A Story of Aristocratic Life and Death in Stuart Britain
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In a vividly evocative account, Stater (History/Louisiana State Univ.) weaves social and political history into a plot that reads like a Restoration-era episode of Dallas. By the late 17th century the British nobility’s reliance on land-based wealth made them poorer than the new mercantile classes of the emerging British Empire, which compelled many lords to incur ruinous debts to maintain their grand lifestyles. Against this economic backdrop, Stater draws a picture of ubiquitous immorality and violence, typified by the nasty and brutish lives of two men: Charles, the fourth Baron Mohun (1677—1712), and James, Duke of Hamilton (1658—1712). Though a prodigious worker in matters of state, Mohun, who was eventually tried for murder twice by the House of Lords, spent most of his life tippling, brawling, and whoring. Hamilton, a Scottish peer who championed Scottish independence, landed twice in the Tower of London for his connections to the Catholic Stuarts and played a deceitful double game for years with the court of the exiled Catholic pretender that amounted to treason. Stater focuses on one particularly fateful piece of intrigue, the bitter decade-long legal battle between Mohun and Hamilton over title to Gawsworth, a valuable English country estate, which had been obtained by Mohun through a monstrous pattern of fraud and perjury, and which Hamilton claimed through his marriage of convenience. The machinations of a rapist and profligate, George MacCartney, whose appointment as governor of Jamaica was blocked by Hamilton, exacerbated the tensions between the two men. In 1712, the Gawsworth lawsuits and the two lords’ deepening political enmity—Mohun and fellow Whigs like the Duke of Marlborough feared that Hamilton’s suspected connections with the pretender could result in Catholic restoration—led to a mutually fatal encounter on Hyde Park’s dueling ground. A vivid, if often ugly, snapshot of a social class under siege in a time of tumultuous change. Well researched and thoughtful. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8090-4033-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998