He was the last monarch to be crowned on Scottish soil – only to be forced into exile months later after invading England and suffering defeat at the hands of Oliver Cromwell.
Now a new exhibition in Edinburgh will recall how a decade of Republican rule in London was brought to an end when Charles II took the throne and set about banishing austerity and ushering in a new era of artistic indulgence.
The Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse offers a rare chance to see highlights of the art collection amassed by Charles II and his father during the 17th century.
The exhibition will examine how the post-Restoration royal court presided over by Charles II – which ordered the reopening of theatres closed down during the puritanical Cromwell era – rebuilt the international reputation of Britain’s monarchy through its patronage of artists.
The show, which opens on 23 November, will recall how Charles II made a triumphant return to London after Cromwell’s death and ordered the immediate recovery of his father’s art collection – much of which had been sold off on the orders of Cromwell – from around the Commonwealth.
Artists featured in the exhibition include Leonardo da Vinci, Antonio Verrio, Simon Verelst, Paolo Veronese, Cristofano Allori and Sir Peter Lely.
A spokeswoman for the Royal Collection, which looks after the largest private art collection in the world on behalf of the royal family, said: “Over the 25 years of his reign, the arts would play a vital role in reinforcing Charles II’s legitimacy and authority as a ruler.
“The exhibition will explore how Charles used the arts to create a royal court that could re-take its place on the European stage. Having grown up surrounded by his father’s art collection, Charles II knew that paintings were not just for pleasure and decoration, but also served as expressions of power.”
Deborah Clarke, senior curator at the Royal Collection, said: “Charles I is well known for being a real connoisseur of art and his son put a real effort into reacquiring his father’s collection, and also acquiring more paintings in order to fill up his palaces to create that vision of magnificence you would expect from a king.”
Charles II was in the Netherlands when he learned that his father had been executed in 1649 during the English Civil War. He was proclaimed king by the Scottish Parliament and was crowned at Scone Palace in Perthshire, but forced into exile months later after Scottish forces suffered defeat at the hands of Cromwell’s army at the Battle of Worcester.
The exhibition also explores the pivotal role played by Charles II during the 1670s with the rebuilding and renovation of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official royal residence in Edinburgh, which had been badly damaged by fire when Cromwell’s troops were based in its barracks in 1650.