The biographer of several prominent English literary figures (including Byron and Keats) turns his attention to a wily politician in this lively portrait of Charles II (1630-85). When he assumed the throne in 1660, Charles had already survived his father's 1649 execution during the English civil war and years of uneasy exile. His restoration had more to do with England's yearning for peace than any desire to reestablish the monarchy's ancient rights, in which Charles fervently believed, and Coote shows the king wielding personal authority and considerable guile to assert prerogatives that his parliament was determined to restrict. Baptized a Catholic on his deathbed, Charles never publicly declared his faith, knowing it would be unacceptable in Protestant England, nor did he let it interfere with his lighthearted affairs. Nonetheless, he was fond of his queen and refused to discard her when she failed to produce an heir. His political maneuvers ensured the peaceful succession of his brother James, who managed in a scant four years to provoke England's bloodless "Glorious Revolution" and the lasting abrogation of royal powers Charles had astutely maintained in trying times. Writing with vigor and color that suit his pleasure-loving subject, Coote limns a man of contradictions in an engaging work of popular biography. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Biographer Coote (John Keats, etc.) offers a fast-moving, engaging but unoriginal biography of the king whose Restoration brought a lull in the factional fighting that had wracked 17th-century England. Coote clearly has the gift of gab and brings out the inherent drama of his subject; his tale is an easy read, told more with colorful language than profound insight, the kind of book that begs to be described as "vivid." Archaic turns of phrase convey a suitable sense of history, and interpretive quagmires are skipped in favor of lusty storytelling. Besides the familiar yarn of Charles hiding from his Roundhead pursuers up an oak tree, we are served up titillating delicacies such as the lesbian tableau arranged by Lady Castlemaine and the pretty 15-year-old Frances Stuart for the king's delectation. The endnotes indicate that Coote repeatedly relies on a narrow range of secondary scholarship, and his treatment of the international context is woefully superficial. He suggests that far from being a reckless playboy, Charles was a wily and resourceful survivor, but this claim sits uneasily with Coote's own admission that the Restoration's consolidation was largely the achievement of Lord Chancellor Edward Hyde, as well as evidence of the king's clumsy demonstrations of sympathy for the Catholic cause. One is left rather with the impression of an intellectually mediocre, self-indulgent man whose survival owed less to political guile than to the nation's desperate desire for stability. (Feb.)
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