Friday, 27 December 2013

King's Mistress, Queen's Servant by Tracy Borman

Publisher's Blurb

Henrietta Howard, later Countess of Suffolk, was the long-term mistress and confidante of King George II. Described by Swift as a consummate courtier who packed away her 'private virtues...like cloaths in a chest', by Pope as 'so very reasonable, so unmov'd', and by the world at large as 'the Swiss' (due to her apparent neutrality), she remains as fascinating and perplexing today as she was for her contemporaries. 

Orphaned at the age of twelve after her mother died and her father was killed in a duel, and dragged into poverty by her brutal husband, Henrietta used her own ingenuity and determination to secure a role at the very heart of the royal court. Although renowned for her passivity and mildness, her relations with the Queen became increasingly acrimonious, and she made an enemy of Prime Minister Robert Walpole before eventually resigning her position amidst intense political scandal. 


This is not a new book, but definitely worth a mention, in that having read Lucy Worsley’s ‘Courtiers’, I was eager to discover more about the enigmatic and in many ways tragic Henrietta Howard. In a time when divorce would have ruined her completely, Henrietta found a way to remain within society but living apart from her abusive drunken rake of a husband, though the price she paid was a heavy one.

Her character and ‘quiet reason’ alone appears to have saved both herself and the disgusting Charles Howard, in that with charm alone Henrietta secured position for them both at the Royal Court of Herrenhausen on the eve of the Hanoverian age.

Henrietta and her husband returned to England as established courtiers in 1715, where the shattered relationships of George I and his son and daughter-in-law, George and Caroline contrived to keep Henrietta and her husband apart in that whoever served one was not permitted to associate with someone who served the other.  This may have come as a relief to Henrietta, but Tracy Borman’s description of what she had to endure as a lady in waiting wasn’t a life of pampered luxury but arduous servitude in abominable conditions within a strict arena where protocol is everything.

The fact Henrietta became the mistress of George II is undisputed, but did she do so for her survival, to ensure her royal lover kept her husband at bay, or because she truly loved him is not so clear.  I suspect the former reason, because when George’s irascible temper created holes in their relationship, despite opposition from the Queen, Henrietta retired from court, putting in place her plans for her own home made possible by the death of her awful husband – even I cheered at that point of the book – and an inheritance that enabled her to build her beautiful house, Marble Hill in Twickenham near to Horace Walpole’s property at Strawberry Hill.


What Henrietta endured with dignity and fortitude was enough to break any woman, and Miss Borman’s writing kept me entranced to the end. Here is a small plug for a talented new author, Laura Purcell, who is fascinated with the Hanoverians. Her blog has lots of interesting articles bout them and I happen to know she has begun writing Henrietta’s story, which I am confident will see publication before too long. You saw it here first!

2 comments:

Petrea Burchard said...

I suspect one of the reasons we write historical fiction is to try to figure things out for ourselves, even if history doesn't tell us everything. This sounds like a good story!

Anita Davison said...

It's a very sad story,Petrea, but like all good dramas, Henrietta eventually breaks away and lives the life she deserved.

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