Book Review: “Catherine of Bragança” by Lillias Campbell Davidson and Book Giveaway

For the chance to win a free book, see below

Royal House of Portugal by gribble book cover

Boy am I lucky.  Somehow, I managed to get a first edition of this book published in 1908. It’s filled with portraits and illustrations and dedicated to: “The people of Portugal who gave their princess throughout her life love, loyalty, devotion and by whom in her death she is not forgotten”. What a thrill to hold a book in my hands that is 110 years old.  This work has been out of print for many years.  My precious copy of this book was donated to the public library in Plymouth, England.  It was withdrawn and a bookseller managed to find it and offer it for sale.

The subtitle of this book is “Infanta of Portugal & Queen-Consort of England.  Once again, I am reading this book for research purposes.  I first read Janet MacKay’s biography of Catherine of Braganza so it has been interesting to compare the two author’s observations on this queen’s life.  Davidson is similar in her writing style to MacKay as there is a lot of description and flowery Edwardian language.  She has a tendency to go off on a tangent here with long recollections of related subjects such as the life of the Louise de Kerouaille, Charles II’s French mistress.  All of this is interesting but it does detract from Catherine’s story and it makes for a long book, 502 pages!

I found Davidson’s early chapter on the House of Braganza and Catherine’s childhood to be thin on information.  Catherine’s early years are shrouded in mystery so this accounts for some of the lack of detail.  And the particulars of the Braganza family history are questionable from other research I have done.  Some of the positives in this narrative are the description of Catherine’s resistance to allowing Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine as a Lady of the Bedchamber and her views of Catherine’s relationship with Charles.

Davidson’s recounting of the Popish Plot which threatened Catherine’s life if not as detailed and insightful as MacKay’s.  She also quotes verbatim the letters written in Catherine’s own hand to her brother in arranging her return to Portugal after Charles’ death just as MacKay did in her biography. Davidson’s description of the last years of Catherine’s life in Portugal is not complete.  There is a very short bibliography here and she cites some sources that do not appear in her list.  But overall, this is a well-researched and detailed biography.  She must be given credit for completing the first comprehensive biography of this enigmatic queen based on the sources and methods available in the early 20th century.

If you enjoy Stuart history, I have a copy of “The Prince of Wales Who Would Be King:  The Life and Death of Henry Stuart” by Sarah Fraser.  For a chance to win this book about this forgotten Jacobean prince, leave a comment below.  

 

 

 

Book Review: “Catherine of Braganza” by Janet MacKay

Mackay Braganza book cover

 

I’ve been doing some research on the seventeenth century and found a used copy of this book, originally published in 1937.  MacKay wrote this twenty-nine years after Lillias Campbell Davidson wrote her definitive biography.  I have been unable to find any biographical information on MacKay, who authored one other book.

There are many primary sources documenting Catherine’s life.  MacKay’s writing is flavored with description and fantasy but overall she adheres to the historical truth.  I found Mackay has a considerable amount of insight into the personalities of Catherine of Braganza and King Charles II and it makes for interesting reading.

The first chapter on Catherine’s life is short, about twenty pages but this is the only part of Catherine’s life that is not well-documented.  The narrative then picks up momentum and describes the various negotiations regarding her marriage to Charles II, the newly restored Stuart King of England.  There’s a great description of Catherine’s leave-taking of her mother, her brothers and her beloved Portugal.  Once she is in England, her troubles begin with the difficult Lady Castlemaine and Charles’ insistence that she relent in allowing Castlemaine to become a Lady of the Bedchamber.

MacKay gives a succinct and compelling retelling of the Popish Plot which threatened Catherine’s life.  Although her time in England had its ups and downs, Charles stood by her the entire time.  She was devastated by his death in 1685.  Catherine remained in England another seven years and worked tirelessly to return to Portugal.  Her marriage contract allowed this but she had a difficult time getting a ship to take her home and some illness which delayed her.  Astonishingly, there are eighty letters written by Catherine in the British Library, many of them written to her brother regarding arrangements for her return to Portugal.  MacKay quotes these letters extensively to tell the story.

The last few years spent by Catherine in Portugal are well covered here.  The book has several portraits.  There is an adequate bibliography but it is poorly footnoted as many books were from this era.  Nonetheless, MacKay has written an insightful biography which I enjoyed very much.

Book Review: “Scandalous Liaisons: Charles II and his Court” by R.E. Pritchard

Scandalous Liaisions book cover

 

There is no doubt, the court of King Charles II of England was decadent.  This book tells the entire story of this hedonistic king, beginning from his youth in England, through his exile in Europe, his restoration to the throne of England and up until his death.  Every mistress is covered here and not just for the king.  Pritchard details the lives of some of the noteworthy men of the era such as Charles’ brother, James, Duke of York, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester among others.

All of these men had many mistresses.  Some of them are famous such as Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, Louise-Renee Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, Hortense Mancini, the actresses Moll Davis and Nell Gwyn and Charles’ early liaison with Lucy Walter.   The Duke of York took as his mistress Anne Hyde, daughter of the Chancellor Edward Hyde and made her his wife, marrying her in secret.  Duels were fought over some of these women.  The Queen’s Ladies-in-Waiting were fair game as well as the maids and servants.

What’s different about this book is that the author is a specialist in seventeenth century and modern literature.  He points out how many writers, poets, and playwrights chronicled all of these liaisons in their poetry, lyrics and drama.  Many of these are quoted in the book.  It gives us insight into how other ordinary folk viewed the libertines at court as well as the women.  I have to admit, after a while, reading about all these affairs became a little tedious.  But the quoting of contemporary literature makes this book unique and it is worthwhile if the reader is interested in the subject.

 

Short review of the movie “Mary Queen of Scots”

Mary Queen of Scots poster

 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2328900/

I was truly prepared to not like this movie but was pleasantly surprised. Warts and all, the story is well told and the actresses were a joy to watch. Saoirse Ronan played Mary with just the right touch of toughness and vulnerability. John Guy (who wrote the book the movie is based on) has done a great disservice to the reputation of Queen Elizabeth I. It’s beyond me why he doesn’t like her. She is characterized as a dithering, crazed nutcase. But that’s okay. We know what she was really like. Margot Robbie’s makeup and prosthetic nose give a realistic profile that matches the portraits of Elizabeth.

The rest of the supporting cast are great. Guy Pearce is a very suitable William Cecil. My favorite part of the movie is the scene of Rizzio’s murder. IMHO, this is one of the most dramatic moments in history and the abominable act is represented perfectly. I believe Mary’s finest moment followed this act. She rose to the occasion and acted as a strong queen if only for a short time. The movie is not perfect but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. I’m going to go all out and just say, I loved this movie.

 

John Guy, who wrote the book the movie was based on talks about his view of the film

Book Review: “Lucy Walter: Wife or Mistress” by Lord George Scott

lucy_walter

I was looking into the life of the woman who was the mistress of King Charles II before he became king with the Restoration of the Monarchy in England in 1660. Her name was Lucy Walter and in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on her written by Robin Clifton, this book is listed as one of the sources for the article. I knew there was no contemporary biography of her so I thought I would check it out. I happened to find a cheap used copy of the book on the internet.

It turns out that Lord George Scott is a descendant of Lucy Walter’s family and this book was published in 1947. Scott passed way in February of that year, before the proofs of the book came back from the printer. The task of reading the proofs and readying the book for publishing was taken up by Scott’s son and an assistant. The author’s intention in writing this book is to prove that Lucy Walter was in fact married to Charles.

Lucy became Charles’ mistress early on during his exile after the execution of his father King Charles I. She gave birth to a son, James Crofts, later called James Scott in April of 1649. Charles at all times acknowledged James was his natural, illegitimate son. Charles also insisted he never married Lucy Walter. He never faltered in this assertion and swore to it in front of his councilors twice. There is no existing written evidence that he married Lucy.

Scott uses this book to present many arguments that Lucy was married. He insists she came from a good family and would not have turned into a fallen woman. He cites many sources. He especially mentions the letters from Charles’ sister the Princess of Orange who refers to Lucy as Charles’ wife. He talks about witnesses to the marriage itself. He says Lucy had paperwork showing her marriage was legal and she turned this over to John Cosin, later bishop of Durham when she was on her deathbed. The papers were supposedly kept in a black box which later disappeared.

The book has some wonderful illustrations and a family tree for Lucy. It also gives some good biographical information on her life. But Scott’s convoluted arguments are presented in a jumbled order. Characters come and go in the story and it’s all very confusing. In the end, I’m afraid he is not very convincing. All of his contentions just don’t add up. In looking at other evidence, there is no doubt Lucy was a woman of loose morals and caused a lot of trouble for Charles. He son James also didn’t come to a good end during the reign of his uncle King James II. While the basic premise of the story is of interest, Scott does not succeed in his mission of clearing Lucy’s name.

Book Review: “Arbella Stuart: A Biography” by Blanche C. Hardy

arbella hardy book cover

I’m just going to admit it up front. I really enjoy reading history written by historians of another era. This biography of Arbella Stuart, a grand-daughter of Margaret Tudor, was written in 1913! As the author duly notes in her “Biographical Note”, the story of Arbella has been told many times beginning from right after her death in ballads and poems to biographical notes, novels and memoirs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Arbella is mentioned by Agnes Strickland in “Lives of the Tudor and Stuart Princesses” and some of Arbella’s letters were published in 1866.

That being said, I believe Blanche C. Hardy gives us the whole story of Arbella’s life in riveting detail and in her own words by quoting her letters, many of which still exist in various archives. She begins with the illicit conspiracy between two mothers, Bess of Hardwick and Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox who plotted to marry their children, Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox. Bess of Hardwick was a formidable noblewoman during most of the monarchies of the Tudor era. Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor by her second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret and her sons Henry and Charles could rightly claim the throne of England. So the conspiracy to marry her son Charles without telling Queen Elizabeth I could have dire consequences. Bess and Margaret secretly plotted the marriage and managed to carry it off.

Elizabeth Cavendish gave birth to Arbella in 1575. Both of Arbella’s parents died while she was an infant and she was brought up in close confinement by her grandmother Bess of Hardwick. Bess, at the very least, wanted to restore Arbella’s interest in the Lennox estates which were taken away when her parents died. At the most, she harbored an interest in putting her grand-daughter on the throne of England. Arbella was given a first class education and there were many who were interested in marrying her to men in the aristocracy of England and Europe. She was therefore kept under strict guard most of her life. There is no evidence Arbella was ever deeply involved in any of these plots which to some extent was extraordinary.

However, Arbella did conspire to make a marriage to the nobleman William Seymour, a descendant of Mary Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII through her grand-daughter Katherine Grey, sister of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen. Any alliance and heir born of this combination would have a considerable claim to the throne of England. Needless to say, this proposed alliance created a huge controversy. Queen Elizabeth was furious at the prospect and Bess of Hardwick broke off her relationship with Arbella for the rest of her life. This incident was the first indication that Arbella did not really have a stable mind. Letters written during this time strongly indicate this.

Once Queen Elizabeth died, Arbella was in high favor with Elizabeth’s successor, King James I. She had a high position at court and was well liked by James and his Queen and their children. But she managed to throw this all away by marrying Seymour in a secret ceremony and against the wishes of the King. She never regained her position at court and in fact, made a daring attempt to flee from England with Seymour. Hardy’s description of Arbella’s escape and Seymour’s breakout from the Tower of London makes for some exciting reading. Arbella’s only flaw was that she was too close to the throne of England. This made for an unfortunate and miserable life for her and her story doesn’t have a happy ending. Hardy does a great job of recounting all the foibles and adventures of this eccentric woman. We are lucky that Nabu Press has reprinted this one hundred year old volume so we can enjoy it. I highly recommend this book.