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Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  281 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
"The reverse of stuffy" is how one British reviewer characterized Katie Hickman's portrait of English diplomatic wives. Unstuffy it is.

Hickman, whose writing is graceful and sprightly, describes the unusual and often difficult lives of Foreign Service spouses. Tracking these feisty transplants from the 17th century to the present, she shows how these very significant othe
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 8th 2011 by Flamingo (first published 1999)
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Nandakishore Varma
Jan 02, 2016 Nandakishore Varma rated it really liked it
In the Indian epic Ramayana, there is a poignant scene: Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, is forced to renounce his kingdom and go to the forest for fourteen years. His young wife Sita insists on accompanying him, against his better counsel. As they step out of the palace, Sita asks: “How much further to the forest?” It is said that at this, Rama’s eyes moistened for the first time.

I think most of the the so-called “Diplomatic Wives” mentioned in Katie Hickman’s Daughters of Britannia would have symp
Cassandra Kay Silva
Feb 05, 2012 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The book was very well researched and had some absolutely amazing stories embedded in it. The grandiose moments in court coupled with the desperate hardships of traveling and living in Remote outposts like Persia and Brazil during these times was very compelling. It spanned mostly from the late 1800 up until the present day although the focus was fairly heavily on the early and mid 1900's and had a collection of some of the most fascinating and intriguing stories of the lives of the wives of ...more
Dinah Küng
Mar 28, 2012 Dinah Küng rated it it was amazing
Along with a similar book, Women of the Raj, a fantastic tribute to the courage, imagination, energy and sheer perseverance of British diplomatic wives in putting the best face on what were in many cases, impossible situations. In these times, when globalization is the byword, it's hard to appreciate when it was absolutely a question of personal and professional survival to remain true to a particular culture and upbringing in the face of enormous challenges and physical dangers. Loved it.
Katie Hickman seems to have three major points here: trying to redeem the neglected "women's work" that countless female diplomatic partners have done supporting their husband's career, exploring the ways in which the helpmeet role of the spouse has changed (or not), and fighting the perception that diplomacy is just a bunch of overpaid, to-the-manor born snots going to balls. All while, seemingly, trying to give us a sense of the history of the service, and the many different kinds of women and ...more
Kate Millin
May 07, 2011 Kate Millin rated it really liked it
As the daughter of a diplomat, Katie Hickman is well-situated to write about the lives of the women who, from the 17th century onward, have traversed the globe as partners of Britain's ambassadors. These women are more than simply bored socialites, they are indispensable companions, intrepid travellers and, in many cases, exemplary ambassadors for their country. Hickman details the lives of the female ambassadors, from flamboyant characters such as Vita Sackville-West, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu ...more
Gail Carriger
This is a fun read, and factual, so far as I can tell, but the information is not organized chronologically. More this book talks about the experience of being a diplomat's wife. So a paragraph on packing might include three different women in three different places and times: one 1780s Paris, one 1950s America, one 1870s China.

As a alt-history author, I tend to need information about travel to a specific place at a certain period of history, well organized, and easily assessable. This book is
Jul 12, 2010 Redfox5 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I really struggled with the first half of this book. It's taken nearly a week to read becuase it just made me feel so sleepy and yawny. I usally finish books within 3 days! However this book does get a lot more intresting and readable after 'Social life' So best to stick with it. It makes it quiet hard at first becuase there are so many names and dates to remember. At the end of the book Katie Hickman asks the question 'Would you find this kind of life exciting?' I honestly don't think I would. ...more
Megan Spilker
Sep 12, 2009 Megan Spilker rated it it was amazing
Another book I couldn't put down and one of the biggest inspirations for becoming an Ambassador or someone in the realm of diplomacy. The real-life stories of these incredible women are utterly gripping. The accounts of incidents overseas are completely amazing that one would almost assume that the whole book is a work of fiction. A fantastic read for both genders.
Sep 04, 2012 Danielle rated it liked it
I picked this book up at the Lafayette Library Sale last month because the copy on the back cover made it sound like a history of British diplomats' wives drawn from their own words in the form of oral histories, letters, journals, autobiographies and the like. I have to say, I did really enjoy reading it, but it was frustrating at times because I still don't know what audience the book is aimed at.

It focuses on a main group of 25ish women with occasional mentions of others, ranging from 1661 t
Feb 23, 2011 Veronica rated it it was ok
Well, this is a far cry from Katie Hickman's Travels With a Mexican Circus, one of the books I most enjoyed reading last year. This one reads rather like something commissioned by the British Foreign Office to hand out to diplomatic spouses so they know what they're letting themselves in for. It would work really well for that situation in fact.

As a daughter of diplomats herself, Hickman obviously finds the details fascinating, but I didn't, apart from a few amusing or scary anecdotes. I just co
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]I'm probably being rather unfair to this book, but I'm giving up on it not quite half-way through. Hickman, herself a diplomat's daughter, has pulled together an engaging collection of correspondence from the wives (and occasionally other female relatives) of British diplomats posted abroad throughout the last four centuries. The material is amusing and sometimes moving. But I felt that the book lacked a substantial intellectual framework, s ...more
Lady Rfc
Mar 05, 2014 Lady Rfc rated it it was amazing
I usually don't read books like this, so I wasn't sure what to expect. But I've always wondered about diplomatic wives and what they've had to endure over the years. Originally I got this book used from a library and thought it might go over wives from further back in history. It didn't quite go as far back as I thought, but it still covers a large range of wives and their experiences over the years.

Although the chapters are by topic, not chronological(thus you hop around eras quite a bit), this
Daughters of Britannia is an entertaining social history of the families (not just wives, but also children, siblings, and in later days, husbands) of British diplomats from the seventeenth century to the present day. Hickman moves adroitly from century to century, linking her subjects by theme rather than by chronology and covering every aspect of diplomatic life, from the postings themselves and how diplomatic families travelled to them, to the details of their lives once they reached their po ...more
Jan 02, 2014 Ari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
I bought this book in August of my freshman year in college at the library book sale but didn't get around to reading it till this past summer. Anyhoo I'm pleased I finally got around to reading it since it was about an aspect of history that never would have crossed my mind; the lives of diplomatic women. Unfortunately it did not cover British female diplomats but it provided interesting portrayals of British diplomatic wives, daughters and sisters. I wasn't familiar with any of the women ...more
Aug 14, 2009 Emily rated it really liked it
Recommended to Emily by: Kate
I had a hard time actually getting into this book. It took me awhile to adjust to her way of writing. I kept thinking all through the first half of the book that I would have changed the organization completely! It was a bit random and jumpy without any flow.

However, once I got about halfway through, I really enjoyed it. There is a lot of interesting information and some horror stories that these poor women had to go through! I recommend this to anyone in the foreign line of work, as it makes yo
Nov 04, 2008 Siria rated it liked it
Daughters of Britannia is an interesting look at the wives and families of British diplomats from the seventeenth century to the present day—women who often endured hardship and upheaval in order to follow their husbands and brothers and fathers many thousands of miles from home. Hickman writes engagingly, but I thought her work was perhaps a little insular, and too brief for the scope of what she was attempting. There is, however, a useful bibliography which points to further reading.
Apr 24, 2010 X-tina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been taking an 'History of Diplomacy' class and throughout, all we have really read/learned is the diplomacy viewpoint through the eyes of men. Granted they were the main players within diplomacy, but this book has gone into details about the lives they have lived. The wives/female relations of the diplomats expose the details they faced and you really come to understand what they went through. Amazing!
Persephone Abbott
Aug 13, 2011 Persephone Abbott rated it it was ok
This book was both entertaining and tedious. However, I came away with an excellent insight into the lives and characters of people who submitted their lives to diplomacy (in sorts) while, in most cases, upholding a solid tradition of British domesticity. And it's the take on the word "domesticity" which comes across quite often as a type of stubborn martyrdom of which the British can be so proud and defensive.
Angie Swain
Mar 26, 2013 Angie Swain rated it liked it
A very interesting account of the lives of diplomats - particularly the wives who often bore the brunt of extremely uncomfortable circumstances and personal hardships. Many also had experiences which were unique especially on hindsight - invitations to visit the wives of rulers in their harems, the coronation of the last Shah of Persia, the court of Napoleon. Fascinating.
Dec 03, 2009 Elisabeth rated it really liked it
Interesting to learn what was expected of the wives of diplomats. Also, astonishing what these women endured and accomplished, often at a very young age. Lady Kathrine Macartney was only 20 years of when she accompanied her husband to Chinese Turkestan where she helped establish and maintain the British Embassy for 17 years.
Jun 25, 2013 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Fascinating stories and details from an author who lived as a diplomat's child and therefore has an inside perspective. There might have been better ways to arrange the chapters. Sometimes it was hard to keep up with which diplomat's wife and what era the author meant. Other than those minor quibbles I recommend this book to any history buff.
Jan 28, 2014 Cassandra rated it it was ok
This had some interesting pieces, but Hickman is strangely judgemental of the past; mostly it made me wish to read her primary sources, without her interpretation of them which I often found at odds with what was actually being said.
Feb 04, 2015 ^ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travellers (real) and travellers (armchair)
Recommended to ^ by: A review in the Sunday Times
This book reminds us just how much nowadays we take travel (especially by aircraft), transcontinental telephone lines, and e-mail utterly for granted. The isolating properties of disease in foreign parts are still feared today.
Apr 02, 2013 Dagmar rated it really liked it
Great read full of historical detail and oddities of the life of diplomats abroad, often full of hardship. A definite must-read for everyone interested in British diplomatic life in the 19th and 20th century. Fantastic pictures, very authentic.
Sep 12, 2009 Susan added it
Shelves: unfinished
So far it's just a collection of obvious trivia--you mean you have to bring your own Marmite with you to Asia? Quelle surprise! And the delicate stench of unexamined White Man's Burden permeates everything. Bleah.
May 02, 2012 Barbara rated it really liked it
Although a bit repetitive, it does give quite an interesting overview of the life of diplomatic wives from the 17th century on. Some fascinating descriptions. A good bus read that you can dip in and out of.
Carrie Hill
Aug 01, 2008 Carrie Hill rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical-fact
An easily readable and well researched book exploring the lives of some of the ambassadorial wives from the 16th century onwards. The author can also give the added insight of having been a diplomat's daughter herself. Fascinating reading.
Jan 15, 2013 Lena rated it liked it
It's interesting but, after the Courtesans debacle, I'm never quite sure how accurate Katie Hickman is.
Feb 19, 2009 Katrina rated it really liked it
Lovely reading about the perils and adventures of British diplomatic wives. Entertaining and instructive.
Ann Mah
Nov 19, 2012 Ann Mah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of trailing spousehood. Interesting for me on a personal level, though at times too Brit-focused.
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Katie Hickman was born into a diplomatic family in 1960 and has spent more than twenty-five years living abroad in Europe, the Far East and Latin America. She is featured in the Oxford University Press guide to women travellers, Wayward Women.
More about Katie Hickman...

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