Thursday, May 07, 2015

Review: A Pledge of Better Times

Margaret Porter
A Pledge of Better Times
By Margaret Porter
Gallica Press, April 2015

About the Book

For generations Lady Diana de Vere’s family loyally served England’s crown. But after King Charles II’s untimely death, her father firmly opposes James II’s tyranny. Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans—the late king’s bastard son by actress Nell Gwyn—also rebels against his newly crowned uncle’s manipulation.

Political and religious turmoil bring revolution and yet another coronation before Charles returns to from war to claim his promised bride. As companion to Queen Mary Stuart, Diana has followed her de Vere forbears into royal service. She expects Charles to abandon his military career after marriage, but he proves unwilling to join the ranks of the courtiers he despises and mistrusts.

In palace corridors and within their own household the young duke and duchess confront betrayals, scandals, and tragedies that threaten to divide them. And neither the privileges of birth nor proximity to the throne can ensure their security, their advancement—or their happiness.

My Review

One a deceased king’s bastard, the other the only legitimate daughter of an impoverished earl and his philandering countess, this seventeenth-century Charles and Diana love story is happily more cheerful than the modern day version. When Charles II dies, one of his bastard sons, Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans, faces an uncertain future. The king’s successor, James II, wants to return the country and young Charles to Catholicism. The debts left by Charles’ mother, Nelly Gwen, and his diminished royal protection leave him in a precarious position. But that position is one shared by Charles II’s close friend and courtier Aubrey, Earl of Oxford. The earl has little but his good reputation and position at court, and he also stands to lose much over James’s religious conversion. Charles and Aubrey sign a secret agreement that Charles will marry Aubrey’s daughter Diana when Charles reaches his majority.

When Charles returns from war, the two marry and begin what eventually becomes an enormous family of nine sons and two daughters. Their fortunes wax and wane over the years as James II is replaced by his daughter Mary II, then his son-in-law William, then Anne, and finally the Hanovarians. Through the twists and turns of life, despite loss, betrayal, and misfortune, the couple relies on one another. As this story demonstrates, their union was a happy and enduring one.

“Auspicium melioris aevi” or a “pledge of better times” is the Beauclerk family motto, and I think it fits this story perfectly. That this Charles and Diana are ancestors to the late Diana, Princess of Wales brings this tale full circle.

Rarely is the tale of a royal bastard told much beyond his or her origins, and this book recounts Charles and Diana’s tale in all its highs and lows as they lived through the tumultuous times of the royal house of Stuart. The societal, political, and financial pressures they faced and ultimately overcame endear them both to the reader. Marvelously detailed—particularly when it comes to period portraits and royal palaces—this story provides a rich and unique perspective on the times. A must-read for any Stuart-era fan.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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