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I am frequently called upon by community groups to give a talk on the British royal family, given that I have worked in parliament, studied history in London, and have met several of the royals. This is rare among persons in midwestern America. Fortunately, there is no lack of material, and my talks are never the same.
One of my sources for interesting side notes and comic relief for these talks is 'The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes', edited by Lady Elizabeth Longford. Had there been tabloids throughout history many of these stories might have featured prominently (albeit probably with the occasional alien thrown in for good measure of sensationalism).
Longford does not commit the sin of most historians of the royals of beginning with William the Conqueror--there was a Britain before 1066. She includes Celts, Danes, and Saxons. Alas, she does not include Scots or others explicitly after 1066, but their stories are woven into the stories.
Longford's sources include histories, biographies, poems, newspaper accounts, diaries, and personal correspondence in library and museum collections. Many anecdotes are pulled from other histories--those bits that are neglected because the substance of the weightier matters overpowers them. Thus, this collection helps the hidden jewels to shine.
One example of Longford's treatment would be in recounting the shifting image over time of the reign and fate of Edward II. She gives brief details of biographers from 1313 (during his reign), 1327 (the year of his deposition), a seventeenth century biographer, and a modern biographer. In this we see that while the verdict of history holds sway, it needn't stay constant. Today's hero becomes tomorrow's villain, and yet later tragic character.
Here one can also see various bits about John Brown, friend and servant and supposed lover (even, some speculated, husband) of Victoria--their relationship is presented from many sides, and Longford resists jumping to conclusions herself.
From her epilogue, Longford states: 'This has been the story of many dynasties and one royal line. That line goes back a thousand years, yet it has shown infinite variety rather than recognisable family traits. Indeed it seems to cover the whole human spectrum, though in heightened or exaggerated form because of the royal ambiance.... The hushed abdication broadcast from Windsor Castle has replaced the crunch of the axe on Tower Green. Even anthologists can have no regrets.'
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on April 6, 2013
If you like British history this book rocks. A great, concise and to the point read detailing enough of everything you would want to know spanning many centuries. Fascinating.
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