Book Review | 'Duchess - A Novel of Sarah Churchill'

Another week, another book! Keeping with my historical novel theme, this week I am reviewing Duchess - A Novel of Sarah Churchill by Susan Holloway Scott.

This book chronicles the life of Sarah, a commoner, and her life within the royal family from the time she is made a maid of honor by Mary-Beatrice, the Duchess of York. This is in the late 1600s, a period of unrest in England as Catholic and Protestant faiths continue to clash throughout the country and within the Stuart family. If you'll take out your history scorecards, you'll remember that the Stuarts of Scotland and France ascended to the English throne when Queen Elizabeth I died earlier in the century. When Sarah goes into service, England is at peace under King Charles's rule which will end when his brother James, Duke of York, becomes king after his brother's death. 

That's the Cliffs Notes version of history off the top of my head, you're gonna have to Wiki the rest. 

Sarah befriends the York's youngest daughter, Anne, when they are 15 and 11 respectively, a move that will serve her well throughout her career at Court. She eventually marries the war-hero John Churchill, and together they become one of the most powerful couples in the country as they deftly make their way through the intrigues and chess playing that was life in the monarchy in those days. 

I kind of have to stop there, because although it is already history and we know how it all ends, this book is so wonderfully written in the voice of Sarah, that I loved reading it during the Women's Marches across the country over the weekend. She was a self-made, independent woman who used her brain instead of her body eventually becoming the richest woman in Europe at the time of her death. Scott does a masterful job of getting into the mind of an ambitious woman who wants to elevate herself from her original station and the sacrifices and betrayal that come with that. This isn't fluff. You're going to have to use your noodle, but it's totally worth it. 

If you're a fan of the Outlander series, I highly suggest reading this book, too as it maps the British side of things out and sets the stage for the attempt to place Bonny Prince Charlie back on the throne at the Battle of Culloden. The book goes into detail about the circumstances of King James's exile to France, William of Orange becoming an unprecedented co-regent with Queen Mary, and eventually Queen Anne taking the throne of her exiled father. 

This book was definitely a contrast to last week's Mrs. Poe as it has a much more literary tone to it and makes you follow along as history unfolds. This isn't just the story of a woman, but the story of a nation as well. And fun fact, Sarah Churchill is the several times over great grandmother of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. 

Jennifer Gulbrandsen