5 October 2017
I remember in history lessons at school trying to dissect and remember all those interminable facts about the English Civil War and, in the midst of all the turmoil, and disaster, being excited to learn that following the disastrous Battle of Worcester, in September 1651, the future King Charles II escaped capture by his enemies by hiding in an oak tree. This momentous event is still, and probably forgotten by most of the population, commemorated by each 'Royal Oak' public house. That this is the stuff of legend gives this most charming of English monarchs, for me anyway, huge appeal.
In To Catch A King, the author has captured the excitement of the subterfuge which was needed, over a period of six weeks, to ensure the young King's safety. In using authenticated archive material the author brings together a fascinating look at the huge risks that Charles faced in a time when the whole of the country was in complete disarray. The book reads like a boys own adventure, full of daring-do and high excitement, however, what is never forgotten, is the inherent danger that Charles faced, after all, the country had executed his beloved father just two years previously. I was particularly pleased to see mention of an event that happened in my home town. In August 1651, the Battle of Wigan Lane, led by the Earl of Derby's men, was a disaster for the Royalists and marked a decided turning point in Charles's fortunes. Had this attack been a success the outcome for both king and country may well have been very different.
There's sometimes a danger in non-fiction history books that the substance becomes just a regurgitation of facts and figures but, not so with To Catch A King. It's a very readable account of Charles's escape, and with the substance of history never compromised, the book gives a thrilling account of how events unfolded. Beautifully illustrated, To Catch A King follows on from this author's previous book, The Killers of the King. As you would expect there are comprehensive notes and a detailed bibliography section with a wide-ranging index for ease of use, which is particularly helpful if, like me, you like to dip in and out of history books, at whim.
To Catch A King is a confident and meticulously researched account of a man who was in grave danger and yet, it's also about the love and loyalty of those supporters who jeopardised their own lives in order to ensure Charles's safety. It is heartening to learn, in one of the later sections of the book, that these acts of kindness, however large or small, were never forgotten by the King and that, once he was restored to his throne, his friends and followers were rewarded handsomely for their support.
I often read accounts of Charles's time as King, usually these focus on his love of excess, his philandering nature, and his inability to take things seriously. It is particularly heartening to read a comprehensive and inspiring non-fiction account of the early life of this most charismatic of English monarchs, of the events which shaped his personality, and of the strength of his character that was formed during his dark days of exile.
About the Author
Charles Spencer was educated at Eton College and obtained his degree in Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was a reporter on NBC’s Today show from 1986 until 1995, and is the author of four books, including the Sunday Times bestseller Blenheim: Battle for Europe (shortlisted for History Book of the Year, National Book Awards) , Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier and Killers of the King.
My thanks to Margot, marketing assistant to Earl Spencer, and also to Helen at Harper Collins for my review copy of To Catch A King.