GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN - Marci Jefferson
A Novel of Frances Stuart
St. Martin's Press
London, England; 1661-1688
Frances Stuart, a relation and subject of the exiled Royal Stuarts, witnesses history as King Charles II of England survives exile and returns to his rightful throne of England. Having lived as exiles in France, life had not been glamorous, but Frances is a loyal servant to the Stuarts, and now she and her mother, Sophia Stuart, have no place they may call home. They have no choice but to remain in France as courtiers of Charles's mother and sister, the Queen Mother Henrietta Maria de Bourbon of France, and Princess Henrietta Anne. Frances has an interesting relationship with the princess, not only as loyal subject and distant relation, but also as what one can only consider as friend. But that friendship is soon to be tested and, ultimately, broken.
With Charles back on the British throne and his remaining former exiles now residing at Fontainebleau Palace in France, the Princess Henrietta weds Philippe of France, King Louis XIV's brother. While she may play the dutiful daughter and in-law of the French crown now, Henrietta is anything but in love with her husband. She reserves that emotion for her brother-in-law. Louis, however, becomes more interested in Frances, much to Henrietta's jealous dismay. Who knew it would take her refusal to become the Sun King's mistress to be packed off to England, leaving one court for another? Her banishment is a secret only known by Louis and Frances, though. He bade her to become Charles's next mistress in order to pave the way between Louis and England and any future gain he may achieve from Charles. In other words, Frances is to spy on her own king. As she prepares for her journey to England, Frances knows only two things: uncertainty and sorrow for the strife between her and Henrietta.
Once settled at the Stuart court in England, it isn't hard to see that while Charles takes his rule seriously, he also doesn't deny himself pleasure. Barbara Palmer, the current royal mistress, is anything but vapid or carefree. It's not long before she becomes Frances's competition for the Royal bed. As Frances acquaints herself with her king, she sees in him a greatness that England would benefit from for years to come. In turn, Charles frequently turns to Frances for friendship and companionship, inadvertently making her a pawn for the many political figures that nearly dominate the colorful Stuart court.
As a fondness grows between Frances and Charles, others at court look to either encouraging the relationship or destroying it, depending on who would benefit the most from either scenario. Frances grows more in love, but will allow nothing further than the most innocent of favors. She truly believes that Charles is made for greater things than jumping from one bed to hers and only leaving that legacy behind. She encourages and praises him for his great desire to rebuild England after the dark Cromwell years. Charles, however, feels that Frances's love for him can make him a better king and man and tries to encourage her to become more than a mistress, even at one time, trying to secure a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Braganza, so he can marry Frances. Queen Catherine, however, has earned Frances's esteem and loyalty, even as she falls further in love with Charles. Ironic, no?
It's a tangled web, but a fascinating one that is so colorfully depicted in GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN by Marci Jefferson. The book's title comes from the historic tale that Charles used Frances as the model for the woman on the new British coins he had minted during the first several years of his reign. Frances Stuart is so richly drawn within this book's pages that it caused further reading by me about the woman. I had to know more. In my estimation, that is always a hallmark of a good book, especially historical fiction. I've always said that I would love to sit down and have lunch with Elizabeth I, just so I could pick her brain. Frances Stuart is now someone I would invite over for pizza and wine so she could tell me her tale. Marci Jefferson does an awesome job of painting the picture of a woman history has all but ignored.
Complete with a full cast of important figures of those days, alongside some that the author created and manipulated for a fuller story, GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN is a strong example of what makes a Perfect 10 here at Romance Reviews Today. Drama, history, a fascinating story behind it all, danger, and even romance all on display within its 300+ pages. While we get a full scope on what made Frances Stuart tick, Ms. Jefferson adds more to the story by painting the rest of the characters just as richly. From the princess Henrietta at the beginning of the book, on up to Charles, a king that I have long been a fan of reading about, the cast is fascinating and colorful. The history of Charles's return to the British throne is a compelling story, but what makes that man the Merry Monarch, as he's been styled for a long time, is his love of life and love itself. Frances always sort of remained in the outside shadows at Charles's court, but GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN brings her to the limelight and puts her front and center on the stage.
Bravos to Marci Jefferson for a job well done! Make sure you don't miss out on the superb GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN that has made its way to my keeper shelf.