Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician by Charlotte Frost
|Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician by Charlotte Frost|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A long-needed biography of the shadowy friend of Gerge IV makes a good job of piecing together the sparse and often contradictory information available. Charlote frost was kind enough to talk to Bookbag about writing this biography.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 188||Date: December 2010|
|Publisher: Bright Pen|
Sir William Knighton came from humble beginnings: in later life the memories of his mother selling butter and eggs from a market stall would frequently be brought up and it was never to illustrate just how well he'd done. The fact that he became a physician would normally be quite an achievement, but his baronetcy and fame didn't come from his work as a physician but from his less well-publicised work for George IV. Although his work at court would span just over a decade it was far from being what he wanted to do – and for the most part it would not bring him a great deal of happiness. At the end of his career as a physician he simply wanted to retire to his cottage in the country - but found himself unable to desert a king who had become dependent on him.
Knighton is one of those names which regularly crops up in histories of this period – the Regency, between 1811 and 1820 and the reign of George IV, which ended in 1830 - but about whom relatively little is known. There's even uncertainty about his date of birth. Until now the main source of information was a contemporary work – Memoirs of Sir William Knighton, Bart, GCH, Keeper of the Privy Purse during the Reign of His Majesty George the Fourth which was written by his wife, Dorothea and approved by Knighton but competed after his death. The problems will be immediately obvious to any serious reader of biography; it's unlikely to be 'warts and all' and likely to be more forgiving given that it was completed not long after his death. A new and rigorous biography was long overdue.
Knighton might well have been designed to make life difficult for anyone writing about his life. Within a period of less than four decades there were no less than five William Knightons in direct line of descent. Add to this a predilection for women called Dorothy or Dorothea and a lot of influence from people called Wellesley and you have a biographer's nightmare. Charlotte Frost deals with this sensibly by setting out who is who and how they are going to be called in the book. Bookmark this page – you're going to need it!
Sorting out what happened when in Knighton's life cannot have been easy, with plenty of contradictions along the way – seemingly sometimes even in Knighton's own mind. She captures the contradictions in his character perfectly – the shadowy man who could be deeply wounded by what was said about him, particularly in the press, or the man with a talent for sorting out financial matters but who never made it clear exactly how he'd brought the Prince Regent to solvency. Her choice of portraits for the back and front covers of the book – the first by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1823 ( not that long after he came to court) and the second by Sir David Wilkie in 1835 (when he had retired) show that it wasn't simply the passing years which aged him, but also the pressures of his work for the king.
Frost is a historian first and a writer second. I once knew this period well so the names and events were familiar to me, but I think that someone coming fresh to the age would appreciate a little more of the background being filled in and perhaps a more careful ordering of some of the information, but she is to be commended for the depth of her research and for her careful piecing together of the available information, which must have been rather like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with different pictures printed on each side and many of the pieces missing.
I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For more from this period we can recommend Star of the Morning: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Hester Stanhope by Kirsten Ellis, or for a slightly earlier period try A Royal Affair: George III and His Troublesome Siblings by Stella Tillyard.
Charlotte Frost was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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