Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.
This book would make a perfect present for anybody who loves history and historical anecdote, especially from the Georgian era. There are elements that make it useful for reference (it includes family trees for the Hanover House and for the Stuarts, who were also pretenders to the crown; there is a timeline of the main events, covering the whole era [from 1714, when George I’s reign began, to 1830, when George IV died], a map of the UK highlighting all the towns and locations later mentioned in the book, and a detailed bibliography at the back of the book, listing the sources the authors have used to compile each one of the 25 chapters). This is a beautiful book, full of colour illustrations, that would delight art lovers (there are landscapes highlighting the settings of many of the stories and also, portraits of public figures, aristocrats, and other people who are the protagonists of the stories, some by famous artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds), as well as drawings and cartoons of the period, which help set the stories in their context.
As the authors explain in the introduction, the period has long fascinated people, and not only historians, because it was a quickly evolving era and many events that would change the world took place around this time: the French and the American Revolutions, Napoleon’s rise and fall, technological advances and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and many scientific discoveries as well. The book does not cover the whole era in detail, as it would be impossible, and instead choses to pick up some specific events and historical figures that help highlight different aspects of the time, and manage to create a good picture of the era as a whole.
Although the content of the book mostly centres on events in the UK, there are also a couple of chapters dedicated to French characters (notably one to the attempted escape by Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, to Varennes), and the protagonists do range far and wide, including people from all walks of life. To my delight, there are many episodes dedicated to women (we have male impersonators [probably!], smugglers (high-ranking, as it seems that attempts at keeping the purchases of fine clothing limited to British manufacture made ladies turn very resourceful), actresses, jockeys, astronomers (Caroline Herschel’s story is fascinating), ladies taking to the air in balloons (I have a book on the subject, and I can’t wait to read it), a female bonesetter, a con woman… There are plenty of men as well, of course, and curious episodes, like that of the Brighton’s travelling windmill, or Queen Anne’s zebra, and some darker happenings, like the assassination attempts on the king’s life, or the trade in dead bodies the resurrection men were involved in.
The authors, who are clearly experts in the subject (and, as mentioned above, have a blog called All Things Georgian, as well), write in a conversational style, and as we read the chapters, it feels as if they were talking about people they knew personally (the same way others would talk about their relatives, or current celebrities), adding titbits of information and connections to other relevant characters as they spin their tale.
I recommend this book to anybody interested in the Georgian era, even if the interest is only in passing. The illustrations are an added bonus, and the stories are so varied that most readers will find topics to their liking that will merit further research. This is not a book that will solve the doubts of people wanting to learn everything there is about the Georgian period, but it is a great appetizer, and will provide hours of entertainment and plenty of material for conversation. Don’t forget to check the authors’ other books if you are interested in the subject.