Monday, August 25, 2014

The Courtiers (2010)

The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court At Kensington Palace. Lucy Worsley. 2010. Walker. 432 pages [Source: Bought]
The Great Drawing Room, crammed full of courtiers, lay at the heart of the Georgian royal palace. Here the king mingled most evenings with his guests, signalling welcome with a nod and displeasure with a blank stare or, worse, a turned back. The winners and the losers of the Georgian age could calculate precisely how high they’d climbed – or how far they’d fallen – by the warmth of their reception at court. High-heeled and elegant shoes crushed into the floorboards of the drawing room the reputations of those who’d dropped out of favour, while those whose status was on the rise stood firmly in possession of their few square inches of space.
 I found Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers to be fascinating! The book focuses on the reigns of George I and George II of England. The book provides a behind-the-scenes look at court life during those decades. The author was inspired by the portraits found in the King's Grand Staircase.

She writes,
In this book, we’ll meet kings and queens, but also many of the people who worked to meet their most intimate needs. The Georgian royal household was staggeringly vast and complicated. The highest ranking of its members, the courtiers proper, were the ladies- and gentlemen-in-waiting.
Beneath them in status were about 950 other royal servants, organised into a byzantine web of departments ranging from hairdressing to rat-catching, and extending right down to the four ‘necessary women’ who cleaned the palace and emptied the ‘necessaries’ or chamber pots.
If you want to know what these people looked like, you need only visit Kensington Palace. There, in the 1720s, the artist William Kent painted portraits of forty-five royal servants that look down upon palace visitors from the walls and ceiling of the King’s Grand Staircase.
Kensington Palace itself had existed long before the Hanoverian dynasty arrived in Britain to replace the Stuarts in 1714, yet it was also the one royal home that George I and his son really transformed and made their own. The servants there witnessed romance and violence, intrigue and infighting, and almost unimaginable acts of hatred and cruelty between members of the same family. I often find myself climbing the King’s Grand Staircase during the course of my working day, and the faces of the people populating it have always fascinated me. I’ve spent many hours studying them, wondering who they all were, and curiosity finally compelled me to try to find out. When I first began investigating their identities, I was surprised to discover that some of the names traditionally attached to the characters were wrong, while other obvious connections had been overlooked. My efforts to unearth each sitter’s true story led me on a much longer and more exciting journey than I’d expected, through caches of court papers in London, Windsor, Oxford and Suffolk. I found myself examining paintings at Buckingham Palace, gardens in Germany, and hitching lifts from kind strangers in rural Hertfordshire. My adventures both in and outside the archives led eventually to this book. I’ve selected the stories of just seven of them to illuminate the strange phenomenon of the Georgian court and to give a new perspective upon the lives of the kings, queens and princes inhabiting the rarefied court stratosphere above their heads.
The author does a great job in sharing primary accounts of the times. These accounts can be very gossipy. One definitely gets a sense of who's who, who all the celebrities of the times were. Worsley gives us a glimpse of all of society really. I appreciated the focus on personalities. History is so interesting, so entertaining, when the focus is on individual people.

Readers learn more about George I, George II, Queen Caroline, Prince Frederick, Princess Augusta, and George III. (Did you know that George II was the grandfather not the father of George III?) Readers get public and private glimpses. The private stuff, I admit, gets messy! The royal family could be very dysfunctional! Readers get to hear all about the arguments and scandals!

I liked this one because it was rich in detail. I liked it because it was interesting. The narrative is very friendly.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Brona said...

Like you I enjoy my Kings & Queens stories mxed up with the diaries and letters of those who hung around on the fringes or in the inner circles. Makes you wonder how they survived so long considering how dysfunctional they really were.

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) said...

This book was on my list to read this year, but my favorite library didn't have it and I never got around to tracking down another copy. Maybe I'll buy a copy as a souvenir in London! Especially since I know you liked it.