The first part of my review of Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown by Maureen Waller (St. Martin's Griffin 2002) can be found here. It presents my motivation for reading Waller's work and also gives a primer on this period of Stuart history (c 1641-1714).
Ungrateful Daughters can be divided into three parts:
The first part presents the childhoods of James II, and his daughters Princess Mary, and Princess Anne. Waller tells the story of the same events from different perspectives. The average reader may be left fatigued after this point and tempted to abandon the effort altogether.
The second part is a complete near hysterical, hyperbolic, tendentious "pig pile" on King James II (reign 1685-1688). James might not have been a popular King but the only kind words about James we can find here are that he was a "kind and indulgent father". It also presents William of Orange's usurpation of James II in 1688 and his coronation as King William III and of James's eldest daughter, Mary, as Queen Mary II in 1689. It is in this section that Waller betrays her prejudices or at minimum displays her inability or unwillingness to approach these historical events and personalities even-handedly. A nuanced perspective seems to be too much out of reach for Waller at say the least.
The third part is on Queen Mary II (reign 1689-1694) and Queen Anne (reign 1702-1714); their quarrels with each other and their quarrels with ladies of their courts.
Ungrateful Daughters as popular history (as contrasted with professional history) presents a personal account of the characters through their personal letters. Waller nicely ties these personal letters with the turmoil of the events of this period.
Ungrateful Daughters was disappointing in multiple aspects. Where to begin? Well, Waller often presents characters and only later gives us their background — as if we are supposed to know who they are. Annoyingly she refers to the characters through multiple circumlocutions, e.g. "Duke of Gloucester" for "William" or "Anne's son". As soon as someone is introduced, the reader is expected to readily track all of their titles and familial relationships.
The Catholic/Protestant divide was a major issue of the day. Ungrateful Daughters, although unintended, is a book-length anecdote on the consequences of what happens when the state interferes with the affairs of the Church.
In 1669, James abandoned Anglicanism and became Catholic. In 1673, James married fourteen year-old Italian Princess Mary Beatrice of Modena by proxy. (Yes, Their vows were made by proxy. It is intent of these vows that makes a marriage valid. According to Canon 1104 (1983 Code of Canon Law), "by proxy" is still a licit way to contract marriage.) Mary Beatrice eventually fell in love with James nonetheless.
[Anglican] Bishop Compton and her chaplains had taught Lady Mary [Princess Mary] that Roman Catholicism was one of the worst evils in the world — and indeed, she had at first been very upset to hear her father [James] was marrying a Roman Catholic [Italian Princess Mary Beatrice of Modena] — but the young Duchess of York [Princess Mary Beatrice] worshipped privately and did not enter into discussions with her step daughters [Mary and Anne].I was irritated that Waller continually ruined promising narrative by inserting anti-Catholic barbs into the drama of a situation and always — seemingly — to present Catholics in the worst possible light; all the while giving a relatively "free pass" to William, a Dutch Calvinist, and the other Protestants or at least presenting them in neutral terms.
Opinions on James are presented as facts throughout her polemic against James. For example, Waller describes James as "tactless" for saying grace at a meal when he was in captivity in December of 1688 and was being brought to London by William's troops!
In another incident, Waller unjustly excoriates James that he asked Pope Innocent XI for a Cardinal's hat for Queen Mary Beatrice's uncle Prince Rinaldo D'Este. James had every right to ask. Waller also needs some fact checking because she seems to be unaware that lay men could be made Cardinals in the Catholic Church according to "Canon Law" at the time. (Currently Cardinals need Holy Orders.)
Waller's near little sympathy for James and his fellow Catholics is offset here and there in the text:
When James said that he intended to 'establish' the Catholic religion in England, he meant that he wanted to give Catholics the same rights as Protestants, to allow them freedom of worship and to hold public offices. He was at pains to reassure the Anglican establishment that they would not loose out by granting Catholics equality.
Waller gratuitously reminds the reader at points of crisis — and in elaborating on the King James's personal problems — that James was Catholic. Meanwhile, William of Orange is described as "discrete in his extra-marital affairs".
Given that readers of Ungrateful Daughters live in the twenty-first century, Waller fails to explain why first cousins (Princess Mary and William of Orange) were allowed to contract marriage.
The political dimension of Ungrateful Daughters was adequately presented.
There were no checks on the power of the monarchy before calling of the Long Parliament in 1640, at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, on James's accession in 1685, or at the time of William's invasion in 1688.
English Parliament "merely invited him [William of Orange] to restore English liberties and the rule of law." James believed in the principle of heredity succession and "divine right" of monarchs. Well, William of Orange was after the crown all along. The English Parliament gave it to him and James's daughter, Mary, as co-soveriegns. Anti-Catholicism is presented as a "matter of fact" as if it were ironically a "divine right". The 1689 Bill of Rights forbade a monarch or any heir to the throne to marry a Catholic.
Unlike other nations where the religion of the ruler determined that of the people, in England that of the people would determine that of the ruler. Catholics were barred from the throne. The principle that the Whig members of the Exclusion Parliaments [those who excluded Catholics from participation in public life] had fought so hard to put on the statue book had at last been accepted. The Torries had allowed James, the rightful hereditary heir, his chance, and he had let them down. At one stroke both Houses of Parliament agreed to set aside the claims of James and his son on the grounds of their religion and of any other Catholic heirs to the throne. Given the disastrous consequences of the marriages of recent Stuart sovereigns to Catholic consorts, specifically Henrietta Maria [consort of Charles I] and Mary Beatrice, it was also resolved that no monarch or heir to the throne might marry a Catholic either.
In 1701 when James II died, Louis XIV of France proclaimed James's son, James Francis Edward, King James III to no avail. King William III died in 1702 and Princess Anne became Queen while her brother and legitimate Stuart heir, James Francis Edward, was in exile in France. In the 1701 Act of Settlement stipulated that the English crown after Anne was to go to Sophie of Hanover, granddaughter of James I and her Protestant heirs. Sophie of Hanover died and her son George became king in 1714 thus passing over about 12 Catholics in line for the throne!
Both Queens Mary and Anne died unrepentant for their treason to their father James. Yet, Waller points out that James never granted them forgiveness. Well, forgiveness needs to be asked for before it can be granted in the normal course. Given Waller's presentation of this period — and of James II in particular — I searched in vain to discover what the daughters were "ungrateful" for?
Ungrateful Daughters requires critical reading skills. It can both easily remind one that there is "nothing new under the sun" and provide a further "comfort" in approaching contemporary crises. It allows one to further understand that history is made up of personalities and decisions that shaped our present world.