The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Sarah Fraser

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The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Sarah Fraser

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Henry Stuart, eldest child of King James VI and I, was one of the few eldest son of a British monarch who did not live long enough to succeed to the throne. This fine, colourful biography portrays the life and world of a true Renaissance prince with pronounced interest in the arts, scierces and Jacobean world who would almost certainly have made a more successful King than his brother who eventually became Charles I.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2017
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0007548088

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Henry Stuart, eldest child of King James VI and I, was not the only eldest son of a monarch who did not live long enough to succeed to the throne. The list also included Arthur (son of Henry VII) and Albert Victor (Edward VII). Of the three, Henry undoubtedly showed the most promise.

Born in 1594, the first Stuart heir was a true Renaissance prince. Knowledgeable and passionate about the fine arts and sciences, his court attracted painters, musicians, architects, writers and explorers. As patron of the Northwest Passage Company, and a keen advocate of the colonisation of North America, he nursed, but did not live long enough to realise, hopes of sailing through the barriers of what was the then-known world, in order to explore the new continents beyond.

His early life was not short of family drama. In 1603 when James rode south to London as King of Britain as well as Scotland, the chosen successor of the late Queen Elizabeth, he had to appeal to his wife Anne, the new Queen, to accompany him and leave the children behind at first. When she angrily refused (incurring a miscarriage in the process), it gave rise to fears that she and her supporters might try to kidnap the infant Henry and make him King of an independent Scotland, with her as Regent. She stood her ground, and the children accompanied her to London, but it did not bode well for family unity.

The marriage of James and Anne had never been a love match, and their eldest son was always closest to his mother. Both resented the King's male favourites at court, especially the androgynous Robert Carr, whom they and the closest royal advisers regarded as a 'scheming parasite'. In a tougher age when princes matured earlier, often of necessity, Henry became an adult at at fifteen, sought and was granted a degree of political and financial independence.

For a man who only lived to be eighteen, his achievements amounted to no mean feat. He packed a remarkable amount into a short life, and gave every promise of being a good King, if possibly a divisive one, for we read towards the end that he was preparing to stake a claim as the next leader of Protestant Christendom in the struggle to resist what promised to be a resurgent militant Catholicism. How he would have compared with the sickly, undersized brother who would succeed as King Charles I is open to conjecture. The gleanings we have of his personality as well as breadth of interests in Ms Fraser's splendidly researched account suggests that his record would have been a much better one, and he would probably have saved his country the upheavals of the civil war.

It is understandable that he emerges as rather an unknown quantity as regards character, but we are given enough to understand that he cut a much better figure beside his deeply flawed father. He emerges from this rich, very enjoyable and well illustrated portrait of the Jacobean court and world as a gifted, intelligent man who would almost certainly have made an excellent monarch.

Recent studies of the early Stuart monarchy have been less than numerous, but for a life of the dynasty's second consort Queen, we also recommend Henrietta Maria by Dominic Pearce.

Buy The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Sarah Fraser at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Sarah Fraser at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Sarah Fraser at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Sarah Fraser at Amazon.com.

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