Anna Keay at Literary Review:
On an autumn day in 1680, the 50-year-old Charles II charged Samuel Pepys with an unusual task. Over two three-hour sittings, one on a Sunday evening, the next the following Tuesday morning, the king related to him in great detail his personal recollections of the six weeks he had spent as a fugitive after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. It was nothing less, in the words of Arthur Bryant, than ‘the most romantic incident in the history of the English throne’. As sovereign and secretary settled down (a scene that is surely a gift for a future scriptwriter), Charles commenced his story: ‘After that the battle was so absolutely lost as to be beyond hope of recovery, I began to think of the best way of saving myself.’
Charles Spencer’s latest book, To Catch a King, does for us exactly what Charles II intended when he asked Pepys to commit his story to paper: ensure that this most extraordinary episode is never forgotten. And what a story it is. Two years after the execution of Charles I, the young Charles II sacrificed the very principles his father had died for to do a deal with the Scots, accepting Presbyterianism as the national religion in return for being crowned King of Scots. His arrival in Edinburgh prompted the English to invade Scotland in a pre-emptive strike. This was followed by a Scottish invasion of England. The two sides finally faced one another at Worcester in September 1651. After being comprehensively hammered on the meadows outside the city by Oliver Cromwell’s army, the 21-year-old king found himself the subject of a national manhunt, with a huge bounty on his head. Over the following six weeks he managed, through a series of heart-poundingly close escapes, to evade capture before finally making it to safety in France.