Saturday, 21 November 2009

"The Madness of Queen Maria" by Jenifer Roberts

I do not usually review non-fiction on my blog, but am very happy to make an exception in the case of The Madness of Queen Maria. Jenifer Roberts is to be congratulated not only on adding considerably to one's knowledge of eighteenth century Europe, but also because she has produced a very well-written book, which keeps the reader enthralled with what is admittedly a very sad story throughout.

Given the title of the book, it really is not spoiling the plot to divulge that the unfortunate Maria spent the last twenty-five years of her life insane. Even that was not the end of the indignities heaped upon her, since she died horribly of dysentery, and her rotting corpse was then was not finally given the state burial it was due for another five years or so after that, as we learn from a gripping but gruesome description of her putrid body being laid out according to custom by retching and fainting princesses.

Away from the personal side of Maria's life, however, we have a familiar tale of royal favourites, an oppressive and overbearing church, and an autocratic absolute monarchy. Forget the so-called Enlightened Despots such as Maria Theresa, Frederick and Catherine who were embarking on cautious reform in Austria, Prussia and Russia respectively. The Enlightenment seems to have left Portugal largely untouched.

As I said, this is a sad story, but well worth reading. Anyone familiar with the Napoleonic wars will have a pretty good idea of how things are going to end, but I have never before heard the events described from a Portuguese, rather than an English perspective. I really enjoyed this book.

"The Madness of Queen Maria" is published by Templeton Press under ISBN 978-0-9545589-1-8

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