Royal Book Review: ‘The Queen — A Life in Brief’ by Robert Lacey

the-queen-a-life-in-brief

Earlier this week I was at my local library hunting for some royal reads. Unsuccessful in finding any specific to royal weddings (strange, right?), I did find this gem of a book, The Queen. It’s a mere six chapters, full of beautiful, rare photographs, and a brief, yet interesting read. So, after my sister saw I was reading it, she said she expected a book report… always willing to please, I’ve complied. 😉

About the author

The author of this book, Robert Lacey, is a British Historian who has covered extensive royal topics for nearly 40 years. He wrote the book Majesty which is noted as the influence for the film, The Queen. He is well connected with his topics, often able to get information from primary sources.

Part I.

Time Magazine Cover 1929

‘The Princess of Hearts’

Chapter one of this book covers, appropriately expected, the early years of a then Princess Elizabeth. It’s an interesting look at how she was merely a Princess, never expecting to be Queen. She was essentially a York girl, like Eugenie and Beatrice are today.

Nonetheless, she was an incredibly popular princess, even from an early age, and the world reported all about her every move. Including her yellow dress, that was very groundbreaking compared to the mere blue or pink choices for babies of the time. She was even included as the cover feature of Time magazine in 1929, sporting that yellow dress.

The ‘Princess of Hearts’ was also rather close with her grandfather, King George IV, calling him ‘Grandpa England.’ She’d wave from her window every morning and he’d wave from Buckingham Palace. It’s quite adorable the connection they shared.

A Princess (unexpectedly) turned Heiress Apparent

Of course then was the great abdication of Prince Edward VIII came with it the realization of the Princess’s new found fate.

“‘When our father became King,’ Princess Margaret recounted nearly sixty years later to the historian Ben Pimlott, ‘I said to her [Princess Elizabeth], ‘Does that mean you’re going to become Queen?’ She replied, ‘Yes. I suppose it does.’ ‘She didn’t mention it again.'”

Coronation-of-King-George-VI

It goes on to talk about Princess Elizabeth’s diary entry about the day of her parents’ coronation, which is said to now be ‘bound in pink ribbon’ and stored within the royal archives.

Part II.

Princess Elizabeth Playing Tag on Ship

Royal Romance

Lots of detail regarding the courtship and marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip is covered in part two and it’s quite interesting. It expounds far more than I wrote about in their wedding post, as expected, and it’s overall a good read even if you know most of the story already.

And baby makes 3

I was quite surprised how quickly the Queen had had Charles after the wedding, less than a year later. She was one busy mama, even covering tour appearances her father was unable to make due to his declining health. She really stepped up and got down to business, newlywed, new mother… all before she was 25. She seems to really put William and Kate’s work to shame… but that’s another topic for another time.

First Minutes of Queen’dom

It was terrible reading of how she found out about her father’s passing while abroad, and how she became Queen quite literally while in the tree-topped jungle in South Africa. She is said to have not been seen crying, only coming back from the bathroom on the return flight with puffy eyes a few times. I also learned that every royal is to pack a black outfit for tours in case of a tragedy while gone, in turn needing an outfit for mourning.

Queen-Elizabeth-Coronation-1953

Another thing I learned was that the coronation was originally banned for television, causing outrage worldwide. But the Queen relented, and the coronation was broadcast, however, without any closeups, of course.

Part III.

A slap in the face

In 1953, John Grigg, Lord Altrincham, wrote an editorial regarding the Coronation and the number of places allotted for members of Parliament, the true representation of the people. Only 100 seats were granted of the 625 elected members. Then again, four years later, he wrote more criticisms of the Monarchy in a special edition of the National and English Review (a publication he owned and edited). Only he was more critical of HM herself. This did not go over well for many, even though polls showed the younger people of Britain were in agreement with much of his claims.

On August 6, 1957, a group of the League of Empire Loyalists waited for him outside of Television House and smacked him across the face. Wild.

A Princess and her Captain

Margaret and Peter Townsend

The author goes on to talk of Princess Margaret’s falling in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorced RAF Officer, 16 years older than the Princess. Being only 22 required HM’s approval for marriage of the two, and this was out of the question because Townsend was divorced. The Queen was sympathetic, but could not allow the marriage. Instead Townsend was essentially exiled until the summer of 1955 when the Princess would be 25, an age that allowed her to marry without HM’s consent.

It’s quite sad that while their relationship continued, upon his return upon her 25th birthday, Parliament would not consent to continue its support of funding the Princess and the captain should they marry. When the Princess learned that she would lose all royal standing should she marry the captain, she  would lose all royal prestige. She immediately broke it off with him and issued a statement that she would not marry him in order to uphold the Church’s beliefs regarding divorce. Of course it’s the ultimatum of losing her royalty that really caused the separation.

Issues abroad

Lots of explanation is given regarding the 1956 invasion of the Suez Canal, which left the Queen feeling embarrassed by the new PM Sir Anthony Eden. More political drama occurred after the PM’s collapsing under pressure, leaving the Queen to help choose his replacement. Full disclosure: Unfortunately, being quite illiterate regarding the British Government, I wasn’t very interested in this section, so the details are admittedly murky.

Royals do Television

Royal Family BBC

The BBC produced Royal Family, a documentary with the family, it was released in 1969. It is one of the most viewed documentaries of its time. It proved to be wildly successful around the world. (And I am still looking for a copy of it to watch.) 40 hours of unshown footage are locked away in high-security vaults, and are labeled ‘Religious Programming.’

Part IV.

Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales

Becoming the ‘Prince of Wales’

A month after its premiere came the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales. The last bang of ‘Royal Mania.’ For the 60s, at least. He then went on to tour of his principality and even though tensions were high regarding the Monarchy, his subjects received him well. Though he had a relatively difficult relationship with his parents, he found in his great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, what he didn’t find with them. He encouraged the young prince to ‘sow his oats’ and then settle down later. It was during this time that Charles met Camilla. Her alleged pick up line ‘my great-grandmother was you great-grandfather’s mistress, so how about it?’ Charming, that Camilla…

He could not then propose to his ‘one true love’ because they had been having regular romps. ‘The bedded could not be wedded,’ the author writes. So she married someone else, but she and Charles carried on.

 Part V.

Charles and Diana's WeddingWhat’s love got to do with it?

The courtship of Prince Charles and Diana was quite quick, and quite telling. First of all, Prince Charles had first dated Diana’s older sister. He had also been a huge playboy, the opposite of Diana, an 18-year-old Kindergarten teacher. Oh, and he was 13 years older. He was in love with Camilla Bowles to boot. But she had become Camilla Parker-Bowles, leaving a broken hearted Prince in need of an heir. Cue engagement to Diana.

“‘Can you find the words to sum up how you feel today?’ the couple were asked when their engagement was made public on 24th February 1981, ‘…in love?’

‘Whatever “in love” means,’ came Charles’ famous reply. ‘Put your own interpretation on it.'”

Tensions rise

The ’80s seemed to be a rather tumultuous time for the royals. From the race riots in 1981, to the Queen being shot at during the Trooping the Colour ceremony in 1983, issues were abound.

Furthermore, it was barely a month after the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana that the marriage started showing its cracks. By the end of September Diana was already distraught after learning of the affair between Charles and Camilla. The media pressure, betrayal of a spouse and Camilla, who had taken Diana under her wing, proved to be too much for Diana.

No matter the strife between his parents, the birth of Prince William proved to be somewhat of a balm for the royal’s wounds.

While Prince Charles was on the front line of parenthood, his younger brother Prince Andrew was on the front line of the Falkland War. Returning from the war as a hero, the young Prince enjoyed the attention–especially from the ladies. Earning his title of ‘Randy Andy’ from the tabloids.

When he settled down and married Sarah Ferguson, everything seemed perfect. She got along great with the royals and she was a friend for Diana.

However, tensions continued as Charles began to resent Diana for her popularity, Diana’s bulimia and depression were wreaking havoc, and Camilla was on the scene again. These together proved to be the ingredients for the perfect storm.

1992, ‘annus horribilis’

Fergie’s escapades and the hacking of Prince Charles’ phone caused great embarrassment for the palace. The fire which broke out at Windsor Castle and the separation of Charles and Diana were the cherry on top of a year which the Queen herself deemed ‘annus horribilis’.’

Part VI.

The Queen observes flowers for Princess Diana

A grandmother’s love

After the death of Diana in August of 1997, the Queen put her country on the back burner and moved her grandsons to the front. While the country mourned, the Queen acted as any grandmother would when caring for young grieving grandsons. The Queen made sure the boys, Princes William and Harry, were being cared for before she made any move to address the nation and the death of Diana. This caused enormous backlash from the public, prompting headlines of “Say Something” and “Your Nation Needs You, Your Majesty.” After nearly a week, the Queen finally addressed her mourning subjects, putting at ease a grieving and tempered nation.

The Queen sadly lost her sister and mother within only months of each other in 2002. The book goes on to talk about the marriage of Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, and how the monarchy saw a bit of rise in popularity since the early 2000s.

Overall

This book was a really quick, yet informative read. If you’re new to the royal scene and want to learn more about the Queen, it’s a great place to start. However, if you’re already well versed in most all things royal, you may want to skip it, while it covers broad topics already known if you’ve read anything on the Queen before. However, it’s a great reference guide to have on hand, and a reliable source to use in your research and writings. Plus, it is beautifully designed, perfect for any bookshelf.

You can buy your own copy here.

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