On history, royalty, politics, architecture, art and literature
Friday, 6 January 2012
New books: Elizabeth II and her court
The literature on Queen Elizabeth II of Britain is enormous already in her lifetime, but the journalist Robert Hardman’s new book Our Queen, published by Hutchinson in September, is one of the most insightful so far. However, its title is somewhat misleading, as it is not so much a book about Queen Elizabeth herself as a book about the British monarchy and its workings in what will inevitably be the final decades of her reign. The title of the American edition, Her Majesty: Elizabeth II and Her Court, is perhaps more fitting. While great jubilees often cause writers to present the era in question as one glorious triumph, Hardman is more realistic. He argues that the reign of Elizabeth II has “consisted of three episodes of sustained success and two periods of recurring difficulty”. He considers that some 2/3 of the reign should be considered “contended”, but that the 23 years of the remaining third to some extent could be described as “troubled”. And while the statement that Queen Elizabeth “has never put a foot wrong” seems to be a favourite cliché of royal writers at this stage of her reign, Hardman observes that she actually has, although only rarely. The slow response to the Aberfan mining disaster of 1966 and the royal family’s absence in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 stand out as examples. According to Hardman, Queen Elizabeth has herself acknowledged to her advisers that she got it wrong on those occasions. But this is not a book on her entire reign. The focus is set on the last twenty or twenty-five years, which have been an age of transformation for the British monarchy. Hardman has obviously benefited greatly from being granted access to some key players during those years, among them family members such as the Duke of Cambridge, politicians such as David Cameron and Tony Blair (interestingly, the latter highlights the Queen’s “total ability to pick up the public mood”), and courtiers who have been close to the crucial events of these years. Among the latter category, Hardman points to the 13th Earl of Airlie, who was appointed Lord Chamberlain in 1984, as one who will stand out on the list of those he rather romantically calls the “New Elizabethans”. Lord Airlie had “greater impact on the mechanics of the monarchy than almost anyone since Prince Albert”, the author states and goes on to argue his point by charting how he set out to reform the way the monarchy was run and in particular how it was funded. While the Queen “liked the status quo”, she gave Lord Airlie the permission he needed to go through with these changes while “the Queen Mother was continuing her guerrilla war against the modernisers from within her Clarence House redoubt”. Thus the monarchy was better equipped than what has been generally assumed to handle the momentous challenges of the 1990s, a decade which certainly ranks among the troubled times of the reign. A major reorientation has occurred along the lines of the 1992 book Elizabeth R: The Role of the Monarchy Today, where Sir Antony Jay (of “Yes, Minister” fame) stressed the monarch’s role as “head of the nation” as at least equally important as the role as head of state. That role involves the duties “concerned with behaviour, values and standards; the ones which earn the respect, loyalty and pride of the people”, Jay wrote. According to Hardman, this was “a definition which has since helped to shape the entire way the Palace goes about its business”. Since then the death of the Queen Mother has also meant that her daughter is no longer caught in some sort of limbo between the old and the young generations, but has herself taken on the mantle as “mother of the nation” with all that goes with such a conception. Thus her mother’s death has actually made her life in public easier, a courtier argues. The death of the Queen Mother and the golden jubilee in 2002 marked a watershed, a courtier says: “Up until then, it felt like a reign of two halves – Act One: good, Act Two: bad. Then, suddenly, we were into Act Three”. “For all her instinctive conservatism, this sovereign has steered the monarchy through more transition than any in modern times”, Hardman writes. He is of the opinion that the British monarchy “has actually changed more in the last twenty-five years than in the previous one hundred and twenty-five”. This is obviously not solely Elizabeth II’s achievement, but would, also obviously, hardly have happened if she had been unwilling to go along. “She is actually more open to new ideas now than ten, twenty or thirty years ago”, says one senior official. Hardman’s account generally seems even and fair, but occasionally he goes overboard. As in the first sentence of the book, where he argues that “[w]hen the world comes to look back on the early twenty-first century, two events in Britain – just weeks apart – will be lodged in the collective memory”, i.e. the diamond jubilee and the London Olympics, which is surely to overestimate the impact on the rest of the world, or when he argues that Prince Philip should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. Hardman has previously done the BBC television series “Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work” and parts of the book are clearly influenced by this in the way that the readers are served many “behind the scenes accounts” of how foreign tours, public engagements, state visits et al are organised. This is a bit long-winded and as this topic has been thoroughly dealt with by the TV series, the book which accompanied it and also by other television series, it might perhaps have been cut somewhat in this book. Another note of criticism might be that Hardman, like many British authors, gets caught by the impossibility of reconciling the notion that Britain is superior to most other countries (if not all) with the idea that simplicity is something exclusively British. Thus the story of how the Queen’s car broke down during an official engagement: “With certain heads of state, there would be panic stations, much yelling into electronic cuffs, a public inquiry and high-level redundancy”. Problems sorted out, “off she goes in a convoy of two cars and one police outrider – the sort of modest motorcade which might be laid on for, say, a middle-ranking trade minister from the European Union” – or, in fact, most non-executive heads of state on an ordinary day. The fact that David Cameron’s car had to stop for red lights on his way to Buckingham Palace when he was to be asked to form a government is apparently considered something essentially British, with Cameron himself chiming in to say that “[t]here’s no other country in the world which has this sort of changeover”, which is far from true. A rather large part of the book is dedicated to the Royal Household, which Hardman argues has seen “a shift in management culture away from the gentleman amateur to unisex professionalism”. However, his account of the Royal Household is so enthusiastic that one feels that everything cannot possibly be that marvellous. And when he enthuses that there are a housekeeping assistant “with a 2:1 degree in physics from [...] St Andrews” and a footman who is “a graduate in aeronautical engineering from one of Britain’s top universities” and that such things are quite common one wonders if it is really a good thing that people are holding jobs for which they are grossly overqualified. One department which has been particularly successfully reorganised is the Royal Collection, in recent years transformed “from a dusty curatorship into a self-financing, world-class assembly of great treasures employing hundreds and viewed by millions”. Its director, Jonathan Marsden, argues that “[i]n terms of access and conservation, this reign has been a high point in the history of the collection. It will be seen as [as] significant as that of Queen Victoria”. Thus the modernised Royal Collection “will be one of the Queen’s greatest legacies”. This is a rather surprising conclusion about a monarch who is not really known for her appreciation of fine arts, but it does speak of a professionalism extending outside the areas of the monarch’s personal interests. So what is her greatest achievement personally? Somewhat surprisingly Hardman suggests that it might be Britain’s development into a multicultural society, which the author argues that she has not only observed, but been part of.
Trond Norén Isaksen is a Norwegian historian specialising in the history of monarchies, but also has a deep interest in politics and political history as well as the arts, particularly architecture.
I have a Master of Arts degree in modern history from the University of Oslo. I graduated in 2006 with the dissertation Halvt for Norge? - Bernadottene og det norske tronfølgespørsmålet, which dealt with the Swedish candidature to the Norwegian throne in connection with the dissolution of the union of crowns between Norway and Sweden.
I am the author of two biographies of members of the Norwegian royal family. The first was Dronningen vi ikke fikk,a biography of Crown Princess Märtha and King Olav V, which was published by Genesis forlag in 2003. The second, Kvinne blant konger, a biography of Norway’s former first lady Princess Astrid, was published by N. W. Damm & Søn (now Cappelen Damm) in 2007. My third book, on coronations and their roke in Norwegian history, Norges krone - Kroninger, signinger og maktkamper fra sagatid til nåtid was published in 2015.
I am also co-author of the book about the Norwegian Royal Collection, Arv og tradisjon, edited by Anniken Thue and published by Orfeus Publishing in 2012.
I am a regular contributor to the British monthly magazine Majesty and have written about 200 articles for various publications, including Politiken, Kunst og Kultur, Historie, Aftenposten, Historisk tidsskrift, Byminner, Dagens Nyheter, Morgenbladet, The Court Historian, Personhistorisk tidskrift, Prosa, Dagsavisen, Klassekampen, St. Hallvard, Royalty Digest Quarterly, Dagbladet, British Politics Review, Heraldisk Tidsskrift, [Danish] Historisk Tidsskrift, Personalhistorisk Tidsskrift, The European Royal History Journal, Adresseavisen, Royalty Digest, Museumsbulletinen, VG, Nordlys, Trondhjemske Samlinger, Året i bilder, Vårt Land,Värmlands museums årsbok, Kristeligt Dagbladand Fredriksstad Blad.
NORGES KRONE - KRONINGER, SIGNINGER OG MAKTKAMPER FRA SAGATID TIL NÅTID
My third book is about coronations and their role in Norwegian history from the twelfth to the twentieth century, published in 2015 by Forlaget Historie & Kultur. It may be bought from Adlibris by clicking on the picture (external link).
Kvinne blant konger - En biografi om prinsesse Astrid
My second book was a biography of Princess Astrid, published in 2007 by N. W. Damm & Søn. It may be bought from Adlibris by clicking on the picture (external link).
Dronningen vi ikke fikk - En biografi om kronprinsesse Märtha og kong Olav
My first book was a biography of Crown Princess Märtha and King Olav V, published in 2003 by Genesis forlag.
Complete list of my published works
154. “The Prince Who Would Be King: Henrik of Denmark and His Struggle for Recognition”, in Charles Beem and Miles Taylor (eds.), The Man Behind the Queen: Male Consorts in History (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
153. “Churchill's Six Sovereigns” (Majesty, Vol. 36, No. 1, January 2015).
152. “Uncrowned King of Bavaria” (Majesty, Vol. 35, No. 12, December 2014).
151. “Triumf og legitimitet - Rikssverdet fra Leipzig til Trondheim”, in Andreas R. S. Dugstad (ed.), Trondhjemske Samlinger 2014 (Trondheim, Trondhjems Historiske Forening, 2014).
150. “Kristine Bernadotte” (Dagens Nyheter, 14 November 2014).
149. Untitled review of Randi Buchwaldt's and Ted Rosvall's book Axel & Margaretha: A Royal Couple, in Thit Birk Petersen et al (eds.): Dansk-norske skæbner før og efter 1814 – Personalhistorisk Tidsskrift 2014 (n.p.: Samfundet for Dansk Genealogi og Personalhistorie 2014).
91. “Royal Reformer” (Majesty, Vol. 33, No. 2, February 2012).
90. “Book review: The Four Graces: Queen Victoria’s Hessian Granddaughters” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 - 2011). 89. “Book review: Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life by Philip Eade” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 - 2011). 88. “The Oldest of the Bernadottes - Elsa Cedergren (1893-1996)” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 - 2011). 87. “Exhibition review: Ruling Through the Arts” (The Court Historian, Volume 16, 2, December 2011). 86. “Renaissance Queen” (Majesty, Vol. 33, No. 1, January 2012). 85. “Katedralen” (Prosa, no 5 - 2011). 84. “Dronning Mauds ikke så mystiske død” (Dagbladet, 7 November 2011). 83. “Kongelig ettergivenhet” (Aftenposten, 1 November 2011). 82. Untitled review of the books En dynasti blir till - Medier, myter och makt kring Karl XIV Johan och familjen Bernadotte, edited by Niklas Ekedahl, and Familjen Bernadotte - Kungligheter och människor, edited by Ingvar von Malmborg (Historisk tidsskrift, no 3 - 2011). 81. “Da Danmark forandret seg” (Dagsavisen, 20 September 2011). 80. “Kongens og dronningens kroner - Opprinnelse og anvendelse”, in Arve Sletten (ed.): Trondhjemske Samlinger2010 (Trondheim: Trondhjems Historiske Forening 2011). 79. “Den siste habsburger - Nekrolog Otto von Habsburg 20. november 1912-4. juli 2011” (Morgenbladet, 15-22 July 2011). 78. “Young Ingrid - Queen Ingrid of Denmark’s Early Years in Sweden” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 2 - 2011). 77. Untitled review of Thomas Lyngby’s, Søren Mentz’s and Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen’s book Magt og pragt - Enevælde 1660-1848(Historisk tidsskrift, no 2 - 2011). 76. “Carl III Johan - Carl XIV Johan? - Striden om unionskongenes ordenstall” (Personhistorisk tidskrift, no 1 - 2011). 75. “Borgerskapets inntog” (Dagbladet, 29 April 2011). 74. “Minner om et kongehus - Oscar IIs dynastiske utsmykkingsprogram” (Byminner, no 2 - 2011). 73. “Palassrevolusjonen” (Dagsavisen, 21 January 2011). 72. “Kongens nye hovedstad: Carl Johan, Christiania og arkitektene i Norges demring” (St. Hallvard, no 3+4 - 2010). 71. “Book review: Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Revolutionsgeneral, Marschall Napoleons, König von Schweden und Norwegen by Jörg-Peter Findeisen” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 - 2010). 70. “Prince of Peace – Prince Carl of Sweden and the Nobel prize” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 - 2010). 69. “Exhibition review: Bernadotte’s Norwegian palace” (The Court Historian, Volume 15, 2, December 2010). 68. “Adel ved Bernadottenes norske hoff” (Historie, no 4 - 2010). 67. “Ingen ny Diana” (VG, 12 December 2010). 66. “Historiens lærdommer” (Klassekampen, 2 December 2010). 65. “Det undersköna Oscarshall - Hoffliv på sommerslottet 1855” (Langt Vest i Aker, no 40, December 2010). [Stolen by that publication from Byminner no 3-2010 and republished without permission, a violation of copyright laws which the editors Øivind Rødevand and Nils Carl Aspenberg have refused to apologise for]. 64. “Et parti som alle andre” (Dagsavisen, 22 November 2010). 63. “Slottets forbindelser til svensk og russisk arkitektur” (Kunst og Kultur, no 3 - 2010). 62. “Oslos fjerde grunnlegger” (Aften, 20 October 2010). 61. “Carl Johan som Norges konge - Maktkampen mellom konge og storting” (Historie, no 3 - 2010). 60. “Hvorfor deles den [Nobels fredspris] ut i Norge?” (Dagsavisen, 8 October 2010). 59. “Book review: Drottning Victoria av Sverige – Om kärlek, plikt och politik by Stig Hadenius” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 3 – 2010). 58. “A Broken Engagement – Frederik of Denmark and Olga of Greece” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 3 – 2010). 57. “Prinsessens tittel” (Aftenposten, 24 September 2010). 56. “Prinsessetittelen” (Aftenposten, 21 September 2010). 55. Untitled review of Herman Lindqvist’s book Jean Bernadotte - Mannen vi valde (Historisk tidsskrift, no 3 - 2010). 54. Untitled review of Carl-Erik Grimstad’s book Dronning Mauds arv (Historisk tidsskrift, no 3 - 2010). 53. “Tausheten etterpå” (Klassekampen, 14-15 August 2010). 52. “Grevinne Ruth av Rosenborg” (Aftenposten, 29 July 2010). 51. “Det undersköna Oscarshall - Hoffliv på sommerslottet i 1855” (Byminner, no 3 - 2010). 50. “Book review: En brud för kung och fosterland - Kungliga svenska bröllop från Gustav Vasa till Carl XVI Gustaf by Lena Rangström” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 2 - 2010). 49. “Ida Wedel Jarlsberg - Hoffrøkenen som var Ylajali?” (Historie, no 2 - 2010). 48. “Victorias arv” (Aftenposten, 20 June 2010). 47. “Oscarshall fra lystslott til luftslott – Kongelig bolignød 1929” (St. Hallvard, no 4 - 2009). 46. “Fru Schøller - hvor ble hun av?” (Adresseavisen, 29 May 2010). 45. “Arkitekten som formet hovedstaden” (Aften, 11 May 2010). 44. “Opposisjonens siste skanse” (Dagbladet, 29 April 2010). 43. “Dronning Ingrid og det moderne monarki” (Politiken, 28 March 2010). 42. “The Principality of Pontecorvo - Bernadotte’s Stepping Stone to the Throne” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 1 - 2010). 41. “Kongelig grensesetting” (Dagsavisen, 11 March 2010). 40. “Oscarshall har vært kongebolig” (Aften, 29 December 2009). 39. “[Prinsesse] Grete Sturdza” (Aftenposten, 8 December 2009). 38. “Kongevåpenet og 1905 – en kommentar til Hans Cappelens artikkel” (Heraldisk Tidsskrift, Volume 10, Issue 99, March 2009). 37. “Counts of Monpezat – Old Name Makes New Titles for Danish Royals” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 – 2008). 36. “Almost Queen of Sweden and Norway – Countess Maria Krasinska and the Last Days of Carl XV” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 – 2007). 35. “Kongelige titler” (Dagbladet, 4 December 2007). 34. “A British Queen of Norway” (British Politics Review, Volume 2, No. 4, Autumn 2007). 33. “En hån mot Christian Fred[e]rik” (Dagbladet, 20 October 2007). 32. “Astrid og Hendrix” (Dagbladet, 29 August 2007). 31. Kvinne blant konger – En biografi om prinsesse Astrid (Oslo: N. W. Damm & Søn 2007). 30. “An Eccentric Couple – Prince August and Princess Teresia of Sweden and Norway” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 1 – 2007). 29. “Denmark’s Scottish Princess – Anne Bowes Lyon” (Royalty Digest Quarterly, no 4 – 2006). 28. “Kongen Norge ikke fikk – Prins Carl av Sverige og det svenske kandidaturet til den norske tronen i 1905”, in Sune Åkerman and Ruth Hemstad (eds.): Skilsmässan som förde oss samman,Värmlands Museums årsbok 2006 (Karlstad: Stiftelsen Värmlands Museum and Värmlands Museiförening 2006). 27. Halvt for Norge? – Bernadottene og det norske tronfølgespørsmålet, 1850-1905 (MA dissertation in history, the University of Oslo, autumn 2006). 26. “Kongen vi ikke fikk – Prins Carl av Sverige og det svenske kandidaturet til den norske tronen i 1905” (Historie, no 2 – 2005). 25. “Norges siste unionsdronning” (Aftenposten, 10 July 2005). 24. “Ingrid Alexandra”, in Morten Malmø (ed.): Året i bilder (Oslo: N. W. Damm & Søn AS 2005). 23. “Count Lennart Bernadotte af Wisborg (1909-2004)” (Royalty Digest, No. 164, February 2005, Volume XIV, No. 8). 22. “Memories of Nine Decades: An Interview with Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XLII, Volume 7.6, December 2004). 21. “The Last Vasa: Queen Carola of Saxony” (Royalty Digest, No. 163, January 2005, Volume XIV, No. 7). 20. “Ingeborg, Princess of Scandinavia”, part II (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XL, Volume 7.4, August 2004). 19. “Jeanne de Tramcourt – A French Colibri at the Swedish Court” (Royalty Digest, No. 160, October 2004, Volume XIV, No. 4). 18. “Ingeborg, Princess of Scandinavia”, part I (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXXIV, Volume 7.3, June 2004). 17. “Norway has a New Heiress – The Birth of Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXXVII, Volume 7.1, February 2004). 16. “The Unknown Sister: Princess Margaretha of Denmark” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXXVI, December 20003). 15. “Mauds og Märthas dødsårsaker” (Dagbladet, 14 December 2003). 14. “Two Kings and Three Queens Bid Farewell to ‘Uncle Mulle’ – The Funeral of Prince Carl Bernadotte” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXXIV, August 2003). 13. “Obituary: Prince Carl Bernadotte, 1911-2003” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXXIV, August 2003). 12. “Konge uten dronning: Monarkiet under kong Olav manglet et viktig aspekt, det kvinnelige” (Dagbladet, 2 July 2003). 11. “The People’s King - The Centenary of King Olav V of Norway” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXXIII, April 2003). 10. “Kong Haakon og Hornsrud-episoden” (VG, 5 June 2003). 9. “Dronning Maud – tippoldemoren” (Historie, no 2 – 2003). 8. Dronningen vi ikke fikk – En biografi om kronprinsesse Märtha og kong Olav (Oslo: Genesis forlag 2003). 7. “Sibylla – Sweden’s Tragic Princess” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXX, November/December 2002). 6. “To dronninger” (Filologen, no 3 – 2002). 5. “Dronning av et århundre” (Historie, no 3 – 2002). 4. “His Excellency Count Flemming of Rosenborg (1922-2002)” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXVII, May/June 2002). 3. “Story of a Wedding – Princess Martha [sic] Louise of Norway and Ari Behn” (The European Royal History Journal, Issue XXVII, May/June 2002). [Published without my permission] 2. “Kong Gustaf Adolf var ikke nazisympatisør” (Dagbladet, 7 August 2002). 1. “Norges britiske dronning” (Filologen, no 1 – 2002).