The King's General

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The King's General
First US edition
Author Daphne du Maurier
Country UK
Language English
Genre Gothic, Historical romance
Publisher Gollancz (UK)
Doubleday (US)
Publication date
Pages 298

The King's General is a novel, published in 1946, by English author and playwright Daphne du Maurier.


It was the first novel Du Maurier wrote while living at Menabilly, the setting for an earlier novel Rebecca, where it is called 'Manderley'.[1][2] The writing of the novel was accompanied by prolific research, in which Du Maurier was assisted by Oenone Rashleigh and historian A. L. Rowse, to ensure the historical accuracy of her presentation of the Devon/Cornwall setting at the time of the Civil War.[1] The historical precision and accuracy made it popular among local people, but the novel's reviews did not praise this aspect, which disappointed Du Maurier.[2] The inspiration for the novel came from a discovery by William Rashleigh of a skeleton when involved in renovation work on the house. The skeleton was thought to belong to a Cavalier of the Civil War because of its clothing.[1][2]


The novel is set at the time of the English Civil War. A middle-aged Honor Harris narrates the story of her youth, from the age of ten, when living with her brother Robin. The narrative begins when Kit, Honor's oldest brother, brings home his new bride, Gartred. After only three years, Kit dies of smallpox and Gartred moves away.

At age eighteen, Honor meets Richard Grenvile, Gartred's brother. They fall in love and, despite a former arrangement for Honor to marry another, they decide to be married. Honor is injured and loses the use of her legs in a riding accident, when out with Richard and Gartred. Subsequently, Honor refuses to marry – or even see – Richard.

By the time the Civil War breaks out, fifteen years have passed; Honor has grown in independence, and Richard has had three children, Joe, born illegitimately from an affair with a dairymaid; Dick, from a failed marriage; and Dick's sister, who lives in Holland and is not really part of the story. Following some nearby violence, Honor moves to Menabilly, the home of her sister and brother-in-law, where she again meets Richard, who is posted in Plymouth as a leader of the King's army in the west of England.

During the war, Richard is wounded, and Honor tends to him in his weakness. The Parliamentarians take Cornwall, and Richard flees the country. He is part of a Royalist rebellion, though, some years later. He is betrayed: it is suggested that the betrayer is his son Dick. An escape plan is made to remove Richard and Dick safely from the Parliamentarians to Holland to be with Richard's daughter and Dick's sister, after the revolt fails. Rumours of their escape which are told to Honor suggest that only Richard is able to escape, which brings the reader back to the prompt for Du Maurier's tale – the skeleton discovered in the excavations of Menabilly.

Literary criticism[edit]


The King's General has been classed as a gothic novel because of the prominence of archetypal gothic tropes. Included in these tropes is the motif of the 'distorted body', a trope the author deflects by attributing it to the protagonist and forcing the reader to experience the body through the view of the narrator.[2]

Another trope of gothic fiction which Du Maurier makes use of is the secret room.[2] Ever in the mind of the author is the secret room in which the Cavalier who inspired the novel was found.[2] The secret passage to the summer house is also a frequent motif, leading to the room which Honor discovers, in which local Royalists are hiding silver to support the king's cause, a fact she disguises when Menabilly is occupied.

For the most part, Du Maurier opts for language contemporary to the time of writing rather than setting. However, the contrast of the extent of historical research and the modern use of language (coupled with relatively modern attitudes and manners which are found in all her historical novels) is uncomfortable: as one critic of The Times Literary Supplement claimed, "Though we readily accept that the public events [of The King's General] took place during the Civil War, it is impossible ever to believe the people lived in this period."[2] What critics like Horner and Zlosnik claim is that this, rather than creating a conflict, is actually an interplay, another way in which Du Maurier undermines the tropes of the gothic novel, through the combination with the historical romance genre.[2]

The historical romance classification is also eluded, because despite Honor's early reference to the reader expectation of the marriage and children of the protagonist, Honor never mothers Richard's children, but rather acts as a substitute mother for Dick, while he is rejected by his father.[2][3]

Queer theory[edit]

Some critics, including Horner and Zlosnik, suggest that Dick may be homosexual and that this is an aspect of his father's rejection of him throughout the novel.[2] Characters in the novel portrayed as dominantly masculine, including Richard, suggest connections between being foreign and homosexual. Neither of these prejudices of Richard's are endorsed by Honor or the novel.[2]

Historical and biographical[edit]

The King's General was written at the end of the Second World War, and reflects on the influence of war on family and romance.[2] Honor's incapacity in the novel – represented by the nature of her injuries leaving her housebound – suggests an ambiguous message of limited freedom for women in wartime.[3]

The novel is dedicated to Du Maurier's husband, 'also a general', suggesting some biographical connection between him and Richard. From this reading, Du Maurier is Honor, developing her own independence in the restrictions of her circumstance, while her husband was at war.[2]


The novel was adapted as a radio drama for BBC Radio 4, first broadcast in 1992.[4] It was adapted by Micheline Wandor and directed by Cherry Cookson. Actors included Cathryn Harrison as Honor, Roger Allam as Richard, and Carolyn Pickles and Philip Sully.

In 2014 Nina Companeez released a TV movie about Daphne du Maurier's novel called "Le général du roi". The plot is transposed in France, during the War in the Vendée.


  1. ^ a b c Wilmore, Ann. "Review of The King's General". Daphne du Maurier. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Horner, Avril; Sue Zlosnik (1998). Daphne du Maurier: writing, identity and the gothic imagination. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 86–100.
  3. ^ a b Light, Alison (1991). Forever England: femininity, literature and conservatism between the wars. Routledge.
  4. ^ "The King's General". BBC.