I always admired virtue – but I could never imitate it… Charles II

A gambling man : Charles II’s Restoration game  Jenny Uglow  New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009  Hardcover. 1st American ed. and printing. xi, 580 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps, ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 527-556) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Charles II was thirty when he crossed the Channel in fine May weather in 1660. His Restoration was greeted with Maypoles and bonfires, like spring after long years of Cromwell’s rule. But there was no going back, no way he could ‘restore’ the old. Certainty had vanished. The divinity of kingship fled with his father’s beheading. ‘Honour’ was now a word tossed around in duels. ‘Providence’ could no longer be trusted. As the country was rocked by plague, fire and war, people searched for new ideas by which to live.

Exactly ten years later Charles would stand again on the shore at Dover, laying the greatest bet of his life in a secret deal with his cousin, Louis XIV. Having worked with parliament to enact Clarendon Code, designed to shore up the position of the re-established Church of England, he entered into a treaty with Louis XIV to convert to Catholicism at a future unspecified date in exchange for support in the Third Anglo-Dutch War which led to ten years of plots on his life and his throne. Finally – taking the very Cromwellian step of dissolving parliament – he ruled by decree for the last four years of his reign and was received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed. While there was no room for The Church in enlightened England there was room in the royal crypt at Westminster Abbey for Charles [which makes the score 11 to 5 Catholics over protestants buried there!]

The Restoration decade was one of experiment: from the science of the Royal Society to the startling role of credit and risk, from the shocking license of the court to the failed attempts at toleration of different beliefs. Negotiating all these, Charles, the ‘slippery sovereign’, layed odds and took chances. The theatres may have been reopened but the king was the supreme actor. Yet while his grandeur, his court and his colourful sex life were on display, his true intentions lay hidden. A Gambling Man is a portrait of Charles II, exploring his elusive nature through the lens of these ten vital years – and a portrait of a vibrant, violent, pulsing world, in which the risks the king took forged the fate of the nation, on the brink of the modern world.


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