Robert Merivel made his first appearance in 1989, in Restoration, Rose Tremain’s popular and acclaimed Carolingian novel. The passage of time has left the Everyman doctor sadder and theoretically wiser, but still in thrall to his master, Charles II, still priapic, still governed by ‘uncontainable appetites’. He sits in his chilly library at Bidnold, his Norfolk estate, contemplating life — will his own end through Loneliness, Poverty, Poisoning, Suicide or Meaninglessness?
His decrepit manservant, Will, brings him a manuscript found hidden beneath his mattress; it is Merivel’s own account of his earlier years. It looked, to the chambermaid, ‘a mere Wedge, to hold fast the corner of the bedstead’. Will Merivel allow the story of his life to remain ‘a mere Wedge’, or will he summon the energy to write his final chapter?
The desire to be once more ‘dazzled by Wonders’ possesses him, and he sets off to seek late-onset fortune at the court of Versailles.