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Reproduced by kind permission of St Edmund's College, Cambridge.

Letters of King Charles II

Archival - letters

St Edmunds College Archive

Unknown, but most likely Whitehall Palace in London



Two letters from King Charles II to the Bishop of Norwich, copied by King James II.

What does it look like?

It is a letter written in ink ,on paper, in a fairly neat hand. It has a seal on the back in red wax, bearing a coat of arms. The seal has been broken.

To this day

Catholics still cannot ascend to the throne of the United Kingdom, and it was only in 2013 that the ban against royals who married Catholics succeeding to the throne was lifted.

Starting a revolution

It was James’s Catholic faith that resulted in the Revolution of 1688, that led to him being deposed by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, the Protestant William of Orange.

Who, what and where?

The letters claim to be copies, made by King James II, of a letter found in the strong box belonging to his brother, King Charles II. Presumably James copied the letters, because they suggest that his brother, Charles, was Catholic or had Catholic sympathies before his famous deathbed conversion to Catholicism.

This information would have been significant to James, because James himself was a Catholic during a time of strong anti-Catholic sentiment and Catholics were barred from holding public office.  Throughout his short reign, (1685-1688), James II attempted to generate greater tolerance for Catholics. It was his Catholic faith that resulted in the Revolution of 1688, in which he was deposed by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, the Protestant William of Orange.

Are there links to current religious practices or a modern equivalent?

Religious discrimination and persecution still exists to a greater or lesser extend around the world today. It can range from being told you can’t wear a certain article of religious clothing, to being imprisoned or killed for your beliefs. Some people may still choose to conceal their religious beliefs for many reasons, such as fear of harassment, losing out on a job, or fear of bodily harm.

Why is it significant to the study of religion?

In 1670, Charles made a secret pact with King Louis XIV, to publicly convert to Catholicism, “as soon as the welfare of his kingdom will permit.” Some historians have doubted the sincerity of his promise to Louis and his deathbed conversion. However, this letter suggests his Catholic beliefs were genuine and existed before his “conversion.”

England was gripped with anti-Catholic fear, which was fuelled by doubts about the religious allegiance of the king. In 1672, Charles attempted to extend religious liberty to Catholics and nonconformists (non-Anglicans), but Parliament resisted and forced the king to implement the first of the Test Acts, which required all individuals entering public office to only take Anglican Communion. An anonymous pamphlet was published in 1677, that spread alarm by suggesting that the Pope planned to change the lawful government of England. In 1678, the ‘Popish Plot’ erupted, when Titus Oates declared there was a Jesuit plot to murder King Charles, to hasten the accession of James to the throne. Despite the plot later being discredited, the resulting anti-Catholic hysteria lasted several years and precipitated the Exclusion Crisis, which sought to exclude James II from becoming king because he was Catholic, and the extension of the Test Acts to ensure Catholics, in addition to not holding positions in public office, could not become members of Parliament.

James II became king in 1685, but was overthrown in the Revolution of 1688, which placed the Protestant William and Mary on the throne. In 1701, the Settlement Act was passed to bar Catholics from succeeding to the British throne. Although there is much more religious freedom in Britain today, Catholics still cannot ascend to the throne of the United Kingdom, and it was only in 2013 that the ban against royals, who married Catholics, from succeeding to the throne was lifted.


Where is it from, where is it now?

For details about their collections and how to visit, contact the college or visit their website.



Encyclopaedia Britannica

James II, King of Great Britain and Charles II, King of Great Britain and Ireland

BBC Historm- The Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution ultimately established the supremacy of parliament over the British monarchy, but how did the deep-seated fear of ‘popery’ precipitate the events leading up to it?


An Unsettled Settlement: The Restoration Era, 1660-1688


Charles II and James II

Nicholas Fellows
1995, Hodder & Stoughton


The Glorious Revolution

J Miller
1999, Routledge, 2nd ed.


Fighting the Antichrist: A Cultural History of Anti-Catholicism in Tudor England

Leticia Alvarez Recio
2010, Sussex Academic Press


James II


WA Speck

2002, Routledge


The Letters of King Charles II

Arthur Bryant

1968, Funk & Wagnalls


Popery and Politics in England 1660-1688

John Miller

2008, CUP


The Popish Plot

John Kenyon

2000, Phoenix