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The Last Royal Rebel

UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
US Publisher: Bloomsbury US

James, Duke of Monmouth, the adored illegitimate son of Charles II, was born in exile the very year that his grandfather was executed and the English monarchy abolished. Snatched from his mother on his father’s orders, James emerged from a childhood in the boarding houses of Rotterdam to command the ballrooms of London, the brothels of Covent Garden and the battlefields of Flanders. Pepys described him as ‘the most skittish, leaping gallant that ever I saw, always in action, vaulting or leaping or clambering’.

His story is one of the bond between father and son, the power struggle between King and Parliament and the conflict between love and honour. For thirty-six years he would light up the firmament. He inspired delight and disgust, adulation and abhorrence and, in time, love and loyalty almost beyond fathoming. Louis XIV was his mentor, Nell Gwyn his protector, D’Artagnan his lieutenant, John Locke his colleague, William of Orange his confidant and John Dryden his censor.

Anna Keay partners rigorous scholarship with a storyteller’s gift to enrapturing effect. She brings to life the warm, courageous and handsome Duke of Monmouth, a man who by his own admission ‘lived a very dissolute and irregular life’, but who was prepared to risk everything for honour and justice. His tumultuous life, culminating in his fateful invasion, provides a sweeping history of late Stuart England, and acts as prism through which to view the turbulent decades in which England as we know it was forged.

Anna Keay OBE is a historian, writer and presenter. She is currently Director of the Landmark Trust, and has previously...