Published by Matador,
28 September 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-83859104-5 (PB)
Set in 1708, in the reign of Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, Chocolate House Treason is a crime story that has at its heart the convoluted and treacherous politics of the time. Queen Anne has always been prone to allowing her favourites too much influence in political matters. For many years, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, has been the Queen’s adored close friend and received many benefits. The Duchess has used her influence to raise the power of the political party she favours, the Whigs, a fact that has been noted by the politically aware, including the satirists, who comment on politics and social issues in verse, which is distributed on the streets. The Queen’s personal life is not exempt from mockery, and this is fuelled by Anne having chosen a new favourite, Abigail Masham, the cousin of Lord Harley. Harley wishes to bring together the more moderate politicians of both Whig and Tory parties, which would weaken the power of the group of powerful Whigs who, with the support of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, are rulers in all but name. However, Queen Anne has to accept the Whig domination because she needs Marlborough to lead her army in the war in Europe. London seethes with talk about the corruption of the political system and politicians, society figures and the Queen are insulted and mocked by political lampoons that circulate through London. These are especially prevalent in the coffee and chocolate houses, where men gather to talk and read.
Mary Trotter is recently widowed and has inherited the Good Fellowship Coffee House. Mrs Trotter has great plans for her establishment and intends to turn it into the more fashionable and exclusive Bay-Tree Chocolate House. Mrs Trotter’s plans are threatened when excerpts of political poems by the satirist ‘Bufo’ are found amongst other innocuous literature left on the tables of the Coffee House. One of these poems was accidentally included in the manuscript of a new poem written by aspiring satirist Tom Bristowe, Mrs Trotter’s lodger, and is used as evidence when the publisher-printer John Morphew is detained for sedition, and later for murder.
Mrs Trotter is not a woman who gives in easily and, with the help of Tom and his friend, Will Lundy, a law student, she ventures into a world of political intrigue and treachery. Despite the danger, Mrs Trotter is determined to discover the truth behind the seditious verse and whether it has led to murder, before it destroys the lives of innocent men and ruins her plans for a magnificent chocolate house.
Chocolate House Treason is a book that is full of rich historical detail and brings to life the world of Queen Anne’s London. It is well written and meticulously edited and it is clear that the author is deeply nowledgeable about this period and its complex politics. The plot is intricate and many of the characters are engaging, especially the good-hearted, feisty Mary Trotter. Chocolate House Treason is a book that I would recommend for history lovers who wish to immerse themselves in the world of early 18th century London and the book being 700 pages have the time to devote to doing so.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
David Fairer is a Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at Leeds University. He has spent most of his life researching and writing about the early eighteenth century and bringing it to life for students. He's published books on the period and has lectured regularly in Europe, the Far East, and the USA.