Royal Biographies

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Royal Biographies

For your fix of kings, queens, and their (sometimes) bad behavior

As Americans, we can get strangely obsessed with other countries' monarchies. It's so easy, isn't it? The lavish weddings! The impeccably dressed (not to mention impeccably behaved) children!  The shocking scandals!

Here are a few books to sate those needs, and to learn about royalty, past and present.

High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly by Donald Spoto
Moving effortlessly from Hollywood royalty to actual royalty, Grace Kelly showed millions of little girls that they, too, could become princesses in the blink of an eye, generations before Kate Middleton appeared on the scene. Spoto covers Kelly's life from her Catholic school childhood to her death in 1982, touching on her career in modeling and movies and speaking with many of Kelly's legendary costars. Unusually for royal biographies, Princess Grace's children worked with Spoto to provide many never-before seen documents about royal life in Monaco. Just one warning, though: reading this biography may inspire you to book a trip to the Riviera.

The Little Princesses by Marion Crawford
I first read this book as a child, which might be where my own love for the English monarchy began. This charming account of the childhoods of Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth and Princess Margaret was written by their nanny. It depicts two smart, polite little girls who grew into lovely young women through the crises of their uncle's abdication and the London Blitz, with nothing in it that contemporary or modern-day readers would call scandalous. Upon its publication, however, the Queen saw the memoir as such a betrayal of trust that the Royal Family never spoke to "Crawfie" again. Read and be enraptured. 

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport
The four Romanov sisters were often called just that in newspaper and magazine articles when they were popular teenagers (and we all know what tragically happened to them in 1918), and seen as a family unit, but the best part of this biography is the way that Rappaport describes each sister's individual personality and intelligence. The diaries and letters from Tatiana, Olga, Maria and Anastasia set the atmosphere from the lighthearted days of Russian Imperialism to the darkening, sinister times of the Revolution. The daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra finally get a chance to shine separately in this thoroughly-researched and fluidly-written biography. 

Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes by Bertram Fields
There are really two stories to this book. First, that of King Richard III, who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field during the Wars of the Roses in 1485. Historians, playwrights, and authors have painted him variously as power-grasping, villainous, and murderous, but also as a brave king and intelligent, yet mistreated by the Tudors. The second part of the story is the legend of the "Princes in the Tower," the boys allegedly killed by Richard to prevent the eldest's rightful access to the Crown. Author and lawyer Fields manages to separate popular legend from evidence and present a clearer picture of this historical era. If you were captivated by the royal pomp and circumstance surrounding the unearthing of King Richard's remains in 2013 and his reburial in 2015, this is the book for you. 

Sex With the Queen, by Eleanor Herman
When you have unlimited power and almost unlimited money, it can all go to your head. Herman recounts tales of royals and monarchs through the ages, empires, and palaces, from the antics of Juana "the Mad" of Spain to Princess Diana's "Squidgygate." Royal favorites quickly learned how to acquire the Queen's esteem and keep her attention before her eyes wandered and power and privilege (not to mention the tangible benefits) were lost. If you thought history only ever highlighted the bad boys, here's one example that shows that the women were just as naughty behind closed doors.

The Wives of Henry VIII, by Antonia Fraser
The six wives of one of Britain's most notorious rulers were so much more than "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived." Fraser digs deep into the histories of these women, detailing their childhoods, their rises in the Tudor court, and what led to their eventual downfalls ... some quicker than others. While TV shows like The Tudors may give faces to names, they only scratch the surface of this fascinating period of history. Learn more about Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard (my favorite!), and Katherine Parr, and why it's probably best not to flirt with your lute player around people with big mouths.