- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

By Maureen Waller
St. Martin's, $29.95, 402 pages, illus.

The young British historian Maureen Waller reveals a good deal about her latest book with its title. The subject is England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, when King James II, son of the beheaded Charles I, fled in the face of mounting opposition and threats of invasion from his nephew, Prince William of Orange, while his daughters, first Mary, then Anne, displaced him and their infant half-brother in the succession to the throne.
A significant step on the road from absolute monarchy to the largely ceremonial royalty of today, these events also marked the last major gasp of Britain's religious upheavals. But this book is not political analysis charting the evolution of the relationship between rulers and ruled, nor is it primarily focused on the bitter struggle between the Catholicism of James and his daughters' Protestant faith. No, this is a family drama reported with a keen ear for delicious, gossipy detail and a satisfying willingness to take sides.
Whatever role they may have played historically, the women who became Queen Mary II (of William and Mary) and Queen Anne (of the chairs) were, in Maureen Waller's view, "Ungrateful Daughters: the Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown."
For the reader whose memory of European history has grown dim, the initial pages of "Ungrateful Daughters" may be a bit daunting. A family tree showing the complex inter-connections among the royal families of England, France, Denmark, Spain and less familiar states is followed by a "Cast of Characters in the Royal Family" in which there are multiple Charleses, Jameses, Annes and Marys with Williams and Louis and even a Prince Rupert of the Rhine tossed in.
The reader would do well to pay attention rather to the table of contents that precedes these materials; the enormous body of information is well organized there. The first section, "The Family," profiles the major players in the drama from each one's childhood up to the critical moment in 1688 when the unexpected birth of a son to Catholic King James II precipitated a crisis.
Parts Two and Three, "The Revolution," and "Consequences," carry the story forward through the rumors that the queen's announced pregnancy was a ruse and that the child she bore was an imposter, smuggled into the royal bedchamber in a bed-warming pan, to James's flight to France, the coronation of William and Mary, the falling out between the two sisters, the deaths of first William, then Mary, and Anne's coronation, reign and death at age 49.
The family portrait begins with Queen Mary Beatrice who had married James when she was a well-educated Italian princess of 15 and he was the widowed 40-year-old heir apparent to the throne. A sweet, dignified woman, she bore James several children (most of whom died) and became fond, too, of his daughters by his first wife, Mary and Anne, who were just a few years younger than she.
Mary was tall and beautiful and said to resemble her great-great-grandmother, the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots; Anne was plagued with bad eyesight and a stubborn disposition.
When their parents, James and his first wife, a commoner, had injudiciously converted to Catholicism, Mary and Anne, who were then second and third in line for the throne after their father, were made wards of the state. They were brought up as Protestants and both were firmly devoted to that faith throughout their lives.
Their father had never recovered from the shock of the execution of his father, king Charles I, in 1649, when he was 15. James was "diligent but not very bright and had little imagination"; he was also "obstinate and opinionated" and terrified of opposition, traits which, later, contributed to his downfall.
When he finally became king in 1685 on the death of his brother, he unwisely flaunted his Catholicism and alienated the Anglican establishment.
His nephew, Prince William of Orange, who married Mary in 1677 was, on the other hand, a Protestant and "a brilliant leader of men, courageous and ever to the fore in battle, an indefatigable campaigner who shared all the hardships of his troops." Mary adored him.
These members of the royal family come vividly alive thanks to reproductions of sumptuous color portraits and extensive quotes from a wealth of contemporary sources including journals and the voluminous correspondence between Mary and Anne. Thus we hear Samuel Pepys say of the wildly unfaithful James II in the days of his first marriage that he was "in all things but his codpiece, led by his wife."
James' brother Charles observed presciently that "my brother will lose his throne for his principles," adding "and his soul for a bunch of ugly trollops." Anne, we learn, was dull; even her good friend Sarah, Lady Churchill said her conversation was all about "trifling fashions, rules of precedence, and observations upon the weather." Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark, was pretty dull too; her uncle, King Charles, said of him, "I've tried him drunk and I've tried him sober and there is nothing in him."
Anne and Mary emerge as two distinct personalities, though on the day of Mary's coronation one of James' gentlemen of the bedchamber said they were "both bitches, by God!" Anne was outspoken and sometimes crude and the more manipulative of the two. She was jealous of her older sister, criticized her behind closed doors and routinely referred to her brother-in-law, William, as "the Dutch Abortion" or "Mr. Caliban, the Monster."
Mary was more dignified, thoughtful and highly emotional, though she too could be catty, reacting to her sister's sympathy about the discomfort of the robes and jewels she had to wear for her coronation with, "A crown, sister, is not so heavy as it appears." Relations between them deteriorated, their rift widened by court intrigues until they ceased speaking to each other at all and Mary wrote that she saw their "disagreeing as a punishment (from God) upon us for the irregularity by us committed upon the revolution."
By the time Anne finally became queen, after the untimely deaths of, first Mary, then William, her own health was ruined. She had been pregnant 17 times in as many years; her one child who had lived beyond infancy, the Duke of Gloucester, died at the age of 11. Her father had died the year before she became queen, telling his wife, Mary Beatrice, that he forgave Anne. She wore deep mourning for him but she never came through on her apparent promise to make restitution to her half-brother, referred to as "the Pretender."
On the contrary, she issued a proclamation offering a reward for his apprehension should he ever again set foot in England. Like Mary before her, she never expressed remorse for her behavior towards her father or saw him again after his flight.
The book is occasionally confusing and repetitious; allusion is made to information the reader might not possess ("After the Whigs exposed the fiction of the warming-pan story at the Sacheverell trial in 1710 …") and occasionally a sentence is burdened with such a wealth of detail as to be comical. ("These hopes came to nothing when Liselotte's father made a greater match for her in 1672 with the widowed brother of the French King, Philippe, Duke of Orleans, the spiteful homosexual who had made his first wife, Charles II's sister Minette, so unhappy.")
And questions remain. What, for example, led James to convert to Catholicism and to adhere to it with such ferocity? What role, if any, did religious faith actually play in these lives? Why were Mary and, especially Anne, so devoid of family feeling? And were they, in fact, as the author asserts, "remarkable queens?" A little more discussion of this would be welcome.
But overall this is a satisfying work, reminding us that history is made at the intersection of significant ideas and quirky human beings. All happy families may be alike but royal families were throughout history, as they are today, unhappy in their own fascinating ways.

Stephanie Deutsch is a Washington writer and critic.

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