Wednesday, June 19, 2019

20th anniversary of the wedding of the Earl and Countess of Wessex

Prince Edward, now Earl of Wessex, married Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones on June 19, 1999 at St. George's Chapel.  Today is the their 20th anniversary. 

Here is a small selection of commemorative books still available.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Windsor Castle: A thousand Years of a Royal Palace

I had a chance to browse this book, Windsor Castle: a Thousand Years of a Royal Palace, which is said to be the definitive history of Queen Elizabeth II's favorite home.

The book is massive and would have put me over the approved weight allowance for my suitcase.

From Amazon:  "When we envision the British monarchy, one of the first things that comes to mind is Buckingham Palace, with its gilded gates and changing of the guard. But it is Windsor Castle that can claim pride of place as the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, dating to the earliest days of the monarchy, a symbol of strength and magnificence over a nearly thousand-year history of sieges and soirĂ©es alike. Witness to both great moments in the country’s history and those that threatened to destroy it, the castle has become a symbol of English culture and architecture. Throughout England’s history, Windsor Castle has stood fast and evolved, much like the monarchy that inhabits it to this day.

The magisterial Windsor Castle: A Thousand Years of a Royal Palace illuminates the castle’s past using evidence from archaeological investigation and documentary sources, and is illustrated with paintings, drawings, and both historical and specially commissioned contemporary photographs, as well as stunning reconstructions of the castle’s past appearance which bring this essential piece of English history to life. "

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Two Royal Journals that you should read

Royalty Digest and are quarterly royal history journals that are published in Sweden and the USA respectively.

Neither journal is available electronically.  The only way to read them is to subscribe.

In full transparency, I write for both journals.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Modern Monarchy by Chris Jackson

Are you looking for a new book to put on your cocktail table, a book that looks nice and will also appeal to your guests when they sit down on the couch.

I have a recommendation for you.  Modern Monarchy The British Royal Family.  The text and photographs are by Chris Jackson.

Yes, the name Chris Jackson is familiar to you.  He is the guy with the very expensive cameras who shows up a lot at royal events in the UK and on tour.   For the last 15 years, Jackson has been Getty Images Royal Photographer.   Great job.

Terrific book.  Just take your time, turning page after page of superb photos of members of the British royal family at official events as well as official photos and at relaxing.  More than 250 pages of color photos.

A lovely, lovely book.

Modern Monarchy was published by Rizzoli.

Matilda Empress Queen Warrior by Catherine Hanley

Oh, I do I love a good scholarly biography.  By good, I mean a well-researched, well-documented and eminently readable biography by a biographer who has immersed herself into her subject matter.

Catherine Hanley's Matilda Empress Queen Warrier is a superb book.  I could not put it down.  Matilda (1102-1167) was the daughter of King Henry I of England.  As a young child, she married the future Henry V, Holy Roman emperor.  The emperor died in 1125.  The young childless widow returned to Normandy where her father arranged for her to marry Count Geoffrey of Anjou.

Five years before Matilda's only legitimate brother, William was among three hundred passengers, who died in the White Ship disaster.  Henry wanted Matilda to succeed him.   There were no laws that would prevent female succession, but the situation was far more complicated.   There were other candidates.  Henry I's eldest brother, Robert Curthose, had a son William, who was a possible candidate, as was another first cousin, Stephen, the daughter of Henry I's sister, Adela and her husband Stephen of Blois.

On two separate occasions, Stephen swore to uphold Matilda's claim to the throne, but when Henry died in 1135, Stephen broke his promise and with the support of the English church claimed the throne.

During the next few decades, Stephen's reign suffered through challenges from church, the French and family members including Matilda and her husband and her half brother, Robert of Gloucester, who led a rebellion against Stephen.

The skirmishes and rebellions led to a civil war with Stephen and Matilda jockeying for power.

But Stephen was a "natural follower rather than a leader," and this lack of true leadership would lead to his downfall.  Matilda was far more successful in compromise and seen as the "voice of reason."    When Stephen died in 1154, he was succeeded by Matilda's son, Henry, who reigned as Henry II.

She was a formidable woman and took an active role "in the military aspects" if the campaign to win the throne.    Hanley writes that is Matilda "had not doggedly pursued and fought for her rights," the succession of the English throne might have looked very different. Without Matilda's determination, there would not have been a Plantagenet dynasty.  Or Tudors. Or Stuarts. Or. Hanovers. Or Windsors.

Matilda was also a "politically active queen mother," a role that was enthusiastically shared by her daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine.   She also provided that precedent proving that female inheritance was legitimate.

As "the master of her fate and the agent of her own destiny,"  Catherine Hanley's final statement notes that Matilda "deserves to be remembered.

I will say the same thing about Hanley's book.   Matilda Empress Queen Warrior deserves to be read.  This is a consummate study of a woman whose right to the throne was usurped by others, yet she remained determined to be a warrior for her family, especially, her son, Henry.   She may not have won her rightful crown, but she lived long enough to see her son succeed to the English throne.

Matilda Empress Queen Warrior was published by Yale University Press.

80th anniversary of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit to North America

In May 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were the first British sovereigns to visit Canada and the United States. Here is a selection of books about the visit.

The Mistresses of Cliveden By Natalie Livingstone

Some months ago, while waiting in the checkout line I spotted The Mistresses of Cliveden  on the sale table, which is right by the checkout line. I am sure the store has placed this table near the checkout for a reason.    I rarely spot anything of interest in the books on the sale table, but this book caught my eye because I visited Cliveden in May 2018.

Only five miles from Windsor Castle,  Cliveden is a stately home and estate.  The home is now a five- star hotel and the estate is owned by the National Trust.  It is one of the most popular National Trust properties. 

Cliveden has been the home of several families and members of the royal family.  Natalie Livingtone, a Cambridge-educated journalist, is married to billionaire property developer, Ian Livingstone, whose  company owns Cliveden's hotel lease.

Cliveden's history during the reign of Charles II when the Duke of Buckingham had an affair with Anna Maria, the Countess of Shrewsbury.  Anna Maria was a former prostitute.  As one's cuckolded husband was wont to do,  Lord Shrewsbury challenged the Duke to a duel.  Lord Shrewsbury was killed.

There have been several houses on the estate. The present day house was built in 1851 after the previous mansion had been destroyed by fire.   In 1893, Cliveden was purchased by William Waldorf Astor, an American millionaire, who became a British citizen and created Viscount Astor.  He gave the estate to his son, Waldorf, on the occasion of his marriage to Nancy Langhorne.

Lord and Lady Astor gave the estate to the National Trust in 1942.  They remained in the house until 1968.

Anna Maria was the first mistress of Cliveden.  The other women, Elizabeth, the Countess of Orkney, who was the mistress of William III:  the Princess of Wales (Princess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg), the wife, then widow, of Frederick, the Prince of Wales (parents of George III), Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland , who mixed society with her interest in politics; and Viscountess Astor, the American-born Nancy Langhorne.

Sex and politics were at the forefront of much of Cliveden's history.  In 1961, Christine Keeler was taking a swim in Cliveden's pool, as she was a guest at a summer party hosted by Lord Astor. Keeler was only 19-years-old and reported to be the mistress of a Russian spy.  It as at this party where she met John Profumo, the Conservative Secretary of State for War.  Profumo was a married man but that did not stop him from embarking on an affair with Keeler, who was also sleeping with a Soviet naval attache.

When I visited Cliveden, I saw an small exhibition on the Cliveden women.  I have been fascinating with Nancy Langhorne for many years as she is an American and she was born in Danville, Virginia.

 The Mistresses of Cliveden brings alive the stories of these women, all of whom played important  roles within their society's hierarchy.  And yes, several women used sex to achieve or advance their goals.  They made history as well. Nancy Astor was first woman to take her seat in the British Parliament.

I would describe this book as a well-researched, detailed bodice-ripper-cum-serious-social history.

The Mistresses of Cliveden was published in 2015, but copies (hardcover and paperback) are available.