Reviews and praise for Flora Fraser’s recent publications.
“This appealing book covers the entire span of Flora’s eventful 68 years and the fates of her family and kin, as well as the influences of a diaspora of Highlanders on their fortunes. The heroine who kept the Young Chevalier (and the ambitions of the House of Stuart) alive, and who gave Stuart names to her children, chose to side with the Hanoverians in the American Revolutionary War.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – David Macfadyen, Scottish Review, 28 September 2022
The Press and Journal
“‘I cannot remember a time when I did not know the story of Flora Macdonald,’ writes Flora Fraser, author of Pretty Young Rebel, a new book on her namesake. What she never expected was to write a book about her, and even less so, to discover the full extent of Flora’s undoubted charm and canny ways…
…In the meticulous and deep-delving research for the hugely readable Pretty Yong Rebel (Bloomsbury Publishing 2022), Flora says she has built a picture of Flora Macdonald as sure of herself, uncowed by Royalty, and egalitarian, a gracious, charming yet artful and grounded product of her island roots.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Susy Macaulay, The Press and Journal, 27 September 2022
Roy Foster, The Oldie
“Flora Fraser, no spoilsport, is from a Highland clan who fought for Charles Edward Stewart; for his pains, her ancestor Lord Lovat became the last peer to be beheaded on Tower Hill.
And, as the accomplished biographer of Emma Hamilton, Queen Caroline, Pauline Bonaparte and Mr and Mrs George Washington, she has a beady eye for the paradoxes of history, the rationalisations of survivors, and the way myths and reputations are made. And that is what makes this book such a riveting read.
Her namesake, also from a Highland clan, though a less elevated one, became famous overnight in the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion. That’s when she took charge of the fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie and enabled him, disguised as her Irish maid ‘Betty Burke’, to evade Cumberland’s soldiery, escaping ‘over the sea to Skye’ and eventually to France.
This narrative takes up the first half of the book – and is suitably thrilling, while based on intensive archival research as well as local knowledge and tradition. (The author spent much of her youth in a Western Isles house embellished by doors carved by the Sobieski Stuarts, two enterprising 19th-century claimants to the throne.) “
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Roy Foster, The Oldie, October 2022
Historian Fraser (The Washingtons) explores themes of national identity and cultural mythmaking in this colorful biography of her namesake, 18th-century Scottish heroine Flora Macdonald. In 1746, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the “Pretender” to the British throne and leader of the Jacobite Rebellion, fled to the Isle of Skye disguised as Macdonald’s Irish maid. Fraser details how Macdonald’s “quiet life” as a 24-year-old “Highland gentlewoman” was “disrupted and endangered by her week’s adventure with the prince,” but spends the bulk of the narrative on the aftermath. Drawing on contemporaneous newspaper reports and eyewitness testimonies, Fraser debunks numerous myths about the incident, noting, for instance, that the popular 19th-century folk song “Flora Macdonald’s Lament” spread Flora’s fame beyond Scotland along with false rumors that she had a romantic relationship with the prince. More profoundly, Fraser documents her subject’s precarious existence in Revolutionary-era North Carolina and reveals that Macdonald retained her “vivacity of character” and “amiableness of disposition” despite losing her health and wealth. Along the way, literary representations of the events of 1746, including Walter Scott’s Waverley, are expertly analyzed. This affecting history gives due credit to the real woman at the center of a captivating legend.
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Publishers Weekly (USA), 7 September 2022
“This is a full and always interesting book, a rich picture of Highland society at a time of change as well as a persuasive and always pleasing account of Flora’s life, a social a study as well as a fine telling of a well-known tale, and of the less familiar story of the Scots who chose loyalty to the Crown in America. One wonders if the memory of the Jacobites’ defeat led them to think the American rebels would suffer the same fate.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Allan Massie, The Scotsman, 8 September 2022
“To any of us brought up on The Skye Boat Song — “Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing” — Flora Macdonald will always be a legend. Her bravery in ferrying the handsome Bonnie Prince Charlie, the “Young Pretender” to the throne, from the Hebridean island of Benbecula “over the sea to Skye” in 1746, is one of the great historical tales of our childhoods, burnished in HE Marshall’s retelling in Our Island Story. “She served him when he was most miserable and in greatest danger.” She risked capture by the British forces loyal to the Hanoverian king and the death penalty in service of the Jacobite cause.
Macdonald was a legend in her own lifetime. On their tour to the Hebrides 27 years later in 1773, Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited the illustrious heroine in Skye to pay homage to her.
That Macdonald then sailed over the sea to North Carolina is less well-known. It was while flicking through a sheaf of portraits of famous figures involved in the American War of Independence that the historian Flora Fraser chanced upon an image of Macdonald. “What,” Fraser wondered, “had she, a Jacobite heroine of 1746, to do with these patriots across the Atlantic in the 1770s?” In this enthralling book, which throws us straight into the fresh air, heather, rain and midges of the Hebrides, followed by the swamps and creeks of North America, Fraser fleshes out what for most of us is a sketchy and romanticised area of our general knowledge.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Ysenda Maxtone Graham, The Times, 2 September 2022
The Daily Mail
“Flora Fraser’s new biography stylishly updates MacDonald’s story for a 21st Century that has slightly forgotten it.
And she also covers MacDonald’s later life: her marriage, emigration to South Carolina and involvement in the American Revolution.
But it is telling that, while Fraser makes a passionate and personal (she was named after the ‘pretty young rebel’) case for understanding the whole of her subject’s life, over half of her book is taken up with MacDonald’s role in Prince Charlie’s escape.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Nicholas Harris, The Daily Mail, 4 September 2022
Mail on Sunday
“Without the leadership of George Washington there might never have been an independent America, but it’s equally true to say that without the support of his wealthy wife Martha, Washington would never have made his mark. Flora Fraser paints a revealing portrait of a power couple who weren’t as much passionate lovers as dedicated companions.”
– The Mail on Sunday, January 2017
The Daily Mail
“George Washington once wrote, ‘I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life — the foundation of happiness or misery’. His own marriage was based on foundations both of practicality and affection. In 1758, Washington was a 26-year-old Colonel of the Virginia militia when he met a wealthy young widow with two children.
Martha Dandridge Custis was also 26, with brown hair, hazel eyes and a fondness for fashionable clothes. Theirs was not necessarily a love match — just before their wedding, George wrote a clumsy but heartfelt love letter to a different lady — but he described his wife as ‘an agreeable Consort for Life’, and she was to prove a stalwart and devoted companion for four decades.
Flora Fraser’s biography provides a fascinating glimpse into the private life of the first President of the United States, and the first ‘First Lady’.”
– Jane Shilling, The Daily Mail, 3 November 2016
The Daily Telegraph
“In the century after George Washington’s death, a cult grew around the Father of the Nation: he appeared on stamps and dollar bills; cities and buildings were given his name. His wife, Martha, surplus to the myth’s requirements, faded from view. In this careful and unshowy biography, Fraser restores her to the American story.”
– The Daily Telegraph, 29 October 2016
“The Washingtons was published in 2015 to the tune of critics and scholars alike singing its praises in unison. Covering our first president’s public life and accomplishments is common, and has been presented in many literary pieces throughout history, but the thoroughness with which Fraser examined the marriage bonds between Washington and his Mrs. is unrivaled.”
– McEnearney, 23 July 2016
American Spirit Magazine
“To the everlasting dismay of historians and biographers, when George Washington died, his devoted wife of 40 years burned their correspondence. What we know of their life together comes mostly from other sources, including tantalizingly brief comments in letters from Martha and George to others.
Despite such an obstacle, biographer Flora Fraser has constructed a well-rounded, insightful portrait of their relationship in her new book, The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Joined by Friendship, Crown’d by Love” (Alfred A Knopf, 2015).”
– American Spirit, March / April 2016
The Times Literary Supplement
“In ‘George & Martha Washington: A revolutionary marriage’, the noted historical biographer Flora Fraser aims to tell the story that Martha did not want told. The author acknowledges that, thanks to the destruction of key evidence, she must approach her subject from an “oblique” angle, relying on letters the Washingtons wrote to others and on surviving contemporary accounts that mentioned their marriage. This assiduous research succeeds in furnishing readers with a welter of fascinating details about the couple’s daily lives…”
– Virginia DeJohn Anderson, The Times Literary Supplement, 3 February 2016
“In this impressive and highly readable dual biography, historian Flora Fraser has added an absorbing portrayal of George and Martha Washington and their extended family to the catalog of books on early American icons. Despite the limited documentation still in existence about their private lives, through extensive research, Fraser has garnered enough information to compose a consequential story of their relationship.”
– Bill Schwab, The Missourian, February 2016
Here’s To You, Mrs Washington
“In this scrupulously researched book, [Flora Fraser] argues that while George may indeed have been the making of America, Martha was the making of George. She didn’t just provide the money that enabled him to dedicate himself to the the revolutionary struggle, she was with him every step of the way.”
– Kathryn Hughes, The Mail on Sunday, January 2016
“In her elegant account of their relationship, ‘George and Martha Washington: A Revolutionary Marriage’, Flora Fraser shows how false is the idea that, as she puts it, ‘men of destiny customarily bestride the world alone’. During the Washingtons’ lifetime, she comments no one ‘would have thought of ignoring Martha’.”
– Lucy Moore, Literary Review, December 2015
“It’s a thrilling story, which Fraser begins in 1758, with Washington aged 26, built like Hercules, fighting off dysentery, and flirting with another man’s wife. A colonel in the Virginia regiment, he had, as he put it himself, ‘no prospect of preferment’ and no evident ambition. Enter Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two young children. She would, thought Washington, make ‘an agreeable partner’, which is not as dry an estimate as it sounds: having ‘good sense’, a ‘good disposition’ and the ‘means of supporting [him]’, Martha ticked Washington’s three main boxes. Her plainness, noted by everyone, counted among her virtues. She, on the other hand, fancied Washington straight away (‘an entire chapter,’ writes Fraser, ‘could be dedicated to the susceptibility of Eve… to Adam in military attire’). He was six foot two and straight as a rod. She was five foot nothing and round as a tub.”
– Frances Wilson, The Spectator, December 2015
The New York Times
“Fraser, an accomplished biographer who writes with great ease and wit, quickly alerts us to her predicament, confessing that her book “is necessarily an oblique look at the Washingtons’ marriage.” Can we, from this perspective, really tell whether George and Martha were, as Fraser’s subtitle insists, “join’d by friendship, crown’d by love”? She supports the truth of this phrase, taken from an inscription on the back of a miniature portrait of Martha, “through the medium of their correspondence with others, and through contemporaries’ descriptions of their relationship.” The Washington family account books offer additional insights. To provide a context for the Washingtons’ marriage — and, quite frankly, to fill pages — Fraser also includes descriptions of the social and political life of the colonies. Fortunately, these passages are interesting, and are likely to keep readers engaged while they wait for more snippets of information about George and Martha’s partnership.”
– Annette Gordon-Reed, The New York Times, 4th December 2015
“A Revolutionary Marriage tells the story of a couple, a family, and a country with sympathy and huge skill; it is also beautifully illustrated. Fraser is a respectful biographer, scholarly, unshowy and unsensational. She does not attempt to fill the archival gaps with speculation, and is explicit about the things that remain unknowable.
Fraser’s telling restores Martha Washington to the historical narrative, both as Mother of the Nation and a woman in her own right. Her complex portrait of Washington, meanwhile, frees him from the cult of hero-worship. Rather, the general and president feels most alive not on the battlefield but as an attentive ( if slightly alarming) host, appearing in the middle of the night at the bedside of a cold-stricken and surprised visitor with a “bowl of hot tea”.”
– Daisy Hay, The Telegraph, 30th November 2015
“An intimate portrait of America’s original power couple. As a wealthy 26-year-old widow, Martha Dandridge Custis attracted many suitors. She chose the ambitious soldier George Washington. Her fortune paved the way to his career in politics and she proved an ideal politician’s wife. Although not especially passionate (a newlywed Washington described Martha as ‘an agreeable consort for life’), the marriage seems to have been happy. Impeccably researched and entertaining.”
– The Lady, November 2015
The Boston Globe
“The publication of two works by accomplished biographers — “The Washingtons’’ by Flora Fraser and “Lady Bird and Lyndon’’ by Betty Boyd Caroli — do much to fill in these blank pages of presidential history.
Together these books, equally smartly written and devoid of gossip and cant, remind us that, as another presidential couple, Woodrow and Edith, proved in the last years of the Wilson administration nearly a full century ago, national leadership is a joint appointment — two for the price of one, in the unfortunate phrase that Clinton used in 1992 when defending the large role he contemplated for Hillary.”
– David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe, 21st November 2015
The Sunday Times
“Would George Washington have ever been commander of the revolutionary army or president of the United States, if he had not married the rich widow of Mr Custis?” wondered John Adams in 1816. As Flora Fraser observes in her portrait of the Washingtons, it was a fair question.”
– Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times, 26th November 2015
“It’s a self-evident truth that George Washington set precedents. In her new book The Washingtons, a biography of America’s founding marriage, Flora Fraser makes the less evident point that Martha Washington set some too and that together they paved the way for First Couples to follow.”
– Lily Rothman, Time, 23 November, 2015
Wall Street Journal
“In “The Washingtons,” an ambitious, well-researched and highly readable dual biography, Flora Fraser has worked hard, despite the limited documentation that is available, to portray George and Martha, and their extended family, as fully rounded, flesh-and-blood people, freeing them from the heavy brocade of hagiography.”
– Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Jounal, November 13th, 2015
“Without editorializing, Fraser presents a moving portrayal of the first couple’s devoted relationship, their domestic concerns, and a valuable depiction of upper-class 18th-century life that will appeal to readers of popular history.”
Spotlight: Supporting Roles in History
“Flora Fraser’s new biography, The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love”, is a dense but fascinating account of the nation’s first “first couple.” Using letters, journals, dispatches and a variety of authoritative texts, the British author documents George and Martha’s comings and goings as they managed his Mount Vernon estate and dealt with a host of relatives, friends and politicians.”
Top 10 history titles for this autumn
Flora’s book ‘The Washingtons: George and Martha, ‘Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love’ was featured byas one of the top 10 history titles for this autumn in his article ‘About face’, published in the London Sunday Times Culture section on 6th September 2015.
Barbara Hoagland, The King’s English
“Much has been written about George Washington, but Fraser’s examination of the marriage between George and Martha is unique. Their decade’s long marriage was punctuated by revolution, the creation of a new country and personal tragedy. Through the years their love and admiration for each other was apparent to all who knew them and Fraser has done a commendable job of revealing how they leaned on each other. Whether it was domestic issues or a recalcitrant Continental Congress, George and Martha looked to each other for advice and sustenance. Fraser’s book is a revealing look at both the Mother and Father and the Nation.”
– Barbara Hoagland, The King’s English, Salt Lake City, UT
H. W. Brands, author of Reagan
“In this charmingly insightful dual biography, Flora Fraser makes a compelling case that America’s first First Couple was its first power couple. Martha Washington here emerges from her husband’s historical shadow to reclaim the place she occupied in life as his indispensable collaborator in war and peace. An important story delightfully told.”
– H. W. Brands, author of Reagan
Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“Flora Fraser’s The Washingtons is a vivid and intimate history of America’s first First Family. For those who have ever wondered what George would have been without Martha, and how Martha would have fared without George, this book provides the answer and much else besides. With her usual flair and grace, Fraser proves the old adage that no man is an island, particularly when it comes to achieving great success.”
– Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire