Short summary - The History of Henry Esmond, Esq., A Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Queen Anne - William Makepeace Thackeray

British literature summaries -

Short summary - The History of Henry Esmond, Esq., A Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Queen Anne
William Makepeace Thackeray

Events take place in England at the very beginning of the 18th century, during the reign of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart dynasty. Anna has no children, and therefore, after her death, the throne should go to representatives of another dynasty - Hanover. However, the court party and military circles want to see on the throne the Queen’s brother Karl Stewart, who is in exile in France. Against this background, the life of the protagonist of the novel, Henry Esmond, a supporter of Stuart and a participant in the struggle for his accession to the throne, flows. The novel is written in the form of his memoirs.

Henry Esmond is the son (believed to be illegal) of the third Viscount Castlewood, he does not know his mother. After the death of his father, he is brought up by the fourth Viscount Castlewood, in whose castle he lives. The boy has a deep affection for the owner and especially the mistress, Lady Castlewood, who has two children - son Frank and daughter Beatrice. Infected with smallpox, Henry becomes the cause of the disease and Lady Castlewood, after which she loses her former beauty, but does not deprive Esmond of her goodwill. With her money, he goes to study at the university, then to devote himself to a spiritual career. Arriving at the estate for the holidays before taking the dignity, Henry meets Lord Mohan, whom Lord Castlewood lost a large sum of money in cards. Mohan feels like the master of the house and tries to seduce Lady Castlewood. Repaying the debt Lord Castlewood challenges Mohan to a duel, of which Henry Esmond becomes a witness and accomplice. The mortally wounded Lord Castlewood reveals a secret to him: Esmond is the rightful heir to his father and all his titles, for he combined a legal marriage with his mother, whom he later abandoned. She, having given the child to be raised by relatives, went to the monastery. This happened in Brussels, from where the boy was then transferred to England, where he met with his father. However, Henry Esmond decides to renounce his rights in favor of Lady Castlewood and her children. Unaware of this, Lady Castlewood, learning that Henry was involved in a duel and did not save her husband from death, drives him out of the house. Esmond is the rightful heir to his father and all his titles, for he was married by law to his mother, whom he later abandoned. She, having given the child to be raised by relatives, went to the monastery. This happened in Brussels, from where the boy was then transferred to England, where he met with his father. However, Henry Esmond decides to renounce his rights in favor of Lady Castlewood and her children. Unaware of this, Lady Castlewood, learning that Henry was involved in a duel and did not save her husband from death, drives him out of the house. Esmond is the rightful heir to his father and all his titles, for he was married by law to his mother, whom he later abandoned. She, having given the child to be raised by relatives, went to the monastery. This happened in Brussels, from where the boy was then transferred to England, where he met with his father. However, Henry Esmond decides to renounce his rights in favor of Lady Castlewood and her children. Unaware of this, Lady Castlewood, learning that Henry was involved in a duel and did not save her husband from death, drives him out of the house.


Esmond enters the army and takes part in the war for the Spanish inheritance. The general course of history intervenes in the private life of the hero, who is drawn into a whirlpool of events of the broadest social scale. A brave and disinterested young man, capable of noble deeds, he sees not only the ceremonial side of the war, described on the pages of the court chronicle and official historiography, where only the deeds and deeds of the kings and commanders are praised. He sees the inside out: burning estates, devastated fields sobbing over the corpses of fathers and sons of women, "a drunken revelry of soldiers among tears, violence and death." «I was ashamed of my craft when I saw these atrocities,» as Henry Esmond later tells Joseph Addison, a writer, poet and journalist, a prominent representative of the literature of the early English Enlightenment, appearing in the novel and trying to sing the victories of English weapons. His fellow pen, Richard Style, becomes a close friend of Esmond.


In the novel, the «great» commander, the commander of the English army, the Duke of Marlborough, depicted as a soulless and prudent careerist, hungry for wealth and glory at all costs, is debunked. For him, war is «a game no more exciting than billiards» and he sends entire squadrons of death, as if putting a ball in a pocket. For the sake of profit, he even conspires with the enemy - the French, and his fame was bought with the blood of thousands of soldiers and officers, whom he despises, cheats and insults. Showered with titles and honors, he skimp on praise comrades in arms. «Aren't we fighting to let him drown in wealth?» - they say about him in the army. The «wrong side» of his fame is corruption and corruption. In the history of Thackeray, the flip side of great events was of interest, for the novelist wanted to discern behind the external brilliance

Once in Brussels during the war, the hero finds the grave of his mother, who ended her days in the monastery. Returning to London, he reconciles with Lady Castlewood, who now knows his secret. Her daughter Beatrice has become a beauty during this time, she shines at the court of the Queen and many times she could already make a brilliant party. But she, unlike her mother, is too picky and conceited, she needs a titled hero like Marlboro, the commander in chief, and not the colonel, which is Esmond. He falls in love with Beatrice, but realizes that he has no chance. Finally, when they began to look at Beatrice as an old maid, she chooses a very titled bridegroom - the Duke of Hamilton, who was awarded the highest Scottish award - the Order of the Thistle and the highest English - the Order of the Garter. However, fate cruelly laughed at Beatrice. Before the wedding, the Duke of Hamilton dies in a duel at the hands of Lord Mohan, the murderer of her father. History intervenes again in private life: Hamilton was a supporter of the Stuart house and wished for the return of the exiled king. The party of supporters of the Hanoverian dynasty was interested in his death. King Charles, who lives in France under the name Chevalier de Saint-Georges, constantly weaves intrigues in order to return to his homeland and seize power. His commitment to alcohol and a dissolute lifestyle is well known, so not everyone in England believes that he will be a great acquisition for his homeland. However, it was precisely to him that Esmond approached his cunning plan in the last hope in this way to win the heart of Beatrice, who was dreaming of restoring the Stuart’s power. Trying to change the course of history, the hero seeks to find happiness in his private life.


Esmond's plan is based on the outward resemblance of the young king to the son of Lady Castlewood Frank, who lives in Brussels and is about to visit his mother in England. The king must use the passport of the young Viscount Castlewood and reach England under his name, and then be in Lady Castlewood's house under the guise of her son until a certain moment when his appearance should equally stun friends and enemies so that the latter do not have time to rally to fight back. This is what happens. However, when she sees the king close in her house, Lady Castlewood realizes that the hero whom she reveres is «only a man, and not one of the best.» He begins to drag after Beatrice and behaves extremely carelessly. Beatrice is sent to the village, and he rushes after her, forgetting everything, and misses his chance in history. The queen dies, a new lord treasurer is appointed, sympathetic to Karl, the troops are ready to swear allegiance to him, and the color of the British nobility is ready to accompany him to the palace, but there is no applicant in London. He sighs under the window of Beatrice, who in a letter herself hinted to him where to find her, not realizing that with her frivolity she was destroying the plans of the conspirators. Carried away by the skirt, Karl loses his crown - George, the representative of the Hanoverian dynasty, ascends the throne.

Disappointed in the king and in the entire Stuart family, for the sake of whom the ancestors of Esmond broke and shed blood, Henry also refuses Beatrice, realizing all her emptiness and vanity. He does not want to live in England anymore and leaves for America with Lady Castlewood, married to whom he finds solace in his declining years.