Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Queen Alexandra: what to read

Sadly, and yes, tragically, for biographers and historians, Queen Alexandra, consort of Edward VII, did not leave much of a paper trail.   Both she and King Edward VII destroyed personal and private correspondence, diaries, and other papers.  Much of the carnage of Alexandra's personal papers was done by her friend and lady-in-waiting Charlotte Knollys.

This lack of material makes it difficult for historians and others to form a more detailed portrait of the Danish-born queen.

The best of the limited selection of books about Queen Alexandra is Georgina Battiscombe's Queen Alexandra, which was first published in 1968. 

Richard Hough shed no new light when he wrote Edward and Alexandra: Their Private and Public Lives (St. Martin's Press: 1993).  Apart from the already published books on the subjects,  Hough had nothing new to chew on.

There are also several hagiographies, books published within Alexandra's lifetime or shortly after her death.

George Arthur's Queen Alexandra was published by Chapman & Hall in 1934. 

W.R.H Trowbridge's Queen Alexandra was published by Fisher in 1923.

and finally,  David Duff's Alexandra: Princess and Queen (Collins: 1980). David Duff was a personal friend of mine.  I stayed at his home at Diss in Norfolk nearly every summer in the late 1970s and 1980s.  I did research for him, and made a few pounds to help defray my vacations.  His home was filled with royal memorabilia.  One year, he gave me a lovely signed photograph of Queen Mary, which hung on a wall in one of the loos.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A late summer roundup of new books

I am sure bookshelves are beginning to fill up with new books on the Duchess of Cambridge. I do not expect to discuss every new book on Kate, her fashions, and whatever else publishers think people want to read about the Duchess of Cambridge.

It really is too early for a full-scaled biography of the wife of the second in line to the throne.  Catherine has only been married a year, and she remains a part time royal.  This has been the plan.  She cannot be a full time royal when her  husband, the Duke of Cambridge, continues his career as a search and rescue pilot with the RAF.   (This is likely to change by the end of the year, as the Duke of Cambridge is expected to leave his RAF position and take on more royal duties.)

While browsing at the W.H. Smith's bookstore at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, east London, I bought Kate by Sean Smith (Simon & Schuster: £7.99).   This book was surprisingly good, well-researched, and timely,  Smith hits all the points of Catherine's life from her birth to her first year as the Duchess of Cambridge.   It must be said that the information is largely gleaned from publicly known resources.  No scandals, no secrets, just the information we already know.  Smith provides Kate's life in a neat and tidy biography that will appeal to her growing legion of fans.

Kate was published in paperback in the United Kingdom.

Kensington Palace has a fabulous new exhibit on Queen Victoria.  I admit to spending an entire day at the palace, as I wanted to take in everything.  There is no companion book to commemorate the exhibit.  Instead, the Historic Royal Palaces has published Victoria Revealed  500 Facts about the Queen and her world.   The price is £12.99. 

The 500 facts feature aspects of Victoria's life from her birth to her marriage, from her most interesting grandchildren to statues of Victoria around the world.

Lots of nice illustrations.  This book is sold at Kensington Palace's shops.

Marita A Panzer  is the author of Wittelsbacherinnin F├╝rstentocher einer eur├Âpaischen Dynastie (Friedrich Puset: 22 Euros), a comprehensive history-cum-biography of nineteen distaff members of the Wittelsbach dynasty from Elisabeth (1227-1273) to Princess Theresa of Bavaria, daughter of Prince Luitpold.

Other Princesses who get the biographical treatment include the daughters of the Winter King (and Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I), who include Sophie, Electress of Hanover, and the duchesses in Bavaria: Helene (Princess of Thurn und Taxis), Elisabeth (Empress of Austria), Marie (Queen of the Two Sicilies), Mathilde (Countess Trani) and Sophie (Duchess of Alencon.)

These are brief, but informative biographies of women with distinct personalities.  None were sovereigns in their own right, but their lives were interesting nonetheless.  The author includes an excellent bibliography of source material (in German.)

The text is in German.  There are  no plans for an English language edition.