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Charles II

The mid-17th century saw the English Civil War, in which Charles I was executed by men determined to do away with the monarchy. But in 1660 Charles II, who had been in exile in France, received a request to return to England and become its King again. Thus the monarchy was restored.

Charles was renowned for his many mistresses and his fondness for spaniels and horse-racing, but he managed his enemies in Parliament skillfully in order to preserve the monarchy. Though he had many children from his mistresses, his queen, Catherine of Braganza, did not produce an heir.

Aphra Behn, playwright, poet, and proto-novelist

Among the earliest Englishwomen to earn a living as a writer, Aphra Behn also led an adventurous life: traveling to Surinam, serving as a spy for King Charles in Antwerp, and doing a stint in prison for debt. Her plays--The Rover is the most famous--were as bawdy as those of other playwrights of the day, and she once wrote a poem called "The Disappointment" about a woman's dismay at an instance of male impotence. Behn's prose tales are considered forerunners of the novel by many. The most famous was Oroonoko, which was set in Surinam and told the story of an African prince who leads a slave rebellion there and dies nobly though tragically in its aftermath. Behn was deeply loyal to the Stuart family and may have been raised as a Catholic; certainly she had many Catholic connections.

James Stuart, Duke of York and later James II

Because Charles had no children in marriage, the heir to the throne during his reign was his younger brother, James, Duke of York. Like Charles, James lived largely in Catholic countries during the Commonwealth years, and when he was in his late thirties or early forties he converted to that faith. This was a secret at first, since England was a very Protestant country and Catholicism was illegal. But after the Test Act of 1673, which required officials to swear that they didn't believe in transubstantiation (a central Catholic doctrine), it could no longer be hidden. James resigned from his post as Lord High Admiral rather than so swear. From then on, Protestants in Parliament sought to bar him from the succession, for fear that if he became king, he would return England to Catholicism.

There's no image of Jane Sharpe. This woodcut shows a birth chamber with a midwife in attendance.

The Midwives Book Or the Whole Art of Midwifery Discovered, by Jane Sharpe, was reprinted in 1999 by Oxford University Press, in an edition edited and extensively annotated by Elaine Hobby. There's always the temptation, in reading manuals like this one, to seize upon the things that medical experts of the time got wrong, or the odd names they gave to the "generative parts." But Jane Sharpe, a woman who wrote for other women, ably handed on the knowledge accepted in her day, with none of the "modesty" urged on women in 17th-century society.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth

James was the oldest child of Charles II. At fourteen he was created Duke of Monmouth and married to the heiress Anne Scott; thereafter he used her surname. He was a highly regarded military man. At the age of 31 he fell in love with Henrietta Wentworth, and left his wife to live with her. Because he was a Protestant, many plans for depriving James Stuart of the succession centered on Monmouth. In 1683 the Rye House Plot unsuccessfully tried to put Monmouth on the throne; he was exiled to the low lands in consequence. In 1685, after his father's death, he led a rebellion against King James, but his troops were defeated and Monmouth was executed. The Protestant bishops who came to prepare him to meet his maker denied him the Eurcharist after he refused to admit that living with Lady Wentworth had been a sin.

John Gadbury, Astrologer

John Gadbury was apprenticed briefly to a tailor in his youth, but later made a serious study of astrology under the mathematician and astrologer Nicholas Fiske at Oxford. Though he had republican ideas before the Restoration, once King Charles was on his throne his politics changed with the age. In 1659 he published an ephemeris which he then produced annually till his death in 1704. He was persuaded that the wave of scientific inquiry that arose in the 17th century could include astrology, and that when enough data was assembled it would prove to be as sound as chemistry or biology. However, by the time of his death he had become discouraged at how little advancement there had been in his field, and began to doubt the discipline that had been his life's work.