Synopsis

“Modernization is quite a strong word to use with the monarchy because it’s something that’s been around for many hundreds of years. But I think that it’s important that people feel the monarchy can keep up with them and is relevant to their lives.  We are all human, and inevitably mistakes are made. . . .
Prince William, on his 21st birthday, June 21, 2003

The really crucial thing about kingship is that a king or queen must be initiated through a ritual to transform him or her from their ordinary status into something quite extraordinary.  All these would-be modernizers of the royal family have got it completely wrong.  The more like one of us the king becomes, the less there is any reason for having a king.  A king is a symbol, not a person.
Declan Quigley, Social Anthropologist and one of Prince William’s professors at the University of St. Andrews

The English monarchy has managed to survive because of its remarkable ability to find the delicate balance between adaptability and tradition (even if it’s not done voluntarily).  And for almost a millennium the British royal family has presented themselves as the pinnacle of civility and sophistication within one of the world’s most refined societies.  But England’s royals have always had their share of internal strife and sibling rivalry, murder and mayhem, dalliances and divorces.  As the world watched and commented on every misstep and mistake, they have juggled these dynastic disasters while making weighty national decisions and defending the realm. Time has marched on, however. Through the lives and loves of the kings and queens of England, as well as through the stories of some of their rather lively relatives, this book traces the monarchy’s journey from an autocracy to a constitutional model. Today’s monarch reigns but does not rule.  She can be found dedicating hospitals, not declaring war.

And yet, despite the crowns and the pageantry, the royals were, and are, ordinary men and women who often found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.  They have led anything but normal lives, although some rebelled against the restraints imposed by their birthright, struggling to enjoy what many of their social inferiors took for granted, and others stopped at nothing to keep their stranglehold on the reins of power.

While not every monarch is profiled here, and there are a few “bonus royals” included who were never monarchs or may never ascend the throne, this book features a collection of the most colorful characters in nearly a thousand years of English royal history and the major events that shaped their lives and those of their subjects.