“It is simply not possible to fully understand the seventeenth century in all of its exuberant, glorious complexity without this family,” proclaims Goldstone (The Rival Queens) of Elizabeth Stuart (1596–1662), daughter of James I of England, and her children. This lively, well-researched group biography focuses as much on the mother as on her daughters. Elizabeth’s marriage to Frederick, Elector Palatine—a powerful count, but still far below her in rank—was very happy but plagued by political disasters; for nearly 30 years, Elizabeth toiled to reclaim his territory for her children. Among those children were the daughters whose stories Goldstone tells: Princess Elizabeth, an intellectual equal to and intimate correspondent of Descartes, who eventually became abbess of a Protestant convent; Louisa, a talented painter, who converted to Catholicism before also becoming an abbess; Henrietta Maria, who died shortly after marriage; and Sophia, a spirited matriarch, who finally restored the family fortunes when her eldest son became King George I of England. Goldstone occasionally overreaches, making somewhat unlikely sweeping claims (for example, that the fearlessness and persistence of Elizabeth and her daughters was necessarily due to their descent from Mary, Queen of Scots), but clearly presents a captivating story with empathy and humor in a relaxed, entertaining, modern voice. B&w plates. (Apr.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review mischaracterized the level of fame achieved by Elizabeth Stuart's daughters.
Reviewed on: 03/05/2018 Release date: 04/10/2018 Genre: Nonfiction