Friday, June 24, 2011

God Save the Queen

The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross
I have read biographies of English monarch before, except only those during the Middle Ages or Renaissance. And while not non-fiction, I have read about Queen Victoria, who until now, was the most modern British monarch I'd read about. The Queen Mother is interesting because she was born in 1900, what I consider history, but lived until 2002, what I, instead, consider modern times. Because of her long life, the book reads not only a a history of her life, but also of the 20th century itself.

It was almost fascinating to me reading how the times changed throughout the book. For example in the early years of the future King & Queen's marriage (then the Duke & Duchess of York), they go on a safari to Africa. Except this was in the 1920s. In there's a quote from the future King George VI that's almost heartbreaking about the almost extinct white rhino in which he explains, "only three or four are allowed to be shot a year as they are becoming scare. I did not want to shoot one on hearing this, but they wanted me to get one." And so of course the Duke does, to add another kill to his collection.

On a similar vein it mentions a 6 month trip the Duke & Duchess took to Australia. Not necessarily heartbreaking, except when you consider that then Princess Elizabeth hadn't even reached her 1st birthday, and she stayed in England all 6 months. I'm not saying there's aren't still wealthy who travel the world without their children, but this was part of the reason Diana was noted as being different from the monarchy. Of coarse in the 1930s traveling from England to Australia meant a long sea voyage instead of the (comparatively) quick plane ride today.

I also loved some of the details the remain quite relevant today especially considering the recent royal wedding. When Elizabeth Bowes Lyon married the Duke of York, it was the first time an English prince had married someone who wasn't already royal. (Although she was a Lady, unlike Kate who as we've heard is a "mere commoner.") That marriage set the precedent for who would pay for the wedding (the monarchy not the parents of the bride), and her royal title (Her Royal Highness the Duchess, but still considered a princess).

My only complaint was number of people mention, but more importantly how they were mentioned. I understand that in 100 plus years you're going to interact with a lot of people. But it almost felt like people were mentioned just so they could claim to be in the biography. And more than that every time someone new was mentioned there was a footnote at the bottom of the page mentioning who the married, how they died, and what they did. Don't get me wrong I understand why that information is there, but part of me would have rather had in with the footnotes at the end of the book instead of the bottom of the page.

Even with this minor complaint I still really enjoyed the book. I had been introduced to the Queen Mother in The King's Speech, but besides that I knew little about her. After getting this look into the modern monarchy it only makes me want to learn more. I have a feeling I'll definitely be reading a few more books on the modern English monarchy in the months to come.


1 comment:

  1. This sounds good! I've read tons of biographies about medieval/renaissance kings and queens like you have, but never about a more recent one.

    Thanks for the suggestion!