New York Times Book Review • Editors’ Choice
Finally revealing the family’s indefatigable women among its legendary military figures, The Howe Dynasty recasts the British side of the American Revolution.
In December 1774, Benjamin Franklin met Caroline Howe, the sister of British General Sir William Howe and Richard Admiral Lord Howe, in a London drawing room for “half a dozen Games of Chess.” But as historian Julie Flavell reveals, these meetings were about much more than board games: they were cover for a last-ditch attempt to forestall the outbreak of the American War of Independence.
Aware that the distinguished Howe family, both the men and the women, have been known solely for the military exploits of the brothers, Flavell investigated the letters of Caroline Howe, which have been blatantly overlooked since the nineteenth century. Using revelatory documents and this correspondence, The Howe Dynasty provides a groundbreaking reinterpretation of one of England’s most famous military families across four wars.
Contemporaries considered the Howes impenetrable and intensely private—or, as Horace Walpole called them, “brave and silent.” Flavell traces their roots to modest beginnings at Langar Hall in rural Nottinghamshire and highlights the Georgian phenomenon of the politically involved aristocratic woman. In fact, the early careers of the brothers—George, Richard, and William—can be credited not to the maneuverings of their father, Scrope Lord Howe, but to those of their aunt, the savvy Mary Herbert Countess Pembroke. When eldest sister Caroline came of age during the reign of King George III, she too used her intimacy with the royal inner circle to promote her brothers, moving smoothly between a straitlaced court and an increasingly scandalous London high life.
With genuine suspense, Flavell skillfully recounts the most notable episodes of the brothers’ military campaigns: how Richard, commanding the HMS Dunkirk in 1755, fired the first shot signaling the beginning of the Seven Years’ War at sea; how George won the devotion of the American fighters he commanded at Fort Ticonderoga just three years later; and how youngest brother General William Howe, his sympathies torn, nonetheless commanded his troops to a bitter Pyrrhic victory in the Battle of Bunker Hill, only to be vilified for his failure as British commander-in-chief to subdue Washington’s Continental Army.Britain’s desperate battles to guard its most vaunted colonial possession are here told in tandem with London parlor-room intrigues, where Caroline bravely fought to protect the Howe reputation in a gossipy aristocratic milieu. A riveting narrative and long overdue reassessment of the entire family, The Howe Dynasty forces us to reimagine the Revolutionary War in ways that would have been previously inconceivable.
A richly detailed and lively saga of one of its most distinguished families. Challenging and insightful, it reflects impressive scholarship, grounded in exhaustive archival research on both sides of the Atlantic.... The Howe Dynasty shows how women whose supreme function in life was to produce male heirs could nonetheless find a voice through informal “networking,” establishing crucial contacts in the drawing room or on the hunting field that could be mobilized to secure favors and control opinion. —Stephen Brumwell, Wall Street Journal
Vivid and compelling. . . . Combining military analysis with an effective use of heretofore ignored sources, she brings together the domestic sphere and the military sphere to form an original and more complete picture of a fascinating family.—Barbara Spindel, Christian Science Monitor
Flavell deftly weaves together social, political, and military history and presents a whole picture of the Howe family that discredits some of the criticism of the Howes while elevating the value put upon history as told from a woman’s perspective.—Kelly Mielke, Journal of the American Revolution
In this brilliantly conceived and vividly written biography . . . Flavell skillfully alternates vivid descriptions of overseas battles with developments in England, and brings new insights to William’s alleged affair with the 'captivating Bostonian' Elizabeth Lloyd Loring. History buffs won’t want to miss this richly textured account.—Publishers Weekly, starred review
[A]s the Revolutionary War nears, the narrative gains—and retains—a momentum that effectively turns a group biography into a swiftly paced history of the war and its aftermath . . . The author offers much for historians to argue about and plenty for patient readers to enjoy. An intelligent, sympathetic portrait that challenges popular views of the Howe family.—Kirkus Reviews
Full of detail and intrigue, the narrative is illustrated with vivid portraits of extended family members and maps of military engagements. This engaging popular history stands apart for its different perspective of the British side of the American Revolution and the Howe family’s involvement in peace efforts.—Stacy Shaw, Library Journal