As a writer of historical fiction, I’m keen on research. Even though my works are fiction, I believe it is important that they be “true” where non-fictional characters or events are concerned. Sometimes my research is a little dry — a task that must be completed, but not my favourite part of writing.
Sometimes the research turns into a page-turning read. Such is the case with Flora Fraser’s Princesses – the Six Daughters of George III. The book is meticulously researched using letters and diaries written by the princesses and by their governesses and friends. Ms Fraser received permission from Queen Elizabeth II to delve into the royal archives for material. It’s a bit of a tome, 400 pages of close print, plus another 100 of footnotes, but each sentence is packed with detail.
In some ways, this is a sad story. Six lively, intelligent, educated women of the highest rank, whose lives were constrained, cabined and controlled. When they should have been enjoying parties and courtships, they were sitting attendance on their parents. The highlight of their days would be a walk outside. To go riding was considered a high thrill and slightly risque.
The book makes clear that the king’s daughters could have no degree of independence without marriage. Their father promised to find suitable matches, but rejected every suitor offered, and, in the end, decided he couldn’t bear to part with his daughters so made no move to see them in their own establishments. Don’t forget, this is also the king who went mad.
Perhaps George III could be forgiven for his mistreatment of his daughters because of his mental illness, but Queen Charlotte had no such excuse. With her husband’s illness, she changed from a happy, social woman to a miserable and demanding shrew. She insisted that her daughters dance attendance on her and forbade them having any life that wasn’t under her thumb. Even when Elizabeth, at the ripe age of 46 talked of marriage, her mother spoke against it. A two year engagement was considered “rushed.”
Despite their circumstances, the princesses had distinct personalities–Princess Royal is managing and clever, Elizabeth is plump and pretty, Augusta is artistic and shy. Sophia is passionate, Mary is good-humoured and Amelia is charming. Ms Fraser has drawn a comprehensive picture of their lives and their times.
For anyone writing of the Georgian or Regency era in Britain, I heartily recommend this book. Research that is fun to read, and one that expounds on the small details of a woman’s life. A common complaint amongst historical writers is that the history books contain world events like war and power struggles and shifting empires, but leave out the domestic details we need to make our female characters come alive in an accurate way. “Princesses” addresses that problem.
Anyone have a great research source for pioneer life in North America? I’d love to hear about it.