Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview

16 Conclusion: Monarch in a Masquerade

UPON completing this biography I was strongly tempted to invite readers to supply their own conclusions upon the virtues, vices, and achievements of Charles II. I had offered a mass of evidence upon the matter, some of it conflicting, and thought it a worthwhile innovation to forgo the usual authorial verdict and to leave others the room to draw together their own opinions. Such an impulse I resisted in the end, from the suspicion that many might consider it a failure of duty and imagination greater than its opposite. Thus, with some qualms, I shall now draw my own portrait of this complex man.

First, it must be said that upon conducting research into the subject, I soon realized that I was dealing with a legendary figure. Other kings had inspired more respect, but perhaps only Henry VIII had endeared himself to the popular imagination as much as this one. He was the playboy monarch, naughty but nice, the hero of all who prized urbanity, tolerance, good humour, and the pursuit of pleasure above the more earnest, sober, or martial virtues. The process of creating the legend really began with the writings of Tories during the age of Walpole, who delighted in collecting anecdotes to illustrate the amiable qualities of the greatest Tory king (which could be set against the boorishness of the early Hanoverians). These stories multiplied into the next century, even though both Charles's morals and his diplomacy shocked many historians. It remained for George Bernard Shaw to establish him, after a fashion, as a philosopher sovereign and for Sir Arthur Bryant to rehabilitate him, it seems permanently, as a monarch fit for the company of gentlemen.

In constructing my own picture of Charles, I took care to use only anecdotes attested by his contemporaries, omitting in the process much material of life and colour which might have been apocryphal. He was a person who clearly fascinated those who knew him and at least four of these ( Halifax, Gilbert Burnet, the Earl of Ailesbury, and the first Sheffield Duke of Buckingham) wrote pen-portraits of him after his death. I have tried to use these to corroborate the evidence of his actions during life, rather than lifting their comments wholesale as has so often been done

-446-

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Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Contents xiii
  • Illustrations xiv
  • I - Boyhood 1
  • 2 - The Exiled Prince of Wales 15
  • 3 - A King in Search of a Realm, 1649-1650 34
  • 5 - A King in Search of Quarters, 1651-1656 71
  • 6 - The Pensioner of Spain, 1656-1660 100
  • 7 - The Year of Restoration, 1660-1661 133
  • 8 - The Fight for the Settlements, 1661-1664 166
  • 10 - The Ministry of Arlington, 1688-1672 254
  • 11 - Charles's Second Dutch War, 1672-1674 287
  • 12 - The End of King Louis's War, 1674-1678 320
  • 13 - Collapse of a System, 1678-1679 357
  • 14 - The Quest for Men and Measures, 1679-1681 381
  • 15 - Towards a New Way of Ruling, 1681-1685 404
  • 16 - Conclusion: Monarch in a Masquerade 446
  • References 459
  • Notes 461
  • Index 543
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