Sunday, May 21, 2023

So many books to read ... and review

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I am making my way through the piles of books on the cocktail table, and I will review the good, the bad, and even the ugly.  

Jane Ridley's George V (Harper Collins) comes highly recommended.  The subtitle is Never a Dull Minute, inspired by the late king's private secretary, Tommy Lascelles who described the king as He was dull, beyond dispute -- but my God, his reign ...never had a dull moment."

This biography is the fourth major biography of King George V who reigned from 1910 until 1936.  Harold Nicolson and John Gore were tasked with the official biographies, the latter wrote about the political aspects of the reign.   Kenneth Rose's George V offered more insight and depth into the king's personality, life, and reign,   

Ridley focuses on George's partnership in marriage and on the throne with his wife, Mary, and the challenges he faced as sovereign, from the social changes (women's rights) to World War I and Europe's changing political climate.   The author is an excellent storyteller, summoning her skills as a historian to present a work of scholarship.  George V is a masterful achievement .... but do not get rid of your copies of Nicolson, Gore, and Rose because all four books form a formidable canon in the life and reign of King George V.


Another book worth your time is Valentine Low's examination of the role of the courtiers, -- the hidden power of the throne -- during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  Low, who is the Times Royal Correspondent, acknowledges that this book is not a history of courtiers, as "there are simply too many of them.   The focus here is the modern-day courtiers who "exert power, but do not rule."

Low begins with Alan "Tommy" Lascelles, whose career as a courtier began when in 1920 when he became the future Edward VIII's assistant private secretary.  Two years, Tommy's first cousin, Henry, 6th Earl of Harewood, married Edward's only sister, Princess Mary.   

Tommy soon learned that his idealist view of the Prince of Wales was wrong, and he would spend years trying to keep the prince on the straight and narrow.  He failed.  He resigned in 1929 and accepted the position as secretary to the Earl of Bessborough, Governor General of Canada.   In 1935 he returned to the court as as assistant Private Secretary to King George V. He served as assistant private secretary to Edward VIII and George VI and was promoted to Private Secretary in 1943.  

According to Low, Lascelles was a "rough, experienced courtier, and just the man to break in the new queen."  He remained in the position for a year.

The Courtiers offers fresh insight into the co-dependent relationship between the royals and their senior staff and the sometimes-fractious relationship between the staff in the different royal households, especially between the offices of the Queen and the Prince of Wales.  

Yes, Valentine discusses the problems between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their office.  This is not a hatchet job, but a deftly laying out all the facts as Low was approached by several members of the Sussex household.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Courtiers as it is well-researched and sourced, thanks to the numerous interviews cited in the notes.

An idea: Valentine Low can use his biographical acumen to delve further into the lives of Lord Stamfordham and Tommy Lascelles.

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I want to call attention to Royal Weddings of the 1840s by Kori Roff-Lawrence.  This self-published book (only because most publishers are not interested in scholarship), profiles 56 royal weddings that took place in the 1840s with highly detailed research.

Royal Weddings is a 500-page tome that oozes scholarship.   Roff-Lawrence's research goes beyond traditional biographies and histories.  The bibliography is twenty-four pages!  Books, magazines, newspapers, articles (several languages), and websites.

 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's wedding is the first of the fifty-six articles.  The final article is about the marriage of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg and Princess Augusta Reuss.

Most of the marriages were political or family-arranged marriages, but several of the marriages during the 1840s were love matches.  Infanta Isabel Fernanda of Bourbon eloped with Polish Count Ignatius Gurkowski in 1841, an action that caused commotion "to every European court blessed with princesses still young and unmarried."

Royal Weddings of the 1840s is worth the price.  You will savor every article, every wedding.

In August 2022, I attended a lecture at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The lecture was given by H. Edward Mann, Jacques J. Moore, Jr., and Ellen Le Compte, the authors of The Queen and the USA.  The book was published by Dementi Milestone Publishing, a Virginia-based publisher.  

This is an updated and revised Platinum Jubilee Edition that examines the relationship between the Queen and the USA.  The book opens with The Queen and 14 Presidents A Pictorial Celebration and then dives right into World War II and the Queen's Formative Years, the United States and Britain --Antecedents of the Special Relationship with most chapters about the Queen's visits to Virginia: 1957 (350th anniversary of Jamestown,) 1976 (Charlottesville) and 2007 (400th anniversary of Jamestown.)  

One chapter by Chief Steven Adkins details Elizabeth's relationship with the Sovereign Nations of Virginia.

Yes, the focus of this book is the late Queen's numerous visits to Virginia.  Virginia's name honored Queen Elizabeth I - the Virgin Queen.   Other visits to the US are included in the chapter The Queen Across America  A Pictorial Celebration.

This is a truly lovely and well-written book.  The photos are fantastic.

The Foreward and the Preface were written by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA).


I enjoyed Charlene In Search of a Princess by South African journalist, Arlene Prinsloo, who offers a detailed look at Charlene's life from her childhood in South Africa to competitive swimmer and her romance, marriage, and motherhood.  

Prinsloo has done an excellent job in researching her subject, but unfortunately, most sources are from popular South African, European, and American newspapers and magazines.  At times, the writer fawns over her subject "When she met the man of her dreams," but it is apparent Charlene's reality has not been a fairy tale. 

Unfortunately, not one journalist has been able to break down the significant issues of Charlene's "stifling life in the palace."  

Charlene In Search of a Princess is recommended but with a caveat.  The Prince of Monaco's astute team has been able to quash all attempts to find out the facts about their marriage and Charlene's mental and physical health.   There is so much more, apparently, to learn about the Princess of Monaco's life.

Prinsloo makes one mistake when writing about Monaco's succession law, which changed in 2002 to male primogeniture.  The previous law limited the succession to the children of the Sovereign Prince, but the law allowed for the Sovereign Prince, at age 50 or older, to adopt an heir.   Under the old law, Caroline and Stephanie & their legitimate descendants would have lost their succession when Albert succeeded although he would have been able to adopt an heir when he reached the age of 50 if he had no legitimate children if his own,

The current law allows for legitimate and legitimated children to have succession rights, but the law also limits this to the children of the sovereign and the sovereign's siblings and their descendants.  When Albert dies and Jacques succeeds as the Sovereign Prince, Caroline and Stephanie and their descendants lose their succession rights.

I cannot recommend Tom Bower's Revenge (Blink:2022).  Bower's hatchet job on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is filled with innuendo.  Yes, there are citations and an index, but Bower's agenda was not to write an accurate or unbiased book.  He is not concerned with facts or proper research and relies heavily on the Daily Mail, which is a tabloid newspaper devoid of fact-checkers/news librarians.

I do not always agree with what the Duke and Duchess of Sussex say and do, but they do not deserve this poorly edited calumniation.  

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