After the puritanical rule of Oliver Cromwell, in which music, theater, and even celebrating Christmas was prohibited, the crowning of Charles II in 1660 restored not only the monarchy but a sense of fun to the British Isles. The “merry monarch,” as Charles became known, embodied the decadence and hedonistic spirit of Restoration England. A notorious womanizer, he fathered over a dozen illegitimate children from several mistresses, most notably the commoner and actress Nell Gwyn. Though evidently virile, he bore no legitimate heirs with his Catholic wife Catherine of Braganza, who, in stark contrast to Henry VIII a century before, he refused to divorce. At a time of heightened anti-Catholicism, there remained persisting questions about the authenticity of his allegiance to the Church of England, and on his deathbed the King finally converted to Catholicism.
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