Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Preface 2009

'All I ever wanted was to be happy, to love and be loved, and for my life to count for something. That is not madness, is it?'

Set in Somerset and London during the Restoration , Lady of the Butterflies is a dramatic tale of passion, riot and rebellion, prejudice and superstition and the beauty, hope and transformation symbolised by the butterfly.

It is the story of a fascinating woman, Lady Eleanor Glanville.

Eleanor was born the daughter of a Puritan, a Roundhead soldier and was raised in the beautiful medieval manor, Tickenham Court, in Somerset. A home she will inherit on the death of her father.

From an early age she loved the butterflies for they provided the lightness and colour prohibited by the plain and strict Puritan beliefs.
Eleanor marries but falls passionately in love with her husband Edmund's friend, the dashing Cavalier, Richard Glanville. After Edmund's death, under rather suspicious circumstances, Eleanor and Richard marry.....

A long lasting friendship begins when Eleanor meets a young apothecary on a visit to London. James Petiver would become a renowned naturalist and is credited as the father of British entomology. He and Eleanor began to correspond, sharing their love for butterflies and with James' help and encouragement was able to continue her scientific studies , finding happiness in her work when her personal life was filled with sorrow. 

'They say I am mad and perhaps it's true.'

This lovely butterfly, the Glanville Fritillary bears the name of a woman who is recognised today as a distinguished entomologist. In her own time a man who chased butterflies was subjected to derision.......for a woman it was unthinkable that she would forego the joys of domesticity in favour of learning and science.

A background rich in historical detail.

In the 17th century the wetlands of Somerset were still known as the Summer Lands.........lush pastures in summer, in winter covered with flood waters. Over the centuries the people had adapted , walking on stilts , rowing boats to church and making a livelihood from the sedge that grew in the water. But progress was bringing drainage and a threat to their way of life and the local folk feared Eleanor would decide to drain her lands.

The Monmouth Rebellion and the Battle of Sedgemoor - as in the Civil War of the previous generation families are divided and brother fights brother - a slaughter that results in the infamous Bloody Assizes of Judge Jefferies. A conflict that will turn Eleanor and Richard into bitter enemies.

A glorious historical saga spanning thirty-five years and top marks to Fiona Mountain for finding a subject that hasn't been written about a dozen times before. An amazing woman, Lady Eleanor Glanville, who surely had the odds stacked against her all the way. Beautifully written, the perfect balance between personal story and historical background -  I 100% totally loved this book and highly recommend it to all historical fiction lovers.

Royal Reviews Historical Challenge
Typically British Challenge
Year of the Historical Challenge


  1. This sounds fascinating. I am glad to hear the author hit that elusive balance between story telling and history.

  2. I am glad to hear the book is great, I would sure like to for once read about a woman I had never heard about before