This month sees the 350th anniversary of the Restoration, when the republic came to an end and Charles II returned from France to recover the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. Jenny Uglow’s book A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration is a wonderful account of that momentous year and the following decade.
The author of prize-winning biographies of William Hogarth and Elizabeth Gaskell, Uglow offers a tour de force of Restoration England – the King and the Queen, the mistresses and the ministers, the politics and the wars, the theatre and the church, the palace and the court; in short nearly everything you may want to know about the world of Charles II in the first decade of his reign.
There is not one dull page in this book, which is also beautifully designed. I have only one reservation about it, namely that it is not longer. This may seem an odd thing to say about a book running to 580 pages, but I really cannot see a reason for limiting the book to only the first decade of Charles II’s 25 years on the throne.
Restorations of dynasties or monarchies are always fascinating episodes in history, with their chances of making a fresh start or doing the same things wrong all over again. The Stuart Restoration may be a prime example of this: While Charles II remained on the throne throughout a quarter of a century, his brother and successor James II blew it all in three years. What was it that made Charles II a success and James II a failure?
One can only hope that Jenny Uglow may feel inspired to write another volume on the years after 1670.