Under the Red Robe.

By Stanley J Weyman

Printed: 1897

Publisher: Methuen & Co. London

Dimensions 14 × 20 × 4 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 14 x 20 x 4

Condition: Very good  (See explanation of ratings)

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Item information


Red cloth binding with gilt title on the spine and front board.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

                                   An early copy – deserving to be read.

Under the Red Robe is a historical novel by Stanley J. Weyman, first published in 1894. Often described as his best work, it was also the most commercially successful, going through 34 reprints, the last in 1962.

As with other Weyman novels, it takes place during the French religious wars of the early 17th century. Since it contains a real historical event, the Day of the Dupes, the timing is the autumn of 1630 when Cardinal Richelieu (the ‘Red Robe’) was Chief Minister for Louis XIII. Under his guidance, the French state was supporting Protestants in Germany as part of the 30 Years War while suppressing domestic Protestants or Huguenots in South-West France.

The plot features one of Weyman’s more interesting characters, Gil de Berault, a gambler and notorious dueller living in Paris who sometimes acts as hired muscle for the Cardinal. He fights one duel too many and is given the choice between execution or helping the Cardinal capture a key Huguenot rebel. He picks the second option and ultimately achieves his objectives but in the process meets a good woman.

The novel was well received by contemporary historical novelists. Conan Doyle wrote that Under the Red Robe had “the most dramatic opening of any historical novel I know” and Siegfried Sassoon described his excitement as a schoolboy on first reading a copy.

It was adapted for the stage at the Haymarket Theatre in 1896, also playing on Broadway and first filmed in 1915 as a silent movie and again in 1923. A third version was made in 1937, the British swashbuckler Under the Red Robe directed by Victor Sjöström and featuring Conrad Veidt as Gil de Berault, Raymond Massey as the Cardinal and French actress Annabella as the romantic interest.

Stanley John Weyman, 7 August 1855 – 10 April 1928) was an English writer of historical romance. His most popular works were written in 1890–1895 and set in late 16th and early 17th-century France. While very successful at the time, they are now largely forgotten.

Weyman in his day was publicly popular and admired by writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde. In a 1970 BBC interview, Graham Greene said, “The key books in my life included Anthony Hope, Rider Haggard, Captain Gilson and I do occasionally re-read them. Stanley Weyman in particular.” Works like The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas had established a market for popular historical fiction and it was a crowded field. Contemporary rivals included Baroness Orczy, A. E. W. Mason, John Buchan and Rafael Sabatini.

The biographer Reginald Pound grouped Weyman with Arnold Bennett, Anthony Hope, Aldous Huxley, Dorothy L. Sayers and Somerset Maugham as Strand writers. He is now perhaps the least familiar of all these. His greatest success came before 1895 (Under the Red Robe, A Gentleman of France and The Red Cockade) and he stopped writing entirely between 1908 and 1919. His style and focus are more typical of Victorian writers, as are his faults. With odd exceptions such as Gil de Berault in Under the Red Robe, his characters are fairly uniform, his women caricatures, and his dialogue wooden to modern ears.

Weyman’s strength lies in historical detail, often in less familiar areas. The Long Night is based on the Duke of Savoy’s attempt to storm Geneva in December 1602, an event still celebrated annually in a festival called L’Escalade. Weyman received an award from the city for his research. The financial security of early success allowed him to choose subjects of personal interest. Some had less general appeal, such as the 1832 Reform Bill (treated in Chippinge), post-1815 industrialisation (Starvecrow Farm) or the 1825 financial crisis (Ovington’s Bank, reprinted in 2012 and 2015 on the back of a similar crisis in 2008).

Weyman called his books “pleasant fables” and was aware of their modest literary value.

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