Queens of England by Norah Lofts
Publication Date: September 1, 1977
Length: 192 pages
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 out of 5 stars
WHY I CHOSE THIS BOOK:
The world lost an amazing lady this week. At the age of 96, Queen Elizabeth II passed away and an era ended. I wanted to take a time out from cozy mysteries and historical fiction and review a book near and dear to my heart honoring all the Queens of England since, well, before there really were true queens reigning. It is sad to know that this book, published in 1977, will now have to be updated for the first time. Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne for 70 years, longer than any other British monarch and longer than any other female head of state in history. When I think of all she witnessed and influenced over her life it is truly amazing.
I chose to review this book in honor of her because it was my literal obsession as a small child and what got me hooked completely on a lifelong fascination with the British monarchy and history in general. No I haven't read it cover to cover this month but I don't need to. I almost have it memorized. That's how many times I've read and studied it over the last 40 plus years.
It details in short, 3-5 page summaries, the lives of all the female monarchs plus more obscure, earlier rulers such as Boadicea and mythical queens like Guinivere and Bertha of Kent. Giving just the basic facts, dates, and life events of each queen it nonetheless has a depth to each story that kept me coming back again and again to read about the lives of each one. There are literal stains from food and drink that are still imprinted in my original hardcover copy, evidence of my re-reading over the years but I can't bear to buy a new copy. This one is worn and special! You can still buy a new one from Amazon, but only hardcover and used ones aren't hard to find. It is worth every penny.
Each queen's story follows a similar pattern. Lofts starts with some interesting personal facts and then moves on to their early years, eventual marriage to the King or, if it is a queen in her own right such as Mary Tudor or Victoria, the how and why she came to the throne. Any romances or major tragedies are mentioned and wrapped up with a unique quote or mention of where she is buried. I always enjoyed how the short biographies convey a personal feel without spending too much time on politics or battles, that is not the theme of this book. Rather it is written in such a way that I remember even as a child, not understanding all the life events yet, I felt like I knew each one after I finished reading. Often I'd pick up this book as a research tool when delving deeper into time periods or individual biographies. Her timelines kept me focused so I could zoom out and see the larger picture, helping me to go back and study one of the subjects in more detail in another book. Being an American, these ladies were not much mentioned in school. Until I went to college and studied British history I was pretty much alone in this area of academia. We started at the Revolutionary War and even then it wasn't as if we spent time learning about Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III.
WHAT I LIKED:
Some funny things come to mind when I remember reading this book. The pictures are amazing and truly unique. I recall as a child of about 10 or so not wanting to look at the picture of "Bloody Mary Tudor," as her eyes frightened me. They are dark and serious and her face is described as "grief-stricken and ill." It really freaked me out. Other pictures that stuck with me are the effigy of Berengaria of Navarre, a colorized portrait of Katherine of Aragon, and a Holbein painting of Henry VIII. There are too many to list but they are a collection I haven't found in any other book all together. I remember spending time in my room just staring at and studying each picture, looking at the clothes, hairstyles, and facial expressions of each one, feeling as if I had stepped back in time. It was my window into a world before photographs and videos.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
I pondered this week which queen will go next in a book like this one. Camilla isn't likely, as she is not being labeled "Queen of England" and Kate Middleton is probably the next in line. The what ifs come to mind concerning Diana, if she had lived and she and Charles had not fallen out. But what I really think about is how I've been alive for 48 years and not once has the current Queen of England changed until last Friday, September 8th. We who love this part of history have taken it for granted that Queen Elizabeth would just live forever. It will take a long time to get used to any other woman with that title. King Charles III just sounds odd to my ears and seems surreal. My grandmother, who is 93 this year says she has always felt a kinship with Queen Elizabeth due to their close ages and life experiences. She was a classy lady possessing traits we sorely need more of today like stoicism and attention to duty. The world will miss her. I hope the history books treat her well, she deserves respect despite any family flaws or political imperfections, as she gave her best to God and country. May she rest in peace.