Friday, October 17, 2014

Catching up: a mixed bag of books

It was the Plantagenet women who played important roles, as wives, mothers, political analysts, and consorts, but most historians have focused on the men, the princes, the kings, the warriors, and the kingmakers.

Thank goodness for Sarah Gristwood's Blood Sisters (Basic Books: $29.99).  Gristwood, a British biographer and historian,  turns the attention to seven women who were forced to take sides in the war of the Cousins the War of the Roses.

The seven women were: Marguerite of Anjou, consort of Henry VI; Cecily Neville (mother of Edward IV and Richard III); Elizabeth Woodville, consort of Edward IV; Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and consort of Henry VII; Margaret of Burgundy, daughter of Cecily Neville; Anne Neville, wife of Edward, Prince of Wales and consort of Richard III and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII.

Each of these women had their role to play in the tapestry of that led to war between two branches of the family, ultimately brought together by the determined and forceful Margaret of Beaufort and the pragmatic former Queen Elizabeth, widow of Edward IV, arranging the marriage of their children|: Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York.

Gristwood weaves together a fascinating story that spans several generations and embraces these women's' histories.   They survived and played the political machinations games with varying degrees of success.  They were wives, mothers, lovers, friends and enemies.   These women come alive with Gristwood's delineation of their lives and the roles they played in the war of the Roses.

Blood Sisters is an excellent read.  One of best modern books on the distaff Plantagenets.   This book would make a great mini-series, far better than Showtime's trashy and historically inaccurate The White Queen.

It is a shame that most foreign language books on European royals rarely ever get translated into English.  Lothar Machtan's Prinz Max von Baden Der letze Kanzler des Kaisers  (Suhrkamp Verlag)  is a certainly a candidate for translation, perhaps by a British or American university Press.

This is a well-researched biography that covers Max's life, but Machtan is largely concerned with Max's political career.  He was the last Imperial Chancellor, who played a role in the dismantling of the Kaiser's final days.

Machtan's work must is a major accomplishment, offering a piece of an ever-increasing puzzle that was the life of Wilhelm II -- and the first world war.  In  October 1918, in the waning days of World War, as German defeat appeared certain, Wilhelm II appointed Max as chancellor, seeing an opportunity to save his throne.  But Max could not save the Germany that Wilhelm wanted to keep, and he was willing to negotiate with the socialists and others for the establishment of a republic, forcing Wilhelm II (and the other German sovereigns) to abdicate their thrones. 

Wilhelm was not expecting the final outcome.  He never believed he would lose his throne, and he blamed Max.

The collapse of the monarchy was quickly followed by the collapse of the close relationship between Max and Wilhelm II.  Max's wife, Marie Louise, was the sister of Prince Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick, who was married to the Kaiser's only daughter, Princess Viktoria Luise.

My only quibble is the limited number of photographs (which are buried in the book).  German publishers tend to economize on including photographs in books.

Professional translations are expensive, which makes foreign rights difficult for publishers, especially if the books are marked for a limited market.  This book is more than a royal biography.  It is a complex history that offers insight into the life of a prince, who tried to save Germany from itself and from the ego of a monarch whose time had long passed.

Prinz Max von Baden Der letze Kanzler des Kaiser is worth the translation.  World War I historians and scholars will appreciate the effort. The price is of the book is 29,95 Euros.


German historian Karin Feuerstein-Prasser has joined the Hannover anniversary (three hundred years since George I succeeded to the British throne) with the publication of Englands Koniginnen aus dem Hause of Hannover (1714-1901).   This slim paperback is a quick read into the lives of Sophia Dorothea Celle, Caroline of Ansbach, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Caroline of Brunswick, Adelheid of Saxe-Meiningen and Queen Victoria. 

The first five women were consorts of the Hannover Kings (George I,II, III, IV  William IV) and Victoria, a Queen Regnant.  Victoria is included because she was the last of the Hannover queens.

This book was published by Verlag Friedrich Pustet (14.95 Euros)

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