Charles II is an interesting figure to me, partly because he seems so much more human than the joyless Oliver Cromwell who’d preceded him having lopped Charles’ dad’s head off (also interesting to me, as despite my reading habits I’m actually anti-monarchy) but mostly influenced by the fact that before reading this, pretty much everything I knew about him was gleaned from Horrible Histories (and this song in particular – to be fair, they do a pretty decent job of covering the highlights). Thanks to Jenny Uglow, my education is now much more comprehensive.
Uglow looks at pretty every aspect of Charles’ reign that I could imagine, plus a few more – it’s certainly an action packed decade with lots of cultural changes to cover as well as the usual political machinations, including wars with the Dutch and constant wrangling with the French alongside the by now customary strife between Catholics and Protestants, the mania for theatre (plus the public skewering of one’s enemies onstage) and the advances in scientific thinking, and not forgetting the licentiousness of the court and Charles’ many, many, many mistresses.
Thanks to the inclusion of diarists and commentators of the time like Samuel Pepys, it’s easier to build a fuller picture of what life was actually like during Charles’ reign, as well as ensuring that gossipy bits were ever present to take the edge off what could be (for me, at times) the duller bits on treaties and whatnot.
There were times when the chronology got a little confusing for me – Uglow tended to jump around on occasion depending on what the chapter was discussing, but that’s a minor quibble for what turned out to be a major education for me.