Just about a month ago, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, surpassing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria in the record books. While there’s certainly room for debate on the necessity of having a Royal Family, I still find the whole enterprise fascinating. Today I want to talk about three books on the Royals of the past, present and fictional future.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (historical fiction)
Wolf Hall is a challenging book to read. Set from 1500 to 1530, the book chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell from from working-class lawyer to confidant and advisor of King Henry VIII. Although the book is more royals-adjacent than about the royals — Cromwell doesn’t really get into the palace until midway through the book — it still provides a pretty interesting look into personal and religious life as Henry VIII separated the Church of England from Rome in order to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boelyn. The prose can be, at times, a little dense, but I thought it was really interesting.
Verdict: Borrow (or, if you can’t stand dense prose, bypass and jump into the second book in Mantel’s trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies).
Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith (biography)
What is it like to be a modern monarch? What does the Queen actually do all day? Where does she get all of her magnificent hats? In Elizabeth the Queen, biographer Sally Bedell Smith tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascent to the throne and explores what life is like for a working queen. I really enjoyed the way Smith balanced out different threads of the story, jumping to interesting gossip or amusing anecdotes just when a story about politics started to get tedious. Smith is generally quite generous with the Queen, noting mistakes but not spending too long dwelling on them. This is definitely a nice biography, not a critical one.
Verdict: Buy (unless you are a big fan of Princess Diana, then bypass — Smith isn’t especially nice to her in the book).
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (fiction)
I have to be honest, I didn’t think I would love The Royal We when I first picked it up. I grabbed it because my sister was enjoying it and I was curious what a novel by The Fug Girls would be like. It turns out, very funny and quite charming. I’ve seen The Royal We described as William and Kate fan fiction, an accurate description that doesn’t quite capture how delightful reading this book turned out to be. The book is the story of an American, Rebecca “Bex” Porter, who falls in love with Prince Nicholas, future king of England, while they’re studying at Oxford. The book follows them over the next decade, or so, as they struggle to have a personal relationship in the public eye and under the strict scrutiny of the Royal Family. The book is really fun and is clearly informed by a fascination with how the Royals operate.
Verdict: Buy (unless you don’t care about the Royals… but then why are you still reading this post?)