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A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  257 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
A Gambling Man is a portrait of Charles II, exploring his elusive nature through the lens of these ten vital years - and a portrait of a vibrant, violent, pulsing world, in which the risks the king took forged the fate of the nation, on the brink of the modern world.
Hardcover, 580 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Faber and Fabr (first published 2009)
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Paul Lawrence
Jan 22, 2010 Paul Lawrence rated it really liked it
I've read a few accounts of Charles II's life before, notably The Life and Times of Charles II by Christopher Falkus, which is an excellent and concise account of the period and the man. Jenny Uglow's book focusses squarely on the man rather than the period, seeking to probe and understand a particularly enigmatic individual. She succeeds in bringing him to life, and helping us to empathise with his lot. Growing up as the heir to the throne, his world was thrown into disarray when parliament ult ...more
Courtney Johnston
Jan 26, 2010 Courtney Johnston rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography

At Christmas I realised that amongst that approximately 10 books I had either taken away with me to read or been given on the day, 80% were essay collections, mostly focused on science.

So I decided to move onto history this year, mostly through biography. Approaching the history of science through the lives of people worked well for me last year, so I’m kicking off with the period around the establishment of the Royal Society, following up Lisa Jardine’s ‘A glorious pursuit’ and Richard Holmes’s

Mar 04, 2010 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Some might say that boning up on the first decade of England's Restoration period while laid up in bed with a bottle of Percocet and recent back surgery is not ideal. While I can't say that I remember much of what I read, what does come back to me was certainly interesting. Charles II cleverly played his political cards close to his chest, the courtiers and comcubines were suitably conniving and naughty, portrait painting of the period was especially rich (and there are many illlustrations in th ...more
May 15, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 03, 2010 judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not exactly a page-turner but a solid, interesting book on a period of English history about which I cared zip. Regime change or change-back is not easy. Charles II did it beautifully by not seeking retaliation, appearing to be both Protestant and Catholic friendly (he had a mistress of each)and bringing back the pomp of royalty while still appealing to the common man. Unflappable, cool, self-reliant and pragmatic. OK, licentious too but he treated his Queen, mistresses and large number of illeg ...more
Apr 23, 2010 Jeff added it
Shelves: european-history
Charles II — witty, engaging, tolerant, charming, generous, untrustworthy, charismatic, promiscuous, secretive and (above all) a survivor — remains one of Britain's most popular monarchs more than 300 years after his death. This fine study focuses on the first decade of his reign when, newly returned after years of bitter exile, he was learning the business of kingcraft. Determined at all costs to never be 'sent on his travels' again, he was forced to become a high-stakes gambler in the game of ...more
Apr 23, 2015 Bettie☯ rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Radio 4 listeners
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer (JC-S)
Jun 23, 2010 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarybooks
‘For anyone interested in the relationship between the public and private self, there are few more intriguing characters than Charles II.’

On 25 May 1660, Charles II arrived at Dover, disembarking in front of cheering crowds. On his thirtieth birthday, 29 May 1660, he entered London. Charles had been invited home to England by parliament, thus beginning the ‘restoration’ of the monarchy after eleven years of republican rule. In this book, Jenny Uglow focuses on the first ten years of his reign, u

Jenny Uglow is one of my favorite biographers, so I was really looking forward to this. It's not a full biography of Charles II; rather it focuses on the ten years after his restoration to the throne. (She does fill in details of his life before and after that time, so it's not without context.) It's occasionally confusing, as the chapters are organized more thematically than straight chronologically, but her character study of Charles is simply excellent.
Sherwood Smith
An eminently readable, solid work mostly covering the first ten years of Charles's rule. It will be frustrating for the reader who likes chronology, as it's organized thematically, but the chapters are vivid (especially the Great Fire, the history of the Royal Society, and the Dutch Wars, and by the way, Aphra Behn gets some mention, which older biographies never granted her).

It was interesting to see how much of Grammont formed some of the courtly anecdotes. The chapter about the theatre and ho
May 17, 2011 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Charles II is, in many ways, both too easy and too difficult a subject for a biography. He is one of those great defining characters of the British monarchy - like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Victoria - whose reigns stand out in our collective memory for one or two well-known events, and about whom most people think they know plenty.

So Jenny Uglow takes a different approach in ‘A Gambling Man’. The book is indeed a biography of the Merry Monarch, but it focuses on the crucial first ten years of

Sarah Harkness
Apr 17, 2011 Sarah Harkness rated it really liked it
A really good read. Took me longer than it should have done as the lambing has been massively time-consuming - but I never had any trouble just picking it up and catching up with the story - it did not need huge concentration, unlike many history narratives. I wish I knew more about the period- in some ways it reads like Volume Two of a longer work - I don't know enough about Clarendon or Buckingham to understand their motivations- but she made Charles a very attractive character, and I always e ...more
One of the most superb books about the Restoration I've read. My opinion of Charles II wavered from a long-held "what a dickhead" to "what a nuanced dickhead."

Obviously, I'm still not a fan of the Stuarts, but I came away understanding much more about Restoration culture -- from the bloody purges of the Tyrannicide trials, to the chaos of court debaucheries, to the wars with the Dutch. Charles comes across as calculating, conniving, and truly masterful at manipulation -- at the same time, he wa
I have always been fascinated by Charles II. He'd gone through such hell, watching his country reject his family via civil war and then kill his father. I wonder if his has something to do with his absolute determination to enjoy his life once he was asked to return as King? Wine, women, and song.
He also returned determined NOT to become involved in any religious persecution, which he was unable to uphold. When it came to running the country,Parliament held most of the cards and it seems he ha
May 11, 2012 Christian rated it liked it
This was a pretty good book for anyone wanting to read a history of Britain during the first decade of Charles II's reign. It explores to varying degrees the culture, politics, scientific inquiry and of course religion. Charles II is at the center of the narrative, but very little of his personal life is explored. This is a book about his world and the key issues and controversies of his reign, much less so about his life per se.
Jonathan Simpson
Dec 04, 2012 Jonathan Simpson rated it liked it
Good but not great. The author chose to utilize a technique I've seen in history books before, where nobles are referred to by their titles alone (i.e. 'Monmouth' for the Duke of Monmouth), and subsequent grants can cause a name-change that the author insists on following, even though it is, in my opinion, a headache to follow.

For a book with a relatively narrow scope (the reign of Charles II until he dissolved Parliament for the last time), the book nonetheless feels perfunctory in a lot of pla
Jun 26, 2012 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
"A Gambling Man" is at its most interesting when dealing with the plague and the Great Fire of London. I had previously been unaware of Charles II's very hands-on involvement in tackling the blaze.

The book focuses on the decade after the Restoration in 1660. What came before and after these ten years is only lightly sketched, with the remainder of Charles II's reign being polished off rapidly in the last dozen pages. I found that this approach worked better at the beginning than it did at the en
Barbara Ardinger
Jul 09, 2012 Barbara Ardinger rated it it was amazing
I’m reading this biography of Charles II, who was one of England’s most interesting kings. The author quotes the famous diarist Samuel Pepys on the arrival in England of Charles’s friends Buckingham and General Monck early in the Restoration (1660). “Within days of Monck’s arrival, wrote Pepys, ‘Boys do now cry ‘Kiss my Parliament!’ instead of ‘Kiss my arse!’ so great and general a contempt is the Rump [Parliament] come to among all men, good and bad’ (p. 33).” Hmmmm. Knowing that the current U. ...more
Aug 31, 2012 C rated it really liked it
A beautiful, sweeping progress through the first decade of Charles II's reign. From the end of the interregnum period through to May 1670, Jenny Uglow covers religion, theatre, mistresses, political intrigue, the great London fire and the relationship with his cousin Louis XIV of France, among many other topics.

Written in an almost-novel style, with sudden reveals such as botched executions or double crossings, Uglow has an exciting style that builds with tantalising pace. Charles II's dual per
Jan 21, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing
Jenny Unglow tells the story of the first 10 years of England's return to monarchy after the Cromwell regime. These years were as improbable as the Restoration monarch himself.

Unglow shows how monarchical and parliamentarian interests were not always aligned and how Charles II used what prerogatives he had and tried to expand them. He charts his own course, for instance, to decrease his reliance on Parliament for funds, he makes a treaty with is cousin, the King of France, that brings him a pens
Jun 16, 2013 Bookthesp1 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
A Gambling man is a book that deals with the first 10 years of the reign of Charles 11 and covers the crucial period when the Restoration Settlement was introduced and bedded in with the machinations at court as Charles 11 had to use all his guile and experience to survive haughty courtiers, naughty mistresses and a populace that were yet to be convinced about the new king. Similarly, it takes a European perspective, particularly focusing on France to show how charles had to please a foreign aud ...more
Jan 07, 2014 Carolinemawer rated it really liked it
Well, I'd always thought Charles was a philandering fool. Now Jenny Uglow (who wrote so well on Hogarth) tells me that he was really quite smart, and a loving father - though of course with a special interest in all the (many) ladies with whom he achieved fatherhood.
I especially loved the secret contract with France - only discovered hundreds of years later. And the treble-cross after one of his adversaries 'persuaded' him to try and implement .. just exactly the same secret contract he'd alread
Mark Walker
Mar 05, 2014 Mark Walker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book about interesting times. Jenny Uglow manages to get across a number of aspects of the period, while avoiding the trap that other historical authors do of giving endless characters that a reader cannot possibly keep up with. I don't think that she is a particularly stylish writer but she has great strengths in constantly keeping the lay reader in mind and not over complicating. I particularly liked her approach of setting out themes in each chapter whilst keeping the broad chro ...more
Nov 23, 2013 Adam rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An up-close look at all elements of Charles's first 10 years on the throne, from the political to the (very) personal.

I enjoyed the use of lines from Restoration poetry and plays, and illustrations from contemporary playing cards, all used to re-create the largely overlooked time period.

But, Uglow's writing was often difficult to follow in this book. Especially with the frequent name changes, it was tough to remember who was who, and Uglow didn't provide many hints to jog the reader's memory.
C.S. Burrough
Jul 19, 2014 C.S. Burrough rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History readers
Restoration monarch Charles II I had long procrastinated reading on, until this splendid book appeared before me. At once admiring this elegant product, its cover art and back page snippets, I was compelled to take it home.

This great grandson of the executed Mary, Queen of Scots and son of the executed Charles I was invited to take the throne following the Interregnum.

Known as the Merry Monarch, his court was a den of hedonism, his subjects loving his looseness after the puritan Cromwellian prot
Apr 27, 2015 Jenine added it
Shelves: abandoned
Wandered off and won't be back for now. I skipped through about the first third of this. The start was rocky because I don't remember much about the Charles I era and the names and places and events were flying at me. The author clearly thinks she has a handle on Charles II's personality. Some of that came through and it was very interesting contemplating the Restoration which was less bloody than you might expect. The new king's early morning tennis playing was new to me. I may need a more stri ...more
Jun 15, 2015 Katharine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Fascinating account of the first ten years of the reign of Charles II. Charles himself and the era he helped to form really come alive with events such as the Plague, the Great Fire of London and the first Dutch War being beautifully evoked. The louche court, the complex politics, the spirit of inquiry, Charles's relations with woman are all dealt with and help to form both a portrait of a king determined to stay on his throne and his country still scarred by Civil War. A really engrossing read ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Mar 13, 2016 Daniel Kukwa rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A finely detailed, epic length work of history. It does enjoy its digressions (you could excise most of the chapter about the formation of the Royal Society without losing any thrust to the story), but it certainly luxuriates in the fascinating details of the Restoriation. This book manages to successfully communicate the exhilarating, youthful, energetic, decadent energy of the time, but there is one warning before you open the cover to page one. You really can't come to this book cold -- a sma ...more
Karen Brooks
May 03, 2016 Karen Brooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Gambling Man, is a scholarly work by Jenny Uglow that covers the first ten years of Charles II’s return to the throne after the interregnum – but don’t let the fact it is rigorous and meticulous in its research put you off. This book is a simply marvellous read. Uglow is a wrier with a light touch and this is written in such a style it’s as if you’re reading an exciting novel. Uglow uses the motif of gambling, of hedging bets, risk-taking and the sort of nature required to succeed as a gambler ...more
John Kentigern
Sep 12, 2016 John Kentigern rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this. It cover the period from 1660 to 1670 - the first ten years of Charles II's reign, after the restoration. I don't know a lot about the period (I mainly picked it up for context - I was interested in the history of England in the years just prior to the creation of the Bank of England), so I'm in no position to judge how revisionist or otherwise it is.

But it's a good portrait of Charles II as an individual. He comes across as a relatively sympathetic (for a monarch of that time),
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Jennifer Sheila Uglow OBE (née Crowther, born 1947) is a British biographer, critic and publisher. The editorial director of Chatto & Windus, she has written critically acclaimed biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth, Thomas Bewick and the Lunar Society, among others, and has also compiled a women's biographical dictionary.
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