It is a great privilege to present this awesome guest post from Susan Holloway Scott the author of the newly released The Countess and the King about Katherine Sedley who becomes the mistress of King James II the brother of King Charles II. It's an extraordinary story and Ms. Scott does an awesome job in presenting it. I am sure you will enjoy her post on Two Brothers, Two Kings...
Two Brothers, Two Kings
By Susan Holloway Scott
As a visitor here at All Things Royal, it seems only fitting to discuss the two king in The Countess and the King. Charles II (1630-1685) and James II (1633-1701) were the last two Stuart kings to sit on the English throne. They were also brothers. Charles was the elder, ruling from 1649 until his death. With no legitimate son and heir, James inherited the throne, though his reign was considerably shorter. But more about that later….
It’s unusual for royal brothers to both become kings, but then the lives of these Stuart brothers didn’t follow the customary plan for royal princes. The eldest sons of Charles I and Henrietta Marie, Charles and James were part of a large family of healthy, handsome children, including another brother and three sisters – a rarity for any family, high-born or low, in 17th century England. (They’re preserved with heartbreaking beauty in the lovely group portrait by court painter Anthony Van Dyck.) Even more rare, the king and queen weren’t distant parents, but dearly loved one another and their children as well. All three young princes were educated to be potential kings. English history was sadly filled with young heirs who died before their fathers –– Henry VIII was a second son, as was Charles I himself –– but no one expected the family to be broken apart as it was.
For although Charles I was an excellent father, he was a lamentable king who resisted the desires of his people. Most disastrously, he believed his monarchy was divinely appointed, and refused to listen to Parliament’s wishes regarding taxation and religion. His defiance led to the two English Civil Wars between his own Royalist supporters and the Parliamentary forces led by General Oliver Cromwell. The Royalists lost and the king was captured, tried for treason, and, on a cold January morning in 1649, beheaded.
While the teenaged Charles, Prince of Wales, fought for his father in the early stages of the Civil Wars, by 1646, he was sent abroad for safety’s sake. He never saw his father again. James, Duke of York, was seized by the Parliamentary troops and held as a prized political pawn. But the fifteen-year-old prince boldly managed to escape his captors and join his older brother in exile. The queen also fled to France with Henrietta, the youngest princess. The last brother, Henry, Duke of Gloucester, was only nine when his father was executed. Unlike his older brothers, he remained in England as a prisoner with his sister Elizabeth, who died in captivity 1650 at fifteen. At last, in 1652, Henry was released to join his mother in France.
The exile was devastating to the once-close royal family. Scattered among several royal courts in Europe and pawning jewels for living expenses, the Stuarts survived largely on hope. When Cromwell died, Charles II was invited back to London to be restored to his throne in 1660. Charles and his two brothers returned to the joyful celebration known as the Restoration. But the personal sorrow wasn’t over. Their oldest sister, Mary of Orange, died in 1660, and their youngest brother, Henry, died of smallpox the same year. The youngest sister, Henrietta, was unhappily wed to the younger brother of Louis XIV, and she, too, died too young at 26. Queen Henrietta Maria died in 1669. By 1670, Charles and James were the only ones left.
So much tragedy left its mark on both men, but in surprisingly different ways. Charles was determined not to repeat his father’s errors. He resolved not to keep himself apart from his people, but moved freely among them, in parks, playhouses, and churches. Ever-charming, he avoided conflict if he could help it, whether with his mistresses or with Parliament. To keep himself as independent from Parliament as he could, he engaged in elaborate secret diplomacy with France and other countries, even accepting private subsidies as part of his backstairs diplomacy. While known to history as the Merry Monarch, Charles had an inescapable air of melancholy about him that shows in his portraits. For a king who lived so publicly, he was also very private; though he most likely converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, he had always remained an Anglican for the good of England.
James, however, reacted very differently to the family’s misfortunes. Just as Charles was dark-eyed and olive-skinned while James was blue-eyed and fair, their personalities, too, were equally at odds. While James was known for his hearty bluster and bravery in battle, he lacked his brother’s wit and intelligence. He could be stubborn and inflexible, much as their father had been. Also like their father, James believed in the divine right of absolute monarchy, and regarded Parliament as something to be bent to royal will. When he followed his conscience and publicly converted to Catholicism, his popularity among Protestant England sank, and he refused to see the reason why. He endorsed a large standing army, and defensively wished to eliminate any sort of dissension among the people.
It was all the proverbial recipe for disaster, and when James became king at the childless Charles’s death, the disaster was not long in coming. After three years of James’s reign, he was chased from his throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and replaced by his son-in-law and daughter, William and Mary. Yet James was not a bad man (and certainly not the monster that many later historians have painted him.) He followed his conscience, however misguided the results, and he believed that he was acting for the good of England. He was, quite simply, the wrong man for a vastly complicated job.
When Katherine Sedley fell in love with a Stuart brother, it was not the charming Charles who caught her heart, but the challenging James. And that is the story of The Countess and the King.
Here’s a link (http://www.susanhollowayscott.com/books/countesspreview.htm) to an excerpt from The Countess and the King on my website (www.susanhollowayscott.com).
I hope you’ll also stop by my blog with fellow author Loretta Chase, where we discuss history, writing, and yes, even the occasional pair of great shoes: http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com
Many, many thanks to Susie for having me here today!