Sunday, June 14, 2009

Queen in Waiting by Jean Plaidy

Queen in Waiting, the second book in Jean Plaidy's Georgian Saga, focuses on a fascinating woman, Caroline of Ansbach: wife of George Augustus of Hanover, the Princess of Wales and future Queen of England.

Caroline was a much more interesting protagonist than Sophia Dorothea, the central figure of Plaidy's previous novel, The Princess of Celle. Unlike Sophia Dorothea, Caroline was fiercely intelligent, crafty and determined not to become a victim. She knew she had only to wait for the death of her loathsome father-in-law to become the power behind the English throne.

Raised as the ward of Sophia Charlotte, sister of George Lewis of Hanover, Caroline agrees to marry George Lewis's son, George Augustus, in order to remain close to her beloved guardian. The first half of the novel shows how Caroline learns to navigate the treacherous court of Hanover, which her vindictive father-in-law rules with an iron fist, and also to make herself indispensable to her conceited, hot-tempered, childish husband (whose tantrums involve him throwing his wig to the floor and kicking it around the room.) Despite her husband's failings, Caroline develops an affection for him, especially when she discovers she can manipulate him to her way of doing things, while making him think it was his idea all along.

The novel offered a fresh perspective on Duchess Sophia of Hanover, who featured prominently in The Princess of Celle. Caroline learns from the formidable, intellectual duchess how to get her way without running afoul of men with power over her. Duchess Sophia also passes along to Caroline her fierce love for England, where the duchess hopes to rule before she dies. The granddaughter of James I, Sophia is next in line in the Protestant succession because of Queen Anne's inability to produce an heir. (The English seem unlikely to allow the Catholic son of James II to take the throne.)

The duchess dies scant weeks before Queen Anne, leaving her son, George Lewis, heir to the English throne, and George Augustus and Caroline the Prince and Princess of Wales. The rest of the book details how the couple strive to ingratiate themselves with the English people while living under George Lewis's thumb. Possibly the most unappealing monarch ever to sit on Britain's throne, George I never bothers to learn English and openly expresses his preference for his principality of Hanover. He keeps his throne with the help of wily ministers and plain dumb luck. He hates his son and daughter-in-law for their popularity with the people and heaps all the indignities he can on them, including taking Caroline's children from her care. But Caroline, a survivor, bides her time positioning herself to eventually take the throne.

I am enjoying Plaidy's portrayal of the grand Georgian soap opera. Her no-frills writing is smooth, easy to read and packed with information, although I can understand why some readers find her dull. Plaidy paid inordinate attention to minor episodes in Caroline's life (intrigues among her ladies) while glossing over larger ones (the Jacobite rebellions). However, she mostly provides an enjoyable trip through the foibles and follies of history. My grade: B

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