Publication Date: November 3, 1994
Length: 410 pages
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
I came across these books last year and thought the idea behind them was really unique. The author wanted to create a sort of "history without tears" approach to British history and decided to write these books covering chronologically the era from the Wars of the Roses through World War II. She got as far as the Great Depression era before the publishers decided to call it quits. That's a real shame because they are gems and apparently are making a comeback recently. Maybe they will decide to let her continue if the demand is there.
I decided to start with this one because it covers an often neglected time period between the Glorious Revolution and the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. I have the first one called The Founding and will definitely have to go back and read it because I admit to being a bit lost with all the characters and no knowledge of their backstories. It was still readable though. The story begins in the late 1600's as James II has fled England for France after being deposed by William of Orange. The Morland family is gathered around discussing their future and how they will support the Catholic James in his fight to regain his throne. The family matriarch, Annunciata has decided to go to France and see how she can assist there. The family left behind, including her five year old grandson James Matthias "Matt", are prepared to live under Protestant rule despite their reservations in order to care for Morland Place, the family estate.
The story shifts from the political angle to the personal as we see Matt grow up, Annunciata living her years out in France, and several Morland family members making their way in foreign countries. Matt's life on the Morland estate is told through his interaction with childhood friends living on the property and we begin to see the chasm grow between tenant and overlord. Despite being a gentle, kind hearted soul, Matt must come to terms with his priviledged place in the world and how it will affect his life going forward. He eventually marries the selfish, spoiled India who will receive her own inheritance upon the marriage and although Matt wants to believe his bride cares for him it is obvious she is self serving and narcissictic, caring only for her and her mother's life of luxury.
In the third half of the book we return in earnest to the political as the Jacobite rebellion heats up. The Morlands become tangled in the attempts by the Scots to regain the throne for James and his heirs and not all of the Morlands will survive. Annunciata returns, an old woman, to Morland Place to live out her years. As new family is born, while others perish, the dynasty continues on.
This book did an excellent job of educating the reader about the time period and its lead up to the rebellion as well as the intricate details of how it all took place. I have not found another historical fiction novel about this subject that had so many pieces of information woven into the narrative: Sophia of Hanover, her son George, the process by which the rebellion happened piece by piece, was included in such a way that I wondered where the author had gotten all of her research from. Many non-fiction books dealing with the Jacobites don't have as much thorough information. This made the third part of the book the most interesting for me.
I will be honest and say I wasn't a fan of the first part of the book and it took me awhile to get into it. There was too much emphasis on Matt and India's relationship for my taste and I just couldn't bring myself to care about them. So I think I'm going to have a love/hate feeling about this series. I love the history she brings but am not crazy about all the details of the family members lives. Perhaps it was these particular people though and maybe when I read the first book it will have a different dynamic to it. It was a good story though and I can definitely say she succeeds in her goal of teaching history in an absorbing way.