Charles ii

The Berkeley scandal of 1681 transfixed London society – and Aphra Behn soon capitalised on it

If you want to understand in detail what people in the past were capable of doing, thinking and saying, there is nothing like studying court proceedings. When restrictions were placed on other reportage of human behaviour, the courts had to find out about all sorts of activity. At a time when novelists could hardly write even in the most general terms about adultery, the 1869 prosecution of two homosexuals called Thomas Boulton and Frederick Park could be reported in truly startling detail. One of the best accounts of precisely how people talked spontaneously in the 17th century is the record of Charles I’s eruptions during his trial. Justice was no

The extraordinary life of 17th-century polymath Margaret Cavendish

Margaret Cavendish, the 17th-century Duchess of Newcastle, has been described as a heroine whose every doing ‘is romantic’ (Samuel Pepys); as being ‘so distracted… that there are many soberer people in Bedlam’ (Lady Dorothy Temple); as looking like ‘a devil in a phantom masquerade’ (King Charles II); as ‘the great atheistical philosophraster’ (anonymous 17th-century gossip writer); as ‘a picture of foolish nobility’ (Horace Walpole); as ‘a giant cucumber’ (Virginia Woolf); as a ‘crack-brained, bird-witted… fantastical… crazy duchess’ (Woolf again) and as ‘the empress and authoress of a whole world’ (herself). She has been seen as that most tiresome of types, a ‘character’. But in this erudite and entertaining book, Francesca

Forgettable stuff: The Crown Jewels, at the Garrick, reviewed

In the 1990s, the BBC had a popular flat-share comedy, Men Behaving Badly, about a pair of giggling bachelors who were scolded and dominated by their mummy-substitute girl-friends. The author, Simon Nye, has written a historical crime caper about the theft of the crown jewels in 1671, as Charles II prepared to celebrate his tenth year on the throne. The psychological co-ordinates of the play are poorly handled. The thief, Colonel Blood, is an irritating Irish crosspatch who wants to drive the hated English from his homeland. Charles (played by Al Murray) is more attractive, a fun-loving gadabout who enjoys sex, jokes and science and who can’t bear Puritans. So

How Charles II sought to obliterate a decade of British history

When the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, in the person of that ‘lovely black boy’ Charles II, was announced in May 1660 it was with a flourish of public amnesia. Charles had, it was declared, already been king for 11 years, from the moment in January 1649 when his father had been unlawfully executed. Such acts of contrived forgetting were not unprecedented in English history. William the Conqueror effaced Harold’s short reign from the records and Henry VII did much the same for Richard III. But 11 years was ambitious. And this forgetting would be expected not of people on whose daily lives the great affairs of state barely impinged,