Charles II sired 14 bastards but loved his first, James, most of all. Unfortunately, only legitimate children could inherit the throne.
More admiring than most historians, British Landmark Trust director Keay (The Magnificent Monarch: Charles II and the Ceremonies of Power, 2008), the former curatorial director of English Heritage, delivers an insightful biography of a Restoration noble who was on friendly terms with contemporary rulers (Charles II, Louis XIV, William of Orange, James II) but lacked their guile or—in the case of James—malevolence. Born the same year his grandfather, Charles I, was beheaded, he was 11 when his father regained the throne. A typical Restoration libertine during his youth, he matured during the 1670s, becoming commander of Britain’s army and a popular figure. The key event was the conversion of Charles’ brother James to Catholicism, an action as controversial as a presidential candidate today converting to Islam. Despite this, Charles wanted his brother to succeed him. Although not the leader, Monmouth’s participation in the failed campaign to deny James the throne infuriated his father, who exiled him. Charles’ sudden death galvanized anti-Catholics, who persuaded the reluctant Monmouth that Britons would rise up if he arrived to lead them. They didn’t, and the regular army crushed the 1685 rebellion. Monmouth was captured and executed, but James’ vicious, prolonged revenge on his followers helped turn the nation against him. Minor historical characters get dull biographies, not because they were boring but because major historians prefer to tackle major figures, leaving lesser figures to scholars. No academic, Keay writes well, so readers will have no trouble following the story of this “legendary rogue.”
A lively and probably definitive biography of an ill-fated Restoration notable.