Charles ll and the Restoration: A Gambling Man
Charles was a consummate risk-taker – a different playing card marks each section in the book – and in this intricate portrait of the first ten years of his reign, Uglow shows how the gambles he took to stay on his throne succeeded. He achieved “a supreme balancing act, ruling a divided people for twenty-five years”, but at the cost of crippling debt and a ruthless reliance on his ministers – first Clarendon, then Buckingham. The Restoration was an age of extremes: from the newly formed Royal Society and Royal Observatory to the glamorous theatres where the great comedies of the age were performed; from the burgeoning wealth of the merchant classes to the narrow, overcrowded streets of London ripe for disease and fire.
Uglow also provides a sensitive picture of Charles’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, shunned for her foreign accent, dress and hairstyle, and forced to suffer a long line of mistresses, not least the insufferable Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, and Nell Gwyn, the irresistible actress. Catherine preferred tea, then an exotic drink, to English ale and found the London water “like poison” compared to the clear streams of Lisbon. Liberally spiced with insights from the famous diarists and writers of the age, and rich in details from archival records and accounts, this is Uglow on best form.