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The Private Life of James II (Hardback)

P&S History > British History P&S History > Royal History P&S History > Social History

By Justine Brown
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 30 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399050777
Published: 21st May 2024

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The personal side of James II and VII has long been obscured by the propaganda storm emanating from the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, one of the great founding myths of modern Britain. Justine Brown unveils James the man, teasing out a fresh dimension. The Private Life of James II details the romantic adventures of a true Cavalier—handsome, courageous, loyal, pleasure-seeking, lusty, determined and soulful. The Stuart “spare” briefly experienced a golden childhood before, aged nine, he was flung headlong into the English Civil Wars of 1642-1649. After escaping England in disguise, he endured the execution of his adored father, Charles I, and years of exile on the Continent. In 1660 the Duke of York returned to his native land in triumph. He rode into the capital at the right hand of his brother, Charles II. James fully embraced the role of Restoration rake, headed up the Royal Navy, fought the Fire of London with gusto, and was a great patron of theatre, painting, and music.

“The darling of the people” until his dramatic conversion to Roman Catholicism transformed him into England’s scapegoat, the heir to the Crown had a turbulent road ahead. Come to understand what truly drove James, and learn about his complex relationships with his children, his two remarkable wives, Anne Hyde and Mary of Modena; his many mistresses, as well as the extraordinary friends and rivals who helped shape the fate of this consequential Stuart monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland.

As featured on Cavalier Cast with Mark Turnbull

Cavaliercast

As featured on Talking Tudors with Natalie Grueninger

Talking Tudors

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Interesting, informative and well researched. A compelling book that made me learn more about this historical character
Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Private Life of James II is a totally different slant on this monarch. I didn’t know a great deal about him, but he came to the throne at a time of political upheaval in country divided by religion and anti monarchists. He was the last Stuart King and the only Catholic to take the throne. His belief in the divine right of kings was deeply unpopular with Parliament and after taking the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland, his short reign ended when he fled in 1688, allowing usurper William of Orange to take the throne.

This was a complex time for the people, the monarchy and the church but Justine Brown has teased out the man, rather than the hard facts and politics and it makes for a riveting read, He was clearly an individual of intellect. He was handsome, charming and had numerous ideals. His magnetism was attractive to women and this side of his character is explored in highly entertaining detail. It puts real flesh and personality to a king who’s largely forgotten and is underrated in history. I enjoy these human insights and the research seems impeccable so I feel there’s much truth in this portrayal. An interesting and detailed read about this tempestuous period in British history, accessible fir anyone with an interest in social history.

NetGalley, Anita Wallas

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I requested and received an eARC of The Private Life of James II by Justine Brown. I was super excited to see that this title was available for request! My previous reading on James II was a rather slim volume (James II: The Triumph and the Tragedy by John Calloway) and he is probably the Stuart monarch I knew the least about. With only flashes of the warming-pan baby and the Glorious Revolution in my mind, I was excited to explore the king’s life in further detail. When reading historical nonfiction I’m always most excited to read the prologue, because it helps me to understand how the author will be positioning their subject. In her prologue, Brown focuses on James' teenage escape to the Netherlands prior to his father’s execution. Thankfully, Brown avoids any of those sweeping generalizations that tend to color such works (only to become less convincing the more you read) and instead creates a portrait that is both thrilling and sympathetic.

Coming to this book with a rather sparse understanding of James II’s life and personality, I found myself delighted to be learning so much about the monarch. While my previous understanding of James was that he was simply priggish and ineffectual, this book presents someone principled and rather capable. Brown makes a claim at one point that James’ personality was ruled by his loyalty and lust, an idea that she reinforces throughout the work. This definitely gives the subject a more romantic air and I particularly enjoyed the sections pertaining to his marriage to Anne Hyde and his mistresses. The Stuart loins were an effective antidote to Cromwell’s puritanism.

A silly, little highlight for me was reading about the absurdity of Mary and Anne during the Glorious Revolution. While it is quite sad, with James cast as a sort of Lear, the passage highlighting Sarah Churchill’s observations of Mary’s behavior in inspecting the palace like a guest at an inn definitely made me chuckle to myself. Similarly, I couldn’t help but smile at the line describing a maid screaming “The Papists have murdered the Princess!” in response to finding Anne’s bed empty following her late night escape from the Cockpit.

I found this to be totally engrossing and easy to digest. Brown assesses the subject’s strengths and weaknesses to present a balanced history of a man who is often overlooked or misunderstood. Making history interesting can often be difficult, but the author excels at this task. I left this book eager to dive more closely into the lives of James' loves and companions, while also gaining a more nuanced understanding of a monarch who I once would have ranked among the least interesting. I look forward to adding a physical copy of this book to my library!

NetGalley, Nicholas Artrip

Justine Brown skillfully introduces the narrative with James' flight as Duke of York, following the downfall of his father Charles I, and his determination to restore his "lost world" of childhood. This tactic effectively garners sympathy for a young boy whose world has been shattered.

The author provides an overview of the religious division in England at the time of James' birth, establishing the context for his later life. The portrayal of Henrietta Maria is particularly vivid, with descriptions of candlelit entertainments vividly bringing her character to life. It's evident that the author has conducted extensive research, with observations grounded in primary sources.

One of the standout chapters is "The Rover," which offers a detailed account of James' travels and includes quotes from contemporary letters, revealing intricate interpersonal dynamics. Throughout the book, the author meticulously traces the relationship between James and his brother Charles, portraying it as both affectionate and fraught with clashes, highlighting their differences in personal and political matters.

Overall, this is a balanced and sympathetic portrayal of James, which has altered my perception of him. I found him to be a much more intriguing figure than expected, and it has motivated me to delve deeper into the period. With its thorough research and engaging writing, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about this enigmatic figure whose life was profoundly influenced by the political and religious landscape of his time.

NetGalley, Elizabeth Whittaker

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Firstly, this book is very well written. Brown cleverly opens the book with the flight of James, as Duke of York, after the defeat and imprisonment of his father Charles I, and having him vowing to restore this “lost world” of his childhood, before going back to look at his birth and the circumstances surrounding it. It was a clever tactic and made me inclined to sympathise with a young boy whose world had been shattered.

An outline of the religious divide in England at the time of his birth helped to set the connection for his later life and the picture the author drew of Henreiia Maria was particularly evocative. I could vividly picture the “candlelit entertainments interweaving dance, chamber music, allegory, poetry, fantastical costumes and sets.” The author has clearly done a huge amount of research and such observations are well rooted in primary evidence.

‘The Rover’ chapter was one of my favourites. The detailed account of Jame’s travels and quotes from contemporary letters exposing the complicated web of interpersonal relationships, likes and dislikes, were fascinating. Likewise throughout the book the author carefully traces the relationship between James and his brother Charles, a relationship that is revealed to be affectionate, and loving but at times fraught and riddled with clashes, focusing on their differences in matters both personal and political.

I feel this is a very balanced and sympathetic account of James, and it has revised my opinion of him to an extent. I certainly found him a much much more interesting man than I thought I would, and I’ve been inspired to go and read some more about the period. This book is well researched and well written, I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to learn more about this strange and interesting man whose life was shaped so completely by the political and religious reality of the era in which he lived.

NetGalley, Rebecca B

About Justine Brown

Justine Brown was born in Vancouver, Canada, and travelled widely from a young age. She holds an M.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, where she developed a broad interest in seventeenth century culture. There she became a Junior Fellow of Massey College. The author of three Utopian-themed books, she runs a YouTube history vlog, Justine Brown’s Bookshelf. She lives in London with her husband.

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James II and the First Modern Revolution The End of Absolute Monarchy (Hardback)

In February 1685, James II succeeded his brother Charles II on the English throne. His popularity had soared and fallen during his brother’s reign. During a period of less than forty years that had seen the execution of their father, Charles I, the proclamation of a republic, and restoration of the monarchy a few years later, nothing could be taken for granted, but the omens for a reign of stability seemed good. However, James was a deeply flawed character who lacked his brother’s pragmatism. Obstinate, arrogant, alternately pious and debauched, he was little liked by most of those who knew…

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