The King’s Revenge: Charles II And The Greatest Manhunt In British History, by Don Jordan & Michael Walsh
If you touch a king, you had better kill a king. And if you kill a king, you had better make sure that the dynasty does not return to power. These are dark lessons in politics, indeed, but they should not be surprising lessons for anyone. The Bible itself, for example, contains numerous examples within the books of 1 and 2 Kings where the death of a ruler meant the death of their entire dynasties, and while that might seem overly harsh to many people, this story is the reason why such behavior was done. When you overthrew a wicked tyrant like Charles I was, you had better make sure that your regime is not going to be overturned where anyone who was remotely involved in the trial and execution of the former king will be subject to the new king’s revenge. And that is precisely what happened here. The thought that mere commoners could subject a king to a trial and judicial execution was so abhorrent to Charles II that when he became king thanks to some machinations after the death of Oliver Cromwell he sought to avenge himself against the living and dead people who were labeled as regicides and were subject to a massive international manhunt that went on for decades and spread across at least two continents.
This book is nineteen chapters long and almost 350 pages of reading material. After a preface that talks about how the authors came across this story while writing another history, the book begins with a discussion of Charles II and Edmund Ludlow and how they were crossed in history (1) as well as the struggles of Charles I to resist parliamentary power after his defeat and imprisonment (2) as well as the attempts to free him (3) and his execution (4). The authors discuss the early efforts at royalist propaganda and assassination (5) and the way that some of the early victims of Charles II’s revenge considered it an honor to die for freedom (6), and the uncertain period that followed the death of Cromwell but before the return of the Stuarts (7). The author discusses Monck as an invader (8) and the beginning of the round-up of republicans (9) that followed. After that comes a discussion of the early exodus (10) of those on the death list (11) who knew that they were subject to the fury of the King. After that comes a discussion of the bloodguilt that was accused to the republicans (12) as well as their feeling of being trapped (13). The authors discuss the disinterring of the dead regicides (14) and the search for those who had fled “justice” (15). The authors discuss the cruel fate of those who relied on the word of a king (16) as well as the tightening net of surveillance (17) and the hopes that were dashed for those republicans who managed to survive for decades (18), as well as their legacy (19), after which the book ends with an appendix discussing the fate of every regicide (i), one on various people involved in the story (ii), as well as notes, a bibliography, acknowledgements, and index.
In reading this book, I felt a lot less positively about Charles II. To be sure, it is not easy to face the death of one’s father, but a wise person reflects on whether or not that death was deserved. Charles I’s death was deserved as he simply refused to give up his quest to either rule or ruin England as he saw fit. And if Charles II was by no means as tyrannical a ruler as his father was, he certainly did not care for the sort of politics that involved the rise of the gentry that the English Civil War (and later the Glorious Revolution) would put into place. This book shows Charles II at his worst, as a paranoid ruler afraid of the freedom and power that his people had acquired over the past couple of decades and if unable and unwilling to try to turn back the clock to an imagined previous age of royal absolutism, he certainly wanted to set an example that those who overthrew monarchs were going to be treated with the utmost severity and a complete absence of mercy. This was a lesson that was learned slowly by those who were subject to the manhunt and one that would have later consequences of importance to the well-being of the British empire that would be established even as Charles II was trying to hunt his father’s judges and executioners to their destruction.