II, King of Great Britain (1630-85)

As a young man, Charles II had been exiled on the Continent following the defeat and subsequent execution of his father, Charles I. Although he landed in Scotland in 1650 and was crowned at Scone in 1651, he did not return to England until 1660, which saw the Restoration of the monarchy in Britain.

Charles II’s boyhood was spent in England, surrounded by the treasures of his parents' superlative art collection; from 1645 he spent the formative part of his youth at the French court (his young cousin was Louis XIV) and then at The Hague, and must have seen a wealth of art at the palaces and in the collections there. Upon his return to England and to the throne of Great Britain, he began to amass items that had previously belonged to his father. The newly-formed Committee for the Recovery of the King's Goods led a forced return of objects which had been part of Charles I’s collection. Over 1,000 works were returned, including portraits by Van Dyck and Holbein as well as antiquities and Italian religious subjects.

Upon his restoration to the throne, the Dutch had presented Charles II with a collection of splendid works of art as a diplomatic gift, including many Italian Old Master works. Charles had also made some purchases of his own in Holland, including the Pieter Brueghel Massacre of the Innocents. It seems likely that the extraordinary collection of 600 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci in the Royal Collection also entered the collection during Charles II’s reign, though exactly how is not known.

The splendours of the regalia made for the Coronation account for many of the treasures in the Royal Collection today too. Silver-gilt ware for the ceremony itself such as this alms dish replaced the previous regalia which had been melted down. The magnificence of the returning monarch is captured in John Michael Wright’s later portrait of Charles II. Portraiture in general flourished at the Stuart Court during Charles II's reign, with Peter Lely leading the way in the sumptuous portraits of court beauties, wives and mistresses.

Charles’s determination to reclaim works for his collection continued after his mother’s death in France in 1669. He ordered legal action against his sister, Henrietta, for the reclamation of Henrietta Maria’s goods, such as Orazio Gentileschi’s work for the Queen’s House in Greenwich.

Charles II made various additions to Royal palaces, engaging artists such as Grinling Gibbons for the woodwork and Antonio Verrio for painted decoration at Windsor Castle. The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh was reconstructed during his reign.

Reigned: de jure from 1649; de facto, 1660–85