06 March 2008

Book Review: William's Wife by Jean Plaidy

Royalty Rules Challenge #2

William’s Wife As the favoured elder daughter of the Duke of York, the Lady Mary has a charmed life, marred only by the presence in her household of the grasping Villiers family. That changes after her father converts to Catholicism, and doesn’t hesitate to make the fact known. In a country determined never to see a repeat of the persecutions of Bloody Mary, the thought of a Catholic heir to the throne is not well received. But there is a way to reassure the populace: Marry his daughter to one of Europe’s most devout Protestants.

Aged just fifteen, Mary finds herself married to William of Orange, the dour cousin she hardly knows, and dispatched to The Hague. Her new life isn’t made easier by the discovery that William’s lack of appeal hasn’t deterred her lady-in-waiting Elizabeth Villiers. Her husband might not be loyal, but Mary is determined to be, and soon that loyalty is tested. For James II has not proved popular as King, and she and Willaim have been invited to rule in his stead; and Mary must decide whether to support her father or her husband.

I like to pick up a bit of history while I read, so I was glad of the chance to read a book about figures I knew little of, and set - at least in part - outside England. (And it was indispensable on the morning I was stuck at Coopers Plains for an hour when a signal failed.) Public transport mishaps aside, though, it was a book I could probably have done without; not as good as I’d hoped or expected. It was impossible not to feel for Mary, sent away from her home and family to marry a cold fish like William, but sympathy and liking don’t necessarily coincide. (Though I did at least warm to her more than did my mother, who read the book after me and frequently evinced a desire to slap her.) The depiction of her sister Anne wasn’t much better; I found myself wondering how anyone so indolent in both body and mind could make a suitable monarch.

I think the biggest problem was the point of view. There are times when first person just doesn’t work, and this is one of them. Mary isn’t that interesting, and her narration is little more than mere reporting. She was a child when she left England, didn’t return to it until after her father and his family had fled into exile, and was married to a man not in the habit of discussing state affairs with his wife; so all the political intrigue of the time - like the stirrings of Titus Oates - were related secondhand and after the fact. And her thoughts kept going back over the same ground again and again. If only her father had kept his faith a secret ... If only her cousin Monmouth hadn’t let his head get filled with such grand ideas ... If only she had thought to ask that Elizabeth Villiers remain in England....

If only I’d borrowed it from the library instead of buying it....

Rating: C-


Deb said...

I don't care for any of Plaidy's books about William and Mary because her point of view is so biased toward the Jacobite's. Mary actually wrote that she was very happy in Holland. In a letter to Willam that was not destroyed after her death, she asks him to continue to love her. His grief right after her death was so great that it was feared he would die as well. After her death, when Willaim was approached about marrying again for the sake of the people, his reply was that the people might have forgotten the Queen, but he had not. I'm not saying that they had a perfect marriage. I am saying that the way it was portrayed here is not necessarily accurate.

Deb said...
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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776