Author(s): Anna Keay
James, Duke of Monmouth, the adored illegitimate son of Charles II, was born in exile the year his grandfather was executed and the English monarchy abolished. Abducted from his mother on his father's orders, he emerged from a childhood in the backstreets of Rotterdam to command the ballrooms of Paris, 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'. Such was his appeal that when the monarchy itself came under threat, the cry was for Monmouth to succeed Charles II as King. He inspired both 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, William of Orange his confidant, John Dryden his censor and John Locke his comrade. Anna Keay matches 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 ultimately prepared to risk everything for honour and justice. His life, culminating in his fateful invasion, provides a sweeping history of the turbulent decades in which England as we know it was forged.
A sweeping history of seventeenth-century Britain in all its tumultuous glory, told through the extraordinary dramatic life and violent death of the Duke of Monmouth - reformer, romantic, rebel...
In Anna Keay's fine biography, this tragic finale is rendered still more bitter by her unfolding of Monmouth's past career, his ever-changing hopes and fears ... Keay provides a fascinating portrait of the slippery, charismatic Charles II, and of his genuine love for his son ... The brilliance of Keay's account lies in her ability to convey the subtle intricacies of diplomacy and royal ambition ... Yet, she also keeps a clear focus on Monmouth's private story ... Keay tells the story with heart-breaking crispness -- Jenny Uglow Guardian Brilliant and revelatory ... Anna Keay has written a superb biography, which paints a vivid picture of the times and of her subject. She has an instinctive feel for character and place, and combines elegant prose with a novelistic gift for narrative. Above all, she has rescued this much-traduced and forgotten royal rebel from the backwaters and set him once more at the centre of one of Britain's great historical whirlpools Daily Telegraph A beautifully written book, with a superb feel for 17th century society and international intrigue as well as a masterful ability to depict the lived reality of Stuart London, Flanders and Paris. Anna Keay has provided not just a great life of a long forgotten royal rebel and revived his place in popular politics, but also a compelling account of British history during one of its most dangerous and tumultuous eras -- Tristram Hunt Written with the flair of a novelist and the punctilious skill of a forensic historian, this book tells one of the most riveting chapters of Stuart history ... It is the best royal biography I have read in years, and it deeply enhanced my knowledge of the seventeenth century -- A. N. Wilson Anna Keay's fascinating, compelling, outrageous and ultimately tragic The Last Royal Rebel delivers, with scholarly authority, political acumen, exciting narrative and a worldly, playful eye for drama, character and detail a vivid political-personal portrait of the hitherto-neglected Monmouth but also a shrewd study of Charles II, his dangerous, seductive, amoral court and Restoration England - and of a golden youth doomed -- Simon Sebag Montefiore Anna Keay has effectively turned [the] old-fashioned, censorious judgment of Monmouth on its head by making him the hero of his own story. It is a bold approach, and this vividly told story will remain in the reader's memory long after the last page of Keay's book has been turned. No one can deny that Monmouth's life was anything other than dramatic ... Keay's real achievement in this book is not so much a re-evaluation of Monmouth himself, though that may be well overdue, but her deft analysis of 17th-century personalities and politics ... Keay has brought a period almost lost to popular history compellingly alive Literary Review Substantial ... The strength of this admirable biography is that it makes the reader consider Monmouth from Monmouth's point of view, without the benefit of hindsight ... Here is Monmouth, and here is his world. It is a considerable achievement -- Andrew Taylor The Times 'Admirable ... Keay is a winning guide to the man and the period; this is an account not just of James but of one of the most interesting and fruitful periods of English history ... And she does it without jargon, making the personal as political as it in fact was ... She brings James, Duke of Monmouth back to life Evening Standard Returns this glamorous rebel to life. One contemporary described him as someone who lived 'in a mad ramble after pleasure', and Keay colourfully recreates that mad ramble: womanising, dangerous sports and princely extravagance. The writing is lively and fast-paced ... A vivid, easy read ... Tragedy lends Monmouth's story piquancy. Keay makes the most of his doomed heroism Mail on Sunday Keay's study of Monmouth, the first for many years, is meticulous in its attention to scholarly detail and invaluably fills a gap in the historiography. But what distinguishes her as as biographer is her unflagging appetite for the drama and poignancy of the story, and her skill and fluency in portraying it. I can't remember the last time I read a historical biography that so vividly evokes the atmosphere of another age, whether it be the Caroline palaces of the era or the flat, watery darkness of the battlefield at Sedgemoor Spectator Powerful ... [A] penetrating and superbly researched biography Country Life Fans of Hilary Mantel are bound to enjoy this new biography of a figure from a fascinating period. Keay provides a lively account of the licentious Restoration court ... Ambitious and scholarly ... Enjoyable, and should do for the Stuarts what Mantel has done for the Tudors The Lady Splendid ... Plotted like a novel, full of riveting detail, The Last Royal Rebel offers a vivid portrayal of politics in the dynastic age, when bloodlines ruled and accidents of nature swayed the fate of nations Wall Street Journal Grounded in mastery of a formidable archival record ... Keay displays a gift for eye catching detail, complemented by knowledgeable explanations ... Her enthusiasm is infectious Times Literary Supplement
Born in the West Highlands of Scotland, Anna Keay read history at Magdalen College, Oxford, where she won two academic scholarships. She was awarded her PhD on the reign of Charles II by the University of London. She was formerly a curator for Historic Royal Palaces, Curatorial Director of English Heritage and is currently Director of the Landmark Trust. She is married with two children and divides her time between London and King's Lynn, Norfolk.