Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart

Written by Marci Jefferson
Review by Elena Maria Vidal

The licentious court of the Merry Monarch is brought to life in the debut novel of Marci Jefferson. Girl on the Golden Coin dramatizes the tumultuous relationship of Charles II and his cousin Frances Stuart, with whom he falls in love even as she resists his advances. Frances, from a penniless branch of the Stuart clan, is determined to remain a virgin until she marries, hoping to marry well for the sake of her impoverished kin. She also fears that becoming the King’s mistress might cause her family secrets to be revealed. However, Frances is under a great deal of pressure from both the Dowager Queen Henrietta Maria and Louis XIV of France to influence Charles as much as possible. In order to protect her family, Frances must cultivate the King’s affections without succumbing to his charms, a challenge which becomes more daunting as Frances finds herself as deeply in love with Charles as he is with her.

In the meantime, Frances must deal with the jealousy of Charles’ official mistress, Barbara Villiers, and the plots of courtiers who seek to manipulate her. Although Frances is often judged to be a ninny, Jefferson portrays her as a clever woman who knows how to survive in a jungle of intrigues. As a Catholic, Frances also struggles with her conscience, and is never at peace when her virtue is compromised. This aspect adds a deeper layer to what is otherwise a tale of sexual politics. When the opportunity to become another Anne Boleyn presents itself, Frances must decide between her own happiness and what is best for England.

Written with spirit and insight, the novel reveals both the glamour and the dirt of court life while peering into the soul of a woman who is one of the unsung heroines of English history.