In the absence of a working time machine, we can not get a true glimpse into the mind of a historical figure. However, we can come close by looking at...moreIn the absence of a working time machine, we can not get a true glimpse into the mind of a historical figure. However, we can come close by looking at the letters and private writings which are still available centuries later. Sir Arthur Bryant compiles and edits letters, documents, speeches, and even personal notes of Charles Stuart in, “The Letters of King Charles II”.
Bryant presents the writings of Charles II in chronological order from boyhood onward through exile, restoration, wars, and death. Bryant particularly attempts to supplement the lack of writings in Charles’s own hand during his reign (when he had secretaries and chancellors) by including speeches, official documents, and personal notes. Any omissions are noted.
The most notable characteristic of “The Letters of Charles II” is its fluency. Due to the one-sided documents (meaning, there is no back-and-forth text: only Charles’s side with the exemption of notes between him and the chancellor), the reading can be a bit slow. Yet, Bryant keeps the narrative flowing by including predisposed explanations and end notes which helps answer reader questions and solidify cohesiveness. Further, one can’t help but be immersed in the letters, even if one sided; as Charles’s writing skills are eloquent and illustrative yet not overly dramatic.
Elaborating on this, “The Letters of Charles II” truly brings Charles to life. His letters convey his thoughts in a solid but beautiful way while revealing his true personality. The reader will be impressed with his calm and caring nature even facing the death of his father, exile, and a Cromwellian regime. Those readers with a ‘crush’ on Charles will certainly be satisfied while researchers must read these letters before writing about Charles in order to get a precise glimpse of the man.
Admittedly, based on my own preference, I found much satisfaction in the personal letters (especially those to Charles’s sister, Minette). However, Bryant maintains a steady ratio of personal and political documents satisfying both camps. When Charles reigns and withdraws from writing as much in his own hand, Bryant includes personal back-and-forth notes between Charles and his chancellor (compare them to school notes amongst student passed during class) which are charming, enlightening, and sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny. Again, the reader can accurately gain insight into Charles’s personality.
Bryant’s research also includes properly dated and authenticated documents; some of which were previously misdated and/or categorized for centuries.
Aside from learning more on Charles as a person; “The Letters of King Charles II” also strips policy down into manageable views resulting in Charles’s reign being more understandable, clear, and therefore illuminating history in a better way.
As the book progresses, the pace increases and feels like a narrative arc capturing reader attention. Much of the middle focuses on letters to Minette which is a wonderful open window for those interested in learning of their relationship. Sadly absent are letters to mistresses or even the mention of mistresses. The majority of “The Letters of Charles II” focuses on policy so those seeking bedroom gossip will be disappointed. On the other hand, “The Letters of King Charles II” remains compelling including such briefs as letters in cipher which Bryant has translated for the reader.
“The Letters of Charles II” concludes capturing the drama in the last few years of Charles’s reign while Bryant also features personal letters to Charlotte, Countess of Lichfield (daughter of Charles and the Duchess of Cleveland) which depicts Charles in a well-rounded way and finishes the book on a strong note.
My only complaint, which is VERY minor, is that the genealogical chart of the House of Stuart appears postscript and would be much more useful in the beginning.
“The Letters of King Charles II” is an extraordinary collection which is great for researchers or those simply interested in a more personal view of Charles II. One can’t help but be blown away that these record still exist! “The Letters of King Charles II” is a wonderful read and much recommended for royal history of House of Stuart lovers. (less)
Although everyone may have heard of William the Conqueror; less is known about his influential wife, Matilda. Tracy Borman attempts to open the window...moreAlthough everyone may have heard of William the Conqueror; less is known about his influential wife, Matilda. Tracy Borman attempts to open the windows into Matilda’s life with “Queen of the Conquer: The Life of Matilda, Wife of William I”.
The life (and sometimes plight) of Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror; is unfortunately loose in resources. Thus, “Queen of the Conqueror” begins like many other biographies surrounding ill-documented figures by describing the world and events surrounding the individual versus his/her direct life. Although I usually find this big-picture view to be filtering of the true insight into the portrait at hand; Borman doesn’t pretend to have more information than she justly has and neither does she overdraw on speculation. Although this cuts back on the intimacy, it still opens up the world of Matilda.
Borman’s writing style is eloquent, well-spoken, and has a driving pace while also containing an ample amount of research and archive-study undertones. Her narrative is easy-to-read (similar to Alison Weir who is Borman’s friend and contemporary) but with more detective sleuthing. “Queen of the Conqueror” debunks and explains various opposing views and sources surrounding Matilda and is therefore not simply a re-telling of events.
Despite this exciting driving force, a large chunk of the beginning of “Queen of the Conquerer” could be described as slow, as it merely describes political events involving William and somewhat tedious details of what their home “would have looked like”. I found myself not really getting to know Matilda and waiting for “something to happen”. Often times, the book simply doesn’t feel like it is about Matilda, at all.
Although Borman’s tone and ability to make history inviting is invigorating; “Queen of the Conqueror” continues to maintain a political feel, encompassing William more than Matilda (although a pleasant surprise was the lack of a million page coverage on the Battle of Hastings). When Borman does regard Matilda, the exposure seems superficial describing feasts, social pursuits, or other recreational aspects. Other times, Borman merely focuses on vague 11th century life, in general.
Somewhat limiting was Borman’s constant reference to the poem, “Beowulf”. I have an issue with history authors who use poems as references for historical life (some use “The Canterbury Tales”). For those readers seeking a more gossip-y and social history versus that of a political view; “Queen of the Conqueror” becomes increasingly fulfilling three-quarters of the way through, focusing on Matilda’s fidelity (or rumored lack thereof) and her son’s rebellion against William. Gripping and encouraging page-turning, this comes too late in the book and is more of what I was expecting throughout (i.e. more Matilda drama).
Unfortunately, the ending felt weak and didn’t fully encompass the worth of a woman who all British sovereigns descend from and was the first crowned queen of England.
Although I enjoy Borman’s writing style (and applaud her notes and bibliography); “Queen of the Conqueror” failed to provide an intimate portrait of Matilda (Note: I would read Borman’s other works, and plan to). The book is suggested for an overall look into Matilda and William’s world. (less)