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Detail from a print, showing the execution of Charles I at Whitehall in 1649 ©

In January 1649, Charles I, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was convicted of treason and publicly beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. After years of Civil War, the nation was proclaimed a Commonwealth (a republic), led by the Parliamentarian General, Oliver Cromwell. Charles's family were forced into exile, the royal regalia were destroyed and the valuable contents of the palaces were sold.
In Scotland, Charles II had been crowned King of Scots at Scone on 1 January 1651 but, after defeat by Cromwell, he fled to the continent. The Commonwealth was short-lived and on 8 May 1660 the English Parliament proclaimed Charles II king and the monarchy was restored. The Stuarts who, under Charles I's father James VI and I, united the thrones of Scotland and England, had regained power.
This exhibition explores the art, architecture and furnishings of Charles II's magnificent court. It demonstrates how art played a crucial role in expressing and legitimising the authority of the restored monarchy following a period of extreme social and political upheaval. It also looks at the patronage of Charles's Catholic brother James, Duke of Albany and York, who succeeded him in 1685 as James VII and II.
The Restoration

Charles II returned from exile in 1660 to be crowned king

Court society and portraiture

Charles' court was full of scientists, actors, poets and artists


Charles II kept a significant collection of miniatures in his closet at Whitehall

Collecting Old Master Paintings

During his reign, Charles amassed a collection of over 1,000 pictures

The Royal Society

Charles II was a patron of science as well as of art

St James's and Whitehall Palace libraries

The sumptuous decoration of books dedicated to Charles II reflects the prevailing fashions of the day

Collecting Old Master drawings

Charles amassed a collection of Renaissance drawings, including albums by Hans Holbein and Leonardo da Vinci

Contemporary life

The reign of Charles II coincided with the blossoming of printmaking in Britain

Charles II's Palaces

Charles' desire to rebuild his palaces was only truly realised at Windsor

The Reign of James VII and II and the ‘Glorious Revolution’

Commentators saw omens in James's coronation once he was forced into exile