"The King Over the Water: A Complete History of the Jacobites" by Desmond Seward makes an outstanding contribution to our understanding of a complex and extended passage of Scottish (and English and Irish) history. The Jacobite era is sometimes difficult to grasp because it extended over the better part of a century, and over time it can seem to have become more rather than less opaque because so much of the coverage of the Jacobites has tended to focus on just one or two brief episodes taken from what was, in reality, a very long-running soap opera.
The publisher's blurb sums this up nicely: "Recent books abut the Jacobites, the men and women who wanted to restore the exiled Stuart royal family, tend to concentrate on the rising of 1745-46, omitting the overall context that is so vital to understand their motivation. This is the first book for general readers to recreate the whole saga, not just in Scotland but in England and Ireland as well." It goes on to say: "Using radically new insights that have been gained by scholars over the past forty years, but are not widely known outside academic circles, this book is the first to tell the entire story of the movement, from Bonnie Dundee's rising in 1689 until the death of Prince Charles nearly a hundred years later. It shows that the Jacobites, not just in Scotland but in England and Ireland as well, had far stronger support and a much better chance of succeeding than most people realise - and that they were only beaten because of a sustained run of exceptional bad luck."
With any book like this, its success or failure will depend critically on the author's ability to engage his or her readers and keep them turning the page. Desmond Seward is not an author we've encountered before, but he has an enviable ability to do exactly that. His style throughout the book is approachable and eminently readable and he succeeds in leading you through the many twists and turns, and the extensive character list, in a way that is comfortable and engaging. There are two inserted sections of illustrations; and the text benefits from clear maps at critical points, especially of battles. The result is a book that deserves to be widely read and which helps clarify this important - but all too often misunderstood - part of our history.