It is hard to love John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester: hard to make a hero out of a writer of obscene verse, a coward and a drunk who, in the course of his short life, betrayed everyone around him – wife, family, friends, mistresses. But the fact that, in Samuel Johnson’s words, ‘he lived worthless and useless, and blazed out his youth and his health in lavish voluptuousness’ does make for a great story. Alexander Larman’s Blazing Star, billed by his publisher as ‘the first truly comprehensive biography of Rochester’, has a fair stab at telling it.
The son of one of Charles II’s closest friends, Rochester was born in 1647. He went up to Wadham in January 1660, four months before the king’s return to the throne. A tour of Europe, naval service against the Dutch and a post as gentleman of the bedchamber followed. By