Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

James II: The Triumph and the Tragedy

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

James II: The Triumph and the Tragedy

Article excerpt

James II: The Triumph and the Tragedy. By John Callow: [English Monarchs: Treasures from the National Archives.] (Kew, Surrey:The National Archives. 2005. Pp. xii, 116.£14.99, $22.95 paperback.)

This brief, lavishly illustrated, but un-annotated book is not intended to revolutionize our view of James II. Despite evident sympathy for his subject, and the insight gained from his two previous books on James's early military career and late years in exile, John Callow's verdict on Britain's last Catholic king is much the same rather depressing one current for the last three centuries: "Unable to brook dissent, or to heed timely advice, James's utter inflexibility of character and steely purpose turned all his many gifts and advantages to dust, effectively retarding the cause of full religious toleration by one hundred years...," etc. (p. 1). Rather, this volume tells in brief the familiar story of the most frustrating of Stuart kings, while illustrating the collections of the National Archives, all for a general audience. Readers are encouraged to pursue their studies at the National Archives: full instructions are given for ordering reader's tickets and the like on page viii.

Though supplemented by a time-line, two pages of brief biographies and judicious suggestions for further reading, the brief span of the narrative itself does not leave much room for in-depth analysis.At times, Dr. Callow must skim over complex issues, like the causes of the British Civil Wars, the negotiations at the Restoration, or precisely how the Dutch fleet escaped James at Lowestoft. The 1677 marriage of James's daughter Mary to William of Orange, which James opposed, is mentioned only in passing, but the explanation of the Exclusion Crisis is well done.The author's insight that James's leadership suffered from never having experienced independent command in youth, and that he worked best in a subordinate position (to Marshal Turenne as a young man, to his brother as an older one) is valuable.

The documents are beautifully reproduced on pages separate from the main narrative. …

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