Of all the Stuarts who reigned over Great Britain only one, if historians can be trusted, abandoned Anglicanism and became a child of the Catholic Church. It is true that to the name of James II. that of his elder brother, Charles II., has sometimes been added; but the general opinion is that Charles had no religion whatever, and scoffed at all creeds alike. Documents, however, which have lately been brought to light, enable us to prove that both the sons of Charles I. abandoned Protestantism, and that in their persons Catholicism occupied for more than an twenty years the throne of Henry VIII.
To understand how the religion of Charles II. could remain so long an historical enigma, we must recall to mind the peculiar circumstances in which he was placed. Surrounded by fanatical sectaries, who yielded him a kind of insubordinate obedience, and kept him in continual fear of the axe by which his unfortunate father had suffered, he felt constrained to observe in public the forms of worship which he had solemnly renounced before the altar. And to this we must add another reason. Far from reforming the disorders of a licentious youth, he prolonged his excesses to the very eve of death, and his unbridled passions tended to extinguish in his naturally weak and timid soul all the energy alike of the man and of the Christian. So, though a Catholic at heart, Charles never had the courage during his whole reign to avow his sentiments. Some thought him a zealous Presbyterian; others, a devoted Anglican. Those who knew him better declared he was nothing but a bad Protestant, and for that declaration they had more reason than they supposed.
There is no question that he died in the bosom of the Church; but that he had returned to it long before he died is a fact which has only lately been established.
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