I recently read the novel The Secret Wife of King George IV, by Diane Haeger, and was pleasantly surprised by it. Having picked it up off the shelf at the library simply because they didn’t have the book I was looking for and this was on the shelf, I started reading it without expecting much. All I knew about Diane Haeger was that, according to the back of the book, she has written, “a number of contemporary romances.” However, this turned out to be an engaging historical fiction (yes, with a lot of romance).
The Secret Wife of King George IV is based on the true love story of Maria Fitzherbert and George IV (Prince of Wales and then king of England). After an unhappy childhood, George IV seemed determined to do whatever he could to irritate his father, including supporting Fox and the Whig Party, gambling and drinking excessively, and having mistresses. Maria Fitzherbert had married and been widowed twice already, both times out of family obligation, when she appeared on the London scene. When George and Maria met, there was an instant connection between them.
They loved each other deeply, but there seemed to be no end to the trials that threatened to pull them apart. Maria refused to merely be George’s mistress, and yet (primarily because she was Catholic) it was illegal for him to marry her. Even though it is based on a true story, it is still riveting and leaves you wondering what will happen next and hoping that they can forge a future together.
The story is a tragic romance and absolutely heartbreaking at times. I’ll warn you that many readers will want a box of tissues next to their chair while they read. The story is well portrayed. There is a sense of the history and the period, but the focus is always on the characters and their story. There is a lot of romance, however it reads more like a historical novel than a romance.
My one (small) complaint is that I wish that Diane Haeger had included a longer appendix to explain what parts of the novel and what parts were fictional. Almost all of the characters and places are historical, so I would have been interested to know how fictionalized the story was with them, or where her research came from.
If you enjoy The Secret Wife of King George IV, by Diane Haeger, I recommend reading The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory (or any of her Tudor novels); Life Mask, by Emma Donaghue (set around the same time as The Secret Wife of King George IV), or any of Posie Graeme Evans’s novels (historical romances).