Imagine being chosen at age 12 to be a maid of honor in the bawdy
and tempestuous Court of King Charles II of England. Imagine
leaving your mother and all you knew to live among strangers, not
knowing who to trust or whether to trust anyone at all. Imagine
having to make your own way and all of your decisions at such an
While it may be unfathomable to us today, in 1670 England this was
not out of the ordinary. Sarah Jennings is overjoyed at being
chosen to serve the Duchess of York, Mary Beatrice. This is an
opportunity few ever see and yet she's been picked for the honor.
It is a most favorable outcome for a girl from a family of little
consequence and even less money.
Although she may be young and inexperienced, Sarah manages to
capitalize on her wit, wisdom and good looks from the start. Lady
Anne, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, develops an
immediate friendship with Sarah that will last the majority of
their lives. The shy and retiring Lady Anne finds a friend and a
champion in Sarah.
Sarah possesses wisdom beyond her years when she comes to court.
She is wise enough to sidestep the Court intrigues that surround
her --- intrigues and assignations that other women find
irresistible. She is smart enough to keep her own counsel and
remain diplomatic, and wise enough to save her virtue for marriage
amidst the many temptations of the Court.
When Sarah meets Colonel John Churchill, she knows he is her
destiny and the very reason she's been saving herself. While
marriage to Colonel Churchill is a while in coming, Sarah finally
wins her man. This alone is a credit to her as she brings nothing
of financial value to the marriage in a time when a woman's dowry
and connections are all important.
Throughout the tumultuous years at Court, Sarah manages to advance
herself further and further one step at a time. She receives raises
in position and increases her finances. She is also a willing and
effective advocate for her husband, helping him to climb the ladder
When at long last Lady Anne becomes Queen Anne, Sarah's years of
loyalty and friendship pay off and she's well rewarded for her
Although Sarah's life is one most of us would not prefer, it speaks
volumes as to the determination and intelligence of this woman. In
many ways her life is not her own as the demands of the Court
always come first. She manages to exceed the accomplishments of
most of the women of her day and rise to power and success.
I couldn't put down DUCHESS. The portrayal of life at Court is full
of the intrigue and scandal that surround any royal family, and
that makes for an excellent read. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Amie Taylor on January 21, 2011