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  • Women's Records of the Court of George III and Queen Charlotte
  • Mascha Hansen
Michael Kassler, gen. ed. Memoirs of the Court of George III, 4 vols: vol. 1: The Memoirs of Charlotte Papendiek (1765–1840), ed. Kassler; vol. 2: Mary Delany (1700–1788) and the Court of King George III, ed. Alain Kerhervé; vol. 3: The Diary of Lucy Kennedy (1790–1816), ed. Lorna J. Clark; vol. 4: The Diary of Queen Charlotte, 1789 and 1794, ed. Kassler (London: Routledge, 2016). Pp. 1,664. $770. £385.

Memoirs are a hybrid genre: first and foremost associated with biography and autobiography today, the term nevertheless reveals the historiographical potential of life writing, emphasizing that a life cannot be understood without detailed knowledge of people and events, as well as customs and manners. Memoirs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in any case tend to belong to the field of nonprofessional or amateur historiographical writing, and it is in this sense that the four volumes of the Memoirs of the Court of George III are best understood. As they moreover contain only documents written by women, they should be read with an awareness of women's historiographical efforts in the eighteenth century, and of the different kinds of historical records represented here. As Madeleine Pelling and Karin Wulf point out in the virtual exhibition "Women and History: Power, Politics, and Historical Thinking in Queen Charlotte's Court," women read and wrote history with a keen [End Page 82] interest at the time, and especially women around court were emboldened to leave their own records of events.1 This does not mean that they shared either men's historical interests or their preferred techniques of writing and understanding history. The Memoirs of the Court of George III thus provides a specific range of historiographical documents—diaries, letters, and memoirs—broadly outlining women's options for participating in the field of historiography. The writers selected here knew that they had a unique opportunity to witness history in the making, and that their various positions at and around court made their memories and experiences of court life interesting both to their contemporaries and to future generations. Their readers were mostly envisaged as daughters and granddaughters (Papendiek), friends (Delany), or family members (Kennedy), though Queen Charlotte possibly had in mind a more formal record-keeping for historical purposes. The volumes of the Memoirs, thus, reflect eighteenth-century women's role in history writing, including their assumptions about what should be recorded in the first place, and which explanations were necessary in order to supply potential readers' interests, needs, and expectations. Together, Papendiek, Delany, Kennedy, and the queen cover a broad range of the king's reign: letters by and to Delany are selected to span roughly a decade of the middle years (1776 to 1788), while the queen's diaries are limited to the later parts of 1789 (not including anything relating to the king's illness) and to the year 1794. Kennedy's journals span a broader range, from 1790 to 1816, and Papendiek records her parents' as well as her own memories from 1761 to 1792 (she was born in 1765).

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Papendiek's memoirs, given in the first volume of the series and edited by Michael Kassler, were compiled as a narrative rather than a straightforward "record" in the years between 1833 and 1839; they are the only memoir truly conceived as such in this series. With regard to their reliability as court records, however, these pages are probably the least to be trusted, if the liveliest to read. Having been in print since 1887, these are of course fairly well-known memoirs, and Kassler accordingly provides only a very brief introduction, but gives a longer account of the family's fortunes after 1792 at the end of the volume. It would have been interesting to hear his views on the reliability of these memoirs in the introduction—though many of the notes (altogether more than 1,400 have been added) settle individual points, but readers have to make up their own minds on Papendiek's general level of accuracy. Thus, she does present herself as a "playmate" of Prince William, allowed to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3192
Print ISSN
0098-2601
Pages
pp. 82-92
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-11
Open Access
No
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