King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

It’s quite a while since I read a proper history book so when I spotted this one recently in a second-hand bookshop it was just perfect timing for me. During our recent road trips we’ve been visiting lots of English towns which were heavily involved in the action of the English Civil War. It’s not a subject which I knew an awful lot about, I certainly didn’t get much about it at school, not surprising as I obviously went to Scottish schools. Mind you, Scotland does feature a lot in the book and apparently Charles II really disliked Scots, which is a laugh given who his ancestors were and that he was a Stuart.

Anyway, in Warwickshire and Worcestershire it was all go and it made the book all the more vivid for me as just a couple of days after visiting Worcester Cathedral I was reading about all the fighting which went on in the streets there, they were running with blood apparently!

If you want to find out a bit more about Charles II have a look here. But if you want the detail then you’ll enjoy reading this book. I had no idea that Charles had such a bad time of it when he was in exile for years after his father was executed. He literally went without food as there was no money and he had already borrowed from everyone.

At one point I did become a bit dissatisfied because I wasn’t getting enough historical detail but I came to the conclusion that as the book title isn’t The Life and Times of Charles II – I was being a bit unfair. But it has made me want to find out more, for instance, when Charles came back to England and he was restored as monarch, his behaviour and attitude helped a lot with the healing of the nation and peace. He wasn’t determined to ‘get’ the men who had signed his father’s death warrant and indeed some of them were even given very important positions in the government. However, on leafing through another history book I discovered that some of them were hunted down and even brought back from abroad to be executed. I want to know why the disparity in treatment, more reading is required obviously.

I think Antonia Fraser did her best to be impartial as far as religion is concerned, but given the fact that she herself is from an aristocratic Roman Catholic family, who were all converts, she doesn’t always quite manage it. She seems to be quite certain that Charles became a Catholic on his death-bed but I’m sure others don’t agree. It’s common even nowadays for RC priests to ‘claim’ folk for their brand of Christianity at death-beds.

Inevitably the Catholic/Protestant religious problems feature in the book and at one point Fraser says that John F. Kennedy made it clear that he drew a distiction between his role as President of the US and as a private member of the Catholic church; as the former for example he was not subject to the authority of the Papacy.

It’s all very well to say that but I read just a few weeks ago that during the Bay of Pigs crisis JFK was on the phone a lot to the then Pope, apparently taking advice from him. It’s that sort of thing which really worries some people about religion and it’s just one of the many theories about JFK’s assassination, that it was done because of his percieved allegiance to the Pope rather than to America.

I don’t think it’s all Henry VIII’s fault as all the world religions have schisms and factions who are at loggerheads with each other. Maybe the Buddhists all get on with each other, I’d like to think so anyway.

Well I’ve gone off track a bit but I’ll just finish off by saying that there’s more to Charles II (Stuart) than the facts that he had loads of mistresses and a dozen or so illegitimate children. This book is a painless way of learning more history.

If you want to see some images of him, look here.

6 thoughts on “King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

    • Lorraine,
      I certainly do love them but I’ve bought so many books recently, the book pile is growing daily and I’m not getting through them quickly enough at the moment as the sun is actually shining – gardening time!

  1. I recall an absolutely spell-binding novel by Elizabeth Goudge from the mid- to late 1960s about Charles II’s younger adult life and his first love. My aunt Ruth lent it to me–The title was The Child from the Sea, I believe. I can’t imagine it being outdated over the decades. My aunt, who was 42 years my senior, and I, a mere 15 years of age both adored it.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  2. Katrina,
    Do you happen to remember where you read that JFK was on the phone a lot to the Pope during the Bay of Pigs Crisis?
    I’m a scholar of his presidency and am embarrassed to say that I’ve never heard about that. I’m very interested, of course.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • Judith,
      I was trying to think where it was I read it, possible the Guardian but I can’t see it anywhere. You know what the brain is like! I’m now beginning to think that it was a history programme I was watching a few weeks ago. I remember thinking – I didn’t know that! If it was on TV – and now of course I’m sure they showed a photo of JFK on the phone – it’ll be on again soon, they seem to run them on loops, so I’ll get back to you soonish. I hope you’re back to your normal self, the up-and-coming work you have sounds exciting!

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