Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Royal Review: Behind the Palace Doors

Behind the Palace Doors
Author:  Michael Farquhar
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date:  March 1, 2011

From the Back Cover:

Spanning 500 years of British history, a revealing look at the secret lives of some great (and not-so-great) Britons, courtesy of one of the world’s most engaging royal historians. Beleaguered by scandal, betrayed by faithless spouses, bedeviled by ambitious children, the kings and queens of Great Britain have been many things, but they have never been dull. Some sacrificed everything for love, while others met a cruel fate at the edge of an axman’s blade. From the truth behind the supposed madness of King George to Queen Victoria’s surprisingly daring taste in sculpture, Behind the Palace Doors ventures beyond the rumors to tell the unvarnished history of Britain’s monarchs, highlighting the unique mix of tragedy, comedy, romance, heroism, and incompetence that has made the British throne a seat of such unparalleled fascination.

Gotham Gal says: I have read several of Michael Farquahar's books and found them enjoyable including a Treasury of Royal Scandals, so I was naturally curious about his new book Behind the Palace Doors. However, I am poor at the moment, so I used my Borders bucks to purchase it. I was surprised to find that the book only starts with the Tudors and with the Plantagenets, although that could be a book in itself.  Farquhar dimisses the last of the Plantagenets in the forward and then its on to the Tudors, starting with Henry VIII.  This was actually my least favorite section of the book. The Tudors frankly have been done to death and Farquhar adds nothing really new to the mix. He repeats the usual stories about Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour, Mary Tudor and Philip II of Spain, touches briefly on Lady Jane Grey and Henry's wives but it feels like wearing a musty old hat.  It's not until he gets to James I and Arabella Stuart that the book finally gets interesting. The book doesn't really live up to its subtitle:  Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery and Folly in Royal Britain.  I expected the book to be a bit sexier although he does briefly recount the ill-fated affairs of George I's wife Sophia Dorothea and George III's sister Caroline Matilda with Johan Streunsee.  The chapter on Edward VII, a notorious womanizer is surprisingly slim and there is nothing in the book about Edward VII's son, the Duke of Clarence who was involved in the Cleveland Street scandal (a male brothel).

The book is more effective when Farquhar sticks to politics and feuds, that's clearly where his real interest lies. The abdication of Edward VIII, the enmity between George II and his son Frederick, the Prince of Wales, the Glorious Revolution that brought William and Mary to the throne are all covered, as well as George V's decison not to allow his cousin the Tsar and his family to live in England after they were forced to abdicate.  The book peters out by the time it gets to Elizabeth I, in fact the chapter is only a few pages.  All the royal scandals of the past 50 years, starting with Princess Margaret's relationship with Peter Townsend, not even touched on.

There are other books out there that are much more interesting than Behind Palace Doors. I have to say that this book was a huge disappointment for me.

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