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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paxman tugs his forelock, 3 Oct 2007
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This review is from: On Royalty (Paperback)
Given Paxman's reputation as an intellectual Rotweiller, it comes as a surprise that he frequently seems to hold himself in check in this appraisal and analysis of royalty, ancient and modern. It is by turns impartial, critical and sycophantic.

He occasionally seems to get off the leash in respect of the current incumbents, referring to Charles' `jug-ears', describing him as `Eeyorish' and not shying away from mentioning the excruciating content of the `Camilla-gate' tape. He also makes no bones about the selfishness and lack of intelligence which mark the royal bloodline. These observations bode well for republican readers, but after a brisk, candid and often amusing first half, the book slides in the second into something rather lukewarm.

There is a good deal of analysis throughout, giving an historical perspective on the purpose of monarchy and how it was perceived from early times. He points out that, while there is no logical argument for a monarchy in Britain, its appeal has been largely undiminished throughout the centuries and that the majority still prefer to keep the Royals where they are. He examines why this is the case and puts forward some reasonable theories for it. He also draws attention to the privileged and bizarre upbringing thrust upon royal children, the current Prince of Wales in particular. Further, he presents a pretty thorough and even-handed examination of the difficulties of living in a gilded cage. We also get a visitors-eye view of palace protocol and are told of the futility of hiding one's dirty underpants on top of the wardrobe ...

Other European royal families are mentioned plentifully in the context of how so many of them fell in the early 20th century, while the British monarchy remained stable and Paxman examines why this was the case. Albania and King Zog get quite a bit of coverage in the early pages.

Diana pops up throughout, though increasingly as the chapters progress, his tone changes from one which acknowledges her affinity with the common herd, to one which seems to share the embarrassment and denial which the Royals themselves are alleged to feel. He makes no real criticism of Diana's adulteries, nor of the Prince's with Mrs Parker-Bowles, though does refer to her as Charles' `mistress' and not `friend', which was the euphemism used by the BBC during their affair.

Too much space is given over to an account of the trial and execution of Charles I. Of course this event is relevant in any discussion of the institution of British monarchy, but a lengthy re-telling of such a well-known part of history seems unnecessary in a book which, elsewhere, is largely concise in its comparisons and references. This space would have been better used to expand on his discussion of how little is known of the Queen's wealth and why she is exempt from death duties.

His final chapter, `The End of the Line?', does not continue with the views he appears to hold at the beginning. The Queen is hailed in sugary terms and the Prince is praised as being his own man with his own opinions, unafraid to put them forward despite the handicap of his birth and his undefined role in life. Of course, he is quite right to state his opinions and conclusion, but they come as somewhat of a surprise from a man with such a world-weary superciliousness.

Overall however, it is an enjoyable, informative and easy to read analysis of the development and role of the British monarchy, but those who hope to find a downright castigation of the House of Windsor will be disappointed.
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Tyke
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Location: England

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