Sunday, June 24, 2012

Royal Escape - Georgette Heyer

I find the books I read lead one to another in a fairly natural progression; something will catch my interest and send me down a path, not always the one I expect, until eventually my mood will change or a novelty will intervene that sets me off on another path. Sometimes though it all comes off the rails a bit - as at the moment. I have a little stack of books I had meant to read over the next couple of weeks, review copies mostly (and they all look so good) but my heart isn't quite in it and I can't settle to any of them which wouldn't matter so much but that I'm struggling to think what I might like to read, and that matters because reading is my coping mechanism for all sorts of things and if you're reading this you're probably the same.

In a slump like this I will either turn to short stories or Georgette Heyer. I think 'Royal Escape' is new to me, I certainly didn't own a copy though see it was in print when I bought the rest of my collection. It may (inexplicably) be that it just didn't appeal to me at the time, it's a rare and wonderful treat to find an unread Georgette Heyer after so many years of being a fan which is why I ordered this book even though I didn't have the highest hopes for it, and as nothing else was appealing I picked it up. 

I don't know why I had such low expectations, perhaps because I'm a snob about actual history being mixed with romance. I ought to have had more faith In Heyer. There is a touch of romance, but with the exception of making Mrs Jane Lane a beauty (contemporary accounts, and portraits, describe a plain woman) every detail I've researched has proved to be essentially accurate. I knew Heyer was notorious for her meticulous research, know too how good a story teller she is, but had forgotten how good history can be like this. 

When I was at school the History we were taught had a distinctly Marxist edge to it, which is well and good, but you can't beat Kings and Queens for a decent story. I know marginally more about the restoration than I do about the commonwealth years but precious little about either. 'Royal Escape' kicks off with the battle of Worcester, the young King Charles II is trying to rally the Scottish cavalry into action but they won't budge, the day is lost, the King escaping by the skin of his teeth with nothing but the cloths on his back. A troop of cavaliers ride through the countryside desperately seeking a safe haven, finally they reach a friendly house. There they trust the King to a sympathiser before continuing the flight for their lives. What follows is six weeks of desperate hiding and searching for a way to France. 

There's the bit with the oak tree, and the escapade with Jane Lane. The King disguised himself as a groom with Jane riding pillion behind him to the house of a friend near the coast, they even rode through a troop of soldiers without him being recognised. It was a huge risk, capture would have meant death for all involved, there was also a reward of £1000 on the Kings head, a fortune to many that he encountered and yet still he manages to escape with their help (not much of a spoiler, we know he survives to get his throne back). Heyer does a good job of making the 21 year old King a man you can believe in - young, arrogant, charming, and charismatic. She takes the bare bones of history and fleshes them out into a tense drama, some of it is romance, but when I read history like this it really does fix in my imagination and after all that's what drives you to learn more isn't it? 

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