A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham
|A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A lightly-fictionalised look at the life of Princess Sophia, daughter of George III. It's a deceptively easy read and highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: June 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
George III is unfortunately best-known for his mental instability which is a pity, because he was, in many ways, a forward thinker. One of his more-enlightened acts with regard to his own children was to appoint 'a humble companion' for his twelfth child and fifth daughter, Princess Sophia, presumably so that her life should not be limited to the cloistered residences which the Royal Family inhabited. 'Humble' is, of course a relative term and Nellie Welche was actually the daughter of a high-ranking steward in the household of the Prince of Wales, but with only two years difference in age they became life-long friends.
Nellie was a part of the Royal Household but not Royal which placed her perfectly to know the secrets, know the people - but not to be directly involved. And what a time it was. With fifteen children there was going to be no shortage of scandals and disasters or external events which put tremendous pressure on the Royal Family. Perhaps the most far-reaching was the French Revolution and the deaths of the French King and Queen. It wasn't just that these were people they knew or to whom they were related - there was the constant worry that if it could happen in France, then why not in England?
And, of course, there were those in the Royal Family who worried little about the impression they created. Prinnie - the Prince of Wales - was notorious for the debts he incurred with little thought about how they would be paid. His consumption was more than conspicuous - as witnessed by the Brighton Pavillion. Nellie's father managed by never advancing money or incurring debts on behalf of the Prince which he couldn't afford to lose. Others were not so circumspect.
On the personal front there were rumours in Princess Sophia's lifetime that she had given birth to an illegitimate child and Laurie Graham plumps firmly for the theory that the child was fathered by her brother, Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, later King of Hanover, whilst giving a nod to the other theory - that the child was fathered by Thomas Garth, an equerry to the King. This is characteristic of Graham's approach to the book - the research is painstaking, but used with a light hand and sympathetically.
I read the book in little over one sitting, surprised to look back and see that it went from the beginnings of the French Revolution through to Queen Victoria and the beginnings of the railway age. It's a wonderfully easy read and I laughed and chuckled my way through. Graham has an understated wit that catches the moment perfectly, as in this statement from Nellie's mother as the French Revolution gathers pace:
Zen I sank Gott ve are English.
It's a book which will stand rereading and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For a non-fiction look at this period we can recommend A Royal Affair: George III and His Troublesome Siblings by Stella Tillyard or Becoming Queen by Kate Williams. We've also enjoyed At Sea by Laurie Graham.
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You can read more book reviews or buy A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham at Amazon.com.
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