I recently got a Goodreads account and for the first time I’m taking part in the yearly reading resolution. I’m hoping it will motivate me to stay on track. My first read of 2018 was Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart by Marci Jefferson. Marci is the same author who wrote The Enchantress of Paris, one of my favorite historical reads of 2017. Once again Jefferson didn’t disappoint and I can’t wait to see what her third novel will be about. I loved this book and I give it 4.5 stars. First up, the plot. There are some big spoilers about the story in this post, so don’t read if you want the book to be a total surprise.
Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and springs to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches King Louis XIV’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty, she has Stuart secrets to keep and people to protect. The king turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and stop a war.
Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers through the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him an honest man and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. Until she is forced to choose between love or war.
On the eve of England’s Glorious Revolution, James II forces Frances to decide whether to remain loyal to her Stuart heritage or, like England, make her stand for Liberty. Her portrait as Britannia is minted on every copper coin. There she remains for generations, an enduring symbol of Britain’s independent spirit and her own struggle for freedom.
I’m a fan of Jefferson’s writing style and I found Frances fascinating to read about. She’s a woman willing to go to great lengths to meet her goals. The majority of the story is focused on her becoming King Charles II’s mistress after turning down King Louis XIV. The part about James II in the description is a short bit toward the end. A bonus to this book in my eyes is that since it starts in France, you get to see the courts and kings of both France and England. It was fun to contrast the personalities of the kings as I read.
So what makes Frances so fascinating? She turns down King Louis XIV only to become mistress to Charles II instead after being given no choice by Louis if she doesn’t want to reveal her mother as an illegitimate bastard. The most fascinating plot point is her refusing to marry Charles. That’s right, Frances had a chance to become Queen of England and refused the crown. This is what made her most endearing to me. She is so loyal to the queen and doesn’t want to become the next Anne Boleyn or cause another civil war so soon after Charles’s restoration, so to protect the queen and the king’s honor she elopes with her cousin Richmond. She also elopes because she is carrying the king’s child and wants it to be legitimate instead of born outside of marriage, but she still turns down the crown, angering the king in the process. I mean come on, she could have had everything but made sacrifices for the good of the country. How can you not like her for that?
My only complaints were that a few motivations weren’t believable enough to me, like Frances making decisions based on not wanting to reveal her mother’s bastard status. Once she became mistress to the king I didn’t see how it could hurt her. It felt like a forced plot to drive her decisions. I also didn’t understand her loyalty to Madame, King Louis’s sister-in-law. Frances refused Louis because Madame was in love with him, but Madame still saw her as a traitor for taking his attentions away from her. I also didn’t understand why she didn’t tell Charles about his mother’s plot to return the country to Catholicism and or why she didn’t use him as protection against the queen mother.
However, the strengths of this story outweighed the few weaknesses and I recommend it. Marci Jefferson is an author to keep an eye on for fans of historical fiction about royals and the nobility.