Published: March 29, 2016 (originally published 1951)
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Ok, full disclosure, Charles II is not my favorite monarch, and the Restoration time period is not my favorite era to read about.
With all the mistresses, merrymaking, and theater, it all feels so frivolous and foolish. I've always wanted to shake Charles and remind him he's a king and he's responsible for all these people. I feel like such a stuffy rule follower scowling at people for laughing, but the sheer irresponsibility that seems to permeate Charles's reign always bugged me.
Though, to be honest, my first impressions have led me to read read very little about Charles and so my judgypants reactions were not rooted in much actual truth. And, this position seems especially unfair of me considering my strong support of similarly misrepresented Marie Antoinette.
Thankfully, Margaret Campbell Barnes set me straight. I enjoyed her book on Elizabeth of York and decided to give Charles II a chance based on my faith in Margaret Campbell Barnes alone. Now, like her book on Elizabeth, MCB definitely has a tendency to paint her heroes and heroines in the best possible light. I get that, this book is slanted, but it IS told from the perspective of Charles and Catherine, and the facts are still there.
I appreciated how well MCB laid events out for me and forced me to understand why Charles behaved the way he did. She did an excellent job humanizing him and showing the psychological impact the civil war years had on him and how that influenced his behavior during his reign. I don't give him a free pass now for cheating on his wife or spending so much money on his many mistresses, but I get it now.
It was also interesting to compare his relationship with his wife to Henry VIII's relationships with his wives, and the effectiveness of various factions' attempts to use the kings' marriages to further farther reaching religious and political agendas.
I learned a lot about the people and politics of the time and was able to connect different periods in history to form a greater understanding overall. So, why only 3.5 stars?
Well, despite all this learning that was going on, it happened slowly and without a whole lot of excitement. There was a lot of telling and after-the-fact descriptions. I'm fine with this more non-fiction telling approach, but thrilling it is not. Basically, it's very Jean Plaidy-ish.
Catherine is also definitely a wallflower character and her characterization here made her seem shallow. I learned a lot about Charles and came to appreciate him way more than before, but Catherine's existence seemed to pretty much revolve around Charles with not much actual substance beyond him.
Another solid MCB book that gave me new insight into historical figures I had previously misjudged. I like these kinds of books because even if they're not fantastic, they are solid and dependable.
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