Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
Girl on the Golden Coin is about Frances Stuart (sometimes spelled Stewart), the model for the figure of Brittania on a 1667 gold medal commemorating an English naval victory. A celebrated beauty, she became famous for refusing to become the mistress of King Charles II. Samuel Pepys's vivid diary of the times records his admiration of her, along with the rumor that the king wanted to marry her. Charles did pursue the possibility of divorcing his wife while his favor for Frances was evident, so the rumor may have had a factual basis.
A blend of history and educated guesswork, Girl on the Golden Coin weaves an entertaining, plausible story. The tale begins in the dissolute French court of Louis XIV, where Frances's impoverished royalist family had fled after Charles I's downfall. By the time she was a young teen, Frances's beauty was attracting men of the court - though not as potential husbands. The story moves to Charles II's equally sex-obsessed court when Frances and her family return to England. Charles II walked a fine line between appeasing royalists pushing for the return of Catholicism and aristocratic privilege, and preventing another rebellion by Protestants and common people who had tasted a share of power they did not want to give up.
As a royal favorite, Frances was under constant pressure to solicit political favors from the king. Powerful men and women expected her to promote their interests, creating intense pressure for her to, in effect, prostitute herself for political - possibly even treasonous - purposes. Her tactic was to appear ignorant of politics. The novel reflects this by submerging political themes. A few spicy sex scenes seem almost out of place in a novel which focuses on Frances's personal struggle to retain her dignity and self-respect. (2014; 318 pages, including an Author's Note separating history from fiction)More about Girl on the Golden Coin at Powell's Books or Amazon.com