To Catch a King: Charles II’s Great Escape

Written by Charles Spencer
Review by Jo Ann Butler

In 1649 King Charles I was beheaded in a sad climax to his struggle with Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan government. His eldest son, Charles, fled to Europe, returning two years later in an attempt to retake the British throne. Scotland proclaimed Charles as king shortly after his father’s execution, crowned him on January 1, 1651, and provided him with a small army. However, even augmented with English Royalists, Charles’s force was no match for Cromwell’s might, and it was crushed at the Battle of Worcester. The would-be-king escaped capture by hiding in the crown of an oak tree, and for the next six weeks Charles was harried across England, disguised as a commoner.

To Catch a King is a thoroughly researched, often gripping nonfiction account of Charles’s early struggles to regain the British throne, particularly the Scottish king’s escape after his crushing defeat at Worcester. I found Charles Spencer’s work entertaining, but its narrow focus left me wanting more. However, if you love Stuart history, this is a must-read.