Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor

I just finished reading Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor

It is very well written, and I do recommend it. (So far, anyway.) But what strikes me is the notion that with royal biographies (and presumably others) there is a bias towards the subject. Queen Mary is viewed as the perfect royal, albeit maybe a little unfamiliar with her own children. Queen Alexandra, on the other hand, is viewed as not the perfect royal – and too close to her own children, and loving and caring towards her grandchildren.

An interesting contrast.

Girl for Kate and William (and Charles)

Grandfather Charles got the granddaughter he told people he was hoping for. (And the 7 of you who guessed it would be a girl in the poll were right.)

Anyone have any nice suggestions for names for a girl? I think there are so many pretty names in the historic English/Scottish/British royal history, and I hope they use some of them.

Other royal births that took place on this date:
1458 – Eleanor of Viseu (d. 1525)
1729 – Catherine the Great, (d. 1796)
1896 – Helen of Greece and Denmark (d. 1982)
1975 – Nathalie, Princess zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg

May 2. was the wedding day of Léopold of Saxe-Coburg and Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales in 1816.

Review: On Duty with the Queen: My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Officer

On Duty with the Queen: My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Officer
On Duty with the Queen: My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Officer by Dickie Arbiter

The book details the time of Dickie Arbiter’s work in the press office at Buckingham Palace. First working for the Prince and Princess of Wales, then later for the royal collections (and also seemingly chipping in whenever needed, as with the funeral of the Princess of Wales).

He also interjects his personal history into the book, and at times that felt more interesting than the royal “scandal” of the week that he had to defuse.

There are personal observations about the royals in the book. However, he is also very careful about not saying much that would (probably) violate a non-disclosure contract. It can therefore get a bit bland at times.

I found the chapter on the planning and arranging of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales fascinating. Especially the bit about extending the route of the funeral cortege to spread the crowds out.

All in all, a decent read.


Review: Still Reigning: Thoughts of a Queen

Still Reigning: Thoughts of a Queen
Still Reigning: Thoughts of a Queen by The Queen [of Twitter]

I loved and chuckled often at The Queen_UK on Twitter in the beginning. I have the first book, and laughed several times while reading it. In most of her tweets and analysis, I thought she was spot on. Witty.

However, with this one… I don’t find it nearly as funny. Maybe because there is so much repetition between each chapter, and sometimes “she” contradicts herself from chapter to chapter.

Plus, I get that it is a gimmick, but after hearing in chapter after chapter (not to mention in several tweets over the past couple of years) how much the Queen of Spain loves Phillip Schofield, I got a bit tired of the whole concept. There is a decided lack of imagination, beyond some jokes that gets repeated ad nauseam.

It is a fun idea when you evolve as you go along, but to me the fun of it has outlived itself.

If you haven’t read the first book, or followed the persona on Twitter, then it is worth the read. If you have… probably not. (And I feel supremely grumpy for saying that, because I really wanted to be entertained.)


The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting another baby

According to a press release from Clarence House:

Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child.

The Queen and members of both families are delighted with the news.

As with her first pregnancy, The Duchess is suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Her Royal Highness will no longer accompany The Duke of Cambridge on their planned engagement in Oxford today. The Duchess of Cambridge is being treated by doctors at Kensington Palace.

Babies are fun. Throwing up for the length of the pregnancy is probably not.

Review: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train
Mrs Queen Takes the Train
by William Kuhn

This book in the same genre as  The Uncommon Reader is, and enjoyable for many of the same reasons. It is fictional, but with enough facts mixed in to make it fun to read. (Not a book if you’re taking everything deadly serious.)

The Queen becomes a character with traits that you think you recognize from the newspapers, and some invented, and the rest of the cast of characters are fictional. The storyline is fictional – the Queen is suffering from depression, and wants to go to visit Britannia where she remembers being happy, and takes to the train to Edinburgh. The courtiers scramble to follow her and find her before the news that she has disappeared becomes public.

It’s not the perfect book, but it is a fun summer read.

Son of York! Richard III descendants allowed to challenge Leicester burial

A high court judge has given permission for descendants of Richard III to challenge plans to rebury the king’s remains in Leicester rather than York, but counselled both sides against engaging in an “unseemly, undignified and unedifying” legal rerun of the Wars of the Roses.

via Son of York! Richard III descendants allowed to challenge Leicester burial | UK news | The Guardian.

Prince George

He’s now more than a week old, Prince George of Cambridge. He’s also the most talked about baby globally for quite some time.

Frankly, I haven’t bothered posting about him before, because it seemed like there was a huge overload of it. I especially liked the Huffington Post’s spoof headline: Woman gives birth to baby.

What I was disappointed in, as a royal watcher, after the birth was the fact that they sent out a press release before they sent out the traditional easel in front of Buckingham Palace. Stick to tradition, please.

His name.  Good that the parents could survive figuring out how many names he needed. Really. George Alexander Louis. I’m not too keen on the Louis part of it. I get that it is one of the names of Prince Charles, as well as from Louis Mountbatten, and one of the Spencer cousins is also called Louis. Unless he plans to conquer France – I don’t see the point of a British king (assuming he gets that far) being named a French royal name.  Less than interesting tidbit, his initials are GAL – which in Norwegian means crazy.

There has also been mutterings in the media that we won’t get to see him as King, because it is so far in the future.

Never say never. The whole reason for having a line of succession longer than two people is that people die. Slight exaggeration there. But Frederick, Prince of Wales, died in 1751 – nine years before his father, and never ascended to the throne.

I actually think I am more interested in the theoretical and historical side of it rather than the actual royal baby.

Learning to read

I’ve never had a problem with learning to read, but I know of so many who have – either because of dyslexia or because they simply weren’t interested in learning it.

My parents brought me to either the library or the library bus from a very early age, they read to me and my babysitters had to read to me, until the point where I could do it myself. The first thicker book I remember reading myself was Anne of Green Gables, fittingly enough.

I was the sort of kid who brought a tome (Agatha Christie’s collected works) with me out to read during recess in 5th grade, because it was so exciting.

When I worked as an aide in the children’s department, we had so many parents come in, either with their child or without them, and say: “My child does not like to read. Can you help me find something interesting to get them reading?”

I’m very happy to hear Princess Beatrice of York’s story when she says that ‘Harry Potter helped her overcome dyslexia,’ because it shows that reading can be fun if you just find the right trigger to do it. (Incidentally, I have a dyslectic former classmate who had a similar experience as Beatrice in that the Harry Potter series was her trigger as well in the world of reading for fun. )

As a corporate librarian, I don’t get those moments much anymore.

Review: Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors
Behind Closed Doors by Hugo Vickers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have some major issues with this book. I think the writing itself is quite good – but I fail to grasp the concept of having “the ending” first, and then go on to the early lives of the Duchess and Duke of Windsor.

If the two had been reversed, I think I would be left with a lot more positive feelings about the book – because Hugo Vickers writes well. But a lot of the minutiae that covers the first half of the book would (in my opinion) have been less tedious if we had read the last part of the book before we went on to read the first part of the book.

All through my reading of the first chapters I kept wishing that I’d known a bit more about the Duchess of Windsor before starting the read – as all the details of who is who, and footnotes felt excessive.

Vickers met with several of the staff of the couple throughout the years, and is clearly a bit biased towards the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, explained with a long fascination, but it does not feel like he is overly subjective in his writing. Although considerably more positive than a lot of other biographies covering the subject in their time.

There were some revelations that I thought were interesting, especially in the view that the Duchess of Windsor has been painted in her time – that she stole the King away. Whereas, it turns out, through his letters when he was the Prince of Wales – long before he met Wallis Simpson – that he really wished he could throw it all away, and was not all that keen on being the PoW or the King.

Also the fact that Wallis Simpson herself did not necessarily want to be married to him, or that he should give away the throne for her. It was much more interesting for her to have an affair with him, and be in the social circle of the Prince of Wales and later the King than to be married and in exile.

It’s also rather telling that he wished that he could live in the States or Canada and had hoped for that after they married, but she was an American who would much rather live in France than at home.

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Review: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The ultimate biography on the Queen will probably not come until after her death. But if we combine the plethora of existing ones, a decent enough picture comes out of it.

This biography adds to that picture to a certain degree. It’s not perfect, but it is easy to read and does not go too deep into the political side of things. I also appreciated that certain areas where I have read much coverage before, childhood, Margaret’s romantic affairs, etc. was not covered too much in detail.

At the same time, the book goes into more details on the latter aspects of The Queen’s life up to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

If you follow the British royal family with any sort of regularity, I think this can easily be skipped as there are few new and interesting things revealed. If you don’t, then it can be a useful and interesting read.

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“Duke and Duchess’s child to be first Prince or Princess of Cambridge”

I have this from The Telegraph, but have also seen similar stories all over the place, which leads me to believe that the wording comes straight from a press release or a courtier rather than something the media invented themselves.

Apparently, Buckingham Palace has announced that the child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be the first ever HRH Prince/Princess of Cambridge. Much in the same vein that the Duke was HRH Prince William of Wales after his father’s title and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie are “of York,” no?

In the Mirror, a former mayor of Cambridge chimes in with: “There were some dukes of Cambridge but not a prince or princess.”

I’m sure Princess Augusta of Cambridge, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge (later 2nd Duke of Cambridge) would be rolling around in their graves, so to speak.

It seems both Buckingham Palace aides and royal journalists could do with a spot of royal history lessons.

Especially when one considers that Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge was mother of Queen Mary, and the great grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II – the same role Queen Elizabeth II will have to the unborn child.

Dresses reveal Royal eye for style has never faltered…

As Prince William turned 30, he received part of his inheritance from Diana, Princess of Wales. It included some of her dresses that had been in the care of his uncle at Althorp. (79 of her more famous dresses were auctioned off for charity in 1997, before her death, after an idea from Prince William. Some of them were auctioned off again this year.)

Some of these dresses will be the 80s part of the exhibition “Fashion rules” at Kensington Palace this summer. The rest of the exhibition will feature Queen Elizabeth II’s gowns (from the 50s) and Princess Margaret’s (from the 60s and 70s).

The exhibition opens tomorrow, July 4.

A while ago The Telegraph had an article called “Dresses reveal Royal eye for style has never faltered” about the exhibition. Their chief illustration is the “dance dress” by Jacques Azagury.

I definitely think that saying that the “royal eye for style has never faltered ” is taking the heading a bit too far, though, as I can think of plenty of examples where faltering (and also failing) can be said to have happened.

For royals (as well as the rest of us) I believe more in the mantra of finding what suits you and your body and ignoring the fashionable concepts. Such as a thin belt on the outside of a suit. Or black, opaque tights beneath white skirts.

Review: Gin O’Clock

If you’re not following The Queen on Twitter, the title of this book will likely mean nothing to you.

The fictional Twitter account is usually a funny, running commentary on what the life in the UK is like from the throne, written in the royal “One”. (It usually involves a large consumption of gin, hence the name of the book, one presumes)

The book is a collation of some of the tweets from the past year, as well as expanded beyond Twitter’s limited set of character, so it reads more like a diary. It is not meant to be taken seriously, as it is a parody, but at the same time – it does give a rather nice overview of the past year for the British royal family, as well as with certain world events.

If you wanted to know what the Queen thought of the two royal weddings last year, her prime minister, or current events… look no further.

If you’re following her on Twitter, it will be a lot of the same things – but expanded. If you haven’t been following her, but enjoy a twisty parody – look no further. I enjoyed it.

British succession – what if…

An interesting question came up by Jane on The British Royal Message Board (I love “what ifs” scenarios, or counterfactual history,  when it comes to historic events, and let my geek come out often)

Jane writes: “All this talk of changing succession rules in the UK leads me to ask: just who exactly would be this person, under the law of fully cognatic (“absolute”) primogeniture?” She goes on to say that neither the current monarch nor the Stuart pretender, currently the Duke of Bavaria would qualify.

A fully cognatic primogeniture would give the oldest child, regardless of sex, rights to the throne.

Since the Act of Settlement 1701 is saying that the rights go to descendants of Sophia of Hanover, who aren’t Catholic or married to a Catholic, we start with her.

Sophia was not the oldest child of Elizabeth Stuart, but since the others either died long before the Act of Settlement came to, without offspring or were Catholic… and though the current suggestion for amendment would possibly alter it so that those married to Catholics can ascend, the current point is that the monarch would still have to not be Catholic (if I have understood it correctly). Therefore, Sophia would still be the starting point for this evening’s little excision into royal genealogical geekery.

Prepare for some tedious genealogical rambling of almost biblical proportions.


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Book review: Elizabeth by Sarah Bradford

I am rather late to the party on this one – Elizabeth : A Biography Of Her Majesty The Queen by Sarah Bradford was published the first time in the 90s, with an updated version in 2002. Given that I loved Bradford’s easy style of writing in the biography on George VI, I felt the need to pick up something else she had written as well. (I also have my eyes on her biography on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but haven’t taken the plunge there, yet)

It was also a good follow-up read to Our Queen, from last week. Curiously, there were a lot of passages in Elizabeth that sounded familiar, almost to the word from Our Queen, which I suppose means that Our Queen has used this for background material on some of the details.

Like George VI, Elizabeth is very informative, and easy to read. It clearly makes an effort to be as inclusive as possible on the Queen.

If you’re a Diana fan, Bradford’s biography here is probably best to avoid. Though, Diana’s part in the tome is limited, Bradford doesn’t appear to be overly fond of the late Princess of Wales, and it shows through in the text.

The problem with this book, compared to a newer one, is that though it was revised in 2002, that must only have been minor revisions. The years after 1996 is almost a footnote in the 500+ long book, and those years would have been a good way to round up the book. Bradford is coming with another book on the Queen in 2012.

Book review: Our Queen

With Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in 2012, a lot of books and paraphernalia is sure to be released. Our Queen by Robert Hardman is first out of the gate, and there will likely be masses to follow.

What I found while reading, is that this is an incredibly touching book – funny at times, and sad at other times. And you learn quite a lot from it. (It is packed with trivia.)


Continue reading “Book review: Our Queen”