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The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England

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The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, Edited by Antonia Fraser. (University of California Press; Revised and Updated edition: 2000. Pg. 384.) ISBN: 0-5202-2460-4


Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - November 4, 2001

The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England is an outstanding reference book. It concisely outlines the lives of the Kings and Queens of England, beginning with the Normans and ending with the present day monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England includes genealogical tables and the descriptions of the coats of arms, as well as an essay on heraldic history and the rules surrounding the use of coats of arms.

This book was edited by Lady Antonia Fraser who has written several well-received biographies, including those of Mary, Queen of Scots and Oliver Cromwell. Besides editing the book, Fraser also wrote a detailed introduction that explains the purpose and scope of the book. She also discusses such issues as the 'art of biography' and the effect and purposes of a hereditary monarchy. The biographical entries, themselves, were authored by eight outstanding historians. Rather than writing with one editorial voice, each historian was given free reign to write what they wanted about each monarch. This variety of writing styles, and the various types of information that each author chose to include, helps to hold the readers interested and prevents this book from reading like a droll encyclopedia.

The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, offers short biographical sketches of all the English monarchs since 1066. It does not, however, discuss any of the monarchs who ruled England before the reign of William the Conquer. This revised edition of The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England has been updated to include information concerning the divorce of Prince Charles from Diana Spencer, and the divorce of Prince Andrew from Sarah Ferguson. Also discussed is the role that the media played in the internal affairs of Queen Elizabeth's household. This revised edition also covers the death of Diana and how her death affected the British monarchy. Information on Queen Elizabeth's new website is also included.

Although the biographical sketches are relatively short, they still manage to convey a full sense of whom each monarch was: a little of their personality, a bit of their history, and the impact they had upon England. Despite the brevity of these sketches, the authors also manage to sneak in interesting tidbits about each monarch, such as their various nicknames, sexual peccadillos, and other personal quirks. In total, these intimate details help to enliven the narrative and to make the monarchs seem more lifelike.

Most historians and academic scholars will find this book to be too general in nature. However, for the general reader, it will serve as an excellent introduction and general reference guide to the English monarchy. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England is also, simply, a fascinating book to read. The only drawback to this book is that, to keep the book down to manageable size, the authors have steered away from, or simply glossed over, some of the more controversial issues. For example, almost nothing is said about the Duke of Windsor's (the former King Edward VIII) ties with the Nazi's, other than to mention that in October of 1937, Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson made a "fantastically ill-judged visit to Germany. That aside, this is an excellent book.


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