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To Catch a King: Charles II's Great Escape

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  58 reviews
How did the most wanted man in the country outwit the greatest manhunt in British history?
In January 1649, King Charles I was beheaded in London outside his palace of Whitehall and Britain became a republic. When his eldest son, Charles, returned in 1651 to fight for his throne, he was crushed by the might of Cromwell’s armies at the battle of Worcester.

With 3,000 of his s
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 5th 2017 by William Collins
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Whispering Stories
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Book Reviewed by Julie on

‘To Catch a King’ the story of King Charles II by best-selling author, Charles Spencer. The book is beautifully presented with a selection of paintings reproduced and interspersed in the text. It is divided into four parts and the chapters are of fairly equal length; each beginning with an epigraph to give an indication of what to expect. The book is written in narrative style rather than as a dramatisation.

The content is fairly easy to read wit
Joanne Robertson
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Now I am a pretty fast reader but it has taken me quite a few days to read To Catch A King as I became very focused on all the intricate details of this intriguing tale. I was afraid of missing out on any important points in this fascinating non fictional account of a part of our history I have to admit to knowing very little about. And it’s not through a lack of interest either! Ask anyone who knows me what my favourite book of all time is and they will tell you that it’s Forever Amber, Amber b ...more
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Charles Spencer has done extensive research, using much contemporary material from such as Samuel Pepys, to tell the amazing story of Charles II's fight to regain his crown after the execution of his father.

Having fought in the Civil War, Prince Charles was exiled in the Channel Islands before, on 5 February 1649, six days after his father's death, he was proclaimed King of Scotland and as such he returned to England to claim his throne in 1651. Supported by loyal Scots, he advanced into Englan
Linda Hill
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The future Charles II is on the run.

I rarely read non-fiction and was apprehensive about reading To Catch A King. I needn’t have been, because the vivacity of the writing frequently made me forget that this was a factual book and I became thoroughly absorbed in the narrative elements.

That said, To Catch A King is no sloppy fictionalised romp through the seventeenth century. Each element has been meticulously researched and the quality and extensiveness of the Notes and Bibliography are solid pro
Andrea Zuvich
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With To Catch a King: Charles II’s Great Escape, out on the 5th October 2017, Charles Spencer has done it again. As the author of some fantastic books about seventeenth-century Britain, such as my personal favourite, Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier, Blenheim: The Battle for Europe, and his most recent work, Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared Execute Charles I, Spencer knows how to bring history alive with his thrilling and strong narratives. This time, he has chosen Charles II’s amazing, ha ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
While I was eager to read To Catch a King as I have always liked history, I was a little apprehensive about whether or not I would be able to get into it as my interests tend to lie in modern British and European history. My knowledge of the monarchy and Britain in the 17th Century is sketchy at best. However, I needn’t have worried as Charles Spencer has written a pacey historical novel in which the momentum never lets up and which is easy to follow.

In January 1649 Charles I was beheaded and Br
V.E. Lynne
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Highly readable account of the escape to the Continent of the young Charles II in 1651 after the disastrous (for him) Battle of Worcester. Charles Spencer outlines the unlikely nature of the king's flight, the huge risks many ordinary people took to help him, the indispensable pieces of good luck that came his way, and the personal courage of the king himself. Spencer has an engaging, fluid writing style, a good command of the subject matter, and a natural affinity for the figure of the king and ...more
Louise Culmer
Oct 10, 2017 rated it liked it
A fairly interesting account of Charles II's remarkable escape after the battle of Worcester. Though it would be very difficult to make this thrilling true life story dull, this particular version is not nearly as engrossing as Richard Ollard's The Escape of Charles II, which I personally found much more gripping than this one, in fact I could hardly bear to put it down, whereas I didn't have any trouble putting this one down. Charles Spencer spends rather too long working up to the battle of Wo ...more
Kiki Z
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
There are two major issues with this book: It takes too long to get to the actual escape (it starts at about 35%). A majority of this information is unnecessary to understand. There's background and then there's needless information. And second, the author throws so many names at us, some of which are again unnecessary to the narrative, that they are confusing in the end. Like most nonfiction authors, it's almost like the author wanted to show you how much research they did. ...more
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is historical non-fiction at its best! Charles Spencer is a master at telling a story at the same time as imparting all the pertinent facts and that makes for a thrilling read. The tale of how the future King Charles II escaped his enemies after losing the battle of Worcester is so fantastic it could actually have made a great fictional story. On the run through ten of England’s counties for six weeks, Charles had to improvise and trust those who were firm royalists. His life was in constan ...more
Dan Rufus
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This cannot have been an easy book to have written bearing in mind the complexed and complicated nature of the English Civil wars but Charles Spencer does a truly outstanding job.

The whole subject is one of differing opinions, contradictory records and alternate views and versions of the truth. However, Mr Spencer has done an utterly tremendous job in researching Charles Stuart’s great escape from England to France.

As complexed as the events of Charles‘ escape are, it is explained in such a wa
Aug 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm not sure what to think--parts of it were riveting while other sections fell flat. This may in part be that I'm simply not used to non-fiction books, or else it signals a lack of authorial talent. I'm really not sure. I need to read more on the subject. Once Charles reaches France, the telling is much abbreviated: The Parliamentarians seem to have just faded away quickly esp after the death of Cromwell. Charles' reign is also not covered in great detail. but that isn't the focus of the book. ...more
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 fa ...more
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another excellent and enlightening read, a superb companion to the other book by Charles Spencer chronicling the revenge by Charles II over the murder of his father.

This book covers Charles II from his ill fated invasion of England via Scotland and his time spent on the run evading the Parliamentary forces over six weeks. Some amusing tales of the King sleeping in a tree (where Royal Oak pubs get their names) to dressing as a woodsman and trying not to stand out (common male heights being 5'6"
Good Queen Bess
this book is insane. the history within it is insane. all of the characters involved are insane and the fact most of them made it out alive makes the story even more insane. this is most definitely a history book and is filled with your typical style of evidence supported storytelling that comes with a history book, but it honestly feels more like reading or listening to a docudrama about this weird little six week escape mission that charles ii had to take. which also leads me to my favourite p ...more
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite his laziness and sexual profligacy, history has always treated King Charles II kindly. The eldest son of King Charles I, he personally participated in the English Civil War, which led to a puritan reformation in England and the execution of Charles I. King Charles II had two narrow escapes and this book deals with his escape to France after the defeat of his Army at the Battle of Worcester. The Royalists were under severe threat but they still showed their loyalty to their King and at gr ...more
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I took a class in college in the early 90’s about Britain under the Stuart’s. A time period lasting from 1603 to 1714, interrupted by the English Civil War and Commonwealth from 1649 to 1660. British history was not my concentration of study which was why I found this period so interesting. When I saw this book on Charles ll, written by Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl of Spencer and the younger brother of Princess Diana, I wanted to read it and reacquaint myself with a part of the subject matter I ...more
Andrew Collins
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book covers a crucial but largely unpopularised period of English history- the one exception being the Boscobel oak. The underlying research is awesome but the real brilliance of the book is the way in which the dry facts are woven into a living story; as it says on the cover ‘a history book with the pace of a novel’.
The individual characters emerge as the story unfolds. I became so engrossed in the historical factors that I could not help wondering how our history would have emerged had th
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The titbits make a historical novel sing and this had them aplenty, from "angel lust" to clever disguises. The dialogue and historical anecdotes have been carefully woven into the narrative to reflect the characters within it - and complex characters too. These aren't two-dimensional figures ripped from time, they're fleshed out individuals and some almost too flamboyant and prideful to seem real. Truth, however, is stranger than fiction (as we learn time and time again). 'To Catch a King' maste ...more
First of all, this wasn't the Charles I wanted to read about. The Charles I wanted to read about was Bonnie Prince Charlie so it is my fault that I had no interest in this book. I do have to say though; I love history, mainly British, but any significant history is interesting for me. Except this.

Although it was only 278 pages it took me an age to read (no doubt due to the non-interest) and I dreaded reading it to be honest. Don't get me wrong, it is highly informative for someobody who would be
Oren Cohen
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book because I learned so much from it and because it didn't feel like reading a History text book.
I didn't know much at all about the British Civil War before reading this. Luckily, halfway through the book I passed through Wocester and so I went on a guided tour which added even more context to everything I was reading.
It's very detailed. with lots of names I couldn't keep up with. At the same time though, all the details that aren't names of people are interesting facts or funn
Stephen Griffiths
Dec 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Well-researched and fast-moving, this was history writing with spice. However, the writing was somewhat polemical, the author strongly empathizing with his subject at the expense of a more balanced approach - Parliamentarians are almost universally described in negative terms. This is unsurprising, given that the author's ancestors fought and died on the Royalist side during the English Civil War. Although the story is placed in detailed historical context to begin with, the implications and lon ...more
Kate Guinan
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Charles Spencer is an excellent historian and this one does not disappoint. Having escaped to France after the execution of his father, Charles I, Prince Charles (the future Charles II) plans an invasion of England with the support of Scottish troops. It ends in a disastrous defeat at the battle of Worcester. The Model Army of Cromwell puts a huge bounty on Charles' head and he must make an attempt to flee England for Europe. Through the help of Royalist sympathizers he dons disguises, is moved ...more
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I expected the focus of this book to be about Charles' escape. That's there and it is amazing... but be aware there is also a lot of detail about the English and Scottish civil wars and the lives of leaders of that day. As I read, I was fascinated, I was engaged, and I was also repulsed. (There were details about torture used in those days that I honestly didn't want to know.) Still, I loved the photos and paintings included and the story kept me interested and able to finish it within a couple ...more
Reg Tripp
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exciting and amazing true story despite knowing how it would end. A terrific amount of detail which is well documented and well written and not spoilt with made up dialogue and spurious thought processes. Even if you are not particularly interested in this period of English history it is well worth reading as an escape story that is scarcely believable.
On a kindle the paintings at the end of some of the main characters don't come out very well so if these interest you had better buy a real bo
Dan Seitz
Apr 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Spencer writes a thrilling story of escape as Charles II loses badly at Worcester, leaving England to Cromwell, and has to escape for his life. Spencer packs the books with fascinating little tidbits, from the most notable creator of priest holes to the absurd pride of Lord Wilmot, that humanize the goings-on and make you keep reading. It won't give you a ton of insight into Charles II, but it's a fun slice of history. ...more
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Another cracking read, and a great follow-up to Spencer's previous, 'Killers of The King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I'. A fast-paced well-written read about a part of history that is usually just given a cursory glance. A thrilling life-or-death adventure which I recommend to all lovers of history and especially of this period. ...more
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly well researched for a book with such a strong narrative. Easy to read, written with pace, humour, and compassion, yet based on considerable original research. Of particular use is the attention paid to the 'minor actors' in the story, and especially women, with work done to fill out their back stories and to discover what happened to them after 1651. Narrative history at its best. ...more
Apr 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
History, yes. Character insights, not so much.

Rather dry if factual recounting of the facts and historical figures involved in Charles II’s escape and Restoration. Kudos to the author for his prodigious research. Just wish he had been able to tell the story in a more character driven way.
Sekhar N Banerjee
A real captivating story

This part of the details of Charles’ escape was unknown to me. This was a good read and the author related the story to make it read like a thriller.i enjoyed the book very much.
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