Densely detailed biographies of the Protestant sisters who betrayed their Catholic father James to become queens of England.
Unnecessarily repetitive as she initially describes in extensive outline events and figures later repeated in more closely examined sections, British historian Waller (1700: Scenes from London Life, 2000, etc.) nonetheless tells a stirring and important story. Important, because it reminds us that 17th-century Europe too was plagued by seemingly intractable religious differences: conflict between Protestants and Catholics caused the devastating Thirty Year’s War, ended religious toleration in France (where the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685), and brought exile for England’s Catholic King James II. Waller begins with the birth in 1688 of a healthy son to James and his second wife. Fearing that this birth secured the monarchy and the country for Catholicism, English Protestants invited James’ elder daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange, to invade England and become King and Queen. The author then circles back to tell the story of James’s first wife, mother of Mary and Anne, his second marriage to an Italian princess, and his flight to France. James was a loving father, but his devoutly Anglican daughters became alarmed as they saw him working to restore Catholic domination. Anne, married to a Danish prince, deliberately passed on rumors that her father’s baby was not his own and that the queen had never been pregnant. James fled, deeply hurt by the treachery of his offspring. Mary became a much loved figure during her brief reign, Anne succeeded her in 1694, and upon Anne’s death in 1714, the English crown passed to James I’s German (and Protestant) great-grandson, George I. The daughters’ actions ultimately secured the throne for Anglicanism, prevented civil war, and strengthened parliamentary democracy.
Colorful period details (Mary introduced chintz and blue china) and vivid portraits of legendary figures like the great Duke of Marlborough: lively, instructive history.