Good Housekeeping Interview: Why are we so obsessed with the royal family?

The Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony after the 2012 Trooping the Colour Parade

I discussed the current popularity of the royal family with Good Housekeeping in the UK. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

“Members of the royal family are certainly conscious of how they are perceived. The Queen reputedly once said ‘I have to be seen to be believed’ and remaining in the public eye through tours, charitable patronages and presence on major occasions in the life of the nation is certainly key to the monarchy’s popularity,” said Dr Carolyn Harris, historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting.

Click here to read Why are we so obsessed with the royal family? in Good Housekeeping UK

 

Books I’ve Read This Week: From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 43: From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II In recent weeks, I have been reading new perspectives on the lives and reigns of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, a novel about Queen Elizabeth II, three volumes of scholarly articles about 19th and 20th century British and European royalty and a new history the United Kingdom in the 19th century. Here are this week’s reviews:

#295 of 365 Queen of the World: Elizabeth II: Sovereign and Stateswoman by Robert Hardman

Genre: Biography

Date Read: October 29-30, 2018

Acquired: Received a Review Copy

Format: Paperback, 578 pages

Review: The best royal biography of the year! Most books about Queen Elizabeth II’s reign focus on her life and reign within the United Kingdom but Queen of the World examines her role as Head of the Commonwealth and sovereign of sixteen Commonwealth realms, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Hardman provides fascinating behind-the-scenes descriptions and analysis of royal tours and state visits as well as subtle examples of royal diplomacy, especially within the context of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings.

The various aspects of royal travels including unique gifts, fashion choices, menus and itineraries are explained in detail. There is a section devoted to the role of the Royal Yacht Britannia in royal diplomacy before the ship was decomissioned in the 1990s. Queen of the World includes interviews with numerous ambassadors, diplomats and members of the royal household as well as Princess Anne, the Countess of Wessex and Andrew Parker Bowles. Over the course of the book, Hardman addresses some of the inaccuracies in The Crown series on Netflix, including the circumstances surrounding the Queen’s historic 1961 visit to Ghana.

Hardman places Commonwealth history within the context of current events concerning the monarchy and Commonwealth. Queen of the World begins with the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, which confirmed that the Prince of Wales will succeed the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and concludes with the marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, who included floral emblems from the Commonwealth nations in the design of her wedding veil. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the global significance of the monarchy and the Queen’s role in international diplomacy.

#296 of 365 The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray

Genre: History

Dates Read: October 28-29, 2018

Acquired: Received as a gift

Format: Paperback, 390 pages

Review: A culinary biography of Queen Victoria and a history of attitudes toward food, cooking and dining in the Victorian era. Victoria was an enthusiastic and adventurous eater who who sampled bird’s nest soup in 1884 and an ostrich egg omelette in 1899. There are fascinating descriptions of the Queen as a culinary tourist, tasting bouillabaisse in the French riviera and seeking out local delicacies on private visits to Switzerland, Italy and Germany. Victoria’s daily meals, which generally featured lamb chops or mutton, are compared to the more elaborate meals served at state dinners.

Queen Victoria’s weight fluctuated over the course of her reign, declining during her adolescence, increasing in her early years as Queen, declining again during her marriage to Prince Albert then increasing rapidly during her widowhood. I would have been interested to read more about the impact of the British Empire on the Queen’s meals. There are references to her enthusiasm for Indian curry dishes and assurances by importers of preserved meats from Australia and New Zealand that their products did not contain kangaroo but there is no discussion of Canadian wheat, bacon and fish, which were all exported to Britain during Queen Victoria’s reign. The book includes recipes for a variety of dishes enjoyed by the Queen including pancakes with marmalade and royal haggis. A delicious read with a fresh perspective on Queen Victoria.

#297 of 365 The Autobiography of the Queen by Emma Tennant

Genre: Fiction

Dates Read: October 25-26, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Format: Harcover, 218 pages

Review: An interesting premise for a novel: Queen Elizabeth II departs for Windsor Village, St. Lucia incognito as Mrs. Gloria Smith to write her autobiography. There are a few fun details imagining the Queen flying economy class or checking in at the aiport, in contrast to the formal circumstances of her official overseas tours. Unfortunately, the novel is consistently written in the tone of an outsider curious about and mildly critical of the monarchy rather than the Queen herself. There is a lot of time devoted to the contents of the Queen’s handbag and what the corgis might do if the Queen was not there to walk them on their usual schedule.

The references to the Queen’s German ancestry and detachment from the day to day lives of regular people sound as though they were written in a critical opinion column about the monarchy rather than how the Queen would muse about her own circumstances. Some of the speculation about the Queen’s opinions is dated as the novel was published in 2007. The plot twist concerning a pretender to the throne ignores the existence of The Royal Marriages Act. For better historical fiction about the Queen, I recommend Mrs. Queen Takes The Train by William Kuhn and An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

#298 of 365 Sons and Heirs: Succession and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century Europe edited by Frank Lorenz Muller and Heidi Mehrkens

Genre: History

Date Read: November 5, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 293 pages

Review: A well researched and insighful collection of scholarly articles concerning the role of heirs to the throne in 19th century monarchies. The editors observe that the 19th century saw the expansion of the institution of monarchy in Europe as newly independent countries such as Greece, Norway, Belgium and Bulgaria adopted monarchical government. At the same time, the spread of photography and the popular press allowed for greater scrutiny of royal dynasties as families. There were increased expectations that the lives of royalty would bear some resemblance to the lives of their elite and middle class subjects instead of other royalty alone.

Numerous articles in this collection focus on the popular view in 19th century Europe that royal weddings should follow a romantic attachment between the bride and groom and that the royal domestic sphere should allow for relaxed and informal interactions between royal parents and children. The popular perceptions of royalty developed in the 19th century continue to influence attitudes toward royal family life in the 21st century. Although the focus of the book is the 19th century, there are some fascinating articles about perceptions of royal heirs during the First World War as the future Edward VIII became extremely popular because of his military service (even though his position precluded a combat role) while Kaiser Wilhelm II’s eldest son Crown Prince Wilhelm was satirized across Europe as “Little Willy” because of his self indulgence during the war.

The focus of the book is Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Britain with individual articles concerning Belgium, Spain and Demark. The inclusion of articles concerning the role of the heir to the throne in Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the Balkan states would have enhanced the collection. The examination of popular perceptions of 19th century female heirs such as the future Queen Victoria or Queen Wilhelmina would have also been of interest. I look forward to reading future volumes in the Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy series!

#299 of 365 Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe edited by Frank Lorenz Muller and Heidi Mehrkens

Genre: History

Date Read: November 5, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 325 pages

Review: An excellent collection of scholarly articles concerning the royal image from the early 19th century until the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Philip in 1947. The editors observe that royalty needed to find new methods of maintaining public support during this period including presenting their family life to the public through photographs and public appearances. In common with Sons and Heirs: Succession and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century Europethe topics addressed in this volume remain relevant to public perceptions of royalty in the 21st century including attitudes toward royal tours, fashions, wedding and childrearing as well as royal involvement in the Olympic Games.

There are some fascinating chapters about royalty whose relationship with the public is less known today including King Oscar II of Sweden’s efforts to cultivate a Norweigian identity during his visits to Norway and Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s objections to royalty being concerned with their public image. There are detailed chapters devoted to 19th and early 20th century royal tours of the United States and India. The volume is informative and interesting for both scholars and general readers.

#300 of 365 Monarchies and the Great War edited by Matthew Glencross and Judith Rowbotham

Date Read: November 11, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 336 pages

Review: An informative, original and insightful collection of scholarly articles concerning the impact of the First World War on European monarchies. Matthew Glencross notes in the introduction that studies of royalty between 1914 to 1918 often focus on the personalities of individual monarchs involved in the conflict rather than the wider political and ceremonial aspects of monarchical government. Monarchies and the Great War examines this wider context in addition to the individual kings and queens who reigned during the hostilities.

The book includes an analysis of the role of royalty in Anglo-American relations from the mid-nineteenth century to the First World War, discussing the importance of a frequent royal presence in Canada to royal engagement with the United States. There are detailed chapters devoted to the wartime activities of King George V and Queen Mary as well as the political agenda of the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary in addition to chapters concerning monarchies at war in Belgium, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Germany and Japan.

Although Czar Nicholas II’s ill fated role as Commander and Chief of the Russian Army from 1915 to 1917 is discussed in the introduction, there are no chapters devoted to the Romanovs, a surprising omission considering that the other prominent European monarchies of the First World War each receive at least one chapter. Judith Rowbotham’s analysis of Queen Mary’s war work is excellent and the inclusion of more articles concerning European royal women’s roles during the First World War would have enhanced the book.

Monarchies and the Great War is an engaging and topical read for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. I hope that there will be further volumes in the Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy series that continue to explore this fascinating subject as there is still much research to be done concerning European monarchies in wartime.

#301 of 365 Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906 (The Penguin History of Britain) by David Cannadine

Genre: History

Dates Read: November 10-14, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Indigo Books, Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 602 pages

Review: A masterful political history of 19th century Great Britain and Ireland with a strong focus on the Westminster System and party politics as well as the changing role of the monarch over time. Histories of 19th century Britain often begin with Congress of Vienna and extend to the outbreak of the First World War but Victorious Century begins with the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland and integrates Irish history into the narrative. While the focus of the book is political developments, Cannadine (the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography), also weaves cultural history into the narrative, discussing the work of authors from Jane Austen to HG Wells. Social history receives less attention but the final chapters contain an extended analysis of how daily life in the United Kingdom changed over the course of the century. Events in the wider British Empire and Dominions are mentioned throughout the book but do not receive the same attention as politics within Great Britain and Ireland.

In terms of royal history, Cannadine notes that the 19th century was a period of gradual evolution from a monarchy able to influence political events in the manner of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert early in Queen Victoria’s reign to the more ceremonial role of the elderly Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. He also observes that successive monarchs misread the political and religious situation in Ireland. King George III opposed Catholic emancipation and Queen Victoria was hostile to Prime Minister William Gladstone’s support for Irish Home Rule. Not until King George V did a monarch observe that Irish Home Rule in the 19th century would have been a wise policy.

Cannadine admires Prince Albert, arguing that “no member of the British royal family since has made so many-sided a contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of the United Kingdom” and there is a chapter devoted to the Great Exhibition of 1851. In contrast, Cannadine is dismissive of King George III’s “delinquent sons” and argues that the Duke of Kent did not make any notable contribution besides fathering Queen Victoria, a claim disputed by the Duke’s recent biographers. I would have been interested to read more of Cannadine’s thoughts about Queen Victoria’s changing political views over the course of her reign. Overall, however, Victorious Century is an authoritative and engaging history of the 19th century United Kingdom, especially for readers interested in the political figures and developments of the time.

Reader’s Digest Interview: What to Do (and Not Do) If You Meet a Royal

Elizabeth II on a royal walkabout in New Zealand in 1970

I discussed protocol for meeting a member of the royal family with Lauren Cahn at Reader’s Digest. There are no obligatory rules but there are traditional forms. Individual members of the royal family such as Princess Anne and Prince Harry have also expressed their preferences, especially concerning selfies and intrusive photography by members of the public during royal walkabouts.

Click here to read What to Do (and Not Do) If You Meet a Royal in Reader’s Digest

 

Books I’ve Read This Week: Britain and France

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 42: Britain and France: In recent weeks, I have read novels, histories and travelogues set in Britain and/or France including a classic novel, two very different mystery novels, a book about British perceptions about France, a history of the opening weeks of the First World War, the story of a British matchmaking bureau during the Second World War, a joint biography of five influential women who presided over a famous English country house, and a history of Napoleon’s last years on the Island of St. Helena and his friendship with an English family residing there. Here are this week’s reviews:

#287 of 365 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Genre: Classic Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Listened: October 4-7, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 14 hours and 14 minutes

Review: A classic novel where literary characters make poor life choices while drinking champagne and discussing philosophy! An excellent performance by Juliet Stevenson on the audiobook and some lush descriptions by Gustave Flaubert but I found the characters and plot were not to my taste. The tragedy that unfolds seems as though it could have been so easily avoided. The best passages are those that evoke the atmosphere of the times including Emma’s absense of meaningful occupation as a country doctor’s wife and the references to the impact of Rousseau’s work on 19th century French childrearing. The characters, however, were all unlikable and the narrative is narrowly focused on them to the exclusion of different perspectives that would present alternate possible outcomes for the story. A classic that I did not especially enjoy.

#288 of 365 They Eat Horses, Don’t They?: The Truth About the French by Piu Marie Eatwell

Dates Read: October 6-15, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Book City, Toronto

Genre: Travel/Society

Review:  A book about British perceptions of France and a few French perceptions of Britain that examines each stereotype to see if there is any truth behind it. The book is filled with interesting facts about how France compares to the rest of Europe. For example, the highest per capita consumption of wine and cheese is not in France but in Vatican City and Greece respectively. The structure of the book, however, limits its scope as it only examines those aspects of French culture that are known from popular British stereotypes. I expected a more comprehensive analysis of French society. A fun read but there are other entertaining books about France by expats that cover more ground including 60 Million Frenchman Can’t Be Wrong by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau.

#289 of 365 The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

Genre: Social History

Date Read: October 19, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at BMV Books, Toronto

Format: Paperback, 359 pages

Review:  A light and breezy history of a 1940s matchmaking agency and the variety of clients that came through the door. While there is some discussion of the impact of the Second World War, the declining British Empire and postwar austerity on the marital decisions made at the time, the focus of the book is on individual anecdotes and the process of setting up and expanding a matchmaking business. The wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 led to an increase in inquiries at the marriage bureau as the celebrations prompted others to want to get married. The most entertaining part of the book is the Appendix, which lists the requirements for the ideal spouse provided by British men and women in the 1940s. The requests varied from being open to meeting “Any reasonable young woman” to very specific criteria such as “South Welsh (not North Welsh)” and “Nobody called Florence.” A fun read but the book could have included more social history of the times.

#290 of 365 A Study in Scarlet Women: The Lady Sherlock Series, Book 1 by Sherry Thomas

Genre: Historical Mystery

Dates Listened: October 23-26, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 11 hours

Review: The first volume of the adventures of Charlotte Holmes, who claims to be the sister of her alter ego Sherlock Holmes. The central character is interesting as she has strong analytical mind and little use for the social conventions of her time, which are especially restrictive for women. The novel is filled with critiques of Victorian gender roles and larger philisophical debates about the role of women in society that remain relevant in the 21st century. 
While Charlotte Holmes and her times are interesting, the story is sometimes difficult to follow, especially when multiple perspectives and plot twists are presented by a single narrator in the audiobook format. I did not agree with Charlotte’s reasoning at the beginning or end of the book and I think that she could have found other ways to achieve her independence, even in the 19th century. An interesting novel but it is probably better read on the page than experienced as an audiobook.

#291 of 365 Maisie Dobbs by Jacquline Winspear

Genre: Historical Mystery

Dates Listened: October 26-27, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 10 hours and 1 minute

Review: I greatly enjoyed this mysery novel and look forward to reading more books in the series. Maisie Dobbs begins her career as a housemaid provided with an education by her employers. After attending Girton College, Cambridge and serving as a nurse during the First World War, she becomes a detective who draws upon psychology and philosophy to solve her cases. The author does an excellent job of evoking the atmosphere of Britain during the First World War and its aftermath including the possibilities for social change and the suffering of those who were disfigured or had lost loved ones. Maisie is an engaging heroine with a thoughtful approach to investigating her cases that is reminiscent of the detectives in Alexander McCall Smith novels. The setting and themes are engaging for fans of Downton Abbey. Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction and mysteries.

#292 of 365 The Mistresses of Cliveden by Natalie Livingstone

Genre: History/Biography

Dates Read: October 24-28, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Book City, Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 512 pages

Review: A fascinating joint biography of five influential women who made their home at Cliveden House: Anna Maria Talbot, mistress of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham; Elizabeth Villiers, mistress of King William III; the politically astute Augusta, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III; the abolitionist Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland; and the first female MP to take her seat in the United Kingdom, Nancy Astor. Livingstone discusses the contributions that each of these historical figures made to the development of Cliveden House and to the politics and society of their times.
The degree of financial independence enjoyed by elite women in Britain varied from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and the book explores the choices available to each of the women who presided over Cliveden. There is also some fascinating history of the house itself. The Cliveden estate was the Duchess of Connaught’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital during the First World War and served as a Canadian Red Cross Hospital again during the Second World War. The author currently runs Cliveden as a hotel and the book is informed by her extensive research and experience of spending time on the estate. An enjoyable and informative read.

#293 of 365 The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Genre: History

Dates Listened: October 16-23, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 19 hours and 10 minutes

Review: A Pulitzer prize winning popular history classic that continues to shape histories of the First World War. Tuchman focuses closely on the events of the first month of the war, demonstrating why the various countries involved were determined to fight until the bitter end. The description of the German burning of the university library in Louvain, Belgium and the horrified public response to the destruction of so many historic manuscripts is especially compelling. Tuchman has a talent for proviving a vivid description of a historical figure in a single phrase, allowing the reader to distinguish a vast array of military and political figures across Europe. New documents have come to light since publication, especially concerning the eastern front, but the book still provides an excellent overview of the early weeks of the war. The audiobook is well read but I would have preferred to have read the physical book with maps of the western and eastern fronts.

#294 of 365 The Emperor’s Shadow: Bonaparte, Betsy and the Balcombes of St Helena by Anna Whitehead

Genre: History

Dates Read: November 1, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at Book City, Toronto

Format: Paperback, 452 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Book City, Toronto

Review:The Emperor’s Shadow is three books in one: the story of Napoleon Bonaparte’s last years on the island of St. Helena, a biography of his friend and neighbour Betsy Balcombe, and a travelogue of the author following in the footsteps of the Balcombes. Betsy is an engaging figure who resembles Lydia Bennet from Pride and Prejudice with her high spirits, irreverence, and hasty marriage to a fortune hunting military officer in scandalous circumstances. There are times when Betsy’s own experiences and impressions become overwhelmed by the wider narrative of historical events described in the book from the fall of Napoleon I to the rise of Napoleon III (who visted Betsy to hear her impressions of his famous uncle). The Emperor’s Shadow is always engaging, however, and demonstrates how members of Napoleon’s social circle became celebrities in their own right.

Books I’ve Read This Week: The Ancient World in Historical Fiction

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 41: The Ancient World in Historical Fiction In between books about history and royalty this past month, I have read some historical fiction set in the classical world. The novels include an epic saga of Israel’s history from the stone age to the 1960s, the fictional autobiography of a Roman Emperor, the perspectives of Cleopatra VII’s little known sisters and three novels inspired by characters in the The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid. Here are this week’s reviews:

#281 of 365 The Source by James Michener

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 54 hours and 32 minutes

Dates Listened: September 24-October 4, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review:  An epic historical novel that follows the history of Israel from prehistoric times until the 1960s. The structure of the novel follows the fourteen layers of an archeological dig and the stories behind the artifacts found there. The role of Judaism in structuring society over the centuries and the successive waves of military conflict and displacement in the region are dramatized in detail. While the setting comes alive in the novel, the characterization is sometimes repetitive. The novel contains many examples of men who do not feel that they fit into their society and their long suffering but loyal wives. Since the book was published in 1965, some material and perspectives are rather dated. The audiobook narrator reads very slowly and clearly and it’s therefore possible to listen at 1.25 times the usual audiobook speed and still enjoy the story at a reasonable pace.

#282 of 365 The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Listened: October 8-10, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: 11 hours and 15 minutes

Review:  A beautiful and moving Iliad inspired novel from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’s closest companion. The love story in the midst of the Trojan war is well developed. The characters are engaging including the clever Odysseus and the resourceful Briseis, who develops a close friendship with Patroclus. There is a good balance between myth and magical realism with goddesses and centaurs woven into the fabric of everyday life in Greece and Troy. The audiobook is well read, especially the rasping voice of Achilles’s mother. Highly recommended!

#283 of 365 I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Listened: October 9-13, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 16 hours and 47 minutes

Review: Classic historical fiction written in the form of Emperor Claudius’s memoirs of his path to the throne. Claudius is a charming, engaging narrator, conscious that he is writing for posterity. His childhood health problems, including a limp and speech impediment, result in him being underestimated by his family, especially his formidable grandmother Livia. Claudius receives advice that the perception that he is not a viable potential Emperor might keep him safe during periods of palace intrigue and he carefully navigates the conflicts within his extended family.

In contrast to his ambitious relatives, Claudius is more interested in scholarly pursuits such researching and writing history even in face of scepticism about his abilities and doubts that his work will ever be read. This historical perspective allows more background information about Claudius’s extended family that would be expected in a straightforward fictional memoir. I, Claudius is best enjoyed with Claudius’s family tree close at hand as there is an enormous cast of characters connected to one another through complicated geneologies and marriages.

#284 of 365 The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: October 18, 2018

Acquired: Found at Home

Format: Hardcover, 199 pages

Review: The first page or two of this novel were underwhelming for me. I could not imagine Penelope using the word “factoids” or explaining her life story after her death, thousands of years after the events of The Odyssey. Once I finished the first chapter, however, I found the book difficult to put down. Atwood’s retelling of the life of Penelope and her twelve doomed maids is original, tragic and darkly funny. The characters come to life including Helen of Troy (“Why is it that really beautiful people think everyone else in the world exists merely for their amusement?”) and Telemachus (“I’m sorry to say he was quite spoiled.”) I also liked the blend of different writing styles that brought the maids to life before their untimely deaths. Highly recommended.

#285 of 365 Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Read: October 17-22, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 342 pages

Review:  An absorbing novel about Queen Cleopatra VII’s little known sisters Berenice and Arsinoe and the decline of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. The perspective alternates between Berenice, who supplants her father as ruler and is determined to maintain Egypt’s independence from Rome, and her half sister Arsinoe who is the overlooked middle child, ignored during the struggles for power within her family. There is a strong focus on the challenges faced by women of all social backgrounds at the time, including queens. The novel ends fairly abruptly and I look forward to reading the next book in the Fall of Egypt series, The Drowning King.

#286 of 365 Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: October 24, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Format: Hardcover, 279 pages

Review: A historical novel inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid told from the perspective of Lavinia, the last wife of Aeneas and ancestor of the Romans. In the Aeneid, Lavinia is barely mentioned and is certainly overshadowed by other female characters such as Queen Dido of Carthage. In Le Guin’s novel, Lavinia is depicted as both a fully realized figure of great political significance in the prehistoric world of “the Latins” and a literary creation who speaks with the spectre of the future poet Virgil. Lavinia believes that the Aeneid ended too abruptly and that if Virgil had lived longer and continued the epic, her true deeds and character would have become well known. Lavinia is an engaging narrator and the writing is richly detailed but the plot sometimes moves slowly. Well written but not necessarily a page turner.

BBC History Magazine Article: 7 royal babies who were once seventh in line to the throne

Triumph of the Winter Queen: Allegory of the Just, 1636, by Gerard van Honthorst, a portrait of King Charles I’s sister Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and her children. Her 6th surviving son son John Philip was born 7th in line to the English throne in 1627.

My latest article in the BBC History Magazine is about 7 royal babies who were born 7th in line to the throne. Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will become parents for the first time in the Spring of 2019. The latest royal baby will be 7th in line to the throne. From the 17th century until the present day, royal children born 7th in the line of succession have pursued a variety of interesting careers including artist, consultant, jazz music expert, military officer and King of Hanover!

Click here to read 7 Royal Babies Who Were Once 7th in Line to the Throne in the BBC History Magazine

 

Books I’ve Read This Week: Imperial Russia

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 40: Imperial Russia My recent reading has Imperial Russian theme, including three books from palace museums in and around Saint Petersburg, a history of Nicholas II’s reign in the years preceeding the First World War, the collected works of a Russian satirist who attended a dinner party with Rasputin, a flawed historical novel about Grand Duchess Marie and a collection of essays of European court culture that provide a wider international context for Peter the Great’s reforms. There are many more Russian history titles on my to-read list so expect a week entitled “At the Court of the Last Czar” in the next month! Here are this week’s reviews:

#274 of 365 Saint Petersburg and Its Environs by Yevgeny Anisimov

Genre: History/Geography

Date Read: October 8, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg

Format: Hardcover, 320 pages

Review: A beautiful book of photographs of Saint Petersburg’s most famous landmarks along with panoramic images of the city and surrounding country palaces. In addition to the pictures and descriptions of famous buildings, Anisimov provides a brief overview of how each Russian ruler from Peter the Great to Nicholas II shaped the city, drawing upon the architectural trends of their reigns. The book stands out because of its photographs of little known palace and cathedral interiors alongside the more famous sites. While the book naturally contains numerous photographs of the famous Amber Room at the Catherine Palace, there are also images of rooms from the Menshikov Palace (now a museum of 18th century Russian culture) and Czar Nicholas II’s study at the Alexander Palace. An attractive and interesting book.

#275 of 365 The Catherine Palace: The State Rooms, The Living Apartments by Olga Taratynova

Genre: History/Art History

Date Read: October 8, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Catherine Palace in Pushkin

Format: Hardcover, 256 pages

Review: A beautifully illustated history of the Catherine Palace in Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoe Selo), written in honour of the town’s 300th anniversary. The Catherine Palace was a primary residence for Russian rulers from Empress Elizabeth to Czar Alexander II and one of the settings for state occasions until the reign of Nicholas II. This volume includes photographs of the artistic and architectural details in both the state and private rooms and also provides older photographs and paintings for rooms that have not yet been restored after the damage to the palace during the Second World War. There are detailed essays about everyday life in the palace with a focus on the reigns of Catherine the Great, Paul I and Alexander II. Paul I had a short and unsuccessful reign that ended in his assassination in 1801 but the book demonstrates and he and his wife Maria played a key role setting trends in art, architecture and interior design for the Russian elite in the late eighteenth century. A fascinating and visually stunning book.

#276 of 365 The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War One and Revolution by Dominic Lieven

Genre: History

Date Read: October 15, 2018

Format: Paperback, 426 pages

Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto

Review: A fascinating political history of Czar Nicholas II’s reign informed by Russian archival research. Dominic Lieven, author of Nicholas II: Twilight of Empire, focuses closely on the ministers and diplomats who surrounded the Czar and the variety of perspectives that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries concerning Russia’s future. The book provides a nuanced portrait of Nicholas II as a ruler. While Nicholas’s biographers often attribute his political missteps to sheer incompentence and unsuitability to reign, Lieven provides the political context that explains the rationale behind the Czar’s decisions, even those that turned out to be extremely misguided.
The End of Tsarist Russia will be of interest to readers interested in the circumstances in Eastern Europe that contributed to the outbreak of the First World War as well as the political context surrounding the last Russian Imperial family. I would have been interested to read more analysis of the First World War itself, which is summarized along with the February revolution in the final chapter. An epilogue explaining what happened during the Russian Revolutions and Civil War to the various ministers and diplomats discussed in the book would also have enhanced the book. As a political history of the first twenty years of Nicholas II’s reign, however, The End of Tsarist Russia is an engaging and informative read.

#277 of 365 The Passion of Marie Romanov: A Tale of Anastasia’s Sister by Laura Rose

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Listened: October 15-16, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 11 hours and 1 minute

Review: I was pleased to find a Romanov themed historical novel that I had not yet read and I liked the idea of Nicholas and Alexandra’s third daughter Marie as a narrator as she was present when the news of the Czar’s abdication arrived at the Alexander Palace and accompanied her parents from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg. There is evidence that the author completed extensive research for the novel as a number of historical documents and memoirs are quoted in the text. Greg King and Penny Wilson’s book The Fate of the Romanovs clearly influenced the author’s approach to the material.
Unfortunately, The Passion of Marie Romanov is written in a melodramatic, repetitive style that does not do justice to Marie’s character and interests. The young Grand Duchess was a talented artist, a top student, an observant letter writer and sociable person who asked numerous questions about the daily lives of the people she met. None of these characteristics are demonstrated by the narrator of the novel who is mostly a silent observer who rarely speaks to the rest of her family or the numerous members of the Imperial household named in the novel. There is an implausible “romance” that resembles Stockholm Syndrome toward the end of the novel. The narture of the relationship between Marie and one of her guards depicted in the novel does not align with the character of either the thoughtful historical Marie or the passive fictional Marie. The murder of the Romanovs is described at the end of the novel in unnecessarily grisly detail. The narration of the audiobook emphasizes the melodramatic style of the novel. I recommend The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller for readers interested in historical fiction about Czar Nicholas II’s daughters. For the correspondence and diaries of the actual Grand Duchess Marie, I recommend the recent volumes translated and edited by Helen Azar

#278 of 365 Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi edited by Robert Chandler and Anne Marie Jackson

Genre: Humour/Classic

Dates Read: October 16-17, 2018

Acquired: Purchased a BMV Books, Toronto

Format: Paperback, 220 pages

Review:  The selected writings of early 20th century Russian humourist Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya whose work was admired by both Czar Nicholas II and Lenin. Her essays are very entertaining. She wrote  in the style of Mark Twain about her career as writer as well as the interesting people she met in Czarist Russia and in exile. Highlights include her fun poem about the Governor of Saint Petersburg’s misguided efforts to fill in the Catherine canal, which amused Czar Nicholas and launched her career, her efforts to go behind the scenes of the pre-revolutionary Bolshevik party where she discovered a lot of boring meetings while workers strikes passed them by, and attending a society dinner party where Rasputin was a prominent guest who was conscious of his image in the presence of a journalist. A fresh perspective on Czar Nicholas II’s reign and the Bolshevik Revolution. Well worth reading for anyone interested in Russian history and literature.

#279 of 365 Romanovs in Peterhof and Oranienbaum by Yevgeny Anisimov

Genre: History

Dates Read: October 20-21, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg

Format: Hardcover, 538 pages

Review: A Czar by Czar history of the Peterhof Palace and surrounding former Imperial residences, lavishly illustrated with rare images from the Peterhof museum collection and the Russian state archives. Anisimov examines how each ruler from Peter the Great to Nicholas II contributed to the development and atmosphere of the palaces. There is a balance between analysis of the architecture and descriptions of daily life inside each palace in successive reigns. By the reign of Nicholas II, the Great Palace was used for grand state occasions such as the state visit of the President of France on the eve of the First World War while the Lower Dacha was the birthplace of four of the last Czar’s five children and a setting for family summer holidays by the sea. A beautiful book that provides a history of the Romanov dynasty through its most popular summer residences.

#280 of 365 The Courts Of Europe: Politics, Patronage and Royalty, 1400-1800 edited by A.G. Dickens

Date Read: October 22-23, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Borrowed from one of my students

Format: Hardcover, 335 pages

Review: A classic collection of scholarly articles about royal court culture with great illustrations and a strong emphasis on cultural patronage. Each chapter focuses on a different early modern royal court and discusses how the monarch’s household was structured as well as royal palaces, governance and cultural trends. I found the chapters about Empress Maria Theresa of the Habsburg Empire and Emperor Peter the Great of Russia especially interesting. Maria Theresa is the only female ruler whose court is analyzed in the book (though the role of women at the courts of various kings receives attention elsewhere in the volume) and her chapter discusses how Imperial patronage contributed to the development of German language opera. The Peter the Great chapter emphasizes the differences between his court in Saint Petersburg and the the courts of other European monarchs including Peter’s enthusiasm for socializing with people of all economic backgrounds and the comparative absence of influence wielded by family members. A good book for placing individual royal courts in a wider European context.

Books I’ve Read This Week: Short Royal Books

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 39: Short Royal Books: My reading list in recent weeks has included a variety of short royal books including a children’s book about Queen Charlotte and the history of the Christmas tree in England, four museum guides about the royal palaces of Sweden and Denmark, a novel about what might have happened if Queen Elizabeth II had developed an all consuming passion for reading, and the latest volume in the Penguin Monarchs series. Here are this week’s reviews:

#267 of 365 The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England by Nancy Churnin

Date Read: October 15, 2018

Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction

Acquired: Received a Review Copy

Format: Hardcover, 32 pages

Review: A delightful and well researched children’s book about how Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, brought the first Christmas tree to England. Charlotte was an unconventional princess and queen who preferred spending time in her garden to becoming a leader of fashion at court and the book shows how she made an unique impact on British history with her support for orphanages and hosting children’s parties with Christmas trees. The book includes a historical afterword about Queen Charlotte and her legacy. Beautifully illustrated and highly recommended.

The Royal Palace Stockholm#268 of 365 The Royal Palace Stockholm by Various Authors

Genre: History/Museum Guidebook

Acquired: Purchased from The Royal Palace, Stockholm

Date Read: October 2, 2018

Format: Paperback, 80 pages

Review: A room by room tour of Stockholm’s royal palace including both history and the modern ceremonies that take place there. The book concludes with short biographies of Sweden’s monarchs from Gustaf Vasa to Carl XVI Gustaf, noting key developments in Sweden’s history. Gifts presented to the Swedish royal family from foreign monarchs are discussed in detail, including the Don Quixote tapestries presented to King Gustaf III by King Louis XVI of France in the eighteenth century. I would have been interested to see more reproductions of royal portraits from the palace as well as the paintings by Gustaf VI Adolf’s 1st wife, Crown Princess Margareta. A great souvenir of my summer visit to Stockholm’s Royal Palace!

#269 of 365 The Guide to the Swedish History Museum by Inga Ullen

Genre: History/Museum Guidebook

Date Read: October 3, 2018

Format: Paperback, 96 pages

Acquired: Purchased from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm

Review: A good overview of the history of Sweden from prehistory to modern times, illustrated with objects from the Museum of Swedish History. The Viking Age and medieval art collection are described in the most detail as the museum contains an extensive collection of medieval pieces. The photographs are of the objects as you would see them in the museum and I would have been interested to see more close up views of individual artifacts, especially the historic textiles. An good introduction to both Swedish history and the museum’s collections.

#270 of 365 Christiansborg Palace Guide Book by Amalie Vorting Kristensen

Date Read: October 3, 2018

Genre: History/Museum Guide Book

Acquired: Purchased from the Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen

Format: Paperback, 64 pages

Review: The current Christiansborg palace dates from 1928, and the focus of the book is on modern Danish royal history and court ceremonies but there is also discussion of previous castles that have left ruins on the site dating back to 1167. There are some interesting details about the impact of individual members of the royal family on the Christiansborg including Queen Margarete II’s late husband Prince Henrik’s introduction of French cuisine to the palace kitchens. I would have been interested to read more about the modern Danish history tapestries in the palace. Beautiful illustrations including photographs of the royal apartments, chapel, kitchens, theatre and stables.

#271 of 365 The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Date Read: October 5, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 124 pages

Review: A charming novel about what might happen if Queen Elizabeth II developed an all consuming passion for literature after stumbling upon a traveling library while walking her dogs. At royal walkabouts, she begins asking members of the public what they are reading, assigns books on the Middle East for the Prime Minister to read before making foreign policy decisions and skips Niagara Falls on a visit to Canada to instead read the complete works of Alice Munro. There are some insightful observations about royal life and routines. A little dated now as it is set around the Queen’s 80th birthday but still a delightful read.

#272 of 365 The Treasury: The Regalia and Treasures of the Realm by Ulla Landergren

Date Read: October 10, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from The Royal Palace, Stockholm

Genre: History

Format: Paperback, 52 pages

Review: A fascinating history of Swedish coronation rituals from medieval acclamations at the Mora stone to the accession of Gustav V, who declined to be crowned in 1907. The Regalia were stored in a bank vault for much of the 20th century before being placed on display at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Today, the regalia appears at royal weddings and accessions where it is displayed to convey status but not worn by members of the Swedish royal family. The text is quite detailed and includes descriptions of the individual pieces of regalia but could have been improved by comparisons to royal accession rituals elsewhere in Europe. The illustrations are comprehensive and the book concludes with a timeline of Swedish coronations in Uppsala and Stockholm from 1528 to 1873.

#273 of 365 Henry I: The Father of His People by Edmund King

Date Read: October 21, 2018

Genre: History/Biography

Format: Hardcover, 116 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Review: The latest installment in the Penguin Monarchs series is a short biography of King Henry I, the youngest and most successful son of King William the Conqueror. Both Henry and his elder sister Adela (the mother of Henry’s successor King Stephen) were born after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and may have viewed themselves as having a special status as the children of a reigning King of England. The author discusses the King’s rise to power in detail then focuses on his administration and legacy. His grandson Henry II surrounded himself with long lived advisors who were familar with Henry I’s reign.

The book also provides a detailed analysis of Henry I’s queen, Edith of Scotland, who is described as “a tactile woman” who comforted people who were grieving the loss of family members and washed the feet of lepers (to the disgust of her younger brother, King David I of Scotland). The author notes parallels between Edith’s public image and that of Diana, Princess of Wales in the 20th century. I would have been interested to read more about Henry I’s two dozen illegimate children as only the most historically significant ones are named in the biography. A good introduction to Henry I and Edith of Scotland and their impact on English history and subsequent generations of the royal family.

Town&Country Interview: Will Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Hire a Nanny When Their Baby Is Born?

Prince Charles in St. James’ Park on his second birthday with his nanny, Mabel Anderson

On Monday October 15, Kensington Palace announced that Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will become parents in the Spring of 2019. Although the arrival of the royal baby is months away, there is already speculation concerning the decisions that Harry and Meghan will make as parents, including childcare. I discussed royal nannies and how they are chosen with Town and Country magazine.

Click here to read Will Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Hire a Nanny When Their Baby Is Born? at Town and Country.

For more about how royal parents raised their children from medieval times to modern times, read my book Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting 

 

CBC News Interview: Princess Eugenie’s wedding: Why these royal nuptials are courting controversy

The Duke of York in the 2012 Trooping the Colour Parade with his younger daughter, Princess Eugenie

I discussed the controversy surrounding Princess Eugenie’s wedding with Janet Davison at CBC News. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“It’s bound to bring back royal wedding memories of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s carriage ride through the streets of Windsor.

Harry’s cousin Princess Eugenie, 28, and Jack Brooksbank, 32, are planning a horse-drawn jaunt after their wedding in St. George’s Chapel on Friday, perhaps in a glass coach if rain seems likely.

But while much shorter than Harry and Meghan’s, Eugenie’s ceremonial excursion, and the security it will require, have stirred controversy over the nuptials of this more junior royal who seems to be aiming for a wedding to rival the one her higher-ranking relative had in May.

“Princess Eugenie … is a private citizen in many respects,” said Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris. “She doesn’t have that range of public engagements, and so there’s some popular controversy about the perception that she’s trying to emulate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.”

Click here to read Princess Eugenie’s wedding: Why these royal nuptials are courting controversy