#6: The Royal “We”

#6: The Royal “We”

Current Mood: Fabulous

First of all, I’d like to thank all of those who contacted me with positive feedback, or began to follow me on twitter, after my last couple of posts on Jennifer Egan, Simon Winchester, and the “Marvelous Dr. Sacks”. Special thanks to Bill Hayes and Liz Button for your words of encouragement!

Given my current mood, I think it’s a great time to talk about the non-fiction and fiction books in my library that take royal history as their subjects. It’s a pretty wide-ranging choice; here’s a shot of that shelf in my library. I also take some liberties with the term “royal”; some books can be thought of as “royal-adjacent” but this IS my blog after all!

The Royal Shelf

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Hilary Mantel: The Master

If you’re new to “royal” fiction, you can’t make a better start than with Hilary Mantel; she is a magnificent and captivating author. Her two books about Thomas Cromwell are part of a trilogy beginning with “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”. Cromwell was an English lawyer and statesman who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540. He was one of the strongest and most powerful proponents of the English Reformation. He helped to engineer an annulment of the king’s marriage to Queen Catherine so that Henry could lawfully marry Anne Boleyn. The third book in the trilogy is called “The Mirror and the Light”; read more about it here: Third book of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy has 2020 pub date.

You won’t see “Wolf Hall” on the shelf above because I read that as an e-book. In any case, I STRONGLY recommend you read that before “Bring Up the Bodies”. What an interesting and complex character Cromwell was! What a delicate balance he had to maintain between serving Henry VIII, finding a solution to his “great matter” (divorce from his wife) and battling the various anti-Cromwell/pro-Queen Catherine factions at court.

In Scarsdale, NY? Check out Bronx River Books
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“Wolf Hall” was made into a BCC series, and Mark Rylance’s performance as Oliver Cromwell was astonishing; nuanced, poignant and dryly witty.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell

In Venice, CA? Check out Small World Books
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Goodreads has a great list of Mantel’s other books.

Solo Royal Reads

I call these “solo” because each book in this section is a one-off for the author in my library, but they were all terrific reads and I’ve read many of them more than once.

“Catherine the Great”—Robert K. Massie. Great biography that helps to dispel some of the myths around this powerful Empress.

“The Illustrious Dead”—Stephen Talty: I go back and forth as to whether to keep this book in the “Royals” section, but its subject is Napolean’s disastrous invasion of Russia, and how typhus helped to destroy his army. It’s such a great combination of history and science and therefore I’m including it in this post; (I am SUCH a rulebreaker!)

“The Life and Times of Richard III”—Anthony Cheetham. Part of the Kings and Queens of England series. The rehabilitation of this long-reviled king.

“Pope Joan”—Donna Woolfolk Cross. Sweeping novel about a woman who may not have even existed. “For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die–Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter.”-Goodreads

“The Pope’s Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere”—Caroline P. Murphy. The illegitimate daughter of Pope Julius II, Felice della Rovere became one of the most powerful and accomplished women of the Italian Renaissance. Caroline Murphy vividly captures the untold story of a rare woman who moved with confidence through a world of popes and princes.

Reflected Glory”—Sally Bedell Smith. I’m taking a GREAT liberty including this here; Pamela Harriman THOUGHT she was royalty and this is a well-researched and rollicking, book about a unique woman who captivated so many powerful, rich and famous men.

In Ashland, OR? Check out Bloomsbury Books
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“The Life of Thomas More”—Peter Ackroyd. One of those great books that works as both history and biography, this book is a masterful reconstruction of the life and imagination of one of the most remarkable figures of history. Thomas More was a renowned statesman; the author of a political fantasy that  gave a name to a literary genre and a worldview (Utopia); and, most famously, a Catholic martyr and saint. Born into the professional classes, Thomas More applied his formidable intellect and well-placed connections to become the most powerful man in England, second only to the king.

If you’ve never seen the movie “A Man for All Seasons” (1966)-and you SHOULD-Paul Scofield stars as More in an Oscar-winning performance. The movie also won Best Picture, Director, and Cinematography awards.

“Sex With Kings—-500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge”
—by Eleanor Herman. Fun book to read as you might imagine.

In Boston’s North End? Check out I AM Books
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In a Class of Her Own: Philippa Gregory

As you can see from my shelf, I like Philippa Gregory a lot; she wrote some of my favorite English historical novels. She is the author of many New York Times bestsellers and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen such as The Other Boleyn Girl. Her most recent novel, The Last Tudor, is now in production for a television series.

I like Gregory because although she writes novels, her research into her subjects is detailed and meticulous. This makes for very entertaining reading that can also be instructive, although of course creative license is taken.

Complete list of Philippa Gregory’s Books

IIn Chester County, PA? Check out Wellington Square Bookshop
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Antonia Fraser

Lady Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser, CH, DBE, FRSL is a British author of history, novels, biographies and detective fiction. She is the widow of the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Harold Pinter, and prior to his death was also known as Lady Antonia Pinter.

My library of Frasers includes “Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot”, and “The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England”.

The former is a wonderfully written history of the events of, 1605 when government authorities uncovered a secret plan to blow up the House of Parliament–and King James I along with it. A group of English Catholics, seeking to unseat the king and reintroduce Catholicism as the state religion, daringly placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a cellar under the Palace of Westminster.

The “Lives of” is more of an essential reference book. It’s a concise, accessible guide to the great dynasties of English royalty. A collection of biographical sketches that encompasses the period from the establishment of monarchical power by the early Norman kings through the reign of Elizabeth II, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England tells the stories of many monarchs and their colorful lives—some merry, some cruel, some heroic, others sinister. Antonia Fraser and a collection of distinguished contributors bring the people and events to life in this lavishly illustrated volume that is both engrossing history and an excellent reference tool.

CONFESSION: Most of the Antonia Fraser books I own are from her Jemima Shore mystery novels, which I will cover in my 350-part series on British mysteries. I’m only half-kidding about the series; I am a British mystery fanatic to say the least.

In Cold Spring, NY? Check out Split Rock Books
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Last But Very Much NOT Least

Alison Weir is a British writer of history books, and most recently historical novels about British royalty. She is one of my absolute favorites in this genre (as you can see by my shelf). Suffice it to say I’ve read eight of her books and am looking forward to reading them all.
List of Books by Alison Weir

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