This is essentially a readable, gossipy and popular book of the history of the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and of course, Elizabeth II. It follows two others, Vikings to Virgin, and Virgin to Victoria, in sweeping through the decades following the very personal lives of monarchs and their effect on Britain. It is a book that stands alone in giving a unique perspective on recent history, and its unique appeal is the style in which it is written. Friendly and often informal, the style is of a story well told, not slowed down by notes, footnotes or maps. This is not the dry history of textbooks, but is more gossip about the people behind the dates. As an introduction to the people and period it would work well; for readers who have ever wondered what happened to the youngest brother John in “The King’s Speech”, or why George VI stammered, this is a useful book. It would also appeal to fans of “Victoria”, the popular history series, as it is strong on the motives of those in power, and such questions as to why the queen struggled with her children. It talks about dynastic marriage, the relationship between Britain and countries such as Germany, and the web of family relationships that had such an effect on twentieth century lives.
I was interested to have the opportunity to read and review this interesting book.
The book opens with a Foreword which shows the challenge undertaken by the young Victoria when she came to the throne as an eighteen year old, following a line of unpopular rulers, unattractive and largely unprincipled. This series of books emphasises the way that through complicated lines of descent and a close group of rulers means that Elizabeth II is descended from monarchs from the earliest rulers of the British Isles. There are two family trees which depict this argument, and there are similar themes which run throughout the book such as the threat of perceived insanity which began with George III, and the problem of Willhelm of Prussia. Hughes is good on death, especially the deaths and final words of kings, and how the death of eldest sons led to their fiances being transferred to younger brothers. Hughes likes the mainstay of newspapers of the times of which she writes in that she retails gossip avidly. The big gift is the suggestion of the real identity of the infamous “Jack the Ripper”, as she expends several pages of the discussions of the possible royal links to the murders of various women in London.
This is a densely written book which does flow very well, and draws the reader in. As Hughes carefully goes back to the life of the monarchs from birth, often into their predecessors’ lives, their are repetitions, as for example that having children “slowed Alexandria down”. This is a book of going off on tangents, as Hughes follows hares throughout the text as well known (in some respects) stories of the ultimate celebrities, the royal families. This is an easy to read, relaxed book of recent history that is attractive and always interesting, which revels in the stories of those rulers that have truly made history, and not always intentionally.