Publication date: April 2018
Review, short version: Four roses out of four.
Review, long version:
If you’re not a fan of histories of royal families, you can skip this.
If you are a fan – and I am, big time, especially the women’s histories – then I highly recommend Daughters of the Winter Queen by Nancy Goldstone.
This is a biography, and I often have a problem with biographies: Dry, dry, dry and boring, boring, boring.
Did I mention dry and boring?
Like a high school history textbook. And a college history textbook.
Like any textbook.
Goldstone is a wonderful writer, a great storyteller, and – surprise! Also funny. I was cruising along, reading, and suddenly I’d laugh because Goldstone has a way of making wry observations that make the characters and their era – the 17th century – more relatable.
Yes, humor in a biography. Examples:
“It was during this trip that the duke of Buckingham took it into his head to try to seduce Louis XIII’s wife, Anne of Austria, queen of France, a diplomatic initiative of questionable value.”
Another from Goldstone: “It was like overhearing your lover use exactly the same pickup line he had once used with you, and then having him turn to you to ask for help in convincing his new quarry of his sincerity.”
And: “No husband who had cheated on his wife and was trying to get out of it by pretending to be concerned for her welfare ever penned a guiltier letter.”
No textbook ever sounded like that!
So what’s Goldstone doing, adding her contemporary comments to 300+-year-old history?
She’s telling a serious story and reminding us that while these people were of the highest rank, they were just as human – and full of foibles – as we are.
Of course, there’s much more history than humor – the royal Stuarts weren’t known for having a sense of humor. They often helped to bring tragedies on themselves, starting with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, beheaded in 1587. Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England and managed to keep his head, but not so his son, Charles I, beheaded during England’s Civil War (1642-1651), of which he was a major cause.
The Winter Queen is Princess Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), daughter of that James I, whose betrayal of her was unspeakable. Elizabeth and her husband, Frederick V, became queen and king of Bohemia, then lost their throne during the 30 Years’ War (1618-1648) after reigning only briefly, from November 1619 to November 1620. Hence the nickname she was stuck with for 40+ years.
Elizabeth spends the remainder of her life in exile, striving always to regain what was lost. She never again reigns as a queen, but her youngest daughter, Sophia,
becomes the mother of Georg Ludwig, who becomes George I of England. Elizabeth’s story and that of her 13 children, particularly her daughters, make fascinating reading. As does the history they were all participants in – and victims of.
It’s not often I encounter a biography – or any book – that I enjoy, learn from, and smile about.
Is there a better combination?