About the Book
The thrilling family saga of five unforgettable women who remade Europe
From the great courts, glittering palaces, and war-ravaged battlefields of the seventeenth century comes the story of four spirited sisters and their glamorous mother, Elizabeth Stuart, granddaughter of the martyred Mary, Queen of Scots.
Upon her father’s ascension to the illustrious throne of England, Elizabeth Stuart was suddenly thrust from the poverty of unruly Scotland into the fairy-tale existence of a princess of great wealth and splendor. When she was married at sixteen to a German count far below her rank, it was with the understanding that her father would help her husband achieve the kingship of Bohemia. The terrible betrayal of this commitment would ruin “the Winter Queen,” as Elizabeth would forever be known, imperil the lives of those she loved, and launch a war that would last for thirty years.
Forced into exile, the Winter Queen and her family found refuge in Holland, where the glorious art and culture of the Dutch Golden Age indelibly shaped her daughters’ lives. Her eldest, Princess Elizabeth, became a scholar who earned the respect and friendship of the philosopher René Descartes. Louisa was a gifted painter whose engaging manner and appealing looks provoked heartache and scandal. Beautiful Henrietta Maria would be the only sister to marry into royalty, although at great cost. But it was the youngest, Sophia, a heroine in the tradition of a Jane Austen novel, whose ready wit and good-natured common sense masked immense strength of character, who fulfilled the promise of her great-grandmother Mary and reshaped the British monarchy, a legacy that endures to this day.
Brilliantly researched and captivatingly written, filled with danger, treachery, and adventure but also love, courage, and humor, Daughters of the Winter Queen follows the lives of five remarkable women who, by refusing to surrender to adversity, changed the course of history.
481 pages (hardcover)
Published on April 10, 2018
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I ended up getting this book from the library riiiiiiiiiiiiight before it shut down due to the pandemic, so I’ve had it sitting in my house for nearly two months now. I finished it very early on. I was almost done reading it when everything shut down, so now it’s been just looking at me and I feel bad, because this book is so good, other people need an opportunity to read it.
On the plus side, the library book drops and reservations seem to have opened up again, so there is that.
I am not very well versed in any English monarch that came after Elizabeth I. I am really interested in all the really early ones, and the Tudors have always fascinated me, but there’s a gigantic, gaping hole in my knowledge between Elizabeth I and now. This particular book was an impulse grab. I saw it on the shelf and decided to just go for it. I’m glad I did, because it ended up absolutely loving it, and it’s started me on a bit of a bender regarding both historical women in power, and this particular period of English history.
Essentially, this book is telling the story of the descendants of James I.
Daughters of the Winter Queen starts out with a beheading, as all good books do. Mary, Queen of Scots was uh… reduced in height, but her beheading was a brutal, horrible affair where the axe missed and then it sort of hacked through her neck. When her head was lifted up for the amassed crowd to see, her lips were still moving. Then, Goldstone shows how her son, James VI of Scotland became James I. He moved his court down to England and set himself up to rule.
Perhaps my one issue with this book as a whole is regarding the discussion of James I’s sexuality. It’s interesting, but shouldn’t be a thing from which his character rests. However, at a very young age, James was manipulated by those in power around him, and often it was done by sexual means. For example, when he was 13, he started up a homosexual affair with an influential man who was 30. Now, perhaps this was done willingly, but I have a really, really hard time looking at a relationship between a confused 13-year-old teenager and a 30-year-old man as anything but coercion and statutory rape, at best.
But James, had no real adult influences that were just looking out for his well-being, rather than wanting something out of him, was easy to manipulate. Even into his adulthood, he spent a good chunk of his life drunk, and apparently when he’d drink a lot (which was often) he’d become rather crass. He wasn’t popular even amongst his own government.
Enter Elizabeth Stuart, who is the daughter of James I and Anne of Denmark (of whom the name “the winter queen” spawns). The first half of the book details much of Elizabeth’s life, how she was raised, the things that filled up her days, and then her marriage to the man who would eventually become the king of Bohemia, and relocation to be with him. Together, they had a whole bunch of kids. Somewhere around thirteen of them. Elizabeth spent a good chunk of her married life either always pregnant, or recovering from childbirth.
Elizabeth lived a very harrowing life. I don’t think it really hit home until I read this book just how terrifying it must have been to move all the way out to Bohemia to live with a guy she really didn’t know, and this was common for women throughout history. You, as a woman, were expected to leave your home, knowing you’d likely never see it again. You’d live in some far-flung corner of the world you’d likely only heard of, but never been to, surrounded by people you didn’t know, who probably only had a passing interest in your mother tongue. It must have been terrifying.
Through her marriage to Frederick, also known as the Palatinate, she lived quite a colorful life. She even became the queen of Bohemia for a brief spell, and while most of this book focuses on Elizabeth and her life, it does talk quite a bit about her four daughters that survived into adulthood: Elizabeth, Louise Hollandine, Henrietta Maria, and Sophia. However, you’ll find a lot more here about kings and their sons than about her daughters. In truth, this is understandable, because at that time so much more was recorded about men than about women, but Goldstone did a great job at parsing out the details of their lives with the information she had, and I found them to be living, breathing women despite having less information about them.
Throughout marriage alliances and betrothals, Elizabeth Stuart ended up seeding her dynasty all over Europe, which is quite incredible, especially considering how little was known or even spoken of these women until this book was written. Goldstone also sets the foundation for the Stuart dynasty, and why the Hanovarians were given the right to rule the British Isles. Ultimately, this book is a story of power and influence, giving voice to women who were actually quite influential in their times, and who have, for one reason or another, lost their voices to the dust of time.
Goldstone has a knack with writing. She inserted just enough humor to keep things light, while also making sure she stayed academic. She has a lot of sources, which she draws upon for her writing of the book. I really enjoyed not just the writing, but the way she approached a subject I literally knew less than nothing about, and managed to make it not just interesting, but educational at the same time. This, in my opinion, is how history should be written. More, I have to give her credit for breathing life into powerful women that would have otherwise likely remained largely forgotten.