What if Charles II of England had had legitimate children?

What if Charles II had had legitimate issue?

Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland (b.1630) was King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1660-1685 (officially, unofficially he was King from 1649-when his father Charles I was executed). He was married to Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese Princess from 1662. 

Though Charles and Catherine got on well, they had no legitimate children. Instead, Charles had a great many illegitimate children (one of whom is the ancestor of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge), from a great many mistresses, most notably, Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland.

As a consequence of this, when Charles died, he was succeeded by his brother James, Duke of York and Albany. James was a pretty fervent Catholic, whose Catholicism had spawned a backlash in the 1670s, and would later see him deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

But what if Charles and Catherine had had legitimate children? What could’ve changed?

Now, there are several options here for Charles and Catherine. Catherine was pregnant several times during her marriage, with there being recorded miscarriages in 1663, 1666, 1668 and 1669. Each one presents an opportunity, but for this exploration we’re going to choose the first of these dates.

Point of Divergence:  Catherine of Braganza gives birth to children in 1663

Now, in our timeline, in 1663, when Catherine of Braganza fell ill, she was convinced that she’d had a child or children, in order to placate her, Charles II told her that she had indeed had children, two sons and a daughter. Of course, this wasn’t true, but what if it was? Whilst surviving after giving birth to triplets is quite unlikely, if Catherine had given birth to twins, it is very likely that she could’ve survived. 

Domestic Consequences

The most pressing concern is that the succession is now secure. With two children born from his union with Catherine, a year after his marriage, Charles could feel relatively secure on the throne. Of course, one would hope that both children would survive (never a surety in this age of poor understanding of Obstetrics.), but let’s say for the scenario that they do.

The children are likely to be called:

Charles, Prince of Wales (b.1663)-for the King and his father-

Henrietta Louisa (b.1663)-for the King and Queen’s mothers

Now, with two children and the possibility for more, Charles will need more money, he needs to finance their households, ensure they’re getting the best treatment and food etc. This means Parliament needs to open up the purse strings much more than they were willing to do in our world. This could potentially limit the amount of lavishing that Charles could throw to his mistress at the time-Barbara Palmer- and their illegitimate brood, which, given the personality of Mrs Palmer could lead to some very ugly scenes. 

Such ugly scenes could lead to Charles dressing down Mrs Palmer and maybe even dismissing her from Whitehall-the monarch’s residence-which might well endear him more to his wife and to his people. All in all a good thing, though Charles is still likely to have mistresses.

Another huge domestic consequence of the twins being born is that less focus and pressure will be put on the Duke and Duchess of York and Albany to produce surviving male issues. As such, there is a potential chance that more of their kids could survive.  Especially if precautions are taken to protect both the King and Queen’s children and the children of the Yorks during the Plague outbreak of 1665, and the following smallpox outbreak in 1667. 

Either way, it is likely that the House of Stuart is much more stable this time around than it was originally.

This stability means that when the Second Anglo-Dutch War breaks out in 1665, there will be less pressure on the Duke of York and Albany as heir apparent to act with as much restraint as he showed, and he may not be called back to shore either. This could consequently give him greater leeway to pursue the initially aggressive naval policy that he wanted to explore in our world but couldn’t.

Consequently, at the Battle of Lowestoft, which was the first proper engagement of the war, instead of allowing the remains of the Dutch fleet to go scampering off, York could order the fleet to pursue, which could lead to the Dutch fleet being wiped out.

The destruction of the Dutch fleet, could lead to an early end to the war-something the English wanted quite desperately-, this could be further enhanced if the English successfully captured the Dutch Spice Fleet at the Battle of Vagen, which complete victory at Lowestoft might make more likely, as the eradication of the Dutch naval fleet would make them less compelling allies for Denmark-Norway, compared to our world.

As such, the Dutch might seek a peace agreement, which would be far more favourable to England than the original treaty was in our world. Potentially seeing the Dutch recognise the English conquests of Suriname and New Netherland (New York), and possibly ceding the Spice Islands in their entirety to England as well.

Following on from this, a victory in the Second-Anglo Dutch War and the subsequent acquisition of new territories would be a significant boost, not only for Charles, but for his first minister, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. 

In our world, the apparent barrenness of the Queen, and the defeat in the Second Anglo-Dutch War combined with the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London 1666, increasingly undermined Clarendon’s popularity with the masses and with the King. 

With two children in the cradle, and without Palmer warming his bed, it is perhaps less likely that Clarendon would lecture the King about his personal life, thus making him less of an irritant to the King. Furthermore, victories in the war, and with the Queen giving birth to children means that the whispers about him arranging this marriage, knowing full well that the Queen was barren aren’t present.

Hence, any attempt to try and actually impeach him will probably fail from the start. However, Clarendon was ageing by the mid 1660s, and even had to lie on a couch during a council meeting in 1665 according to Samuel Pepys, so his days as Charles’ first minister are perhaps numbered anyway. But, this time around, when he goes, it will likely be on his own terms, not those of his enemies.

As mentioned before, with Charles and Catherine having twins, Charles’ financial situation is perhaps a lot more secure than it was in our world. Victory in the Second Anglo-Dutch War would further add to the King’s popularity and his financial security. 

Consequently, it is likely that things such as the Stop of the Exchequer do not happen, and as such, Charles’ reputation and England’s reputation do not take such huge hits with the financial community, compared to what happened in our world. Of course, it is perfectly possible that having children increases Charles’ spending habits, leading to some sort of government financial crisis, but, given Parliament’s general desire to be seen as loyal to the King following the restoration, it is not clear that they would allow the King to be underfunded.

Other domestic policy issues that may crop up of course include the Test Act of 1673, which significantly limited the ability of English Catholics to participate in public life, this may target the Duke of York-if he still converts-though given that he is not directly in line for the throne, it is unlikely that the Act would be brought round to target him or that a later act such as the 1678 Act from our world would be brought around, thus the prevention of Catholic peers from being able to sit in the Lords is likely not introduced.

As regards the Popish Plot though it is possible that someone like Titus Oates would try and cause mischief, how likely it is that such a plot would actually take off with the King having not one but two (or maybe more) heirs of his own blood, who are Anglicans (Charles would definitely raise his children Anglican, as he had ordered done for James, Duke of York’s children in our world), is uncertain. It is possible that whilst Charles and the Council may take the allegations seriously (especially if James’ secretary’s papers to France are still leaked), it is also just as likely that they are dismissed as nothing more than fearmongering.

After all, Charles isn’t going to be succeeded by a Catholic Duke, but by an Anglican Prince of Wales.

As pertains to Scotland, it seems like that the Duke of Lauderdale, who had as early as 1663, established himself as Charles’ man in the Kingdom, would remain the dominant figure in Scotland, thus meaning that the persecution of the rabid Presbyterians would continue. This could serve as a potential area where the Prince of Wales, and any brother that he has  could gain some military experience, especially if sent out to campaign with the Duke of Monmouth. 

As such, it is likely that the full scale conversion from Presbyterianism to Episcopalianism, that Charles II had made his goal in Scotland, could well be achieved. According to Miller, Presbyterians were a minority, kept mainly to the south-west of Scotland, before the Glorious Revolution undid that.

Foreign Consequences

As mentioned earlier, Charles and Catherine having twins in 1663, would allow for a freer naval strategy, allowing for James, Duke of York and Albany to lead a complete rout of the Dutch fleet during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Ruining the Dutch for the time being, but perhaps not completely destroying them, given that the Republic was a powerful entity.

However, it is likely that one of the terms of the peace after the Second Anglo-Dutch War would be the restoration of Charles II’s nephew, William, Prince of Orange as Stadtholder of the Netherlands. Such a condition may be agreed to by the Dutch, and as such William could be returned to the Stadholdarate at the age of 18, in 1668, possibly with his cousin Henrietta Louisa as his wife. After all, Charles had significant debts to the House of Orange owing to their support for the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and this might be a way of paying them off.

Alternatively, if Henrietta Louisa is not considered right for William, he may marry her cousin Mary of York as he did in our world, or potentially Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatine, as part of a network of alliances recommended by Charles.

Either way, William would owe his return to his uncle, which may influence his actions later on.

France would of course be high on the list of foreign policy concerns that Charles would face, with or without children. Considering that as early as 1660, Charles had floated the possibility of an alliance with the French, it is possible that after an English victory in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, King Louis of France would view it as being within his interest to bring the English to his side.

This could lead to an alternate Treaty of Dover, where in exchange for subsidies (if Charles still holds a desire to gain complete financial independence from Parliament) and maybe a marriage (perhaps to one of Louis own daughters if they survive, or one of his Orleans nieces who would be first cousins to Charles’ children) in return for English troops to aid France in a future war with the Dutch Republic.

This could put Charles and England into an intriguing situation, on the one hand Louis is offering financial independence, on the other hand it would mean going against Charles’ own nephew and perhaps in the long term undermining the balance of power in Europe, as if Louis wins against the Dutch, he will likely want the Republic destroyed. 

Ultimately, whether or not Charles agrees to this depends entirely on whether he feels the short term gain outweighs the long term risk, and just how desperate he is to gain complete financial independence from Parliament. The sweetener may be Louis offering towns on the coast of the Republic/Spanish Netherlands which were particularly lucrative for trade, thus giving Charles that independence he so craved in our world, without needing to resort to French subsidies.

On the other hand, Louis may view an English victory in the Second Anglo-Dutch War as too destabilizing for his own interests, and as such may seek to ally with the Dutch in return for their neutrality in any action Louis pursues in the Spanish Netherlands (modern day Belgium and Luxembourg). 

If Louis were to take this view, then we could see England approaching the Dutch Republic for an alliance to counter France, and potentially putting aside their differences to achieve this.

Outside of this, there is of course England’s own colonial empire to consider.

With the acquisition of Suriname, New York and potentially the Spice Islands, England will have extended its empire, potentially beyond its capabilities at this point in time. That could see them perhaps considering a French or Dutch alliance based on what they consider to be the most lucrative options to them for trade and their colonial empire. It might also depend on who is first minister. Clarendon would no doubt have retired by this point, whoever his successor is or if indeed there is no one clear minister, will have a significant impact on where England goes.

Ultimately, on the balance of probabilities, it is likely that England allies with France, prompting a third Anglo-Dutch War, which may result in the loss of the Spice Islands-due to their distance from the English navy’s main area of operation, mainly the Channel and the Atlantic- and perhaps a revelation in terms of the outdated techniques used by the Royal Navy, as was apparent in our world.

If this happens it is possible that the popularity of such a war would massively decrease, just like in our world, resulting in the English leaving the war early, and negotiating a separate peace with the Dutch. Such a treaty would potentially include recognising Dutch occupation of the Spice Islands once more, whilst potentially keeping Suriname in English hands.

At the end of such a war, it is likely that Charles or his advisors may go for financial and naval reform. If the Duke of York is still Lord High Admiral (and without being the heir it is likely that he is), then he could well bring in a great deal of the reforms that he originally floated alongside his cousin Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Financial reforms could be based off of the Dutch Model and include a central Bank (something that was floated during the reign of Charles I)  and the bills of exchange, that could help stabilise the English financial system after such a war.

It is likely that after this Third Anglo-Dutch War, Charles would attempt to pursue a policy of careful neutrality. Not wanting to get involved in any further wars, and perhaps wanting to allow his children to grow up content and happy. As such, he may seek defensive alliances with the Dutch Republic and other Kingdoms. 

Though if mentioned previously, if King Louis of France begins to view England as too much of a threat to his plans for the Spanish Netherlands/ the balance of power, and if Charles has ministers who are anti-French (men such as the Earl of Shaftesbury for example), then a war with France could instead break out, with England allied with the Dutch and Spain.

How such a war would go is not clear. Whilst the French navy was sorely lacking at this point, Spain’s military was quite poor, and the Dutch may not be able to withstand the French army for a long period of time.

Charles and Catherine’s family

If Catherine gave birth to twins in 1663, given the quality of medicine at the time, it is highly likely that those births may not allow her to give birth to one again, though twins rather than triplets may allow a small window for more children, further down the line, perhaps with another child being born in 1665-to allow for a James to be completely free to engage in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Assuming of course that these children survived. Though, it is possible that with luck more children could be born. Regardless, the children will be raised Protestant, as Charles did with his brother James’ children in our world.

The children are likely to be called:

Charles, Prince of Wales (b.1663)-for the King and his father-

Henrietta Louisa (b.1663)-for the King and Queen’s mothers

James, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (b.1665)-for the Duke of York and Albany.

When it comes to marriages however, that’s where things become interesting. 

Henrietta Louisa, may be married to her cousin William, Prince of Orange, following the Second Anglo-Dutch War, in order to pay off Charles’ debts to his nephew’s family, and to ensure a continued alliance with the House of Orange. Though if the political situation in the Dutch Republic prevents such a marriage, then William may marry elsewhere, freeing up Henrietta Louisa for another marriage.

Options include Karl XI of Sweden and Louis, Dauphin of France. Whilst it is likely that Charles would want his daughter married to the Dauphin, it may not be possible due to opposition from his council and Parliament. As such, Karl XI of Sweden is likely to be the most realistic candidate, which could be one of the terms of the agreement that England and Sweden agree to in the event of a Triple Alliance war against France, or otherwise.

In terms of the marriage for the boys, it is possible that where France is the aggressor against England, that Protestant marriages will be sought.

In that instance, then Charles may seek to choose brides from allied states to Sweden and the Dutch Republic, such as Holstein-Gottorp, or Baden-Durlach. Alternatively, he may look to Hesse-Darmstadt and other such territories for brides for his sons. 

A possible bride for the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh is Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (b.1668), a distant cousin and daughter of a prominent German Duke.

However, in the scenario where England is allied to France, then it is very possible that the boys are married off to Catholic Princesses. 

A possible marriage option could include Charles, Prince of Wales to either a daughter Louis of France (assuming one exists), or one of the Orleans girls, perhaps Anne Marie of Orleans. 

As for James, it is possible that a marriage to a French Proxy such as Charlotte Felicitas of Brunswick Lunenburg, could happen.

All in all it depends on where things go from a foreign policy perspective.


Charles II and Catherine of Braganza having children changes a lot, not just domestically but in foreign policy areas as well. England would not have an Exclusion Crisis, it would not face the Glorious Revolution, and it is very likely that the Royal Navy would rise to prominence far sooner than it did in our world. Furthermore, the monarchy would keep more of its power, and may be able to gain solid financial independence from Parliament.

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