The thunder of the Dutch guns in the Medway and the Thames woke England to a bitter sense of its degradation. The dream of loyalty was over. "Everybody now-a-days," Pepys tells us, "reflect upon Oliver and commend him, what brave things he did, and made all the neighbour princes fear him." But Oliver's successor was coolly watching this shame and discontent of his people with the one aim of turning it to his own advantage. To Charles the Second the degradation of England was only a move in the political game which he was playing, a game played with so consummate a secrecy and skill that it deceived not only the closest observers of his own day but still misleads historians of ours. What his subjects saw in their King was a pleasant, brown-faced gentleman playing with his spaniels, or drawing caricatures of his ministers, or flinging cakes to the water-fowl in the park. To all outer seeming Charles was the most consummate of idlers. "He delighted," says one of his courtiers, "in a bewitching kind of pleasure called sauntering." The business-like Pepys soon discovered that " the King do mind nothing but pleasures, and hates the very sight or thoughts of business." He only laughed when Tom Killigrew frankly told him that badly as things were going there was one man whose industry could soon set them right, " and this is one Charles Stuart, who now spends his time in using his lips about the Court, and hath no other employment." That Charles had great natural parts no one doubted.
In his earlier days of defeat and danger he showed a cool courage and presence of mind which never failed him in the many perilous moments of his reign. His temper was pleasant and social, his manners perfect, and there was a careless freedom and courtesy in his address which won over everybody who came into his presence. His education indeed had been so grossly neglected that he could hardly read a plain Latin book; but his natural quickness and intelligence showed itself in his pursuit of chymistry and anatomy, and in the interest he showed in the scientific inquiries of the Royal Society. Like Peter the Great his favourite study was that of naval architecture, and he piqued himself on being a clever ship-builder. He had some little love too for art and poetry, and a taste for music. But his shrewdness and vivacity showed itself most in his endless talk. He was fond of telling stories, and he told them with a good deal of grace and humour. His humour indeed never forsook him: even on his death-bed he turned to the weeping courtiers around and whispered an apology for having been so unconscionable a time in dying.
[Authorities. - To the authorities already mentioned, we may add the Memoirs of Sir William Temple, with Lord Macaulay's well-known Essay on that statesman, Reresby's Memoirs, and the works of Andrew Marvell. The " Memoirs of the Count de Grammont," by Anthony Hamilton, give a witty and amusing picture of the life of the court. Lingard becomes important from the original materials he has used, and from his clear and dispassionate statement of the Catholic side of the question. Ranke's "History of the XVII. Century" throws great light on the diplomatic history of the later Stuart reigns; on internal and constitutional points he is dispassionate but of less value. Dalrymple, in his " Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland," was the first to discover the real secret of the negotiations with France; but all previous researches have been superseded by those of M. Mignet, whose " Négociations relatives a la Succession d'Espagne" is indispensable for a knowledge of the time].
He held his own fairly with the wits of his Court, and bandied repartees on equal terms with Sedley or Buckingham. Even Rochester in his merciless epigram was forced to own that Charles "never said a foolish thing." He had inherited in fact his grandfather's gift of pithy sayings, and his habitual irony often gave an amusing turn to them. When his brother, the most unpopular man in England, solemnly warned him of plots against his life, Charles laughingly bade him set all fear aside. " They will never kill me, James," he said, " to make you king." But courage and wit and ability seemed to have been bestowed on him in vain. Charles hated business. He gave to outer observers no sign of ambition. The one thing he seemed in earnest about was sensual pleasure, and he took his pleasure with a cynical shamelessness which roused the disgust even of his shameless courtiers. Mistress followed mistress, and the guilt of a troop of profligate women was blazoned to the world by the gift of titles and estates. The royal bastards were set amongst English nobles. The ducal house of Grafton springs from the King's adultery with Barbara Palmer, whom he created Duchess of Cleveland. The Dukes of St. Albans owe their origin to his intrigue with Nell Gwynn, a player and a courtezan.
Louise de Quérouaille, a mistress sent by France to win him to its interests, became Duchess of Portsmouth and ancestress of the house of Richmond. An earlier mistress, Lucy Walters, was mother of a boy whom he raised to the Dukedom of Monmouth, and to whom the Dukes of Buccleuch trace their line; but there is good reason for doubting whether the King was actually his father. But Charles was far from being content with these recognized mistresses, or with a single form of self-indulgence. Gambling and drinking helped to fill up the vacant moments when he could no longer toy with his favourites or bet at Newmarket. No thought of remorse or of shame seems ever to have crossed his mind. "He could not think God would make a man miserable," he said once, "only for taking a little pleasure out of the way." From shame indeed he was shielded by his cynical disbelief in human virtue. Virtue he regarded simply as a trick by which clever hypocrites imposed upon fools. Honour among men seemed to him as mere a pretence as chastity among women.
Gratitude he had none, for he looked upon self-interest as the only motive of men's actions, and though soldiers had died and women had risked their lives for him, he "loved others as little as he thought they loved him." But if he felt no gratitude for benefits he felt no resentment for wrongs. He was incapable either of love or of hate. The only feeling he retained for his fellow-men was that of an amused contempt.