Limburg’s first novel is an intimate portrait of a Stuart princess whom history has occasionally underestimated.
Princess Anne, daughter of James, Duke of York, and niece of Charles II, the monarch who occupies the newly restored throne of England, grows up at a sensitive time. As a child, Anne is coddled and encouraged to gorge herself in a court relishing pleasure after 30 years of Puritan rule. Older sister Mary weds Prince William of Orange, a short, hunchbacked general Anne thinks of as “this Dutch Abortion.” As she matures, Anne forms a particularly close friendship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, one of her ladies-in-waiting. Anne’s arranged marriage to George, Prince of Denmark, proves to be a love match. However, childbearing is problematic for both royal sisters: Mary cannot conceive, and Anne, despite at least 17 pregnancies before age 35, gives birth to only one comparatively healthy child, her son, William, Duke of Gloucester. After Charles’ death, the ongoing clash between Papism and Anglicanism continues to divide many families, not least the royals: though Anne and Mary are firm Protestants, their father, James II, who ascends to the throne, is Catholic. Mary and William depose James and restore a Protestant regime, which they rule jointly. Anne is next in line followed by Gloucester. Her former regard for Mary quickly cools, as Mary restricts her allowance, criticizes her gambling, and, in the ultimate betrayal, forces Sarah from Anne’s side. The narrative is linear, providing serial glimpses into Anne’s obsessions, anxieties, and many physical challenges, including smallpox as a child, miscarriages, stillbirths, and crippling gout. Small scenes are telling: Anne’s enmity toward William of Orange is amply summed up when he hogs a dish of peas. This is decidedly a scholarly approach to historical fiction, complete with scrupulous adherence to the diction of the day and excerpts from Anne’s actual correspondence. The abrupt and inconclusive ending appears to signal a sequel.
Limburg succeeds in humanizing Anne and bringing her worldview to vivid life.