on 12 October 2006
This is the third in Paxman's highly readable and intelligent books on aspects of British culture. The language, politics and now royalty of these sceptred isles suggests an ongoing and welcome attempt to find the things which are quintessential to the English. Royalty here is discussed in a broader European context but inevitably focuses on our own dear royal family. It is intended, by his own admission, to be a chronicle of his journey from republican to reluctant monarchist sympathies. There are lots of interesting anecdotes about the British (and other European) monarchies. One gets the impression that Paxman is more than capable of being a serious public intellectual with "something to say" but, strangely, since he is no shy, retiring flower on "Newsnight" or even, dare I say it "University Challenge", he invariably seems to stop at just that point where he is about to say something truly contentious. Perhaps his experience as an hard-hitting interviewer makes him reluctant to expose himself (there are copious unnecessary endnotes). This is a different voice of Paxman's than we hear on television and one well worth listening to. At least this is one book about royalty you won't have to cover up on the train.
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.
I enjoyed this book; it was interesting, informative, intelligent and easy reading. Written by the BBC interrogator, it came as no surprise to me as I have read most of his other books.
It seems to chart his journey from a fervent republican to someone with royalist leaning, to say the least. A mixture of a history of European royalties with an obvious emphasis on our own and his personal anecdotes on his meetings with royalty, including staying at various palaces, it makes interesting reading.
At the end, I was uncertain about what it had been attempting - serious history, anecdotal impressions, casual observations - but I realised it did not matter. I enjoyed Paxman's personal view of royalty as seen by him. It felt almost like an enjoyable dinner party.
I also enjoyed the CD which whiled away many boring hours on the motorway.
I am interested in history and also royalty and I thought this would be an interesting book which would not bore like some scholarly texts! I was happily pleased.
This book concentrates not just issues with Royalty in our own Royal Family, but also those of nations further afield. It is not afraid to talk about the issues connected with them as well - taxes and their role with God. In fact Republicanism is discussed. It made me think, would our country be the same without a Royal Family as recognisable figureheads, what do they bring to the nation?
There are some interesting points made throughout the book, along with a number of tales of strange ways and habits of current and former royalty. It concentrates on major events through history, the Abdication Crisis of 1936 (changed my view on Edward VIII), the execution of Charles I as well as King Zog! It also successfully tackled the issue Of Diana, Princess of Wales impact on the Royal Family (both before and after her death) it could have consumed a great part of the book, but was spattered throughout and never took up more than half a page.
This is a good book, if you fancy a bit of history and royalty is fascinating, their mystery remains the interest in my opinion and doesn't come across as scholarly and certainly not a chore to read.
on 20 September 2014
An excellent review of Royalty, not just British. Many interesting points of history lightened by a variety of anecdotes. I only gave it 4 stars because reading it on Kindle meant that it was very difficult to look at the "footnotes" which was a pity. Not the fault of the author, of course! My husband suggested (too late) that I could have our Tablet set to receive Kindle and have it open at the Appendix pages.
on 30 December 2006
Jeremy Paxman reads this abridged audiobook version of his book, On Royalty (4 CDs, running time just over 4 hours). I've never been much interested in royalty but always enjoy Newsnight when Mr Paxman presents it - although, I often wonder if his prey (the interviewee) might say something worth hearing if they were ever allowed to complete a sentence. It's a bit like a sort of vegetarian blood sport. It comes as no surprise to me that he's written an interesting book on this subject that had not previously held my attention with any but the weakest grip, or that he reads it in such a way that I feel entertained as well as informed. Royalty in general is examined, with our own royal family getting a particularly hard and searching scrutiny. It's a funny old set-up and much of the mystery (such as might perplex the ordinary British tax-payer for example) is cleared up in these chapters. Light is shed on those perennial questions: why do we put up with them? and why do they put up with us? I must say that I have a much more sympathetic view of them after listening to this - especially that poor so an so, Charles. Even though it seems a pretty rum sort of "firm" and I still believe it could use some hard pruning back, taking out all the messy, useless, trailing edges, I wouldn't be keen to get rid of the core members of our royal family. No more attractive system suggests itself. There definitely seem to be a number of far worse alternatives. I feel ever so slightly converted after listening to this excellent audiobook.
There is currently a reigning Queen in Denmark and another in Holland that I can recall, but who - for anyone the world over - is The Queen? We all know, and her name is the title of a box-office-storming film. The theme this time is not just `The Queen' but `Royalty'. The book duly contains a certain amount about royalty in Italy, Albania, Greece, Russia and old-testament Israel, but the author knows where his readers' interest will be focused, and these royal outriders are allowed to feature only insofar as they add colour to the majestic cavalcade of Elizabeth II and the ribald retinue of her own Royal Family, a group title whose reference is again impossible to mistake.
This book is no kind of tract. It is the work of an independent-minded and slightly cantankerous journalist possessed of a strong sense of the ridiculous, a certain sense of history and a grudging fairmindedness. Most of us, if required these days to devise a system of government, would not come up with monarchy as our proposal, and Paxman, I suspect, would be even less inclined than the next man to do so. Nevertheless he has to admit to himself what seems equally obvious to me, namely that republican sentiment in Britain, however logically the case may be argued, has never taken much more hold than the campaign, perhaps equally logical, for phonetic spelling.
In for a penny, in for a gold sovereign, Paxman does his best to explain why the British monarchy is almost universally tolerated and in many quarters held in high affection and regard, although one suspects in higher affection nowadays than regard. He rightly characterizes Bagehot's reasoning as condescending, but he is honest enough to concede (if I read him rightly) that it is somewhere near the truth too. As a sociologist he is an amateur, just as he is not a professional historian, and I'm inclined as an amateur myself in both fields to say that his reasoning is probably all the better for its independence of hierarchies, establishments and thought-police in both disciplines. Paxman is a rationalist prepared to admit that the forces of irrationality are, at least for now, getting the better of the argument. So far does he lean over backwards to be fair that he actually ducks the issue (which I would have loved to have seen him handle) of what sort of vicarious existence is enjoyed or endured by the type of person self-styled `an ardent royalist'.
The style will be familiar to anyone who knows Paxman from his earlier books and from the BBC's Newsnight. As a writer he seems to me to achieve better focus this time than previously. Either Muggeridge or Clive James could show him how to time his punch-lines better, and perhaps he has been reluctant to compromise his impartiality by copying such egocentrists, but he seems to be learning the trick gradually from somewhere. The book is not particularly `structured', and in my opinion it is none the worse for that. The topic of British royalty does not, after all, lend itself readily to any Kantian flow of logic, and I rather sense that Paxman's way of changing the spotlight is likely to be more illuminating in the long run than most attempts to treat the subject systematically. If there is a chapter you can safely skip, it is probably the chapter on the execution of Charles I, which is much better handled in, say, Geoffrey Robertson's `The Tyrannicide Brief'.
Her Britannic Majesty Elizabeth II is now well into her 80's, although likely destined for a good many more years in the job. It is very probable that much of the public attitude to the monarchy has really narrowed itself down to a public view of this dutiful if dull monarch personally. Typically, her broadcasts to the nation are distinguished by such insights as `many events have happened to all of us'. It may all become more eventful after her, but I wonder how many, even self-proclaimed republicans, will really welcome that when it happens.
on 4 May 2014
This third volume in Paxman’s series on British culture essentially presents a well-argued case for retaining the monarchy, whilst simultaneously recognising the manifold flaws, improbabilities, and injustices of the system. And, actually, I rather agree with his point of view – which, to some degree, makes for a less challenging and engaging read. I always think it’s always more interesting to read things which challenge your views, rather than things which reinforce them – though often, things which challenge your views end up reinforcing them anyway.
Paxman uses an awful lot of history of our monarchy, and several throughout the world, to flesh out his argument, and there is obvious potential for this to become very dry and dull – a potential that, fortunately, is never fulfilled. Paxman crafts a cogent, coherent, and entertaining argument, presented with the wry, dry humour for which he has become renowned.
The real joy of the book is in Paxman’s narrative. It would be easy for a title such as these to lose its narrative thread, but by providing a clear argument running throughout the book, Paxman manages to engage the reader and maintain their engagement, even when explaining complex historical events – albeit in a very accessible style.
Paxman provides a robustly constructed, irreverent, and entertaining guide to an institution he argues is simultaneously and paradoxically anachronistic, yet relevant and essential to today’s society. To a person like me – relatively poorly informed about British history – Paxman provides a great introduction and makes a clear argument for retention of the monarchy, whilst also allowing his trademark personality to shine through.
I thoroughly enjoyed On Royalty, and would happily recommend it: Its humour gives it easy-read levity, whilst its recurring themes and central message make it thought-provoking and memorable.
on 22 April 2014
A good read. If you enjoy Jeremy Paxman's dry humour, you will like his comments on the history of royalty. This was a short book, and I would have liked more anecdotes, and perhaps a little bit more depth, but on the whole it was an interesting and fun read.
on 10 June 2008
A perceptive and highly readable account of royalty in all its forms, inevitably concentrating on the House of Windsor but with amusing and informative diversions elsewhere.
As one would expect of Jeremy Paxman, this book is written with a cynical edge, but is careful to maintain some sense of balance and not descend into the sneering republican rant that I'd feared a book about royalty by someone like Paxman would be.