Kensington Palace is now most famous as the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, but the palace's glory days came between 1714 and 1760, during the reigns of George I and II. In the 18th century, this palace was a world of skullduggery, intrigue, politicking, etiquette, wigs, and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like switchblades and unusual people were kept as curiosities. Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers charts the trajectory of the fantastically quarrelsome Hanovers and the last great gasp of British court life.
Structured around the paintings of courtiers and servants that line the walls of the King's Staircase of Kensington Palace - paintings you can see at the palace today - The Courtiers goes behind closed doors to meet a pushy young painter, a maid of honor with a secret marriage, a vice chamberlain with many vices, a bedchamber woman with a violent husband, two aging royal mistresses, and many more. The result is an indelible portrait of court life leading up to the famous reign of George III, and a feast for both Anglophiles and lovers of history and royalty.
©2010 Lucy Worsley (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
"Royal life is done up royally in Heather Wilds's expert narration of Worsley's stories.... Wilds's articulation is immaculate..." (AudioFile)
The Courtiers provides an interesting overview of the age, though the chronology hops around as individual storylines play themselves out. Pleasantly, each of the characters' humanity comes across, and the book reads as well researched without feeling dry. The narration is enjoyable, with attention to characterizing each of the first-person quotations.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Heather Wilds' rendition of this gossipy history-lite book. There are lots of quotations in the book, and Wilds did an excellent job with a variety of voices -- from German-accented Kings to serving maids.
I like Lucy Worsley's breezy writing style; her research is decidedly un-breezy however. She is the real deal. But don't expect to hear much about diplomacy or wars; as the title implies, this isn't that kind of history.
My knowledge of 18th century European history is inadequate, except as events in Europe may have affected the American colonies. Thus, I knew very little about the reigns of George I and George II. (Now I need to find a good one-volume about George III, who I know was not truly the tyrant that I was taught about.)
Although I was familiar with French court life, I had no idea that the early Georgian court was so similarly stuffy and formal. The entire daily dressing routine just sounds ludicrous, although it was deadly important to the courtiers. Court life sounds boring and miserable for everyone involved, including even the King and Queen. There was plenty of hanky-panky, and both kings had semi-official mistresses who wielded a degree of power.
The palaces were a far cry from what we imagine -- at times cramped, drafty, damp, and dirty. But there was also splendor, and Worsley's discussion of William Kent's work at Kensington Palace is fascinating.
I enjoy reading historical romances set in this period, and what I learned from this book will just add to my ability to imagine this world that was so dramatically different from our own.
This book is the history of an environment, rather than a traditional history focused on one person or series of events. As such it was harder to listen to (and possibly harder to write). Probably if I'd bought the book instead of listening to it, images would have grounded the story more for me - hey, Audible, why don't you start including .pdfs of the pictures with each purchase? Anyhow I enjoyed it very much even though it was complex.
The Georges are not my favorite monarchs in British history so I was unsure as to whether I would enjoy this audiobook. I am very glad that I took the chance and used my credit. The author makes the time period come alive through the lives of the men and women who peopled the Georgian courts. I listened late into the night to finish it and ended up with tears streaming down my face at the death of one of the royal family members. Well written and narrated.
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