To Catch A King by Charles Spencer @cspencerbooks_

About this book…

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 supporters lying dead and 10,000 taken prisoner, it seemed as if his dreams of power had been dashed. Surely it was a foregone conclusion that he would now be caught and follow his father to the block? At six foot two inches tall, the prince towered over his contemporaries and with dark skin inherited from his French-Italian mother, he stood out in a crowd. How would he fare on the run with Cromwell’s soldiers on his tail and a vast price on his head?

The next six weeks would form the most memorable and dramatic of Charles’ life. Pursued relentlessly, Charles ran using disguise, deception and relying on grit, fortitude and good luck. He suffered grievously through weeks when his cause seemed hopeless. He hid in an oak tree – an event so fabled that over 400 English pubs are named Royal Oak in commemoration. Less well-known events include his witnessing a village in wild celebrations at the erroneous news of his killing; the ordeal of a medical student wrongly imprisoned because of his similarity in looks; he disguised himself as a servant and as one half of an eloping couple. Once restored to the throne as Charles II, he told the tale of his escapades to Samuel Pepys, who transcribed it all.

In this gripping, action-packed, true adventure story, based on extensive archive material, Charles Spencer, bestselling author of Killers of the King, uses Pepys’s account and many others to retell this epic adventure.

My review…

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 being a fictional character who becomes one of the mistresses of Charles II so since the age of 16 I have had a huge interest in that period especially in the many personal relationships at the court of King Charles II. So I was thrilled to be able to add to my knowledge by reading about a much earlier period of the his life, one that has had very little written about it before, especially not in such an engrossing and easy to understand narrative.

Having moved to Scotland for my secondary education, I found that Scottish History lessons tended not to revolve around Cromwells part in the English Civil War, concentrating instead on how it affected the House of Stuart’s reign in Scotland when the execution of Charles I lead to the English Parliament declaring their monarchy at an end. The Scots then broke ties with England and declared Charles II their king. He ruled then until 1651 when Cromwell and his army drove him out and, after the Battle of Worcester, Charles was forced to flee for his life. Obviously in Scotland the history is much more concerned about the restoration of The House of Stuart in 1660 so I knew nothing of Charles and his escape or why there are so many pubs in England called The Royal Oak!

Thankfully the first quarter of To Catch A King will fill in any gaps in your knowledge if you’re as unaware as I was of certain timelines and I guarantee you will find it as  absolutely fascinating as I did! Once Charles is on the run, you will have become totally invested in his attempts to stay concealed whilst he tries to make his way to the safety of the continent. There’s a plethora of detail to indulge in and plenty of individuals involved in helping the exiled King to remain alive when there was danger around every turn. In fact, one of the things that struck me the most whilst reading this was how many places in the UK  played a part in this account and I’m convinced most people reading will find some reference to a town or city near them used within one of the contexts within this story.

I was pleased the author finished off his account with a look at what happened to the many supporters (or enemies!!) who performed their parts so well in those intense weeks of hiding and how he also included a potted history of the last few years of the Kings life as well as his final days. There felt to be a great affection for the man he wrote of, and for me that raised this historical showpiece to a level of enjoyment I hadn’t been expecting. I would read far more historical non fiction if told with this amount of meticulous research and combined with such an enchanting and entertaining writing style that it vividly brought this story to live for me. I felt as though I had lived through those weeks with Charles alongside him and I loved every single moment.

This would make a fabulous Christmas present for any history buffs in your family or anyone with an interest in biographies and at the time of writing this review Amazon have the hardback on sale for £7.99 which is an absolute bargain for this beautifully designed and illustrated book.

To Catch A King: Charles II’s Great Escape is available to purchase now from Amazon UK (affiliates link) My thanks to the author and publisher for my review copy of To Catch A King.

Meet the author…

Earl Charles Spencer

Charles Spencer was educated at Eton College and obtained his degree in Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was a reporter on NBC’s Today show from 1986 until 1995, and is the author of four books, including the Sunday Times bestseller Blenheim: Battle for Europe (shortlisted for History Book of the Year, National Book Awards) and Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau by Julie Ferry #BookReview @womentoinspire

About this book…

In 1895 nine American heiresses travelled across the Atlantic and bagged themselves husbands and titles. Though this phenomena had been happening for many years, 1895 was undoubtedly the most successful one for the unofficial marriage brokers Lady Minnie Paget and Consuelo Yzanga, Duchess of Windsor. For the English gentlemen the girls married it was a way to sustain their land, houses and all of the trappings of aristocracy. For the girls, who came from new money and were therefore not part of the American social elite, marriage was a means to obtaining the social prestige they craved. The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau will romp through the year to tell the story of these nine women – the seasons, the parties, the money and the titles – always with one eye on the remarkable women who made it happen behind the scenes.

My review…

When I was about 9 I watched an ITV series called Jennie starring Lee Remick which was based on the life of Jenny Jerome, an American heiress who married into the British Aristocracy and gave birth to Winston Churchill. I was quite an obsessive child and I immediately wanted to know everything about this woman and that period in time where so many rich American women were adapting to a different lifestyle here in the UK. And that was why I was keen to read more about the women who helped to set up some of those more high profile matches. This book concentrates on one year 1895 and how the seasonal social events of that year led to those unions.

I actually took over a week to read this which is a long time for a speed reader like myself. But this isn’t a book to be rushed as it has a huge amount of detail and names that needs to be slowly digested to understand the complex relationships that entwined the main players here. We follow Lady Minnie Paget and Consuelo Yzanga as well as Alva Vanderbilt, who is desperate to make a good match for her daughter Consuelo even thought it isn’t what she wants. But both sides were seen to win here, the girls got their titles and the aristocracy got the girls rather hefty dowries to prop up their shabby estates.

This is a well researched book backed up by historical references and family trees so that you’re able to cross reference what you’re reading and research further if you so wish. I liked the authors writing style and the brief fictional descriptions or suppositions of how they could have been acting around the time of these events, which made me wonder why she hadn’t attempted a fictional account of the time which I think would have worked just as well. It reminded me of Lady Cora in Downton Abbey and made me surmise that Julian Fellows had certainly done some research of this phenomenon when he was recreating an aristocratic families dynamics at Downton!

I think this book will appeal to a variety of readers especially those with a fascination for this period of time or with the works of Edith Wharton which are occasionally quoted here. It’s not a book to rush but one to immerse yourself in fully while experiencing this historical curiosity that changed the family trees of some of Britain’s most influential figures.

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau: Husband hunting in the Gilded Age:  is available now as an ebook or in hardback from Amazon UK.

Meet the author…

Julie Ferry

Julie Ferry is a freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and the Independent, among others. She writes on subjects ranging from protecting women’s rights to discovering Paris alone.

She graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in English Literature and then upped sticks and moved to a tiny island between Japan and South Korea to teach English, where she quickly got used to being followed around the supermarket by her students. It was in Japan that she got her first byline and was quickly hooked. Since then, she’s been fortunate to write for most of her favourite publications, but always harboured dreams of seeing her name on the front of a book.

Now, she’s managing to combine her love of writing and an obsession with interesting and largely unknown women from history, with the school run in Bristol, where she lives with her husband and two children.