Buckingham’s Wife, and Some Very Stylish Queens

Today I finished reading Hilda Lewis’s Wife to Great Buckingham, a 1959 novel about Catherine Manners, wife to George Villiers. This is the second book by Lewis I’ve read, the first being Harlot Queen, about Isabella, wife to Edward II.

Harlot Queen was written in the third person, and I wish this novel had been also. Catherine is the narrator, and unfortunately, she never really came to life for me. She showed some promise in the early part of the novel, dealing with her youth, and she became almost interesting in the last chapter of the novel, dealing with her second marriage, but in the long stretch in between she was little more than a reporter of other people’s doings. This could have worked, I suppose, in some circumstances, but I don’t think it did here.

A big problem for me was that although Catherine often professes her love for Buckingham (and in real life, I believe she was quite fond of him, and he of her), we see very little of the two as a couple, and on the few occasions when we do, we see little of their affection in evidence. On the few occasions when the two hold a conversation, it might as well be one between business associates as one between a married couple.

Historically, this novel seems rather eccentric. As Lewis would have it, the main cause of Buckingham’s undoing was his hopeless love for the Queen of France, which drives him into an unpopular war and Lewis’s prose into the realm of the purple: “‘His passion burns him like a fire. He starves for the sight of her. I tell you he cries out her name in his sleep.'”

Add to this a tedious subplot involving Catherine’s adulterous sister-in-law and her persecution by the Villiers family, and I admit I was doing some heavy-duty skimming toward the end.

Sadly, I don’t know much about the real-life Catherine Manners, but the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article about her by Jane Ohlmeyer indicates that she was an interesting woman, one in need of a better novel than this.

On a happier note, this is one of my finds at the book sale on Monday. Check out the nicely contrasting queens–brunette Blanche of Castile in pink, blond Isabella of Angouleme in blue. Not to mention Isabella’s bangs (fringe, I think, to some of you) and the big pointy hennins that these thirteenth-century trendsetters have acquired a couple of centuries beforehand.

8 thoughts on “Buckingham’s Wife, and Some Very Stylish Queens”

  1. They look like a couple of supermodels sulking over who gets to go first on the catwalk, don’t they? Pratchett has a character in one of his novels remark that the pointy head-dress “…made her look as if a large ice-cream cone had landed on her head….”. I think he must have seen that cover 🙂

    I’m going to confess my complete ignorance – who was George Villiers and what happened to him, and which Queen of France did he fall for?

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    I have the paperback too (not that I’m in love with this book, but I saw the hardback and had to have the cover for my collection). The paperback cover is rather bland–still two rather sulky-looking queens with constrasting hair colors and robes, but with crowns instead of hennins.

    George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was James I’s favorite, then his son Charles I’s favorite, before being knifed by an assassin. Evidently, while in France for the proxy marriage of Charles I to Henrietta Maria, sister of France’s Louis XIII, Buckingham made some improper advances to Louis’s young bride, Queen Anne. Lewis turns this into a grand, albeit one-sided, love affair.

  3. And the Queen of France gives Villiers some diamonds which she then needs back because that evil guy Richilieu made her husband jealous, and so d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis have to go and sort the mess out. They get the diamonds back in time, but even they can’t prevent Buckingham from being assassinated by the man Athos’ ex-wife sicced at him. *grin*

  4. Too bad about the Hilda Lewis novel…anything about George Villiers sounds like it has at least the potential to be interesting. What’s the book’s take on Catherine Manner’s feelings about Villier’s relationship with James I? And incidentally, do you know if George Villiers is any relation of Barbara Villiers, the mistress of Charles II?

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    Lewis has Catherine Manners gradually developing a certain sympathy toward James I after Villier and Prince Charles begin to eclipse him.

    I think Barbara was a cousin of George.

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