Top critical review
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At times very confusing
on 7 August 2006
I greatly enjoyed Antonia Fraser's The Gunpowder Plot, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The Weaker Vessel, but this biography of Charles II is slightly disappointing. First of all, no explanation of the civil war is offered at all; the reader is only told a bit about Charles II's childhood and his escape from England - but the background to the civil war is so scant that if I had not read a general history of England some weeks before, I would never have found out from this biography what were the social and political forces that caused the royal family to run away. And yes, this is a biography of Charles II, and perhaps to explain the civil war Ms Fraser would have to write a whole book, but I think some basic background should have been provided. Secondly, while Charles is in exile, the focus on the biography is on him alone; the events in England are ignored and the reader is left unaware of what Cromwell is causing in the country, and why slowly but surely, the English people start wanting Charles back. Again, background knowledge that may be too extensive in a biography of the king, but some minimal information, a summary of the state of the Protectorate, should be included; I was completely lost as to why, after running away from England, a few years later everyone wanted Charles back. Thirdly, the king's relationship with the Queen is glossed over. True, it is pretty detailed to begin with, but then the Queen suddenly falls out of the picture for about 10 years, and reappears when the King's councillors suggest he obtains a divorce because she is Catholic. And you learn no more than that - surely 17th century politics were more complicated than this. So much information has been left out, that after having finished this book I just feel that there is so much that I HAVEN'T learnt about Charles's life, whether in exile or back home in England.
The one part of this book that DID I enjoy was the very vivid and intense narrative of Charles II's escape from England, the chase, the danger, the misery which Charles had to endure in exile, are all very moving, as well as Charles' courage in his tribulations. Sadly, only these first 150 pages are so absorbing.