cover image Royal Survivor: The Life of Charles II

Royal Survivor: The Life of Charles II

Stephen Coote. St. Martin's Press, $27.95 (409pp) ISBN 978-0-312-22687-9

Biographer Coote (John Keats, etc.) offers a fast-moving, engaging but unoriginal biography of the king whose Restoration brought a lull in the factional fighting that had wracked 17th-century England. Coote clearly has the gift of gab and brings out the inherent drama of his subject; his tale is an easy read, told more with colorful language than profound insight, the kind of book that begs to be described as ""vivid."" Archaic turns of phrase convey a suitable sense of history, and interpretive quagmires are skipped in favor of lusty storytelling. Besides the familiar yarn of Charles hiding from his Roundhead pursuers up an oak tree, we are served up titillating delicacies such as the lesbian tableau arranged by Lady Castlemaine and the pretty 15-year-old Frances Stuart for the king's delectation. The endnotes indicate that Coote repeatedly relies on a narrow range of secondary scholarship, and his treatment of the international context is woefully superficial. He suggests that far from being a reckless playboy, Charles was a wily and resourceful survivor, but this claim sits uneasily with Coote's own admission that the Restoration's consolidation was largely the achievement of Lord Chancellor Edward Hyde, as well as evidence of the king's clumsy demonstrations of sympathy for the Catholic cause. One is left rather with the impression of an intellectually mediocre, self-indulgent man whose survival owed less to political guile than to the nation's desperate desire for stability. (Feb.)