Charles II, ca. 1661
Oil on copper
Oval, 2 5/8 in (6.6 cm) high
When Charles I was surrendering to Cromwell's army during the Civil War, his son Prince Charles was already fleeing to France. During his escape, he is said to have hidden in an oak tree as Cromwell's troops searched for him. He managed to evade his pursuers and eventually made it abroad. In 1660, after Charles had spent more than ten years in exile in the Netherlands, Parliament voted to restore the monarchy, and he was invited to return to England to become king.
Although as monarch his powers were subject to the scrutiny of Parliament, and his expenditure was carefully monitored by the Treasury, Charles II (reigned 1660-85) ushered in an era of extravagant decadence. He was a patron sponsor of the arts, commissioning artists such as John Michael Wright and Peter Lely to produce a series of state portraits of himself. He also spent a fortune decorating and furnishing the royal residences. The King was famous for his many infidelities, and he had numerous affairs with some of the most beautiful and powerful ladies of the Court. The best-known of his mistresses was Nell Gwynn, a Covent Garden actress whose illegitimate son by the king was later given the title Duke of St. Albans. It is said that on his deathbed Charles's last words were, "Let not poor Nelly starve."
With Dowdeswell & Dowdeswell, London; Christie's, London, October 21, 1997, lot 1
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