Sunday, January 06, 2008

Book Review: A Royal Panoply

Those of you who don't have a huge hard-on for British royal history probably won't appreciate this book. But since I do belong in that camp, I loved this book! What a brilliant idea! Erickson profiles every British monarch from William the Conquerer to Elizabeth II, and she does it all by devoting about ten pages to each. (I think she leaves out Edward V, and Sophia, Electoress of Hanover, because neither was corronated, I think). I appreciated the brevity because it made it really to read, and also because I took History of England in college and I've read a lot of more comprehensive books on certain eras in British history so the brief bios were all I needed to refresh my memory in some cases.

I fell in love with these crazy kings (and occasional queens) during my History of England classes in college mainly because I think it is so fascinating how influential their personalities are. A number of things stood out as I read through his book. One, it is amazing how often a son will be the polar opposite of his father. As a result it seemed like whenever one king would do something really good, he'd have a really lazy or incompetent son come along after him and erase all that he'd done. This seemed to be a pattern until the time when Parliament seized greater control over the government, and there was more consistency and normalcy over the years. I remember thinking in college that the class got a lot less interesting once we started talking more about Parliament instead of the monarchy, but this book doesn't suffer that fate because it is not a history of England, it is a biography of the monarchs themselves, as individuals.

Another thing that struck me was how many of the kings had homosexual tendencies! Holy crap! What was the deal there? There must have been at least half a dozen with male intimates.

One of the best things about reading through this book was comparing what I was reading to the portrayals of these historical figures in books and in movies. For instance, when reading about Edward I, Edward II, and the latter's wife Isabella, I was thinking about Braveheart. When reading about Richard I, I was thinking about Robin Hood. When reading about Charles II, I thought about a movie (Stage Beauty, I think) that featured him. Of course my deep affection for Regency romance novels made me think about what I've read about the Prince Regent, George IV, in those novels. And I thought about the DVD my dad got me a few Christmases ago, The Lost Prince, when I read about George V. It's fun to see where the movies and books got it right, and when they certainly seemed to get it wrong.

If you like reading about British history I would definitely recommend this book as a quick little reference guide. Of course, it is an interesting read on its own.

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