The Tragedy of Charles II in the years 1630-1660
by Hester W. Chapman
Little, Brown, 416 pp., $5.75
The Stuarts in Love
by Maurice Ashley
Macmillan, 284 pp., $5.95
English history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has always attracted a breed of elegant, highly-educated, but essentially amateur historians who are the direct descendants of industrious nineteenth-century divines like Archdeacon Coxe and Robert Blencowe, or literary ladies like Mrs. Julia Cartwright Addy. They have a great reverence for original authorities (though they avoid unpublished manuscripts), but they either cannot or will not read the learned journals of the professional historians, or their monographs and indeed their knowledge of historical writing in general over the last twenty years often has curious and erratic gaps. This gives many of their books a curiously faded air, like the last fashionable novel on the table of one of Lord Macaulay’s young ladies. Their contribution to the sum of knowledge is minimal.
Mrs. Chapman’s speciality is compiling biographies of interesting people who are not quite important or significant enough to attract other historians; her oeuvre includes The Last Tudor King (Edward VI), Lady Jane Grey, Mary II, and (a real curiosity) Queen Anne’s Son. This time she has attempted something rather more ambitious, a study of the youth and exile of Charles II. Charles, Prince of Wales, left Whitehall in 1642 at the age of twelve, and did not see it again for eighteen years. He said goodbye to his father Charles I at Oxford in 1645, and the following year he was placed in nominal command of the royalist forces in the West of England; but the complete victory of the Long Parliament in the civil wars sent him on his travels, first to the Scilly Isles, then Jersey, and on to France and his silly little mother Henrietta Maria. In 1649 his father was executed by the triumphant Army and he became King of England, though not in the eyes of the English government. The Marquess of Argyll and the Presbyterian Kirk thought better of him, and he was crowned King of Scots in 1650; in 1651 he invaded England at the head of a Scots army, only to be defeated at Worcester. After seven weeks in hiding he escaped to France, and thereafter he shuttled between Paris, Cologne, Brussels, and Breda while he and his growing number of supporters waited for Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, to die. Die he did in 1658, and after eighteen months of utter confusion the King was recalled in triumph, without the use of force and without conditions.
Sir Arthur Bryant in his well-known biography of Charles II dealt only briefly with this period of his life. All the same, it is a trifle disingenuous of Mrs. Chapman to pretend that she is breaking new ground; Eva Scott’s books, The King in Exile and The Travels of the King, published as long ago as 1905, tell much the same story in much the same way. Miss Scott, in 1905, was apt to be more censorious about sex; Mrs. Chapman also gives some account of Charles’s …