“ Genre:Fiction / Author: Tracy Borman / Audio Book „
Henrietta Howard: Kings mistress is a biography of George II's mistress Henrietta Howard and is set in the first half of the 18th century. Henrietta Howard has been a largely forgotten figure in English culture and the whiff of notoriety of other Royal mistresses has rather passed her by. This is the first biography of the woman but it really encompasses a depiction of the early Hanoverian kings from Queen Anne's death to the first king George through to his grandson George the third. Henrietta served under George II's wife Caroline and became George's lover when the then Prince of Wales became the king when his father died whilst in Germany.
Royals and their mistresses have titillated and fascinated the English psyche since time immemorial, some of the most famous women of the middle ages have been the royal mistresses, such as Charles II Lady Castlemaine and Edward VII Lily Langtry all the way up to our dear beloved Duchess of Cornwall. This love of the actions of our leaders in ters of who they were having affairs with has been well documented for other royal mistresses but Henrietta Howard has been omitted till this biography.
Henrietta Howard grew up as Henrietta Hobart, her father was a Baronet and became the last man to be killed in a duel in Norfolk. He died when she was 9 and the family from this point on was always hard up, the family moved between members of the extended family before finally coming to live with the Howards who were their cousins. When Henrietta was 16 she met the dashing cavalry man Charles Howard and they were married, however, Charles turned into a womanising, brutal, hard drinking cad who spent all their money on wine, women and more wine and women. When Henrietta complained he beat her up, at the time the rights of the women during marriage was non-existent.
So hard up where they that Henrietta contemplated selling her hair to wig makers to finance a trip to Hanover to try and get a post in the upcoming Hanoverian accession of the British throne. Henrietta managed with her wayward husband to persuade the Elector of Hanover who became George the first to employ both of them in the company of his son and daughter in law. From this first step she slowly moved away from impoverishment and when she finally died was a wealthy woman. However, even years later her husband would still badger her for money, including the rights to her dowry which was very securely put to one side with the express wish he didn't get his hands on it. They also had a son, Henry who at the age of 8 was taken from Henrietta to be raised by her father who promptly turned the boy against his mother and the two never met again.
I guess the whole point of the biography and indeed the importance of Henrietta is who she was a mistress too, if she had been a mistress to a Duke or Earl then she wouldn't have been mentioned. However, whilst employed as a maid of the queen's bedroom the king George II persuaded her to become his mistress, so every evening at 7 o'clock prompt he would go to her room and the king would "pass time with Mrs Howard for several hours each night". That's how the Victorians reported it when the Howard letters and memoirs were published 150 years later, there are hints of a daughter and a putative niece of Henrietta has a striking resemblance to George.
The Georgian court
In truth, this book is an examination of the Georgian court, for those without a historical bent the British throne had a dynastic shift with the death of Queen Anne in 1709 when they sought to keep the ruler Protestant rather than Catholic. Queen Anne had come to the throne via William and Mary when the Catholic James II was expelled in 1689, James had a son also James who had a strong claim to the British throne and was living in France. This was the Jacobite cause, and his claim to be king was far stronger than the person they turned to, they asked the Elector Sophia of Hanover to become their queen when Anne passed away. Sophia was Protestant, she was English speaking and had an English father but just before she became queen she died precisely 3 weeks before Anne, so the British throne passed over 49 better claimants to get to George the first, he was 57, German, spoke no English and had little interest in becoming the master of a land he'd never visited. However, he did become king and when in 1720 his equally German son also George became king we have a line of accession of German speaking, boorish, dull men who had become king of then the richest country in Europe. Into this world, of priggish dull leaders who hated their sons and where hated in return we are catapulted by following the activities of a relatively minor maid of the bed chamber.
This part of the book, is really where the book succeeds, Henrietta whilst being interesting and diverse in her views and her thoughts is a slightly dull person, she becomes obsessed with building houses, card games and her perpetual deafness so it is through her friends such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift we visit a country which has just recovered from civil war, still has issues with accession which won't be settled until the Battle of Culloden in 1745 and has a German autocracy imposed upon it.
The book does succeed, we are amused by the antics of the Hanoverian house, comments like George I had his wife imprisoned in a castle for 37 years because they had had an argument about the Prince of Wales and then proceeded to have the ugliest mistresses of any King of England to that date. That the ugliness of the Kings mistresses was commented on and mentioned in journals and papers is surely worth a small smile.
I listened to the audio version of this book, the book was narrated by Julia Franklin who does a decent effort of portraying the accents of the main characters though her Irish accent for Swift wasn't her best moment. The book came in at 13 CD's at just under 12 hours.
The book ends as with all biographies with her death, she managed to divorce her unpleasant husband when in her forties and marries for love with a man without looks apparently and dies peacefully when aged 76.