Britain had been involved in a conflict with the Dutch in the 1650s and tensions mounted once again when the British tried to take hold of Dutch possessions in North America and Africa. The result was the beginning of the Second Dutch War in 1665 which began well for Britain as it captured New Amsterdam and renamed it New York in honor of James, the Duke of York (later James II), who was Charles’ brother and philanderer-in-chief.
By 1667 however, Britain had run out of money and was unable to pay the ships’ crews or refit the fleet. Charles requested another Â£1.5 million from Parliament, but it replied by asking what had happened to the previous Â£5 million allocated to the exchequer. Charles didn’t respond as an estimated Â£2.3 million was unaccounted for.
Charles then made a terrible decision by laying up most of his fleet in the Medway River. The Dutch couldn’t believe their luck and launched a massive attack on the docked fleet. The Dutch had been spotted near the Thames Estuary in June 1667, but the king refused to act. During the ensuing Raid on the Medway, which took place over five days, the British Royal Navy suffered one of its worst ever defeats. At the time of battle, Charles was frolicking with Barbara and his other mistresses.
The people were finally fed up and an angry mob formed in London. Charles desperately looked for scapegoats and laid the blame on Lord Clarendon who was dismissed and impeached for high treason. As this act carried the death penalty as punishment, Clarendon fled to France where he died in 1674. Fortunately for Charles, the Dutch believed a stiff British resistance was forthcoming, so they withdrew. However, Britain had to sign the Treaty of Breda.
The Death of Charles II
Charles learned nothing from his close shave as he continued on his merry way. Barbara’s tenure as his main mistress came to an end in 1670 when his eye fell on Louise de Keroualle during negotiations with the French. In typical fashion, Charles put his needs over that of his country by delaying talks so that he could see Louise more often. She became his maitresse-en-titre the following year and just to spare his wife’s feelings, Charles held a huge two-week long celebration with Louise and his entire court. They even had a mock marriage at the end of the festivities.
To the surprise of no one, Charles was infected with venereal disease in 1674. Indeed, this disease was so common in his court that a âpox’ doctor was on constant call. He remained with Louise for the rest of his life, and during the next 15 years, she made sure that her country’s interests were well served. Charles stood by and allowed France to take Dutch territory, and he even offered not to call parliament again without the agreement of the French King, Louis XIV.
Barbara had returned in 1682 and managed to gain the king’s favor once more. In many ways, King Charles II died as he lived, in the company of women. He enjoyed a party with Barbara, Louise and a recent addition by the name of Hortense Mancini early in 1685. The following morning, on February 2, he suffered a sudden apoplectic fit and died four days later. Just before he died, Charles implored his brother, James, to look after his mistresses. Charles never matured into a good or even competent ruler; he became addicted to the pursuit of pleasure early in life, and when his country needed him to lead, he simply wasn’t able.