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King Charles II

The Hudson's Bay Company Charter
Courtesy of the Hudson's Bay Company Archive

Known as "the Merry Monarch," Charles II was king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1660 to 1685. His political adaptability enabled him to guide hiscountry through the religious unrest between Anglicans, Catholics, and dissenters that came to signify much of his reign. Charles was forced to accept the role of limited monarch in order to regain the throne, and was known for religious tolerance.

Charles assumed the throne after a period of great turmoil in British history. His father, Charles I, was executed during a bloody Civil War, which, for a time, placed radical puritans in control of the government. Charles II was restored to the throne when the puritan democracy collapsed in 1660.

On May 2, 1670, Charles signed the Hudson's Bay Company charter, naming his cousin Rupert as "true lord and proprietor" of the Hudson Bay. The signing came after a year of indecision on the king's part, stemming from concern that the treaty would mar his close ties with France's Louis XIV, whose substantial monetary assistance was crucial to the British sovereign's role in Parliament.

The financial benefits of signing the HBC charter proved greater for England and for Charles than the political setbacks. The document allowed private investors to achieve profits while risking little. Prince Rupert's loyalty to the crown also helped to sway Charles — the prince had never before asked for a royal favor, so Charles felt an obligation to grant one.

The HBC charter, while not an unusual document for the king to sign, stood apart from the rest because of the sheer scope of land involved. The charter set the geographical boundaries of the HBC at 1.5 million square miles, almost 40 percent of present-day Canada. While Charles added a clause that the Company may not attack the holdings of another Christian monarch, he made no mention of the well-established presence of the indigenous peoples. By signing a charter with such ample room for interpretation, the king, in essence, handed over the reins of an expansive hunting ground for the HBC to dispose of as they saw fit.

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