The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge

The Child from the Sea “To show you Roch would be such happiness,” she said. “I would show you the bay where the seals come, and perhaps they would sing to you, and the Valley of Roses at St Davids, where the stream is so cool. We would stand on the cliffs when the wind was blowing and hear the gulls screaming and the waves roaring all along the coast.”

“You love the sea?”

“I belong to it.”

Elizabeth Goudge is an author I would probably never have thought about trying if it hadn’t been for Lory of The Emerald City Book Review who is hosting a reading week devoted to Goudge’s work this week. Not knowing much about Elizabeth Goudge’s novels, I read the descriptions of some of them and The Child from the Sea sounded the most appealing to me. Although it seems to be out of print at the moment, I was able to borrow a copy from Open Library.

Goudge wrote a mixture of contemporary novels, short stories, children’s books and historical fiction; The Child from the Sea, published in 1970, is one of her historical fiction novels. It tells the story of Lucy Walter, a mistress – and possibly secret wife – of King Charles II and mother of his eldest son, the Duke of Monmouth.

The novel begins in Wales and introduces us to a young Lucy who is growing up at Roch Castle, the home of the Walter family near the Pembrokeshire coast. The story gets off to a slow start, with lots of descriptions of the scenery and countryside, Welsh customs and traditions, and some of the old myths and legends Lucy learns as a child. We also meet some of the people who live in and around Roch Castle: Lucy’s brothers, the handsome, aloof Richard and the loyal, warm-hearted Justus; her beloved nurse Nan-Nan; and Old Parson and his friend, the mysterious Sin Eater.

This first section of the book could probably have been cut a lot shorter without losing anything important, but it does all add to our understanding of who Lucy is and what a 17th century Welsh childhood may have been like. The story really picks up, though, when the action switches to London on the eve of Civil War and Lucy has her first encounter with the young Charles. Fate brings Lucy and Charles together again several years later and they fall in love, marrying secretly, but it’s not long before they are separated once more by the war raging around them.

The rest of the novel is set during Charles’s period of exile in The Hague following the Parliamentarian victory and the execution of his father, Charles I. We follow Lucy as she travels around Europe awaiting the restoration of the monarchy and hoping that one day she will be acknowledged as Charles’s wife.

Lucy Walter is a woman who really existed and really was one of Charles II’s mistresses, but very little is known about her and there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to prove whether or not she and Charles were legally married. Doing some quick research after finishing this book, it seems that the real Lucy is generally considered by historians to be a very different type of character to the gentle, loving woman portrayed in the novel. But even if this is a romanticised version of her life and her relationship with Charles, and even if it isn’t accurate in every detail, I still found it a very moving, emotional story.

Not knowing anything about Lucy before I read this book meant that I was kept in suspense wondering how the story would play out and what her eventual fate would be. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a book with a happy ending, and I was right. There were some heartbreaking moments in the final chapters of Lucy’s story and I had tears in my eyes at the end of the book.

I’m pleased that I gave myself plenty of time to finish this book in time for the reading week! The writing is lovely but the pace of the story is very slow and this is not a book you can rush through in a few days. You need to take your time to be able to appreciate the beauty of the writing and the insights the author is giving us into history and life in general. For this reason, and because it is quite a romantic, sentimental story, The Child from the Sea probably isn’t a book I would recommend to everyone. There’s also a spiritual aspect to the book that grows stronger as the story progresses and may not be to every reader’s taste.

I loved The Child from the Sea, though, and am pleased I chose this one as my first Elizabeth Goudge book. I will definitely be reading more!

Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson

Girl on the Golden Coin For more than three hundred years, an image of Britannia with her shield and spear or trident has been depicted on the reverse of certain British coins. In the 17th century, the model for Britannia was said to be Frances Stuart, who was described by Samuel Pepys as a great beauty and who famously refused to become a mistress of King Charles II. Girl on the Golden Coin is Frances Stuart’s story.

At the beginning of the novel, Frances is one of a family of Royalists who have been living in exile in Paris since Charles I was defeated in the English Civil War. With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Stuart family return to favour and Frances joins the household of Henriette Anne, Charles II’s younger sister, who has just married the brother of Louis XIV of France (the ‘Sun King’). When Frances catches Louis’ eye, he sends her to the English court where she is faced with the task of seducing Charles, converting him to Catholicism and helping to form an alliance between England and France.

The rest of the novel follows Frances at the court of Charles II, exploring her relationships with the King, his noblemen and the other women of the court including the young Queen, Catherine of Braganza, and the King’s favourite mistress Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine. As Frances grows closer to Charles and begins to replace Castlemaine in his affections, she finds herself under pressure from the Queen Mother, the French ambassadors and various courtiers to use her influence with the King to help further their political intrigues – and failure to do so could result in her own family secrets being exposed.

Girl on the Golden Coin is Marci Jefferson’s first novel and was only published in February, but has been attracting some excellent reviews already. I can see its appeal, but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it as much as most other readers have. It was fun to read but it was too light for me and didn’t have the depth I prefer in my historical fiction – although to be fair, that’s what I had suspected before I started reading but decided to still read it anyway as the Restoration is such an interesting period of history and I had never come across a book written from Frances Stuart’s perspective before.

I suppose given who Frances was and her position at court, it’s understandable that so much of the novel concentrates on her love life, but I would personally have preferred less romance, fewer descriptions of pretty silk dresses and beautiful jewels, and more focus on the history. The novel does touch on important issues such as religious conflict (in the form of two of Frances’ servants, one of whom is a Catholic and the other a Quaker), and the Anglo-Dutch War but I was disappointed that there were only a few pages devoted to some of the most significant historical events Frances lived through, such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. I couldn’t help making comparisons with Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, another historical romance set at the court of Charles II, but which captures the drama and atmosphere of the Restoration period in a way which, in my opinion, this book doesn’t.

I don’t want to sound too negative because I didn’t actually dislike Girl on the Golden Coin – it was a quick read that kept me entertained for a few days and a good introduction to the life of Frances Stuart, someone I previously knew almost nothing about. As the response to this novel so far has been overwhelmingly positive I’m sure Marci Jefferson has a very successful career ahead of her. This just wasn’t the right book for me.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.