On history, royalty, politics, architecture, art and literature
Sunday, 8 January 2012
New books: A political biography of Elizabeth II
The diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain has, unsurprisingly, inspired several books on the aging monarch, among them The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People by Andrew Marr, one of Britain’s best-known political journalists and host of a Sunday morning political talk show on BBC 1. Marr’s book, which was published by Macmillan in October, is to a great extent a political biography of the British Queen. His stated aim is to “tell her life story, looking at the influences on her, and trying to explain why she does what she does”. This is done in a mostly chronological way, but the chronology is interspersed with short topical chapters. The first quarter of the book deals with Queen Elizabeth’s life before her accession and the people the author thinks has had the greatest influence upon her, but also with the “remaking” of the British monarchy in the reigns of George V and George VI. However, this story is very familiar from other books and Marr adds no new insights. He also overdoes things a bit when he insists that Elizabeth II is “only the fourth monarch of a fairly new dynasty”, when in fact the dynasty has been the same since 1714 although its name has changed along the way. The reign of George V saw several important reforms which strengthened the monarchy and widened its scope. Marr argues that “the House of Windsor has seen an unusually direct transmission of ideas and behaviour from its origin in 1917 through grandfather, father and daughter”. Most specifically this refers to the aim stated by George V’s Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, namely to “endeavour to induce the thinking working classes, socialist and others, to regard the Crown, not as a mere figurehead and an institution which, as they put it, ‘don’t count’, but as a living power for good ... affecting the interests and well-being of all classes”. This is indeed an idea which has been central also to the reign of Elizabeth II, but it ought to be said that her sixty years on the throne have also been hugely transformative. The remaining 300 pages of the book deal with the reign, with a particular emphasis on the monarchy’s place in society and its relations to politics. The latter topic was well covered in the late Ben Pimlott’s excellent biography of Elizabeth II (first published 1996, updated edition 2002) and again Marr does not really have much original to add. It also seems that, apart from some interviews, he bases what he writes mostly on published material. The story of the reign and its ups and downs is told in a well-written, accessible prose, but the longer lines are sometimes hard to find. As such another new book on the same monarch, written by another journalist, Robert Hardman’s Our Queen, is both clearer and more insightful. Occasionally Marr seems to be too fond of the fancy sound bite, as when he quotes an anonymous source saying that Private Secretary is “the only appointment in the Royal Household that really matters a damn”. That this is nonsense is made clear from what he subsequently writes about the crucial role the Earl of Airlie as Lord Chamberlain played in thoroughly changing the way the monarchy is funded, which leads Marr to quote another anonymous source describing Airlie’s “importance as rivalling that of Prince Albert for the Victoria monarchy”. “To a degree that has never been fully understood, they privatized the Queen”, Marr writes about Airlie and his team. Had these reforms not been underway at the time the reign reached its nadir around 1992, “the year of disasters could have led to a downward spiral in the Queen’s story – not the end of the British monarchy, but its radical diminishing”. But this quiet revolution is again more thoroughly and conclusively dealt with by Robert Hardman in his book. “The Queen has been Queen of a nation in decline, and many would say her greatest achievement has been to soften and humanize that inevitable process”, Marr acknowledges. If he is at some stage critical of his monarch it seems to be in relation to how her beloved Commonwealth has “pragmatically accepted some brutal and undemocratic regimes rather than lose members”. While stressing that the book is not authorised, Marr states in the preface that the manuscript has “been read by the Palace to correct errors of fact”, which leaves one with the impression that the both Marr and the Palace are weak on facts. To mention just a few of many factual errors the future Queen had no fiancé in 1948, George VI had never been Prince of Wales, Queen Mary did not just live to see the coronation of 1953, Prince Philip does not undertake state visits on his own and Princess Margaret did not live “with her mother at Kensington Palace”. One is also left wondering how the Queen at the time Britain joined the EEC in 1973 may have “reflected that the Swedish, Dutch and Danish monarchies had managed perfectly well in the new bloc, never mind the reviving Spanish monarchy”, given that Denmark joined at the same time, Spain in 1986 and Sweden only in 1995. Andrew Marr’s book adds little to our knowledge or understanding of the British monarchy under Elizabeth II, but may well be useful as an introductory read.
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).