Books I’ve Read This Week: Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and the Modern Monarchy

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 18: Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and The Modern Monarchy: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married on May 19 in a wedding that combined royal traditions with modern innovations, which reflected the personalities and interests of the royal couple. I have spent the week discussing the history of royal weddings with the media and reading about the royal couple and the modern monarchy. My recent book choices include three recent biographies of Harry and Meghan as well as biographies of royal women both current (Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Sophie, Countess of Wessex) and past (Queen Mary, whose tiara Meghan wore on her wedding day, and Queen Victoria’s descendants, who married into most of Europe’s royal houses) Here are this week’s reviews:

#120 of 365 American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry by Leslie Carroll

Genre: Royal Biography

Dates Listened: May 10-12, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 7 hours and 25 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: A light and breezy joint biography of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Only the last few chapters are about Harry and Meghan as a couple and the plans for their wedding. The book covers a lot of familiar ground including Charles and Diana’s divorce, Harry’s military career and his past relationships with Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas as well as Meghan’s acting career and lifestyle blog and the charity work undertaken by both Harry and Meghan. The author memorably refers to Harry as “A Rebel with Many Causes.”

The chapters about Meghan’s early life, growing up in California are more interesting because her life is less well known than Harry’s. The book was published before the wedding and therefore concludes with speculation concerning which title the royal couple would receive on their wedding day. The author discusses the precedents for the couple becoming Duke and Duchess of Clarence, Sussex or Buckingham. An fun read but provides little new information and is already outdated following Harry and Meghan’s wedding and new titles.

#121 of 365 The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown by Penny Junor

Genre: Royal Biography

Format: Audiobook, 12 hours and 39 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Listened: May 12-12, 2018

Review: I enjoyed the early chapters of this book, which provide an excellent overview of Camilla’s upbringing, worldview and the culture of her social background and times, which included limited education for women and close proximity to the royal family and the rhythms of royal life. The later chapters, from Camilla’s marriage to Charles until the end of the book are also very interesting as they discuss the challenges of her transition to royal life at the age of 57 including overcoming her fear of flying to undertake Commonwealth tours as Duchess of Cornwall. Camilla’s charitable work also receives extensive analysis in the later chapters.

The middle of the book, however, is dominated by the conflicts between Charles and Diana, which are well known from other sources, as well as conflicts among courtiers. Junor is also interested in the tense relationship between the royal family and the press. The author has a clear bias toward Charles in her analysis of his marriage to Diana and emphasizes her own proximity to royalty. These sections become repetitive. The book is at its best when the focus is on Camilla’s life and work. The audiobook is well read and engaging.

#122 of 365 Grandmama of Europe: The Crowned Descendants of Queen Victoria by Theo Aronson

Genre: Royal History

Dates Read: May 12-14, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Amazon.ca

Format: Paperback, 678 pages

Review: A royal history classic! Theo Aronson examines the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria who married into Europe’s royal houses. The book was first published in the 1970s and there are some sections of the book, especially the chapters concerning the Russian Imperial family, which are rather dated, but Aronson provides an excellent account of how princesses with British upbringings experienced the courts of Russia, Romania, Greece, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Aronson’s favourite among of Queen Victoria’s descendants is clearly Queen Marie of Romania, who is described in glowing terms throughout the book. Aronson argues that the the connections between Europe’s royal houses were of limited political importance as the frequent family gatherings of the early 20th century did not prevent the First World War but these marriages still had a profound cultural influence as British customs and conceptions of royal duties spread across the continent. Well worth reading, especially in conjunction with more recent works. 

#123 of 365 Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards

Genre: Royal History

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 16 hours and 35 minutes

Dates Read: May 13-15, 2018

Review: Despite her profound influence on the monarchy, including the upbringing of her granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II, there are few in depth of biographies of Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. The most famous and comprehensive is the 1959 book by James Pope-Hennessey. Anne Edwards, who has written books about numerous public figures, wrote her biography of Queen Mary in the 1980s, a period of increased interest in the monarchy with the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and the births of Prince William and Prince Harry.

Edwards’s biography of Queen Mary excels in certain respects but is curiously incomplete in other ways. Edwards incorporates a variety of primary sources including Queen Mary’s correspondence and diaries as well as newspaper reports of the time. There is a great deal of attention devoted to Mary’s family life including her often distant relationship with her children and their experiences growing up in the royal family. Mary’s various homes and her intellectual interests are also discussed. Mary was far better educated than George and she read aloud to her husband and helped him practice his French and German. There are also whole chapters about wider European events that affected Mary and her family.

In contrast, the book summarizes Mary’s childhood very quickly, even though her background as a the child of a morganatic marriage – but also a close relative of Queen Victoria – is essential to understanding her character and outlook on the monarchy. The 1901 world tour is also summarized quickly with little discussion of how she was received in Canada or Australia. Her visits to India receive more attention. There are frequent references to public engagements and visits to hospitals in wartime but I would have liked more detail about her charities and her interactions with the people she met as a public figure. The author also mentions Britain and England interchangeably, which is inaccurate and distracting.

The audiobook is read in a suitably stately fashion by Corrie James.

#124 of 365 Harry: Life, Loss and Love by Katie Nicholl

Genre: Royal History

Dates Read: May 15-16, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 8 hours and 31 minutes

Review: My favourite one of the recently published biographies of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. In contrast to past biographies of Harry that often recount all the details of Charles and Diana’s marriage and divorce, Nicholl keeps the focus firmly on Harry and his experiences. Nicholl discusses Harry’s family life and the loss of his mother, how he gained a reputation as a party prince in his youth, his military career, passion for endangered species conservation and spending time in Botswana, humanitarian work, and relationships, including his engagement to Meghan Markle. Well worth reading in the aftermath of the royal wedding.

#125 of 365 Meghan: A Hollywood Princess by Andrew Morton

Genre: Royal Biography

Acquired: Purchased from Indigo Books

Format: Hardcover, 272 pages

Date Read: May 19, 2018

Review: Morton’s biography of Meghan Markle, clearly written in anticipation of the royal wedding, contains some interesting facts. Meghan, now Duchess of Sussex, once took part in a USO holiday tour and appeared in a school play with Scarlett Johansson. The tone of the book is sometimes judgmental though, with references to Meghan having a love of selfies or having a reputation as a “thirsty socialite.” There are interviews with people who only knew Meghan in passing (such as Deal or No Deal co-stars) or clearly have an axe to grind (such as her half brother Thomas Markle Jr.). The book was clearly written in haste and the photographs are out of order with later photos preceding earlier ones. The book did not meet my expectations.

#126 of 365 Sophie’s Kiss: The True Love Story of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones by Garth Gibbs and Sean Smith

Genre: Royal Biography

Format: Paperback, 268 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Willow Books, Toronto

Date Read: May 20, 2018

Review: I found this 1999 joint biography of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones (now the Earl and Countess of Wessex) in a secondhand bookstore and it is an interesting read in light of the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Like Harry and Meghan, Edward and Sophie enjoyed cooking together while they were dating and dealt with the intrusive behaviour of the media. The authors clearly admire Sophie and describe her as “a delightful girl.” The tone of the book, however, is very gossipy and occasionally in poor taste. There are some patronizing generalizations about women and relationships. I enjoyed the subject matter of this biography but not the authors’ approach to the material.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *