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All the King's Women [Hardcover]

Derek Wilson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 April 2003
'An excellent prince, doubtless, had he been less addicted to women.. those wicked creatures took him from all application becoming so great a king.' - John Evelyn. The image of Charles II as a randy monarch who dragged the crown through the moral mire and irredeemable weakened ots position has persisted throughout the three centuries since John Evelyn gave his judgement. That judgement, Derek Wilson argues, is OK as far it goes. The Restoration court did set an example of cynical libertinism that provoked opposition not only from outraged preacher, but also satirical journalists and angry mobs who pelted royal mistresses and burned down brothels. But Charles' bedroom antics are symptoms and not causes of social decadence. Why did Pepys complain 'there is nothing almost but bawdry at court from top to bottom' or Bishop Burnet observe that throughout the three kingdoms people were 'throwing of the very professions of virtue and piety'? The answers must be sought in the traumatic upheaval of the Civil War and its aftermath in the life of Charles Stuart and his people. In a society that was shaken loose by violent conflict, the position of women changed radically. Many experienced a new freedom and an enhanced power to influence men and events. Charles grew up with and actually enjoyed the company of strong women. Ministers complained of his 'effeminate conversation'. As well as the notorious grasping mistresses - the leach-like Lady Castlemaine, 'dearest Fubs' Keroualle, the outrageous Nell Gwynn - Charles was influenced by his domineering mother, Henrietta Maria, his 'pushy' nurse, Christabella Wyndham, his much love sisters, Mary and 'Minette', and his only great love, Lucy Walter, his long-suffering wife, Catherine of Braganza and a cavalcade of devoted royalist ladies, actresses, whores, and ambitious gold-digger who surrounded him throughout his exile and after his restoration. It is this miscellany of relationships that Derek Wilson explores and helps us to understand in "All the King's Women".

Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; New edition edition (17 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091793793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091793791
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,227,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘He writes with great conviction and a breathtaking attention to the kind of personal detail that makes his books such compelling reading.’ -- Alison Weir

From the Publisher

Full of incident and anecdote, this popular narrative history focuses on the crucial involvement in politics and pleasure of a group of women in the back-biting, gossip-ridden world of the Stuart Court. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The king, not the women 28 Jan 2005
By A Customer
The title tries to persuade you that this is a book about the women in Charles II's life. It isn't. It's primarily a fairly detailed treatment of Charles himself and the political events of his reign. Naturally, it would be difficult to write such a book without dwelling on the women at least to some extent, and the author does his best to fit them in and even, occasionally, to slant his comments to fit his title. However, the focus remains firmly on Charles throughout. A telling point is that the book doesn't deal with what happened to his mistresses after his death - surely a writer with a genuine interest in these ladies would have followed their personal stories through to their conclusion. The book itself isn't bad, but the title is, in my view, simply a marketing angle.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Charlie's Angels 9 Feb 2014
Less sensationalist than one might imagine from the rather beguiling title, Wilson takes us on a political and personal journey into the head of Charles II through the lens of the women in his life. Not just a catalogue of mistresses, the book looks at the significant influence of Henrietta Maria (mother and intriguer extraordinaire), the importance of Minette (sister and confidant) and all the other women who at various times played their parts in the drama of the Restoration Court.

The book was comprehensively demolished by Frances Wilson in a fine, if rather spiteful, Guardian review to which there is little I can add. (My main issue was not some much the prevailing tone as the general lack of any empathy with or understanding of the women themselves.)

Nonetheless, as a political history following the events of the Restoration (and in particular of the events on the Continent preceding the return to England) it does an excellent job. Wilson is always readable if rather prone to the odd (carefully highlighted) anachronism and his interestingly unbridled loathing of that naughty schemer Barbara Villiers is really very entertaining. Worth reading, then, for anyone interested in the period, but don’t expect either the corset-ripping bonkbuster suggested by the headline or the sympathetic analysis of the position of women in the 1600s suggested by the subtitle.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Derek Wilson's account of All The King's Women, is less about the bonking aspect of Charles' paramours as the psychology behind his persona. DW explores the past of Charles II and the women of his childhood who influenced his future role as king, and why he never matched the rakes of his time in the love stakes. Charles was essentially shy (something I've always believed about him). Hence, he admired strong women, of whom one could say, women who led the chase and Charles followed! DW's book is a fab read for it also explores the politics of the Stuart era and touches on court intrigues.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Merry Monarch's Merry and Vituperous Mistresses Galore! 13 April 2004
By C. M Mills - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Charles II returned to reign in England from 160-1685 after living several years abroad. Charles was forced to flee England during the reign of the Stuart's arch enemy Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentary army which executed Charles I in 1649 and for over a decade ran a nation deprived of a reigning monarch.
Folowing the death of Cromwell the leaders of the land proclaimed Charles II the king. The Merry Monarch was vain,
self-indulgent, a womanizer extraordinaire and intellectually l;azy. During his reign London underwent the plague, the Great Fire as the Protestants and Catholics waged war to reign in the land of Albion.
Many women contributed to the telling of this tale. Charles domineering and strong French mother Henrietta Marie; his longtime mistress Diana Villiers, his French favorite the coquettish Louise Keroualle and my favorite one of all-the Cockney actress Nell Gwynn.
Wilson is British and assumes the reader to be well acquainted with seventeenth century politics. It is hard to keep all the many players in this drama straight at times. The book is not a lascivious laying out of the king's countless love affairs but is a judicious appraisal of the Stuart king's reign.
Many American readers will find the book dull and slow moving. The book lacks maps but has several fine reproductions of cartoons and art work from the period under scrutiny.
Wilson has written a book which will inform the reader but for my shekels the money is on the better biograpy of Charles II
written by Antonia Fraser.
5.0 out of 5 stars 50 Books That Made Me the Person I Am Today (#24 of 30) 22 April 2013
By Crabby McGrouchpants - Published on
"And 'Behind Our Scenes' the Admiring Men Certainly Did Go":
The Peek at the Men Behind the Curtain
Offered in Derek Wilson's "All the King's Women"

Christopher Snyder
April 19, 2013
Little Red Schoolhouse
(undergrad vers.)
- 1 -

Derek Wilson's "All the King's Women: Love, Sex and Politics in the Life of Charles II," a

study/meditation on values published in 2003, benefits from the interceding centuries (and the relative

quiet afforded after the turmoil of the twentieth century) in its appraisal of what was going on, socially

and culturally, during Restoration England: in his appraisal of stage life -- or staged "life" -- Wilson

remarks that "by exaggerating these tendencies as they already exist in contemporary society the

producers and players accelerate change in that society ... the audience and the screen are engaged in a

bizarre kind of tennis match in which the velocity of the socio-ethical 'ball' increases with each stroke

of the racket." Given that Londoners enjoyed an active theater culture, un-beset by closure due to

charges of heresy or worse (than mere charges) by the Church -- Shakespeare's generation having been

the relative first to enjoy this privilege, and all its fallout, up to and including the still-somewhat

mysterious death of playwright Christopher Marlowe -- these sorts of issues could be sorted out,

perhaps just a little, just a bit, or simply just at all, in a way that audiences more recently could without

thinking -- or without "thinking" -- warm to Jon Stewart's The Daily Show 4/4/2013, The Colbert Report 4/11/2013,

Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season, 1975-1976, The Simpsons: The Complete First Season, and the

most-recent entry, Portlandia: Season One (let alone such epoch-shaking works as

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Centennial Edition, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb,

and William Gibson's Neuromancer).

If all the titles in the list above seem somewhat exalted, this serves only to underscore Wilson's

overall thesis: given that the period in question was, arguably, the first in English history in which

gender roles, long thought to be fixed and immutable, came to be openly questioned (if not successfully

repudiated), this sort of shift could only have come from the top down: being English, the people at the

time thought of themselves relative to their own King. About this, Wilson cannily divines how

Charles's inclinations in this regard, hardly the result of privileged flippancy, came from hard-won

internal processes: "it is obvious that he always felt an obligation to women who rendered him services,

whether sexual or otherwise . . . during his years of wandering he frequently lamented his inability to

- 2 -

reward adequately those who made his exile bearable." Exile, of course, is the one great humbler: if

anything can reduce to even a king of a Major European Power to very few illusions about his

continued place in the world, it is this.

Similarly, ANY sort of "sexual revolution" -- which it truly was, for its time, and, as Wilson

aptly notes, a precursor for later "shake-ups," as most notably happened in the 1960s -- could only

take root if the women's "[gender] role models" were "played" by individuals with some "heft" to their

character and/or public iconographic status: "One thing Moll [Davis] and Nell [Gwyn] shared with all

those women who were important to Charles Stuart [was that] they were strong ... They were survivors

who had pulled themselves up by their own shoelaces and asserted themselves in a man's world by

using to the best advantage those gifts with which nature endowed them." Though such posturing -- in

the ignoble sense of the term -- was widely regarded as opportunistic by what Wilson calls "court

wits" and, following suit, the overwhelming majority of the public-at-large, nonetheless, this sort of

"placing" oneself in a position to maintain one's independently-mobile status had only certain "rungs"

to climb and specific "hoops" to jump, through, if one was to be hardly more than chattel at all --

opportunities, again -- and, one should add, commensurately -- denied to the womenfolk members of

the public-at-large. Having a higher stoop to perch oneself on doesn't just mean you have further to

potentially fall; it means you lose the right to pity from those trapped, still, at "ground level."


Christopher, you've finally got it together. (See how the "one-citation-per-paragraph" rule DOES work?) Your argument and its narrative drive feel properly constrained, here: the pacing is apt, and the thoughts don't run ahead of where the reader is trying to follow.

Don't get me wrong, though: there's still room for improvement, in that your choice of thesis could be still narrower, and thus, more resonant. You're getting more confident -- and more successful -- in choosing apt quotes from the text (which is most of the "ball game," right there, itself), but the "choicer" ones are always there, to be plucked, by those who have eyes to see them ...

Good job, though! Keep it up!

Johnson de Johnson
Prof. Emeritus, Eng. Lang & Lit.
Univ. of Chicago
4.0 out of 5 stars Charles II and his Ladies 2 Jan 2008
By History Lover - Published on
Amazon doesn't mention this but this book is by Derek Wilson who has written other histories. This book gives a very through analysis of the character of Charles II. Anyone interested in him will be satisfied with this book. It is well written and detailed. He talks about all the important women in the life of the King but in relation to how they affected him and how he reacted to them. A good read for those who like Restoration history.
4.0 out of 5 stars Erudite and Insightful 4 July 2007
By history gal - Published on
A fascinating exploration of the character of Charles II of England as seen through the lens of his many mistresses.
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