Most helpful positive review
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2005
Antonia Fraser's 'The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England' has long been one of my favourite books (since my childhood, really), because it has both breadth and brevity simultaneously, a rare feat. Lady Fraser's style is evident here, a non-imposing and non-technical style, that is nonetheless satisfying to all but the most rigourous of academic historians.
Fraser's account begins with the Norman invasion; like many books on royal history, scant attention is paid to pre-Norman figures. Fraser groups the monarchs into categories:
House of Lancaster
House of York
House of Hanover
House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
House of Windsor
Putting together the genealogical tables is a fun exercise--beware here, however, that lesser historical figures are left off the charts (thus, Queen Anne's bevy of children are not represented on the genealogy as none lived to assume the crown or perpetuate the line). Each monarch is given an article about 10-15 pages in length (a good bedtime reading length, I've found). Pictures and paintings help place visually the stories, together with the interspersed essays on coats-of-arms and other topics.
Fraser likes to find the humourous aspects whenever possible. Writing on William IV's distaste for the young Victoria's mother:' 'In 1836 the Duchess of Kent took over a large suite of rooms in Kensington Palace without the King's permission. William was furious. If he died now, Victoria would not be old enough to rule without her mother as Regent. At a public dinner, attended by more than a hundred guests, William said that he hoped his life would be spared long enough to prevent such a calamity.'
His wish was granted.
An ideal gift for anyone, child to adult, who has an interest in the history of the British royals, and a good ready-reference for students, this book is first-rate.