Mistress Yale’s Diaries, The Glorious Return (The Yale Trilogy)

Written by David Ebsworth
Review by Lynn Guest

On her return from Madras, Catherine Yale continues her diary recording the events, politics and people of 1690s London. Her husband, Elihu Yale, a director of the East India Company, has remained in India unaware that Catherine, annoyed by his infidelities, has sworn an affidavit accusing him of corruption. A Dissenter, Catherine is a spy in the service of the Protestant King William the Third. As well as vividly reporting the daily life of London’s mercantile class, she describes an England still torn apart by Protestant and Catholic factions. Her government contacts involve her in the exposure of Jacobite traitors plotting to restore James the Second. Not until her life and her daughters are threatened by a vicious Jacobite enemy does she realise how William’s supporters have used her, a mere dispensable woman.

Elihu Yale is well known as a collector of Indian art and a philanthropist as well as the founder of Yale University, but Ebsworth employs Catherine to explore his less honourable activities, embezzlement and slave-trading, in the three volumes of her fictional diaries. As this is the second, there is occasional confusion, because many entries refer to unexplained events and people in Madras. This is unimportant – diaries are meant to be fragments of everyday life, and it is the colourful recreation of the post-Glorious Revolution England that fascinates and holds the reader. Historical personages add depth and believability to a sketchy plot. All the characters, fictional or real, are layered and believable. Catherine herself, if not always likeable or admirable, lives on the page. Slow to get into, the diary becomes addictively readable; a wonderful picture of an England adjusting to a peaceful revolution.