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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Ronald Hutton is Britain's foremost historian of the English Restoration. His book The Restoration was hailed as "a real tour de force" by History, a work "to which all historians will have to refer," and immediately established itself as the definitive history of the period. Now, in Charles II, Hutton offers a comprehensive biography of the king who returned to England in triumph after the death of Cromwell, re-establishing the monarchy that continues to reign to this day. Hutton reveals the excitement and tragedy of Charles's youth, as the realm erupted into savage civil war, leading to the execution of his father King Charles I at the hands of the rebellious Parliament. His life turned into a long, desperate struggle to claim his crown, including a catastrophic invasion of Cromwell's England that ended in a lonely flight, as he hid in orchards, ditches, and the famous Boscobel Oak. Yet Charles persevered, and was finally recalled from exile by an exhausted nation in 1660. Charles emerges in this narrative as a "monarch in a masquerade," a charming, duplicitous, and astonishingly lucky king who spent less time governing than he did at play (when he wasn't hunting, racing, or sailing he was with one of a series of mistresses, producing seventeen acknowledged bastards). Hutton vividly depicts him as a colorful and often underhanded ruler, physically brave in battle, but a moral coward in religion--first he promised to become a Presbyterian for Scottish aid, then later offered to convert to Catholicism for French help, eventually alienating everyone. His reign endured catastrophe and unrest, from the plague and the Great Fire of London, to defeat at the hands of the Dutch, to Protestant hysteria about a Catholic plot to seize the throne, to the disastrous results of his own secret diplomacy. But Charles in his good fortune survived all of it, beautifully rebuilding London after the fire and firmly anchoring a monarchy whose future had once been bleak. Chosen as a main selection of the History Book Club, Charles II presents an unmatched account of the private life and dramatic public career of this fascinating king. This lively and comprehensive biography, written by a major historian of the Restoration period, captures the politics and personalities of a mometentous era.

Excerpt

I decided to write this book because, in the course of working upon its predecessor, I became intrigued by the personality of Charles II. I found him a more complex and less appealing character than I had expected from his reputation. In the euphoria of completing The Restoration, I believed that I had the energy to take such an important figure, with a relatively long and crowded public life, as the subject of my first foray into the art of biography. Friends cast doubt upon the wisdom of devoting a significant chunk of my own life to a person with whom I was not in love. Now that five years have elapsed, it seems that we were all correct. The book is finished, but it has been a harder and more complicated project than I had expected.

One of the factors which caused me to embark upon it was the often- repeated remark, in universities, that there was no 'proper biography' of the King. What this meant was that there was none which attempted the sort of questions of interest to professional historians. It ignored the fact that Charles had already been the subject of two of the most magnificent 'popular' biographies ever written, by a master and mistress of the arts of narrative and portrayal, Sir Arthur Bryant and Lady Antonia Fraser. Nobody who has known them can forget the unrolling cadences of Sir Arthur's sentences, in which the word 'England' recurs like the name of God in a mantra. Until the moment of his death, a few years ago, he possessed the trick of leading eye and mind easily from one page to another so that thousands of words can pass and leave the reader ready for more. In turn, he lent encouragement to Lady Antonia in her own work, which has the distinction of being hitherto the only book about Charles which deals in some detail with his entire life, from cradle till grave. To this she brought a number of sources hitherto neglected or unknown by historians, and a formidable common sense. Time and again, approaching issues upon which a great deal of romantic silliness had been expended in the past, I found that Lady Antonia had cut a plain and convincing way through them. Furthermore, she also dealt with most of the questions about the King which the general public would want to have answered . . .

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