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Royal Survivor: The Life of Charles II Hardcover – January 19, 2000
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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Charles II is most famous for being `the Merry Monarch' I however found the most interesting parts of the book to be his time in exile. It was not easy for a prince born the heir to the throne believing he was rightful king in a monarchy that had now been abolished, having to now live in state of poverty. For Charles it must have been as if the whole world had turned upside down. Poor, homeless, and impoverished the man who considered himself to be a king was hardly living the life, being tossed back and forth between France, Holland, and Spain. His previous attempts to win back his crown had ended in disaster. However with the self-destruction of the Protectorate government of England a few years following the death of Oliver Cromwell, he was then presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Parliament invited him back to rule, and Charles was restored in a change of government that almost bloodless! Only the regicides perished when King Charles II was actually able to rule his kingdom. It was an amazing feat that he played well, but it was a victory that he did not earn.
"There was also a more subtle reasons for irony. It was surely evident to Charles how small a part he had played in his own restoration. On the occasions when he had exerted himself and tried to regain his crown, the result had always been bloodshed, defeat and death. Now he had been bloodlessly willed into power by his own people, his single contribution having been the adroitness with which he had been able to present himself as the only credible alternative to the repeated failures of the Interregnum regimes. Charles had been restored not because of who he was but of what he was: his country's legitimate monarch."p.180
The reign of King Charles II was what the previous puritan regime was not: scandalous. The people, who lived under the tyranny of Oliver Cromwell's major generals, were most likely grateful to live under a monarch who paraded his mistresses around with pride. However his reign was more than just about sex, during his kingship England saw great progress in the areas of science. And unlike his personnel restoration, which he played no great role in, he directly contributed to the scientific progress that defined his era. Charles' grandfather, King James I, ruled a nation that took the idea of witches seriously. King James wrote a book about witches complete with flying broomsticks, and he seriously believed that it was a witch's curse that gave him an overly large tongue. The England of King Charles II brought to the Western World Newtonian physics.
"The Royal Society was incorporated under a charter granted by Charles on 15 July 1662, and his genuine interest in scientific matters led to research and debate becoming fashionable among the nobility and gentry. Charles employed one of his gentlemen ushers to convey his enquiries to the Society and probed the members as to why sensitive plants flinched and contracted when touched, and why ants' eggs were sometimes bigger than the ants themselves. He arranged for a laboratory to be built in his palace at Whitehall where experiments could be conducted before him or he could investigate problems for himself. He took a keen interest in inventions that the society patented, presented it with curiosities, and throughout his life provided members with the venison traditionally eaten at the anniversary dinner. What Charles was encouraging in such ways was a profound change in the manner in which the elite looked at the world.
The regular publication of research was a crucial part of the Society's early achievement and, if the initial hopes of its founders were nor immediately realized, the record of its success is remarkable indeed. The group of scholars and gentlemen amateurs incorporated by Charles included Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and above all Sir Isaac Newton. Though the discoveries of these men especially, it became possible to view the universe as acting in all places and at all times according to consistent and verifiable rules or natural laws." p.258-9
Throughout his life and reign King Charles II was a brilliant politician in ways his father could have only dreamed of being. Despite his humble method in restoration he would emerge as a very powerful king. He has a troubling legacy in terms of succession. It is still unclear to me why he did not try to legitimize the Duke of Monmouth. King Henry VIII was desperate for an heir and often considered making his illegitimate son that person. Had Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond lived as long as his father he mostly likely would have been king. Even if Henry VIII held off to the birth of his legitimate son, Edward VI, Richmond still would have been in line in the same manner that his sisters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, were. Yet, Charles, even though Coote writes that the he considered his lawful heir, the Duke of York, to be a moron, he did not chose to support his son. Ultimately, he Duke of Monmouth suffered the same fate as his royal grandfather only it was more gruesome. Nevertheless the Exclusion crisis, which tried to prevent his brother from coming to the throne, allowed Charles to triumph over his political adversaries and emerge supreme.
"He had emerged from the Exclusion Crisis as an unfettered sovereign, and as such he would remain. He distanced himself from his Tory supporters, refusing them the privileges they might legitimately have expected. Indeed, Charles was determined to lower the levels of political consciousness and excitement in the country as a whole, and to reduce the influence of party activity especially." P.344
Royal Survivor is great book. The life of King Charles II is one incredible adventure and Coote creates a great narrative to explain it. I would recommend this book to the historian and non-historian alike.
We then settle into an account of Charles II as the King of England, his conflicts with Parliament and the tales of his many mistresses. We follow the story through the period of the Restoration and other great events that occurred during his reign. After finishing this book I really believed that I had gained a better understanding of the subject and the times. In fact I came away from feeling that the King wasn't all that bad and maybe he did try to do his best for England (within a certain framework).
Not only did the book offer an account of Charles II and his private life but we are also provided with accounts of his struggle with the Dutch provinces, France and its King, along with the plague and the Great Fire of London. I would not consider the book to be an in-depth biography but more of a narrative history offering the reader a general overview of the subject. That said, I still found the story interesting and learnt quite a few things along the way.
I believe that anyone who enjoys good history without too many dates and names will be quite taken with this account of Charles II. The book provides the reader with a free flowing narrative, holding your interest throughout the whole story. The book is well presented and has a number of black and white photographs of the period. Overall this is an excellent story and well worth the time to read.