April 2024
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Duchess: a novel of Sarah Churchill, Susan Holloway Scott

Duchess covers much of the life of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. The book chronicles her friendship and influence with Anne Stuart from childhood to middle age, her relationship with her husband, and eventually their fall from grace.

Miss Sarah Jennings, thirteen, has very little money to her name thanks to her father’s gambling debts. She accepts a position in the Duchess of York’s household in order to earn money and get away from her mother. Through this position she meets Princess Anne and John Churchill, the two figures who are to have massive influence on the rest of her life.

I enjoyed that this book stayed extremely close to the actual recorded history. Wherever there is history, Ms. Scott does not mess with it and instead keeps to the books. Sarah’s life is well documented, so any errors would be blatantly obvious. She does an excellent job of portraying Sarah’s stubborn character. She is ambitious and she has plenty of flaws; she’s really out for no one but herself and her family, and in that she’s matched well by her husband. The fact that they rose from very minor players at court to have such great influence is astounding, and Scott shows this ambition and drive. I’m very satisfied by her Sarah Churchill, as I think she matches excellently the woman I’ve read about in various other sources.

I did think the idea that Sarah and Princess Anne were physically intimate a bit strange. I’d not seen that suggestion elsewhere, and considering the book mentions how hard it is to keep secrets in court, it doesn’t seem to fit. I am able to accept the theory though, since no one can ever know what happened between them when they were alone. It just seems off. It is true that they were very close, I just am not entirely comfortable with the idea that it led to sexual activity.

Overall I suspect Queen Anne may have suffered a bit, but I don’t really know much about her reign so I can’t comment. If anything, she was certainly very dependent on Sarah and later on Abigail Masham, as well as all her advisors, so perhaps this image of her is not entirely unfair.

The writing is good, no cultural errors or colloqualisms, everything is in line. It is fairly obvious at times that the author is a romance novelist, considering how she writes the romance between Sarah and John. Not that I mind much, considering their love was a huge part of Sarah’s life, and a romance novelist is well qualified to cover that. I think it’s a great achievement for Scott (also known as Miranda Jarrett) to step out of her genre and try this, and she does an excellent job. Sarah’s resistance to John’s wooing is expertly done.

The real Sarah Churchill was a phenomenal woman, seizing power for herself and her family in a time when no woman besides a sole reigning queen ever had any. I’m glad that she has a good fiction novel based on her life so she can become more accessible to the world at large.


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