| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
CHARLES II.—THE STORY OF HOW LONDON WAS BURNED
 AFTER the plague had passed away another dreadful misfortune
happened to London, at least at the time it seemed like a
misfortune, but really it was a good thing. This was the
Great Fire which caused much of the city to be burned to the
ground. Many of the dirty houses and narrow streets were
destroyed, and with them the last remains of the dreadful
plague were also burned away. When the houses were built
again they were made better and the streets were made wider,
so that the Great Fire was not altogether a misfortune.
The fire first broke out in a baker's shop. As most of the
houses were built of wood, and the summer had been unusually
hot and dry, the flames spread very fast. They leaped from
house to house, and the people, seeing that it was useless
to try to save their dwellings, tried rather to save their
furniture and belongings by carrying them to other houses.
But sometimes, as soon as they had done this the fire would
attack these too, and the people had to fly still further
away, often in the end losing all that they possessed.
For three days and nights the fire blazed and roared. A
great cloud of smoke hung over the city by day, but at night
there was no darkness, for the flames made it brighter than
by day. The air was hot and stifling, and at last no one
could go near the fire, so great was the
 heat. The earth
seemed a blazing furnace, and the sky as if beaten out of
To stop the fire seemed impossible. It must burn and burn
until nothing more was left to destroy. So houses were
pulled down in order to make a gap between the burning ones
and those which were still safe. But the work went on too
slowly, and before the gap was big enough, the fire had
reached the workers, and they had to flee for their lives.
At last some one thought of the plan of blowing up the
houses with gunpowder. This was done, and when the hungry
flames reached the open spaces left by the houses which had
been destroyed, they died away, for they could not overleap
the ruins and attack the houses beyond.
So the roar and crackle of the flames ceased, and the great
cloud of smoke rolled away, but London, from the Tower to
Temple Bar, was left a smouldering, blackened ruin and two
hundred thousand people were homeless.
In memory of the Great Fire a monument was raised on the
spot where it first broke out, and may still be seen to this
day. So fearful were people at that time about plots, and so
bitter was the feeling about religion, that many thought the
fire had been caused on purpose by the Roman Catholics. But
there was never any real reason for believing this, and now
every one thinks that it happened by accident.
About this time the King of France became very greedy, and
wanted more land and power than he had a right to possess.
To prevent him succeeding in his plans to get these, three
other countries in Europe joined together, forming what was
called the Triple Alliance. The three countries were
Britain, Holland, and Sweden. Triple means "three," and
alliance means "to join together,"
 and the Triple Alliance
was called so because three countries joined together.
As you know, the French and English were old enemies, and
this alliance pleased the English, so that Charles was
forced to join it, although he really did not care whether
the French King was powerful or not.
Charles thought most of all about his own pleasure. He spent
a great deal of money, and he could not always make the
Commons give him more when he wanted it. Now he thought of a
new way of getting money. He wrote secret letters to the
King of France, offering to break with the Triple Alliance,
and to help him to fight against the Dutch. This, he said,
he would do, if the King of France would promise to give him
a large sum of money every year.
The King of France promised, and so Charles disgraced
himself and his county, not only by breaking his word, but
by becoming the servant of the King of France. Openly he
pretended to be a Protestant and the friend of Protestants.
Secretly he was a Roman Catholic and the friend of Roman
For a time Charles kept up the pretence of the Triple
Alliance, and by telling the Parliament that he must have
more sailors, in order to keep a check upon the French King,
he got a large sum of money from them. He got still more
money in other wicked ways and then, to the anger of the
people, he made war on the Dutch.
But if France was greedy and Britain false, Holland was
strong and stubborn. Bravely she fought under her great
leader, William, Prince of Orange. In two years Charles came
to the end of his money, and he was force to sign a peace
called the Peace of Westminster, and leave France to fight
alone. But he still continued to receive money from the
 Charles was called the Merry Monarch, because he was gay and
laughter-loving. The people were glad at first to have so
gay a King, for they were tired of the stern ways of
Cromwell and the Puritans. But they soon found out that
Charles was selfish and wicked as well as gay, and his reign
proved a very unhappy one for Britain.
There was constant discontent, there were constant plots.
The King plotted, Parliament plotted, Protestants plotted,
and Catholics plotted. But out of all the misery and
discontent and injustice of these years one good thing at
This good thing was the passing of the Habeas Corpus Act. It
was indeed no new act, it was as old as the Great Charter of
King John, but like much in that great charter it had been
set aside by king after king. By this Act no person could be
put into prison and left there as long as the King pleased,
or until he was forgotten by all his friends. It commanded
that every person should be brought to trial, and either
punished or set free. Habeas Corpus is Latin for "have his
body," and means that the body of the prisoner must be
brought into court at a certain time to be tried, instead of
being left in prison for a long, long time or perhaps sent
into slavery and exile without any trial or any chance of
proving himself innocent. This Act is at least one good
thing to remember of the reign of Charles II., who died in
1685 A.D., having reigned for twenty-five years.
He died as he had lived, careless, witty, laughter-loving.
He was clever, and it is said that he never said a foolish
thing, and never did a wise one. He was lazy, selfish, and
deceitful, a bad man, and a bad king. Yet Charles found both
men and women to love him during his life, and to sorrow for
him at his death because he was clever, good-tempered, and
had pleasant manners.
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