Charles III is the new king, but who were Charles I and Charles II?

·4-min read
Composite of images showing (left to right) King Charles I, King Charles II, and King Charles III. At the age of 73 and after spending 70 years as heir to the throne, Charles has become King following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Issue date: Friday September 9, 2022.
Charles I, left, Charles II, centre, and Charles III, right. (PA)

The reign of King Charles III has begun.

He became king immediately after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away at the age of 96 at Balmoral on Thursday.

It is the first time there has been a new monarch for 70 years and the first time there has been a king called Charles for more than three centuries.

Read more: When is King Charles III's first address to the nation?

King Charles III at Aberdeen Airport as he travels to London with the Queen following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday. Picture date: Friday September 9, 2022.
One of the first images of the new king, Charles III, at Aberdeen Airport on Friday. (PA)

He shares a name with two previous kings – a father and son – who presided over one of the most turbulent periods in British history.

The reigns of Charles I and Charles II spanned 1625 to 1685 and saw the overthrow and restoration of the monarchy, the English Civil Wars, the Great Fire of London and the plague.

Who was Charles I?

ENGLAND - JANUARY 01:  Charles I, King of England (1600-1649), son of James I and Anne of Denmark. Charles I was beheaded in London in 1649, upon order of Oliver Cromwell and his purged parliament.  (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Charles I., Koenig von England (1600-1649), Sohn von James I. und Anne von Daenemark. Charles I. wurde auf Befehl von Oliver Cromwell und seinem eliminierten Parlament 1649 in London enthauptet]
Charles I was king from 1625 up until his execution in 1649. (PA)

Charles I remains one of the most notable British monarchs as he is the only one to have been publicly tried and executed for treason.

He was an unpopular king whose reign led to the temporary downfall of the monarchy and the establishment of an English republic before it was restored, 11 years later, under his son, Charles II.

Read more: What happens next following the Queen's death?

Born in November 1600, Charles I moved to England from Scotland when his father, King James VI of Scotland, inherited the English throne in 1603.

He became heir apparent when his brother, Henry Frederick Prince of Wales, died at the age of 18 in 1612.

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: Charles I (1600-1649) king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1625, by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
The reign of Charles I was dogged by civil war. (Getty Images)

Charles I married Henrietta Maria of France in 1625, the year he ascended to the throne, angering Protestant religious groups.

He also argued with parliament, which wanted to curb his powers, while many subjects opposed his policies which included levying taxes without parliamentary consent.

Watch: First images of the new king as Charles leaves Scotland

His attempts to force the church of Scotland to adopt Anglican practices also led to religious conflicts, which in turn resulted in the strengthening of English and Scottish parliaments, helping to pave the way for his eventual downfall.

Charles I fought the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments but was defeated in 1645 and captured. After a brief period of escape, he was recaptured and executed in Whitehall in 1649 after being tried and convicted of high treason.

Who was Charles II?

17/10/1651 - On this Day in History - King Charles II is defeated at the Battle of Worcester by Parliamentarian forces under Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax. King Charles was forced to flee to Holland after this defeat, and did not return until 1660.   05/02/1649: The Prince of Wales is decalred King Charles II, a week after the death of his father, Charles I KING CHARLES II :  A portrait of King Charles II (1630-1685). Charles became King following the Stuart Restoration of 1660 and did much to promote commerce, science and the Royal Navy. However, his Roman Catholic sympathies caused widespread distrust. He was also notable for his large number of mistresses, including the orange seller Nell Gwynn.
Charles II was forced into exile but returned to take up the throne from 1660 to 1685. (PA)

Known as the "Merry Monarch", Charles II spent many years in exile, fathering a dozen illegitimate children by numerous mistresses.

His reign featured the plague and the Great Fire of London.

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Charles II was proclaimed king of Scotland upon the execution of his father in 1649, and attempted to reclaim England, but was defeated by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 before fleeing to mainland Europe where he spent nine years in exile.

During the Interregnum (meaning "between reigns"), from 1649 to 1660, England became a republic for 11 years.

'King Charles II', 1660s (1934). After the execution of his father, Charles I, in 1649 during the English Civil War, Charles II (1630-1685) went into exile. After the death of Oliver Cromwell and the fall of the Protectorate in 1659 a restoration of the monarchy was negotiated and Charles made a triumphal entry into London on 29 May 1660, his birthday. 'From The Studio Volume 107. [The Offices of the Studio Ltd., London, 1934]Artist: John Michael Wright. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)
Charles II became king in 1660 after returning from exile. (Getty Images)

Following Cromwell’s death in 1658 and the resignation of his son, Richard, as Lord Protector the following year, parliament proclaimed Charles II king and invited him to return to England in 1660.

Five years later, Charles II fled London for Salisbury as the plague hit London, killing thousands.

The following year, in 1666, Charles II and his brother James joined and directed the firefighting effort during the Great Fire of London.

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Charles had no legitimate children, but had 12 children by seven mistresses, leading to the nickname “Old Rowley”, the name of his favourite racehorse stallion.

The present Dukes of Buccleuch, Richmond, Grafton and St Albans descend from Charles II, while Diana, Princess of Wales, was a descendent of two of Charles’s illegitimate sons – the Dukes of Grafton and Richmond.

This means that Diana and Charles III's eldest son, the Duke of Cornwall and Cambridge – who is now first in line to the throne – could become the first British monarch descended from Charles II.

Watch: A new monarch - the life and times of Charles III