Reviewed by: Tracy Borman
Author: Katie Whitaker
Price (RRP): £9.99
Charles I is not an obvious romantic hero.
Variously portrayed as an arrogant tyrant or righteous victim, the focus has traditionally been on the role he played in England’s descent into civil war. His private life has received scant attention by comparison.
But, as Katie Whitaker claims, when it comes to Charles I and the English Civil War, sex and politics were inextricably linked.
The Protestant Charles and French Catholic Henrietta were set on a collision course from the beginning. When they quarrelled within hours of their wedding in 1625, courtiers on both sides of the channel feared that it would be a disastrous union. But against all odds, the couple fell passionately in love and remained so throughout one of the most turbulent quarter-centuries in English history.
Whitaker’s engaging style and the fast-paced narrative make for a highly entertaining read. Drawing upon a wealth of contemporary sources, the author creates a vivid, finely drawn portrait of her two protagonists and their court.
There are moments of high drama, too, such as when Queen Henrietta escapes across the channel under fire from a fleet of parliamentarian warships. And the denouement of Charles’s execution in 1649 assumes an almost unbearable poignancy when told from the perspective of his unknowing widow, waiting anxiously for news in Paris.
Although Whitaker may overstate the case in claiming that it was Charles’s passion for Henrietta that led directly to the Civil War, by interweaving human stories with political events, she brings a fresh approach to a much-studied subject.
Tracy Borman, author of Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror (Jonathan Cape, 2011)