The fight for Catholic Emancipation in 1829, explored with great skill and elan by a historian who knows how to tell a good story.
Utterly gripping and consistently witty
The author, now 85, has not lost her skill in writing history principally through the stories of particular people - and for the success of Catholic emancipation the decisions of a few people were essential: the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel, ideologically and temperamentally anti-Catholic, who changed their minds; George IV, who wavered; and Daniel O'Connell, who resisted the allure of leading violent insurrection in Ireland and instead offered to keep his nation quiet in return for religious tolerance. Fraser's prose is a pleasure to read
In The King and the Catholics, Antonia Fraser recounts the saga of the emancipation of British Catholics, who finally achieved equal civil rights in 1829. Hitherto Catholicism had, since the Reformation, been considered 'a form of national treachery', with Catholics blamed for the Great Fire of London
Ripples with colour and is full of contrasting characters, from "roaring" Tory Lord Winchelsea to voluptuous Lady Conyngham and heroic "King Dan" O'Connell. Indeed, it's like an exhilarating literary point to point, with falls at the fences, but the favourite winning by a neck.
This is an absolutely splendid book. With the brio and narrative skill which has been in evidence since her first book - the irreplaceable classic biography of Mary Queen of Scots - Fraser gives us a vivid account of Catholic Emancipation. Some of the most dramatic scenes in our parliamentary history are here brought to life with unmatched verve.
Lady Antonia's interest is in the politics of religion, to which she brings all of her remarkable gifts.
Fascinating ... Fraser approaches the subject not as one of arid doctrinal debate, but rather as a story, told by an extraordinary cast of characters. William Pitt, George Canning, the Duke of Wellington, Robert Peel, Percy Bysshe Shelley, [Daniel] O'Connell and two kings named George all played idiosyncratic parts in this drama. Supporting actors included some of Fraser's ancestors, who were active in the opposition to emancipation. The people make this story
Writing with a historian's skill and a novelist's heart, Fraser shows how O'Connell was able to bring the British government to the point where it felt it had no alternative but to concede emancipation...In many ways this is a book for our Brexit times, a cautionary tale of how a spirit of courage and compromise is necessary when dealing with the political challenge of a generation...Elegant, timely and thought-provoking
Fraser's book is the first full length history of the emancipation struggle for nearly 20 years and she writes with informed sympathy for both sides, drawing on the experiences of her own Irish Protestant Packenham family history: one ancestor opposed reform and another came to support it.
This is a very fine book indeed. Fraser is an excellent historian. Her research is thorough, her use of it discriminating. The has a dramatic story to tell here, and tells it compellingly, never forgetting that events now in the past were once in the future, and that what now seems inevitable often appeared otherwise at the time...There is no reason why good history should not entertain as well as enlighten. This thoroughly enjoyable book does both.
This is a complicated tale with a large cast of characters, making it harder still to maintain the tension that is essential to good, readable history. But Antonia Fraser does it triumphantly. The result is not simply a book that will remind now thoroughly integrated British Catholics of how far we have travelled from being a harassed and despised minority. It also explains, without ever obviously seeming to do so, how implacable prejudices and intractable issues can be tackled and overcome. In other words, it is that rarest of things: a good news story
Fraser's narrative skilfully interweaves the progress of activism in Ireland - painting a deeply sympathetic picture of the great Daniel O'Connell, "the Liberator" - and pragmatism in England, as emancipation gradually came to appear as the only outcome that offered justice and stability...This book has all the liveliness and clarity of Antonia Fraser's other historical writing.
[An] intelligent, wide-ranging, elegantly written account
The widespread violence, excited by a modest Catholic relief Bill, is the start of Fraser's superb account of how British Catholics, over the next 50 years, managed to get their rights back - and how Britain narrowly avoided another civil war
Fraser succeeds triumphantly in bringing to life the struggle for Catholic rights. A superb narrative historian, like a modern-day Macaulay, she enlivens her story with vivid character sketches, verve and wit. This is a marvellous book
Expertly written and deftly argued, The King and the Catholics is also a distant mirror of our times, reflecting the political issues arising from religious intolerance.
Fraser knows better than anybody how to make political and religious history fun. And as the mob besieges the Palace of Westminster, red-faced politicians rant and rave and George IV tucks in to yet another banquet, her tale flows with such elegance and enthusiasm that you barely stop to notice just how skilfully she does it.
Proving there's no retirement age for writers, Antonia Fraser brings 50 years of accumulated skill in the writing of gripping history to a book it is impossible to imagine anyone else writing with such liveliness and insight. The King and the Catholics also offers unobtrusive contemporary parallels on issues including xenophobia, terrorism and the long tendency of English politicians to underestimate the complicating issue of Ireland
Fraser, a convert to Catholicism, as well as a descendant of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Longfords, tells the story with erudition, sprezzatura and a tremendous sense of fun. Every page is shot through with humour and humanity. Columns of bloated, bewhiskered bigots fall to Fraser's skewer, but the many Georgians with rent consciences are handled with great sensitivity. She is excellent on Ireland. She writes beautifully and she includes just the right amount of smut
Meticulously researched and thoroughly engrossing