Charles II – Art and Power

The reign of Charles II began with the end of Oliver Cromwell, who led a republic for 11 years following the execution of King Charles I. Cromwell’s own death in 1658 led to the restoration of the British monarchy, with Charles II assuming his father’s throne and reintroducing the royal court as a centre for artistic patronage.

Now, The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace is celebrating the rich matarial world of Charles II’s court by displaying treasures including portraiture, silver-gilt tableware and da Vinci drawings.

A shrine to countless great lives, this is the spot where King Charles II was crowned in 1661 and buried on Valentines Day, 1685. You’ll find his vault in the Lady Chapel.

This magnificent building is now all that remains of Charles II’s principal London residence, Whitehall Palace, which was largely destroyed by a fire in 1698. Built for Charles’s grandfather, James I, Banqueting House has witnessed plenty of dramatic ceremonies and events during its time, not to mention the execution of King Charles I in its grounds.

The institution of the Household Cavalry was founded in 1661 by the new king and is designed to guard the monarch on ceremonial occasions in London and around the UK. The museum is situated on Whitehall inside Horse Guards, the official entrance to both St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace since 1660. The daily routine includes changing the New Guard ride from Hyde Park Barracks and along The Mall every morning. Similar to Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, this lesser-known ceremony is easier to watch thanks to smaller crowds.

To date, the gallery has almost 300 portraits of Charles II in its collection, making it a great place to become better acquainted with  a king who loved to champion the arts. Don’t miss Thomas Hawker’s 1680 portrait, a regal painting of Charles on a golden throne at the height of his powers.

Granted a Royal Charter by Charles II in 1662, the organisation was referred to as “The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge”. These days, the Royal Society works with scientists and policymakers across the globe to share knowledge and change the world for the better through science.

This prominent statue was originally right in the middle of Soho Square, which itself used to be called King Square. The statue stood in the centre of a fountain until 1875, when the fountain was removed and the statue sold. In 1938, however, the statue was returned and now you’ll find it just north of the centre – Soho Square is a great spot for a picnic and a game of table tennis.

This is London’s oldest theatre, opened in 1663 following a patent issued by Charles II. A favourite with the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, the theatre boasted a collection of celebrated actors who performed on a regular basis. Among them was Covent Garden market seller – turned actress Nell Gwyn, who became Charles’s mistress – no wonder he visited the theatre so often.

From the pen of architect Sir Christopher Wren, this home for vetran soldiers was founded by CHarles II and opened on 1692. The residents of the Royal Hospital Chelsea have come to be known as ‘Chelsea Pensioners’, each having served in the UK Armed Forces and now enjoying a retirement in these beautiful surroundings – every May, the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show is held here.

Following fire damage – not to mention being home to 800 horses during the English Civil War – St Paul’s was in serious disrepair by the 1660’s. After the Great Fire of London inflicted yet more damage in 1666, a Royal Warrant was issued by Charles II to rebuild St Paul’s, with Sir Christopher Wren commissioned. After nine years of planning and 33 years of building, it was completed in 1708.

As Britian took to the seas to become the king of international trade, Charles II appointed a Royal Commission to improve the country’s navigation expertise via astronomy. In 1675, the Commission proposed Britian’s first state-funded scientific institution, The Royal Observatory. Sir Chrsitopher Wren suggested the site of the the ruined Greenwich Castle and the rest is history.

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