Would Charles Stuart in Exile ever become Charles II?

Mid June 1658, Hoogstraten, Dutch Netherlands, Charles Stuart in Exile (Narrative History)

This was nothing short of disastrous. The defeat of the Spanish Army of Flanders was bad enough, but the loss of Dunkirk had virtually ended any chance of a Spanish Fleet transporting an invasion army across the channel. His chances of regaining his throne had just been significantly reduced. The Regicide Cromwell had seduced Louis XIV away from the Stuart cause, and now he had dealt a huge blow to Spanish military capability.   

Flight from England

On 2nd March 1646 the 15 year old Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales, General of the Western Association and Commander of Royalist armies in the West Country, was persuaded it was time to take refuge in the Scilly Isles.

Less than a month later he had received the news he had feared - the last Royalist field army had been beaten at Stow-on-the-Wold heralding the defeat of his father Charles I.

Before the Prince of Wales had time to decide what to do William Batten had surrounded St Mary's with twenty ships and his capture looked certain. Luckily a storm scattered the fleet and the Prince seized his chance and escaped to the safe haven of Jersey.

On 26th June the King's City of Oxford surrendered. With the capture of the Duke of York and Princes Rupert and Maurice the English Civil War was over, and two days later he left the Channel Isles and travelled to Paris, to live with his mother Henrietta-Maria as guest of the French King.

Two years later, in June 1648, whilst Charles I was negotiating with his Parliamentarian captors a sizable group of English sailors showed their allegiance when nine ships of the English navy mutinied and offered their services to the Prince of Wales. The fleet gave Charles a chance to rally support and resuscitate Royalist ambitions, he hurried to The Hague, where, in early July he was received by the Prince of Orange. It was at this time he had met the first love of his life, the vivacious Lucy Walters. They had become lovers and she had fallen pregnant.

But now it was time for Charles to join the Royalist fleet at Helvoetsluys and take command from his younger brother James, Duke of York, who was sent back to The Hague, greatly upset. The Prince of Wales sailed to Great Yarmouth, but a strong Parliamentarian force ashore prevented his landing. He sailed on to Dover in the hopes of relieving the besieged Royalists in Deal Castle, but Warwick's Parliamentarian fleet arrived, and with enemy reinforcements expected from the south coast and his own supplies running low he had to give up the attempt. Back in the Netherlands  on 4th September, learning of the defeat of the Scottish Engagers' Army in mid August by Cromwell, Charles retired to The Hague leaving Prince Rupert to command the fleet in harassing the Parliamentarians and funding the Royalist cause through privateering activities.

Despite his frantic efforts to enlist help from other courts and a direct appeal to Fairfax himself to avoid regicide, on 4th February 1649 Charles was informed of Parliament's treachery in executing his father. On 5th February Charles Stuart himself was proclaimed King in Scotland, with the proviso that he signed the Covenant - a stipulation he rejected.

Lord Byron arrived on 10th March with an invitation from Ormond to lead the Irish Royalists, and in June Charles set of via Breda and Antwerp where he failed to obtain Spanish support in regaining his throne, to the French court at Compiegne. With Lucy installed in the palace at St Germain with her recently born son, James - eventually to be Duke of Monmouth, Charles dealt a fatal blow to any chance of a match with Anne-Marie de Montpensier, by ignoring Louis XIV's fabulously rich cousin throughout an arranged meal for which she had made herself up meticulously and was anticipating sweet words of seductive love.

No longer welcome in France, and wishing to remove his brother from his mother's religious persuasions Charles returned to Jersey with thoughts of sailing to Ireland, But news of Cromwell's devastating progress in that country made it clear Charles would have been in extreme danger there and in November he received a note from Ormond advising him not to go.

Charles King of Scotland

Without support from Spain or Ireland he began to seriously consider the offer the Scots had previously made him. In February 1650 he returned to Paris to discuss the Scottish terms with Henrietta-Maria. His mother told him not to take the Covenant, but seeing no other possibility of regaining his throne he travelled to Breda to consult with other exiled Royalist groups and eventually he agreed terms in May. Sailing for Scotland on 2nd June, he had reluctantly signed the Covenant three weeks later.

In response Cromwell led his army into Scotland on 22nd July and on 3rd September he routed the disorganised Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in Charles' absence. Charles avoided the English Army and on 1st January 1651 he was crowned King of Scotland at Scone.

With Cromwell the English Army in Scotland Charles saw the opportunity to rally supporters in England, and on 31st July he marched his Scottish army towards the English border. Marching south he was disappointed to gather many fewer supporters than he had expected, but with the road back to Scotland blocked he was unable to retreat. His calls for support went largely unanswered but  he occupied Worcester on 22nd August. His relatively small force fought well but greatly outnumbered and Charles was fortunate to escape with his life after defeat on 3rd September.

After several close encounters Charles escaped, sailing for France on a coal ship on 15th September reaching Paris four days later, and established his Court in Exile in that city. On 26th May 1652 he heard the last Scottish castle holding out for him (Dunottar Castle) surrendered, but the Scottish Crown Regalia was smuggled out of the castle. 

Charles on the Continent

Things were not going well for his cause. In April 1653 he had a serious falling out with Prince Rupert over allocation of funds from the privateering activities of the Royalist squadron. In August that year an order was issued in Scotland forbidding clergymen from praying for him in public. On the 16th December the pretender Cromwell showed his trued pretensions and had himself installed as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

During 1654 things got much worse when the United Provinces signed a peace treaty ending the First Dutch War and agreeing to exclude William of Orange and Stuart descendants from the Stadtholder post. At the same time the French offered an alliance with the Protectorate. Charles had to leave Paris in June he negotiated to move his court to Spa in the Netherlands where his sister lived, but an outbreak of smallpox forced him to move again, this time to Aachen. At the end of September he was accepted in Cologne. He spent his time plotting with his supporters in England, but Thurloe's spies had infiltrated much of his support network and Royalist plots by the Action Party and the Sealed Knot in 1655 were foiled.

Careful scrutiny of those around him identified Henry Manning as a spy for Thurloe and he was arrested and eventually executed by firing squad.

Charles and Spain

After Cromwell's partially successful expedition against Spain in the Caribbean Charles negotiated a meeting in Brussels (in the Spanish Netherlands) in March 1656. He travelled incognito and this time the Treaty of Brussels was agreed whereby Spain would provide 4,000 Foot and 2,000 Horse for the re-conquest of England in return for Jamaica, Antigua & Montserrat and ships to help recover Portugal. Charles also agreed to suspend anti-Catholic laws in England.

In May 1656 Charles was granted an allowance to move his court to Bruges and on 5th June King Philip IV of Spain ratified a treaty with Charles for war against the Protectorate, and the defence of Spanish Flanders against France. Charles issued commissions to raising five Regiments of Foot from British forces serving on the continent, with an English Regiment under Wilmot, Scots under Middleton, and three Irish Regiments commanded by York, Gloucester & Ormond.

In September 1657 the French captured Mardyke the best deep water harbour in Flanders and gave his ally, Cromwell, access to it. On 22nd October Charles, the Duke of York and Ormond joined Juan Jose and the Spanish army in a failed attempt to retake it, Charles was nearly killed when a cannonball smashed into the horse next to his.

At the end of the campaign season in 1657 Charles moved to Antwerp and continued plotting his invasion. He tried to arrange for Royalists to capture an English port in January the following year – a precondition of Spanish support. In December he was informed preparations were complete for an uprising in Sussex and London. He cautious Don Juan-Jose suggested Ormond go to England himself to reassure himself on the possibility of a Royalist uprising.

Despite being betrayed himself and having to escape, Ormond said he thought an uprising would follow if the Spanish could establish a bridgehead. Plans were laid to seize control of Yarmouth and Charles urged the Spanish to invade, but the English Navy controlled the Channel and Ostend was blockaded. Vital transport ships were captured and destroyed and the possibility of invasion faded. In March the Sealed Knot and the Action party were informed the Spanish invasion could not go ahead, and worse, John Stapley confessed details of the plans to Cromwell and 50 Royalists were arrested.

With the defeat of the Anglo-Spanish forces at the Battle of the Dunes on 4th June 1658 and the subsequent surrender of Dunkirk an invasion became impossible and Charles retreated to Hoogstraten in the Dutch Netherlands to continue his life of hunting and devise new plots against the Protectorate.

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Main Sources

Seaward P., Charles II, King of England, Scotland & Ireland (Oxford DNB, 2004)