14 January 2017
Linda Porter has previously published three books about the Tudor dynasty. But as she notes, the Stuarts have attracted far less attention and do not inspire the same level of interest among the general public, for whatever reason. This is bewildering, given that this royal family endured its fair share of tragedies and triumphs, beheadings and battles. Perhaps Porter's book will be at least partly responsible for generating increased interest in the Stuart royal family.
As Porter notes, Charles I's failure as a monarch, and his execution in January 1649, are generally well known, but the lives of his six surviving children by his indefatigable queen, Henrietta Maria, are less well known. Porter's research is admirable and her writing style is pacy. She explores, in depth, the lives of Charles (the future king), Mary, James, Elizabeth, Henry and Henriette Anne, utilising a range of contemporary sources and shedding light on their individual personalities. At points in the book, the sheer twists and turns, coupled with the multitude of characters and locations, can make it difficult to keep track of who was where and who was doing what. Ultimately, the members of the royal family went years without seeing one another and spent very little time together, given the situation in England, especially in the aftermath of Charles' deposition and death.
After his father's execution, his eldest son Charles endured eleven years of exile before being restored to the English throne in 1660 at the age of thirty. Charles II emerges as a charismatic, sensual and good-natured man, the 'merry monarch' that had a keen understanding of his subjects gained from years in penniless exile, something his father conspicuously lacked. Of all his children, it could be argued that James, duke of York most closely resembled Charles I, and like his father, James was to lose his crown in 1688 following the birth of a Catholic heir. Unlike his father, however, James managed to escape abroad with his life. However, his son and grandson continued the struggle to gain the throne. Henry of Gloucester, third son of Charles I, was somewhat rebellious but endured his own fair share of tragedy and loss in his short life. He lived to witness his brother's triumph in 1660, but died shortly afterwards, to the grief of his family. Charles I's daughters - Mary, the Princess Royal; Elizabeth; and Henriette Anne - were quite different in character. The Princess Royal married William of Orange at a young age and endured a somewhat difficult, unstable life in the Netherlands. Her relationship with her mother-in-law was characterised by conflict and her husband's untimely death placed Mary in difficulties. She was renowned, however, for her lifelong support of her brother Charles, spending great sums of money on his bid to gain the throne. By contrast, Princess Elizabeth was gentle, pious and precocious. She was highly intelligent and a talented linguist. Elizabeth spent most of her life in exile with her younger brother Henry; her death on the Isle of Wight in 1650, aged fourteen, was a tragic loss, but testified to the hardships and uncertainty suffered by Charles' children that meant that a princess of England died alone in obscurity. Henriette Anne, the youngest child of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was politically active, flirtatious and lively. She was her brother Charles' favourite and spent much of her life in the company of her mother, who brought her up as a Catholic. Henriette Anne made a seemingly splendid marriage to Philippe of Orleans, brother of Louis XIV of France, but the couple did not enjoy happiness with one another. Henriette Anne succumbed to tuberculosis, the illness that plagued her family, in 1670, and was deeply mourned by her brother.
Linda Porter has written an engaging, intriguing and well-written account of the turbulent lives of Charles I's children, combining sound research with a highly readable writing style. Porter has established that the Stuarts are just as fascinating as the Tudors, and perhaps her book will go some way to redressing this balance.