Royal Mistresses of the House of Hanover-Windsor by Susanna de Vries
Published in 2011 by Pirgos Press, 425pp incl. endnotes and index.
Found on the Adult Non-Fiction shelves at 941.07 DEV
Summary : We late 20th and early 21st century mortals may have been scandalised and/or titillated by the sexual shenanigans of Britain’s younger royals, Squidy- and Camilla-gate but marital infidelity among a class that relied on dynastic rather than love matches pre-dates written history. There is a wealth of material to draw on in terms of extra-marital affairs in the British royal family but Susanna de Vries in this book limits herself to the House of Hanover (that became Windsor during WWI).
Starting with Countess Melusine von der Schulenburg, mistress of King George I who succeeded the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, in 1714, we move through another eight mistresses* and three royals** before arriving at Prince Charles’ mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, now Duchess of Cornwall. Camilla is the only former mistress who eventually (legally) married her prince.
We read that many of these princes treated their mistresses appallingly, leaving them destitute when the affair came to an end but equally many of the mistresses used their royal ‘friend’ as a source of cash and cachet. We learn that George IV as Prince of Wales used to keep souvenirs of public hair from his mistresses (“enough to stuff a mattress” apparently) which was discovered after his death. We can take warning from the stories of unloved princes such as the later Edward VIII who, alternately hit and then sexually molested by his nanny, developed some odd sexual needs and relished being dominated by Mrs Simpson.
Review : I have rarely been so thoroughly frustrated by a book as I have by this one by Susanna de Vries. This book seems to have gone to publication without benefit of either editor or proof-reader.
There is certainly plenty of information for Susanna de Vries to give us on these naughty royals, much of it interesting. Unfortunately it reads like a first draft where Mrs de Vries has just been writing down all her thoughts before putting them in good order. The number of repetitions became really annoying, most within a couple of pages of each other. For example, on p26 we are told that “before the passing of the Married Woman’s Property Act in 1875, all money earned by a wife was deemed to be the property of the husband.” By p31 we are expected to have forgotten this already (carried away by all the goings-on perhaps) and are told again, “before the passing of the important Married Woman’s Property Act in 1875 any money a wife earned was legally the property of her husband.”
The worst instance comes on pp 273-274 where in one paragraph we are told, “Enid [Furness] had been raised on a property in New South Wales and was a crack shot and a brilliant horsewoman’” In the next paragraph, and within five lines, we have to be reminded, “raised in New South Wales as a bush girl, Enid Lindeman was a crack shot and a brilliant horsewoman.” Even this peri-menopausal reviewer, absent-minded enough to leave her handbag, glasses and other items all over the place and arrive in a room without a clue why she went there, could retain information that long. And not only did the memoirs of Jennie Churchill ‘conceal more than they revealed’, so did those of Daisy Brooke and Wallis Simpson. These are just a very, very few of the repetitions that pepper the book.
My other bug-bear is the number of errors of spelling and fact that should have been picked up and which spoiled further my enjoyment of the stories being told. Repeatedly, one or other of the wives or mistresses were said to have ‘born‘ one or more children, eg. p33 “Queen Charlotte had born her husband 17 children.” On p57 “Maria stayed with a former school friends“. Several times ‘diner‘ is printed instead of ‘dinner.’ Proof that spell checkers cannot be trusted.
On p58 we are expected to ignore that “the Prince of Wales, a handsome youth, six years younger than Maria [Fitzherbert]” had aged much more swiftly than his lover for by p66 “Maria truly believed she did love the Prince of Wales and was prepared to overlook the fact that he was six years her senior.” It’s a hard life being a prince it seems. And on p85 Princess Charlotte, heir to George IV, died prematurely in “1917″ – that should read 1817 – it was the death of Princess Charlotte shortly after giving birth to a stillborn son that precipitated the hasty marriage of the parents of Queen Victoria in a race to sire the next heir.
By the time I’d ploughed my way through the whole book, it fairly bristled with post-it notes!
Susanna de Vries has been a fairly prolific writer but if this is an example of her writing I am not inclined to pursue them. I don’t think my nerves would take it.
Reviewed by : Alba
* Mary Darby Robinson, Maria Fitzherbert, Lady Jennie Churchill, Lady Daisy Brooke, Alice Keppel, Freda Dudley Ward, Lady Thelma Morgan Furness, Wallis Simpson
** George IV, Edward VII and Edward VIII