An awards-season darling, The Favourite has already scored a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress for Olivia Colman. The film had 10 (yes, 10!) Oscar nominations, including a nod for Best Picture, Lead Actress (Colman), and Original Screenplay. But the historical film is also memorable for how it brilliantly brings to life a period of history not well covered up to now: the reign of Queen Anne, who ruled Great Britain for 12 years in the early eighteenth century. As I watched actresses Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone knock their performances out of the park in the theater, my curiosity about their real-life characters intensified. I couldn’t wait to learn more about Anne Stuart, Sarah Churchill, and Abigail Masham, and then to read about other scandalous, complex ladies (real and fictional) who bucked society’s norms. These are the five books I immediately added to my to-be-read list:
History has not been particularly kind to Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, who was overweight, suffered from a chronic illness, and tragically lost 17 children to miscarriage, stillbirth, and childhood illness. To make matters worse, one of her closest friends from childhood, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, used her memoirs to disparage the queen after the two had a falling out over politics. More recently, however, scholars have come to see her in a new light. While The Favourite definitely takes artistic liberties, you can set the record straight with this richly detailed biography of the woman beneath the crown.
Did you come away from the movie equally enchanted by Sarah Churchill and eager to learn more about her side of the story? Enter the novel DUCHESS, which imagines what Sarah’s life was like from the time she was a 13-year-old chosen to join the court of Charles II through her years as the loyal confidante to a young Lady Anne of York, who ends up becoming her queen. Was Sarah really as strong-willed and outspoken as she was in the movie? Did she truly act as a sort of shadow queen, the power behind the throne? There’s only one way to find out.
No matter how manipulative she gets in the movie, it’s hard not to admire Abigail Masham’s stone-cold schemes, because what choice did she really have? There weren’t exactly a lot of options for women back in the day, especially those considered “poor relations” with no prospects. Abigail has a lot in common with Sue Trinder, the heroine of Sarah Waters’s novel FINGERSMITH, who agrees to help seduce and swindle a trusting gentlewoman named Maud but ends up questioning that choice when she develops real feelings for her mark.
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Orphan Sue Trinder is raised amongst “fingersmiths”—transient petty thieves. When a fingersmith known as Gentleman asks Sue to help him con a wealthy woman out of her inheritance, she never expects to pity her helpless mark, let alone come to care for her. But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
The intrigue of a royal court is wildly entertaining in any era. If The Favourite left you in the mood for more royal shenanigans, you can’t do better than with a Philippa Gregory book. Set more than a century before Anne ascended to the throne, THE OTHER QUEEN nevertheless centers on a distant Stuart relative and predecessor: Mary, Queen of Scots. No matter how well you know the story of Mary’s imprisonment by her cousin Queen Elizabeth and her dangerous plot to take back Scotland, you’ll be captivated by this historical novel that puts Mary front and center.
Really any Philippa Gregory novel will fill the “Outlander”-sized hole in your heart, but THE OTHER QUEEN will probably fit best, given that it centers around Mary, Queen of Scots. Set two hundred years before the events of “Outlander” (well, the parts featuring Jamie, anyway), THE OTHER QUEEN is filled with scheming, opulence, and lush historical detail.
Why stop at admiring three strong, amazing women when there are so very many who have made their own unique mark on history? WHAT WOULD CLEOPATRA DO? is a nonfiction collection of life lessons and motivational stories gleaned from the biographies of 50 other women who were ahead of their time. From overcoming sibling rivalry with help from the experiences of Cleopatra to recovering from a breakup on the advice of Agatha Christie, the book offers feminist, inspirational advice you can turn to anytime.