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Twilight of Splendor: The Court of Queen Victoria During Her Diamond Jubilee Year Hardcover – 29 Jun 2007
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To offer a new approach to Queen Victoria, King (The Court of the Last Tsar) focuses on one important year in her reign–the 1897 Diamond Jubilee. Although he initially establishes context by focusing on the changes that occurred during Victoria′s life, he spends perhaps too much time describing the minutiae of the royal household′s daily workings. Thankfully, humorous anecdotes from primary sources, such as those describing courtiers′ lack of love for Balmoral Castle, the queen′s beloved Scottish home, enlighten the accounting. The queen′s callous treatment of her sons, selfish demands on her daughters, and relationships with servants–not to mention coverage of family scandals and the lives of other royals–does seem inevitably comparable to the present royal family. Photos show the various royal domiciles, as well as family members; a brief appendix names various members of the royal household. For libraries with large English history collections. (Index not seen.) —B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Memorial Lib., Sag Harbor, NY ( Library Journal , May 15, 2007) "Greg King leads you on a tour into the heart of history’s last and greatest royal empire." ( Majesty , Volume 28/10)
"Greg King leads you on a tour into the heart of history’s last and greatest royal empire." ( Majesty , Volume 28/10)
From the Inside Flap
Queen Victoria wore a somber gown of black silk, enlivened with delicate embroidery of sparkling jet and offset by layers of contrasting white lace. On her gray head a veil of Honiton lace, carefully arranged in cascades to frame her wrinkled face and sagging shoulders, was held in place by a small crown of 1,300 diamonds. The faint hint of her favorite orange–scented perfume hovered in the air as her lady in waiting adorned her widow′s weeds with the blue silk moiré sash and diamond star of the Order of the Garter; large diamond drop earrings and a matching collet necklace of twenty–eight immense, gleaming stones; and a diamond–fringe brooch. Her pudgy wrists and fingers glistened with gold and diamond bracelets and an array of precious rings. On the eve of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the tiny, rotund, seventy–eight–year–old queen was a study in contrasts. And, much like the immense realm that was her domain, she was at the pinnacle of her authority and nearing the end of her days. Twilight of Splendor leads you on an extravagant tour into the heart of history′s last and greatest royal empire: the court of Victoria Regina et ImperatrixQueen of England and Empress of India. You′ll meet the people, witness the pageantry, and feel the power that circled the globe. Author Greg King takes you exploring through the queen′s elegant residences at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, cruising the English Channel aboard the royal yacht Victoria and Albert II, and tramping the Scottish highlands at her beloved retreat, Balmoral. You′ll also attend the spectacular ceremony in honor of Victoria′s sixtieth year on the throne and marvel at the Empire′s splendid diversity, as represented by her parading armiesscarlet–coated Canadians and turbaned Sikhs, Egyptians in red fezzes, khaki–clad Australians, and galloping Bengal Lancers, their deadly pikes glittering in the sun like the queen′s own jewels. Most compelling of all is Victoria herself. Groomed from infancy to assume the crown and adhere to a strict moral code, she was a proud, forceful, and imperious sovereign who remained personally humble, good–humored, and keenly intelligent. King reveals that Victoria′s dislike of the British nobility led her to market herself quite purposefully to the middle class, even as she suppressed news of scandals involving her children and embarked on enigmatic relationships with the notorious John Brown and her personal servant Abdul Karim.See all Product description
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"Twilight of Splendour" is no exception. He takes Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee as the starting point and climax to tell the story of the Queen's reign and rule and how she became such an extraordinary monarch. As there are so many books on Queen Victoria and her reign, covering every aspects from the most personal to the most political. Therefore, it is pretty difficult to write a book which gives the reader a new approach and perspective. And indeed, the information is not really new and if you have read about Queen Victoria before most of it will be familiar to you. But Greg King puts this overflow of available information together in a great manner creating an interesting and revealing picture of Queen Victoria, her family and her court. I enjoyed it a lot and it gave me some new perspectives and ideas how to view Queen Victoria and her family.
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King takes one year in the Queen's life, and explores her daily life, starting first with an outline of her childhood, and marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and then to some of the momentous events of the years 1896-1897, when she became Britain's longest reigning monarch, and the festivities surrounding her Diamond Jubilee year to celebrate sixty years on the throne. By this time Victoria was not just a queen, but also Empress of India, and the British Empire was indeed a land where the sun never set. Colonies and possessions sent emissaries and gifts, all building towards a grand festival in London to mark the occansion.
But King goes beyond a mere listing of Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren -- he explores the rather tempetuous relationships that she had with them, especially her daughters. Neither were her sons spared the maternal disapproval either -- her eldest son Bertie, the Prince of Wales, she blamed for his father's death and his social life brought further displeasure. He in turn, took out his frustrations at not having any sort of decision-making in political roles in hard living, mostly involving smoking, chasing women and sport. Nor was Bertie the only fast living Royal -- daughter Louise was notorious for her acid tongue and mischief making, and Helena developed a near crippling addiction to opium.
The most interesting section was an exploration of the various courtiers that surrounded the Queen. There was an enormous army of servants, from those who laboured in the royal kitchens, footmen who carried messages and opened doors, housemaids who swept and scrubbed and tidied, all the way up to the aristocratic men that oversaw their work. While these men would never be confidants or friends, they would form close bonds of trust with the Queen, working with her for years, until ill-health or death remove them from the office. Much more shadowy were the servants that worked more closely with the Queen, most notorious being a Scotsman by the name of John Brown, of whom it was said that the queen had actually married him, and after his death, two Indian servants who were arrogant scoundrels.
The Queen's court of servants, family and attendants moved in a predictible round of seasons and holidays. Springtime and most of summer were spent at the castle complex at Windsor, autumn in the Scottish highlands at Balmoral, and winter at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Buckingham Palace was a place that the Queen loathed to stay in, and it was only during the most formal of events that the queen would stay at the Palace for even a night. In addition, the Queen and her household would holiday on the French Riviera every two months in springtime, an activity that continued from 1890 to nearly the very end of her long life. Pilgrimages would be made to her beloved husband's tomb every year on the anniversary of his death.
And sometimes, relatives would visit from the far reaches of the world to visit. One of the more momentous occansions was when one of Victoria's favorite granddaughters visited during the autumn of 1897. Alix and her siblings had been raised mostly by the Queen after the death of their mother, Alice, and Alix had been wooed and won by Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia. Now Alix was Empress, and with her husband and child went to visit as the new couple toured Europe after their coronation. Another momentous occansion that is covered is the grand costumed affair at the height of the London season at Devonshire House. Royalty and aristocracy mingled, as much to show off their wealth, and to be seen and see. Several ladies managed to arrive as the same characters from history, accompanied by much glaring. Other little snippets included the rituals of garden parties and presentations, Christmas celebrations, and finally the Diamond Jubilee itself.
I have to say that this was a real eyeopener of a book. All too often authors skip over the people who kept the various castles and palaces running and livable. King also adds in plenty of gossipy details, little touches that help to make these stiff figures from formal portraits come alive as well. While King's narrative does get repetitous what with the same descriptive passages being used over and over, the story does move along crisply, with quite a bit of detail being given. There are several inserts of black and white photos and etchings as well. Along with the bibliography and footnotes, there is an appendix that list the various members of the Queen's hosuehold during the final years of her life.
For anyone interested in the details of how royals lived in the nineteenth century, this is a splendid read. I discovered that the royalty of the time were imprisoned as much as they ruled from a golden, rather spendid, cage. Days were carefully measured and plotted out, and oridinary people and the journalists were just as curious about them as they are now in the twenty-first century. While the reading does get a bit dull in spots, it's still enjoyable, and there's quite a bit of humor here and there to liven things up.
Greg King has chosen an interesting year as his focus for this portrait of the Queen and her court. The Diamond Jubilee is often considered the apogee of the British Empire. Even while the Jubilee was going on, some prescient Englishmen (Rudyard Kipling for one with his poem "Recessional") were aware that troubles lay ahead. The Queen herself was past her prime in 1897, blind, arthritic, and more querulous than ever. King has traced Queen Victoria's life through the Jubilee Year, following her from Windsor to Balmoral to Osborne to Buckingham Palace to Cimiez and back again. He describes each of her palaces in great detail, and traces the daily life of the Queen in each of them. He also traces the lives of the courtiers who lived with and supported her. I enjoyed reading about these ever patient and considerate men and women, who spent their days catering to the Queen's whims. Henry and Frederick Ponsonby, Sir James Reid, Lady Jane Churchill, and the others in the court must have been in a continuous state of aggravation and exhaustion, to say nothing of the poor maids who were expected to dance attendance on the Queen at any and every hour of the day and night.
King writes well but sometimes bogs down in his descriptions, particularly when he goes into needless detail about the position of the furniture or the details of those elaborate Victorian gowns and uniforms. Sometimes it seems as if he is quoting verbatim from newspaper accounts, with little first hand information from letters or diaries of some of the participants or from the Queen herself. Nevertheless I enjoyed this book because it let me see the Court pretty much as the Queen herself saw it in her last years. I also found the last pages, which describe the last days and death of the Queen, very sad but extremely moving.
For those who are history buffs especially about England, this book should be in your library.
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