Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Kings Touch by Jude Morgan


A biography written in the first person through the eyes of Jemmy, aka James Crofts who became James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. He describes his complex relationship with his father, King Charles II.

Born in Rotterdam in 1649, the same year as the execution of his grandfather, Charles I, James was the child of Prince Charles’ exile, and he and the boy’s mother, Lucy Walter, parted long before he regained his throne.

James’s early life was blighted with poverty as well as his illegitimacy, which never left him. With little money for Lucy Walter and James’ half sister, Mary, his mother began relationships with a series of men in the hope she would be cared for.

Prince Charles took over Jemmy’s upbringing and sent him to Colombes outside Paris, to live with his grandmother, the dower Queen Henrietta Maria, the bitter papist French queen who mourned her martyred husband all her life.

Jemmy forms a firm and lasting attachment to his aunt Henrietta Anne, ‘Minette’ and creates a jealousy in his father whose devotion to his sister was particularly close. Minette accepts a marriage to the odious Monsieur, Phillippe duc d’Orleans and despite the outcome of this disastrous marriage where her premature death is shrouded with suspicion, we are assured that Minette lived her destiny and wouldn’t have changed anything.

Jude Morgan puts himself into this lost child’s head with great style, explaining his insecurity, his loyalty to his much-maligned mother and his unshakeable belief that his parents entered a clandestine marriage.

When Jemmy was eleven, Charles II was restored to his throne and his life altered beyond recognition. In 1662, he was brought to England to be part of the court at Whitehall and he becomes the crown prince in all but name with servants, clothes, riches and honours. Despite this, the shadow of Jemmy’s early life remains and colour his behaviour and decisions from then on.

King Charles II marries him to a considerable heiress, Anna Scott, the Duchess of Buccleigh whose name he adopts, when he is only fifteen. The marriage is not a success, but for a while, this spoiled pair are the darlings of the court.

In Jemmy’s own words, he freely admits to taking everything Charles II gives him and expects even more, excusing himself at the same time that all he really sought was his father’s love.

Jemmy clings to the belief he isn’t a bastard, despite his father’s frequent insistence that he and Lucy Walter were never married. Jemmy is ripe for seduction by the Exclusionist, Lord Shaftesbury, who hates the king’s brother and heir, the Catholic James, Duke of York. When Shaftesbury schemes to have the Duke of York excluded from the succession and Jemmy legitimised and declared heir to the throne, it’s no more than Jemmy believes he deserves.

Despite the author’s mitigation that Jemmy was unsure of his place in the world, a romantic soul not sharp enough to detect ambition in others and was led astray, again and again Charles pardons him and buys off his conspirators.

Does this handsome, rich and impetuous boy learn?

Like the true Stuart he was, of course not. By the end of the book he is a thirty six year old man with a mountain of regrets, banished from England and living in exile with his mistress, Lady Henrietta Wentworth.

Before he can obtain that final pardon he always believed would be his and go home, Charles II dies and the new king closes the ports to stop his troubled nephew from returning.

The footnote is written by Lady Henrietta Wentworth, who outlived him by only a year to die at twenty-six. She gives a brief account of the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion where Jemmy attempts to raise an army and rid the country of his uncle. Jemmy seriously underestimates James II, or rather he overestimates his own popularity and when he is caught and captured, his previous actions tell me that he fully expected to be pardoned. However his uncle is crueller than his father ever was and has him executed.

More like an autobiography than a colourful romp through Restoration times, Queen Henrietta Maria comes across every bit as awful as history has painted her. The story is very sad in places as Jemmy explains his sense of isolation from a family he yearns to be part of but is kept on the sidelines by his illegitimacy.

This is a sad and beautiful story of a man for whom the world truly wasn’t enough. Of a king who understood his son completely and loved him so much, he continued giving and forgiving, aware that he sealed his tragic fate at the same time.

Jude Morgan doesn’t shirk from Jemmy’s bursts of ill behavior, his acquisitive greed and the fact that he slept with his father’s mistress, Barbara Castlemaine.

His portrayal of the court of King Charles II is mastery and his pastiches of Queen Catherine of Braganza, Barbara Castlemaine, Louise de Keroualle and Minette, the oh-o-good-but-proud princess-in-exile are lovely.

Review by Anita Davison