[Review] Sophia – Mother of Kings: The Finest Queen Britain Never Had by Catherine Curzon

Sophia, Electress of Hanover, was born to greatness. Granddaughter of James I and mother to George I, she was perhaps the finest queen that Britain never had.

As daughter of Frederick V of the Palatinate and Elizabeth Stuart, Sophia emerged from an impoverished, exiled childhood as the Winter Princess, a young woman of sparky intelligence, cutting wit and admirable determination. Once courted by Charles II, Sophia eventually gave her heart to Ernest Augustus, at whose side she became the first Electress of Hanover and the mother of the first Georgian king of Great Britain.

Sophia: Mother of Kings, brings this remarkable woman and her tumultuous era vividly to life. In a world where battles raged across the continent and courtiers fought behind closed doors, Sophia kept the home fires burning. Through personal tragedy and public triumph, Sophia raised a family, survived illness, miscarriage, and accusations of conspiracy, and missed out on the British throne by a matter of weeks.

Sophia of Hanover became the mother of one of the most glittering dynasties the world has ever known. From the House of Stuart to the House of Hanover, this is the story of her remarkable life.

This isn’t an era that I would usually read about – I tend to find myself stuck in the Italian Renaissance or the Crusades – but I found myself intrigued by this title. So when Pen and Sword kindly offered me a copy to review, I happily agreed. I certainly was NOT disappointed.

This book, written by historian and author Catherine Curzon, tells the story of Sophia of Hanover, daughter of the the exiled King and Queen of Bohemia and grandaughter of the executed Charles I of England. This woman is often overlooked in history and eclipsed by her far more famous relatives – but she certainly shouldn’t have been. Upon reading this book it quickly becomes clear that Sophia had a very important part to play and, had she lived just a little longer, could well have been Queen of England. Thanks to the fact that Queen Anne of England had no living children, her Hanoverian relatives were placed firmly in the order of succession, in order to avoid having another Catholic monarch on the throne. Queen Anne outlived her Great-Aunt and so, upon her death, the crown of England passed to Sophia’s son George, Elector of Hannover.

The writing style of this work really impressed me – oftentimes books on this era can be incredibly dry, but Curzon made it exciting and interesting. Her chatty narrative pulled me in from the first page and just made me want to keep reading to find out what the heroine, Sophia, would get up to next. You can tell as you read that the author has heavily researched Sophia’s life and this is only made clearer by the fantastic referencing. Though it must be said that this book does not read as an academic piece – which in my opinion, makes it all the better. Whilst I love many academic works there are times when they are dry and boring – this book is the furthest thing from that. Rather it is well written and chatty, perfect for both those who know about the era and those who don’t. I certainly learned a lot from reading this book and thoroughly enjoyed it – it has shone a light on a woman who for so long has been stuck in the background and this fantastic book has introduced her to a wider audience with it’s heavily researched yet witty narrative.

Highly recommended – 5/5

[Throwback] On This Day In History – May 19th 1536 – Anne Boleyn is Executed

Life has been somewhat…strange…of late, as I’m sure each and every one of you can attest to. It’s weird for me to say this but I honestly think I’ve been busier since lockdown began than I ever was before!

Today’s post was written last year to mark the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution. She certainly was a remarkable woman who, in my opinion, did not deserve her fate.

May 19th 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn, who had been arrested and tried for the crimes of incest and treason, was executed at the Tower of London.

I’ve been quite open about my Tudor Burnout, however Anne Boleyn was one of the first historical women who I learned about. Her story has always struck a chord with me, and I have always admired her strength and determination. Many still see her as a villain in Tudor history and many still call her a witch who had six fingers. This is, of course, a complete lie. Anne Boleyn was a woman who had so much determination and courage, who sought change and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in. Unfortunately, despite giving birth to a little girl who would one day rule England, she was unable to provide King Henry VIII with what he truly wanted – a son. And, unfortunately, she made enemies of some of the most powerful men in Henry’s court.

At 9am on 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn knelt down on the scaffold at the Tower of London. She was dressed in a grey gown with a crimson kirtle beneath and it was reported by a witness that she had “never looked so beautiful”. Before she knelt, Anne gave a speech to the gathered crowd, asking that they pray for the King as he had always been good to her. She then asked the crowd to pray for her, “And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me”

Then, with Anne kneeling and blindfolded, the headsman – a swordsman sent from Calais – asked for his assistant to bring him his sword. Anne moved her head to try and track the assistant’s movements. The headsman then stepped up behind the kneeling Queen and removed her head with one swing of the sword.

Her body and head was then gathered up by her ladies and placed in an arrow chest before being taken to the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the walls of the Tower. She was then buried in an unmarked grave beneath the altar, near the body of her brother – she would later be joined by another Queen, and her kin, Katherine Howard.

Today, her place of burial is marked by a simple yet beautiful slab by the altar in the chapel, along with those who were buried alongside her. It truly is a peaceful place, a place to sit and reflect upon the history of those who lost their lives and were buried within this sweet little chapel. Today you can visit the chapel and see the grave of Anne Boleyn and the others buried there, whilst on a guided tour of the Tower. I would highly recommend doing so, for anyone interested in the history of the Tudors.

Further reading:

The Life & Death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives
The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown – Claire Ridgway
1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII – Suzannah Lipscomb