Books I’ve Read This Week: Royal Reading for the New Year

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 51: Royal Reading for the New Year: 

As my Book a Day 2018 project comes to an end, I reviewed my list of books that I am interested in reading and found yet more royal titles! In the past few days, I read a couple of historical novels where royalty appear, three scholarly histories of Kings, Queens and Princes in England, Germany and Spain, and biographies of Queen Mary and her granddaughter Princess Margaret. Here are this week’s reviews:

#352 of 365 The Game of Hope by Sandra Gulland

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Listened: December 23-27, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 9 hours and 34 minutes

Review:
A nice, understated novel about coming of age during Napoleon’s rise to power. Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. trilogy are among my favourite historical novels and I am always glad to read/listen to new books by the same author. Compared to the epic Josephine trilogy, The Game of Hope focuses on a comparatively short period of time in the life of Josephine’s daughter Hortense de Beauharnais. There is a strong focus on Hortense’s studies at a boarding school run by the late Queen Marie Antoinette’s lady of the bedchamber, Madame Campan, her ambition to become a composer, her difficulties coming to terms with the execution of her father during the Terror and her mother’s remarriage to Napoleon, and a budding romance with one of Napoleon’s officers.

The novel convincingly recreates the setting and society of late 1790s France and the lasting trauma created by the Terror for Hortense and her friends and family. The book is intended for a young adult audience and therefore concludes as Hortense is launched into adult society but I would be interested to read a sequel about the events that followed her social debut including her marriage and time as Queen of the Netherlands. The audiobook is well read by Janick Hebert but does not include the author’s historical afterword.

#353 of 365 Elizabeth I in Writing: Language, Power and Representation in Early Modern England

Genre: History

Format: E-Book, 264 pages

Date Read: December 27, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Review:
A fascinating collection of scholarly articles about Queen Elizabeth I as an author, scholar, translator, diplomat, patron and inspiration. Elizabeth I received an extensive humanist education and made use of the written word to shape her public image both at court and in her dealings with other European powers. The book contains extensive analysis of the writings surrounding the the French Duke of Anjou’s courtship of the queen including Cristina Vallaro’s chapter on Elizabeth I’s poetry and Iolanda Plescia’s comparison of the letters exchanged by Elizabeth I and Duke of Anjou with Henry VIII’s letters to Anne Boleyn.

Elizabeth I’s translations of classical and literary texts also receive an extensive analysis as the political circumstances of the Queen’s life and reign may have shaped the linguistic choices of her translations. Elizabeth I often bestowed her translations as gifts and Carole Levin provides an extended analysis of the variety of gifts that the queen bestowed and received. The gift exchanges between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, who never met in person, are especially interesting as they include clothing, needlework and sound advice as well as gold objects and jewellery.


Elizabeth I in Writing is an excellent resource for scholars and general readers alike interested in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign and the humanist education received by her generation of noblewomen in the 16th century.

#354 of 365 Royal Heirs in Imperial Germany: The Future of Monarchy in Nineteenth-Century Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg by
Frank Lorenz Müller

Genre: History

Date Read: December 28, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 266 pages

Review:
A complicated thematic study of three heirs to regional German thrones: the future King Wilhelm II of Württemberg, the future King Friedrich August of Saxony and the future King Ludwig III of Bavaria. These three princes became the last rulers of their respective kingdoms and fell from power as the German monarchy collapsed in 1918. Royal Heirs in Imperial Germany contains a vast wealth of information about the three future Kings but the narrative sometimes comes across as two books condensed into one. 


First, there are chapters devoted to the public perception of each prince with an emphasis on the difficulties that they faced when the public expected contented domesticity from royalty who were still obliged to marry other royalty. The popular response to the breakdown of the marriage of Friedrich August to Luise of Tuscany in 1903 was especially interesting and foreshadowed certain aspects modern royal coverage. Although Luise eloped with her children’s French tutor, she received widespread public sympathy because of the perceived unhappiness of her marriage, the cold formality of the Saxon court and the fact that her divorce separated her from her children. 


The other theme that could easily be expanded into a book of its own is the role of the Bavarian, Saxon and Württemberg royal houses within a German state united under the overbearing Kaiser Wilhelm II and the House of Hohenzollern in Berlin. Some of the analysis of this theme moves away from the three regional princes themselves to wider political issues within the late 19th and early 20th century federal German state.


Royal Heirs in Imperial Germany is an informative and interesting read but one that attempts to cover a great deal of material in a comparatively short book.

#355 of 365 Princess Margaret: A Life in Contrasts 

by Christopher Warwick

Date Read: December 28, 2018

Genre: History/Biography

Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 344 Pages

Review:
An authorized biography of Princess Margaret updated and reissued this year with the popularity of The Crown on Netflix. Warwick focuses closely on Margaret’s family and early life and the first half of the book is the Princess’s life to age 18. There is some interesting analysis of the influence of Margaret’s Bowes-Lyon grandparents on her cultural interests. Margaret’s maternal grandmother, the Countess of Strathmore, was fond of singing and after dinner musical entertainment, traditions cherished by her granddaughter. 


Warwick also devotes extensive attention to Margaret’s doomed romance with Peter Townsend, and analyzes their relationship and obstacles to their marriage at length. I would have been interested to read more about Margaret’s children and her overseas tours. Warwick clearly admires Margaret and sometimes minimizes the more difficult aspects of her personality. Princess Margaret: A Life in Contrasts should be read alongside 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown for a more critical perspective.

#356 of 365 The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy and Hugo Vickers

Date Listened: December 28-30, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 9 hours and 24 minutes

Review:
One of my favourite royal history books of the year, filled with fresh information and perspectives from often overlooked members of the extended royal family in the 1950s. 


James Pope-Hennessy was commissioned to write the official biography of Queen Mary after her death in 1953 and interviewed dozens of European royalty and courtiers to gather their impressions of the Queen and her family. He took extensive notes about his interviewees and their insights, leaving instructions that they were not to be published for another 50 years as many comments were provided off the record. Hugo Vickers, author of biographies of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and Princess Andrew of Greece (Alice of Battenberg), has edited the notes, providing a unique behind the scenes look at writing an official royal biography in the 1950s, and accounts of the fascinating people whom Pope-Hennessy interviewed while researching his book.


The Quest for Queen Mary is a fascinating and entertaining look at royal court culture during Queen Mary’s lifetime and immediately afterward. Perhaps the most memorable chapter is the weekend that Pope-Hennessy spent with Queen Mary’s third son, Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester and his wife Princess Alice that included a hilarious series of Scrabble matches and time working in the garden. Henry and Alice shared their memories and often corrected one another and expanded on each other’s memories, providing a portrait of their marriage as well as their views on Queen Mary. 


Another highlight is Pope-Hennessy’s sensitive interview with a nervous Grand Duchess Xenia. Pope-Hennessy never mentions the numerous relatives that Xenia lost in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, including her brother Czar Nicholas II, the Czarina Alexandra and their children but instead encourages the Grand Duchess to reminisce about her childhood holidays with her maternal grandparents, King Christian IX and Queen Louise. I hoped that Pope-Hennessy had traveled to Canada to speak to Nicholas and Xenia’s younger sister Grand Duchess Olga but only Xenia appears to have been interviewed.


All the interviewees provide interesting insights concerning Queen Mary. While they agree that her first fiance Albert Victor would have made a disastrous King and her father, Duke Francis of Teck suffered from mental illness toward the end of his life, they also provide individual insights concerning the Queen’s daily life including how she chose Christmas gifts by colour and liked her ladies in waiting to read to her for 7 hours a day. These details all add up to a multifaceted portrait of the Queen and her milieu. The Quest for Queen Mary is an engrossing read filled with new information and entertaining anecdotes. Highly recommended.

#357 of 365 Raising Heirs to the Throne in Nineteenth-Century Spain: The Education of the Constitutional Monarch by Richard Meyer Forsting

Date Read: December 29, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 274 pages

Review:
An insightful comparative study of the education of three nineteenth and early twentieth century Spanish monarchs: Isabel II, Alfonso XII and Alfonso XIII. The book makes a strong case for the importance of including Spain in comparative analysis of the development of modern European monarchical government. Although literacy rates in Spain were comparatively low (45% in 1900 compared to 89% in the USA or 83% in France), there was a widespread view that the education of the heir to the throne was a decisive factor in the future of Spain, even after the establishment of a constitutional monarchy limited the monarch’s powers.

Forsting examines three key themes: the degree to which each monarch was trained for their future political role, the involvement of the military in their education, and debates concerning royal education in the press. This analysis places royal education within the framework of the political, intellectual and cultural history of nineteenth century Spain. I found Forsting’s analysis of Isabel II especially interesting as she was a contemporary of Queen Victoria and also had to balance 19th century conceptions of gender roles with her role as head of state.

While Queen Victoria’s upbringing was left to her mother, Isabel II’s education was the subject of widespread debate in the press and in parliament with at least one tutor arguing that Isabel should receive less training in feminine accomplishments such as music, dancing and needlework, and more instruction in politics and science because her role as monarch transcended her gender. Isabel II ultimately received a fairly narrow education and was unable to project the domestic image embodied by Queen Victoria because of her turbulent personal life. Raising Heirs to the Throne in Nineteenth-Century Spain is a fascinating read that provides a fresh perspective on 19th century Spanish history.

#358 of 365 Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: December 30, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from ReReading Books, Toronto

Format: Paperback, 378 pages

Review:
An engrossing novel about the aviator Beryl Markham. I especially enjoyed the early chapters about her free spirited childhood in Kenya and the descriptions of the landscape. The book becomes more slow moving in the middle as Markham’s personal life becomes extremely complicated but picks up pace once again toward the end as two Princes, the future King Edward VIII and his younger brother Henry, Duke of Gloucester, make a royal visit to Nairobi at a time when Markham’s son’s life hangs in the balance. I would have liked the book to have been a bit longer as McLain speeds through the rumors of royal scandal surrounding Markham and the Duke of Gloucester as well as her record breaking flight across the Atlantic. An enjoyable read that shares many characters with Out of Africa.

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