ROYAL SURVIVOR by Stephen Coote


The Life of Charles II
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Coote (W. B. Yeats: A Life, not reviewed), brings to life the Restoration and the sly, lascivious king who personified it. Beginning in 1628 as Charles I learns that his favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, has been murdered, Coote ignites interest early and illuminates the murky labyrinth of 17th century English politics. Writing with felicity and panache, he explains the fall and execution of Charles I; the rise and fall of the Cromwells; the initial failures of the beheaded king’s son, young exile Charles Stuart, to martial forces from continental allies to help him regain the throne; and his eventual return in 1660 to assume the crown. Coote displays his considerable narrative gifts to greatest advantage in his account of young fugitive Charles plotting to leave England while Cromwell’s spies are combing the countryside for him. And the pages devoted to London’s Great Fire of 1666 are swift and lyrical: “Huge fireballs rolled with awful destruction, and, drawing the air to themselves, created vacuums of such a scale that spires and ancient walls imploded, destroyed by an invisible power few if any understood.” But Coote is equally adept at clarifying the complex geopolitical questions of a time when internecine political alliances raged like flash fires, and at examining the ferocious anti-Catholic prejudices that were as destructive to London’s social fabric as the Great Fire was to its real estate. He savors the irony of the ailing Charles’s deathbed conversion to Catholicism, especially in the context of spicy details about the king’s sex life (seven mistresses produced 12 bastards) and about other excesses at court: An 18-inch dwarf kept by Charles’s mother was once “brought to the dinner table hidden in a pie.— Working the vein of English royal history previously prospected by popular historians Carolly Erickson, Antonia Fraser, and Alison Weir, Coote strikes gold. (16 pages photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-22687-X
Page count: 396pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1999


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