Monday, July 6, 2009

Susan Holloway Scott on Why I Love Writing about Charles II & the Restoration

We would like to welcome Susan Holloway Scott to our blogiversary celebrations. Susan's new book, THE FRENCH MISTRESS: A Novel of the Duchess of Portsmouth & King Charles II, is being released tomorrow, July 7. You can find out more about Susan's books at her website which is

How can I not love England at its very merriest? Coming on the heels of a horrific civil war, a regicide, and the puritanical protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, the reign of Charles II (1660-1683) is a writer’s delight. Called the Restoration in honor of Charles’s return to the throne, this period has much in common with other permissive eras that follow a repressive period. An entire generation of aristocratic children had grown into adulthood during the Civil War, and many who would once again form the ruling class were rootless, wild, and often undereducated. Once Charles returned from exile in France to take his father’s crown, traditional morality went out the window. There was considerable experimentation, not only in sexual behavior, but also in theatre, science, art, and music, even in fashion. It’s a fascinating time in which to set stories, looking forward to the humanist themes of the Age of Enlightenment, but still sufficiently medieval that traitors’ severed heads rotted on pikes on London Bridge.

Best of all, the Restoration had Charles himself, often dubbed the “Merrie Monarch.” Tall, athletic, witty, intelligent, and charming, with a tragic history that gave him a romantic air of melancholy, Charles was in many ways a model king. He was kind and tolerant by nature, self-deprecating instead of proud, and leaned more towards forgiveness than vengeance. He was sympathetic towards even the most humble of his subjects, and moved freely among them, walking each day in St. James’s Park. He did have flaws: he would have much preferred to have been an absolute monarch rather than having Parliament nipping at his heels, he much preferred hunting to diplomacy, and he had a king-sized libido that led to a queen, several official mistresses, and informal bedmates by the dozens, and produced nearly a score of recognized royal bastards.

Of course like every historical era, the reign of Charles II is not without tragedy and sorrow. The Restoration saw the last major outbreak of Plague in London, followed soon after by the catastrophic Great Fire that destroyed a sizable part of the city. A series of costly wars did little to settle the constant unease between France and England. And much like Henry VIII, Charles ironically sired no legitimate male son to inherit his throne, which instead was disastrously assumed by his younger brother James.

But to the people he ruled, Charles was their much-loved and very human king, and at his death the country was plunged into grief-stricken despair. If there had been political approval ratings in the 17th century, Charles’s would have been off the charts. He unified a country torn by civil war, restored its economy, and placed England firmly on the world stage. (For more about Charles II, visit my website & blog at www.

Like fascinated moths at the flame, we historical fiction writers can’t resist Charles or the Restoration. Jean Plaidy, Jude Morgan, Elizabeth Goudge, Iain Pears, Karleen Koen, Diana Norman, and Kathleen Winsor are among those who’ve set books in this fascinating time. My three most recent novels (Royal Harlot, The King’s Favorite, and now The French Mistress, due in stores this week) all feature Charles and the women who loved him. There’s a different side of the king in each book, and yet I still feel I’ve likely only begun to “know” him and the 17th century England he ruled. If you’re tired of Tudors or weary of Regency dukes, look for a book with the Merrie Monarch and the Restoration. You will, I think, be most royally entertained.

And congratulations on Historical Tapestry’s blogiversary!

In order to celebrate the release of The French Mistress, we have a limited supply of bookmarks for the book. If you would like to receive one of these bookmarks please email your postal details to us at and we will get them out to you as soon as we can.

Stay tuned for a review of The French Mistress to be posted next week.


  1. As a writer of 17th century fiction, I too love the era and was brought up in a London where it's remnants are visible everywhere. Perhaps I lived there once, it wouldn't surprise me -although i was probably a Restoration style Moll Flanders rather than a Countess of Somerset!

  2. Fab post! Thanks so much. Your book is on my TBR.

  3. Great post, I must get this one in my TBR pile asap.