Book Review: Sex & Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich.

“a highly informative picture, both raw and wry, of human relationships in 17th century Britain”

Date Published :September 2020
Publisher :Pen and Sword
Illustration :50 black and white illustrations Binding : Paperback
ISBN : 9781526753076 Dimensions : 9.25 X 6 inches
Pages : 232

I’m going to preface this review by observing that, along with violence and to some extent political intrigue, the goings on behind bedroom doors, and beneath the privacy of a bedcover, is a prime reason historical fiction remains popular.

Visual and print entertainment thrives on arousing the passions of it’s audience with ever more gratuitous and graphic depictions of violence and sex. Going where those languid portraits of silk and satin swathed beauties and formal victorious-general battle scenes merely hinted at …

I don’t think I really need to name names here but … ahem, I’m looking at Versailles. (For the 17th century anyway) …

So, given the immense amount of books detailing the reality of historical violence, which I may say I myself have contributed to, it is only right that scholars and authors should also make factual reality available for the romantic side of popular interest. 

Gentle Reader; so Andrea Zuvich begins her book,  following in the tradition of 17th century epistles to the reader. The author has a calm, comforting tone, wry and amusing in the right places, but firm where needed, she holds the reader’s hand, not in a patronizing way, but in the way a friend does for another.

Stringent on period niceties, the author bravely opens herself to all manner of criticism for refusing to pander to modern values and determinedly strives to allow the reader to understand her subject in the way it was understood at the time.

Promising to tread carefully on her reader’s ears and sensibilities, the book, though softly couched, squares its shoulders and carries the burden of its intimate subject without blinking. It is far from pornographic, nor is it by any means elicit, and to those who are titilated (to use a favoured phrase from the pages) rather than amused, an icy bucket of water awaits you in the section regarding diseases. Bringing to mind the story of how a pubescent Nicholas II was brought to view to a syphilis ward to ensure the youth remained relatively chaste. The second half of the book, leaves the general subject behind in favour of explorsironsninto the love lives of the Stuart monarchy 

Fear not either that just because the title is bold it is necessarily a gleeful rampage through smut and scandal. The book covers with encyclopedic thoroughness all manner of things from premarital affairs, to marriage customs and legalities, medical considerations, contraception, romantic and political factors, gender roles, divorce, and a host more practical and unusual topics that make the Stuart’s seem at once familiar and at the same time distant. I appreciated that in the chapter on same sex relationships the author cautions her readers and makes clear that perception of homosexuality and actual homosexuality are not the same thing. 

The book is based in large part on a great many contemporary works that are either outright erotic in nature, (the primary purpose being to arouse), scientific, or sort of self help, alongside with the more preachy pamphlets and sermons admonishing uncleanliness in a less godless time. These not only speak to glamorous liaisons and powerful marriages in the Stuart Court, but to everyday people attempting to negotiate life and love. The result is a highly informative picture, both raw and wry of human relationships in 17th century Britain.

Book Review: A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich.



Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 May 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445647427

The hardback is a slim handsome production, brown with gold writing and a thistle as a frontispiece. To the rear a few snippets from inside and a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral. It consists of just about 300 reading pages, not counting index, select bibliography etc. At the centre is a well chosen selection of images, including photographs of important buildings, some taken by the author.

One day in 1603 a young auburn haired man with fragile, aquiline features and a generally downcast expression rode across the border of Scotland into England. The man had been King James VI of Scotland, but on the passing of Queen Elizabeth James Stuart of Scots also became King James I of England, and so a new age dawned for the British Isles. The idea of doing a day in the life of some such person is a tried and true way of getting under their skin, so why not apply the same method for a year, and have a look at what 17th century people did or could do in 365 days.

Now as a note, because I am aware of some nit picky fiends out there who have issues with the title. Although the political entity of Great Britain would not be, railroaded onto the island kingdom by his descendant Queen Anne, James I & VI had a vision of a unified Kingdom centred on the throne he now occupied, which being in London, more specifically meant the person of the monarch. It is from James’ vision that the Union Jack emanated from, and the concept of a unified state, which with the passing of a century would be called Britain.

It is from this first “British” Stuart, then, to the last that Andrea Zuvich chooses to bookend her examination into the fabric of 17th century and early 18th century Britain. Many Sottish nationalists who condemn the exclusion of the previous centuries of Stuart rule in Scotland, miss entirely the concept of the Stuart age in Britain, a term which specifically singles out the period between 1603 and 1714. People looking for a history of entire Stuart line should therefore look elsewhere. But for those interested in James I, the Great Civil Wars, the Restoration, the Revolution’s both Glorious and Monmouthian and the War of the Spanish Succession, you are in for a treat.

I must say I found this an extremely enjoyable read. The book on the whole presents a wonderful tableau of Stuart era life, anyone reading it, I am sure will come away with a real sense and flavour of the times and it would doubtless be an excellent sensory introduction to the period at hand. If I was to sum it up, I would say that it is a fabulous pictorial mural of 17th century life and it is a work in the spirit of some of Ian Mortimer’s imaginative approaches to presenting history. Each item is entertaining in itself, and when viewed from the distance of the closing page one gets a picture made up of thousands of smaller ones that act together as pixels which give the reader an undeniably rich and sweeping look at this era in British History.

It is entirely possible to read this book as a conventional volume, or if the mood strikes you can read a section day by day as if it was a calendar. As a receptacle of first hand accounts, some well known, some more obscure, it is a great addition to a 17th century library or collection on British history.


Abstract Strings.


Acknowledgements are for the people they mention, they are a private moment between the writer of a book and someone they feel helped them get there. Perhaps that is why we might sometimes take scan over them to see if we recognise a name or catch an anecdote, but as readers often don’t give this section allot of attention. Therefore you’d think that after playing an infinitesimal part in helping Andrea Zuvich’s A Year in Stuart Britain get to bookshelves (I actually saw it on a shelf a few days back) I might have checked the acknowledgements to see if I got thanked. Well happily for everyone who thought “Hey anyone who does that is a real narcissist”, I didn’t do that. When the book arrived, I did what I normally do; I smiled at the kind and elegant dedication and did not look for my name anywhere else in it.
Many is the time I’ve briefly scanned these little chapters of generosity and gratefulness, noting names I recognise, finding interest in the strings that can connect us, generally perusing the lists of abstract names, meaningless to me yet each representing a moment in time for the author, and sometimes wondering who I would include in an acknowledgement section, then the daydream becomes more elaborate, subplots appear, the communists are chasing a defector… and I lose half a day. Moving on.
I had picked up Andrea’s “A Year” (yeah we history bloggers use first names), to pick out an entry for September. I read with interest a letter by the Earl of Argyle to the Duke of Lauderdale entitled Cessations from 1665. Bearing in mind my assistance to the author occurred early this year, and the book arrived a few months back I suddenly realised that I should have checked the acknowledgments, why? I don’t know.
My now you should have guessed that my name is in this book, to say that I’m touched, doesn’t really cover it. Because I never thought my last minute helping hand would have merited inclusion and after reading the personalised autograph I never thought to look. But if she is anything, the 17th Century Lady is a generous lady. Therefore I have written this, not specifically to yell in delight about becoming one of those abstract strings I mentioned earlier, but to congratulate Andrea on her book, and to say in reply to her generous vote of thanks; Not at all, it was a great pleasure to help.


A review of A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain will appear here very soon. But until then take it from me, it’s a good read.