Monday, 27 January 2014

The best royal books of 2013

I did not have much time for writing book reviews on my blog in the past year, but 2013 saw the publication of several interesting works, so I thought I should at least give a brief survey of some of the best royal books of 2013 (in no particular order).

1. Jonas Nordin, Versailles: Slottet, parken, livet
Versailles, the ultimate royal palace, is done more than justice by the Swedish historian Jonas Nordin in his well-researched, insightful and readable account of the palace, the park and life at the French court. While most of the literature on Versailles focuses on the age of Louis XIV, Nordin takes the story through the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, making this one of the most complete histories of Versailles.

2. Philip Murphy, Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Post-war Commonwealth
While the accession of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain 62 years ago was hailed by some as the dawn of a new Elizabethan age, the main link between Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II proved to be that while the foundations for the British Empire were laid during Elizabeth I, the Empire came to an end during Elizabeth II. Taking up Peter Hennessy’s and the late Ben Pimlott’s challenge to historians to explore the links between monarchy and politics, Professor Murphy shows how the British Empire has morphed into a Commonwealth of Nations and what has been the role of Elizabeth II and the monarchy in this process. This volume will take its place among the handful of the most important books on the reign of Elizabeth II written in her lifetime.

3. Jes Fabricius Møller, Dynastiet Glücksborg: En danmarkshistorie
While there is no dearth of Danish royal books there has until now been no book covering the history of the reign of the Glücksburg dynasty since it came to the Danish throne in 1863. The historian Jes Fabricius Møller puts this right by what may be called a “political history” of the Danish monarchy since 1863, where he charts the monarchy’s interaction with politics, the public and the media. Unlike many royal books this one approaches the royal family in an analytical rather than anecdotal manner. Yet it does so in an engaging way, so that the result is rewarding reading for general readers as well as for fellow historians.

4. Elena Woodacre, The Queens Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512
While the Kingdom of Navarre is largely forgotten today, it commanded a strategically important position in the Pyrenean region and is also of interest as the kingdom where reigning queens first ceased being an anomaly. Between 1274 and 1512, when the major part of the realm was conquered by Castile, there were five queens regnant (a sixth queen ruled the rump kingdom later in the sixteenth century). In her ground-breaking volume, the historian Elena Woodacre investigates the challenges faced by these five female rulers and their way of governing, including the various modes of power-sharing with their husbands. As such this is a book which ought to be of interest to anyone interested in the issue of female rule in early modern Europe.

5. Poul Grinder-Hansen, Frederik 2.: Danmarks renæssancekonge King Frederik II, who reigned over the Dano-Norwegian realm between 1559 and 1577, has to a great extent been overshadowed by his popular, long-reigning son Christian IV and often been portrayed in a less than flattering manner. In this first biography of Frederik II, the historian Poul Grinder-Hansen sums up recent decades’ re-evaluation of Frederik II, showing how his policies were arguably far more successful than those of his son and demonstrating the cultural role played by Denmark-Norway’s first true renaissance monarch.


  1. Do you know the book "Vanished Kingdoms" by Norman Davies? Is it worth buying?

    1. Yes, I have actually read it, but it was a couple of years ago, so it is not quite fresh in my memory. It is about the history of states which have disappeared or been dissolved - some examples I recall being the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Kingdom of Ertruria and the Burgundian duchies. I remember I found some of it interesting, but other parts a bit heavy going. It covers a wide field, and not all of it was equally interesting to me, but I suppose one can also read the chapters independently of each other if there are some states one wants to learn more about.

  2. Thank you for your generous review. It captures my intentions with the book very well.


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