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Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  406 ratings  ·  58 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
Sep 30, 2013 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
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
Cassandra Kay Silva
Feb 03, 2012 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 Amb ...more
Dinah Küng
Mar 28, 2012 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. ...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
This could be a little dense at times but it's a great anecdotal snapshot of those who've "married in" to the British Diplomatic Service and the social roles and expectations of women, in the Empire and more recently. The narrative focuses on a few key historical figures (who I would be delighted to read more about) and the more recent and emotive topics focused on the correspondence and experience of family, friends and the author herself.
I did feel that the later chapters dealing with what it
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
This is an excellent addition to books about social history, especially those which resurrect the neglected lives of women: in this case the diplomatic wives, who from the seventeenth century, accompanied their menfolk to postings around the world. Katie Hickman, herself the daughter of a diplomat's wife, has written a lively, highly anecdotal account of the experiences of these women: their public and private lives, hardships and amazing experiences. The author has used first hand sources, such ...more
Kate Millin
Apr 30, 2011 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
Feb 03, 2011 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
Jul 12, 2010 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
Persephone Abbott
Jul 31, 2011 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. ...more
Megan Spilker
Sep 12, 2009 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. ...more
Light historical read on the institution of the British embassy wife - that will say women who were married to men employed by male embassy workers. These women were never employed or paid by the embassy, and yet simply because of the marriage, their lives were considered that of the embassy. (Hickman herself points out at the start that women who have worked in embassies are beyond the scope of this book, so they don't come in).Having read this, it's not a life I could have taken to.

This is a h
Jul 07, 2017 rated it liked it
The level of detail and depiction of hardships were intriguing, but I only made it through half of the book. These women worked as hard as pastors' wives, and with as little support, but their goals in supporting their husband's vocation seemed rather insubstantial. The level of 'why' was missing in the narrative - why should the readers care that the wives had to put up with lack of servants, or the constant juggle of family life mixed with business, or the constant backbiting mixed with intrig ...more
May 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I enjoyed reading this book so it should probably be 3.5 stars but it was in some ways a little unsatisfying. The purpose of the book was to show the role played by the wives of British diplomats from the 17th century until the end of the 20th. These women were unpaid but expected to take a huge part in their husband's jobs. All of this was very interesting and we were introduced to some fascinating and often heroic women, most of whom could have been the subject of a book on their own. The prob ...more
Fiorella Mauro
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ambassador, you spoil us.

3/4 history, 1/4 memoir of a British diplomat's daughter. The historical research and the insight into the lives of British diplomatic wives is entertaining and not at all dull. Some of the anecdotes are laugh-out-loud funny. The memoir aspects are more dependent on your tastes. Overall, a wonderful book to have with some Ferrero Rocher.
Eldene Eyssell
Nov 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Some really interesting anecdotes. However, I found the thematic organisation didn't work (leading to repetition and oh so many transitional paragraphs to compare and contrast). I would have preferred the material to be, for example, organised chronologically and/or according to countries, instead of jumping all over the place. ...more
This was a fun and informative read. Even though this book is written from the point of view of the spouse, I recommend it for anyone considering foreign service or work abroad. There are lessons about representing a nation in a variety of environments and amazing stories. I laughed a lot as well.
Oct 25, 2020 rated it liked it
A fascinating and entertaining read about the lives of British diplomatic wives from the seveneenth century onwards. It was most interesting to read about the Tullys quarantining themselves for 13 months as plague raged across Tripoli.
Caroline Cassell
Jun 09, 2017 rated it liked it
quite interesting but the book was divided into topics with the same characters appearing again and again. i would have preferred a narrative
Jill Schroeder
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible
Interesting and gossipy romp through time of hardships, loneliness, duty, health issues and the difficult path of etiquette and meal plannings. Really enjoyed.
Claire Biggs
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
The history of the Diplomatic's wife varying from 1600's to the 1990's has changed so much, reading of the varying degrees of how they travelled and lived was an eye opener ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book about the lives and experiences of historical diplomatic wives. Joyously written and hugely entertaining.
Aug 12, 2012 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
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 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 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 menti ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I enjoy this book oh so very much but I don’t think many people will appreciate the subject. Sometimes it is hard to follow as it progresses by topic more than chronological but it is engaging nonetheless.
Nov 04, 2008 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.
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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.

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