Claire Harman

Tying the Windsor Knots

The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney, Volume I: 1786 & Volume II: 1787


Oxford University Press 400pp £100; 360pp £100 order from our bookshop

When the novelist Fanny Burney arrived at Windsor Castle in July 1786 to take up a position in the royal household as Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte, she found herself the object of envy amongst those at court who had had their own candidates in mind for the job: ‘I see them with difficulty forbear exclaiming “Lord! How odd it is to see you here! Burney wrote in the long, desperately unhappy diary that became the only release for her feelings. The job was, indeed, an extremely inappropriate one for a shy, proud, unfashionable middle-class woman whose claim to distinction lay in writing. And no one could have been less pleased or grateful about the new situation than the supposedly lucky 34-year-old herself. 

Burney could not have refused the post (which carried an income of £200 and a lifetime pension) without causing trouble for her father, who had ambitions to become Master of the King’s Band, but she bitterly resented giving up her home and all

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