I 1 Ili TRAGEDY OF CHARLES H., by Hester W. C. Chapman (Jonathan Cape, 35s.).
Reviewed by Sir CHARLES PETRIE
TT is only of late years that Charles 11 has had justice done him. The Victorians did not like him at all: his morals outraged them, and -they regarded his foreign policy as a contemptible truckling to Louis XIV. Above all they could never forgive hint for having succeeded, and for dying peacefully in his bed. The present generation is more tolerant.
It is prepared to forgive a great deal to one who, whatever his faults, was never a hypocrite. and an age which is witnessing the spectacle of British statesmen being compelled to walk delicately between Moscow and Washington can more easily understand the Stuart monarch's difficulties than one which had Palmerstonian ideas of the way in which to treat a neighbour.
In this respect Mrs. Chapman is thoroughly modem, and as the admirers of her other works would have expected she has written a first-class book. Whether her title is quite happy is another matter, but she here concentrates on the King's years in exile, and they were tragic enough in all conscience.
In 1600 Charles II had all those advantages of youth and mystery which have always appealed
to a sentimental people like the English. He had made his first public appearance as a suppliant for the life of Strafford. He had struck a blow for his rights, even if he had met with disaster, at Worcester.
His adventures after that defeat were of the same type as those which have contributed so much to the posthumous glamour of his great-nephew, Bonnie Prince Charlie. Above all, he possessed that personal charm which is. somewhat erroneously, supposed to have been the heritage of all the Stuart line.
Mrs. Chapman discusses in some detail the influence of Charles I upon his eldest son who, she points out, "not only loved but was entirely loyal to his father".
The deficiencies of his father as a parent were by no means compensated for by any virtues on the part of his mother in the same capacity.
On the other hand it was througe his mother that Charles II inherited so many of the qualities of his maternal grandfather, Henri IV
She has a genius for characterisation, and her pen-pictures of Hyde and La Grande Mademoiselle, to quote but two examples, could not be better.
Quite rightly, the author devotes a great deal of space to the efforts of Charles to obtain the help of one Continental potentate after another to regain his throne. and in the course of doing this she throws a great deal of light upon the working of 17th century Europe. Yet when the exile's fortunes were at their very lowest. and he had been openly snubbed by the Kings of France and Spain, he was suddenly restored without any foreign assistance at all.
In these circumstances it is small wonder that in later years the Jacobites rarely lacked help outside the British Isles — what had happened once might so easily happen,again, and no chancellory wanted to be caught napping.
How much or how little Charles believed must ever remain an enigma. but after reading Mrs. Chapman's fascinating biography it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the real secret of his ultimate success lies in the fact that while he often deluded others. he never deceived himself. The King's knowledge of books was not deep. as we are shown in these pages, hut his knowledge of men was profound, and he took every opportunity of extending it.
Time and time again, throughout his reign, he showed that he knew to a nicety how far the English people would go in any given direction, and he eonfounded his enemies by the accuracy of his forecast. His profession was kingcraft. and of that he was one of the greatest exponents that the world has ever seen. He served his apprenticeship during the years so brilliantly described by Mrs. Chapman.