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Behind the Throne by Adrian Tinniswood

Behind the Throne - Adrian Tinniswood

This is a mildly interesting but overall unremarkable book, with a title that doesn’t quite describe its content. While the book is billed as covering the workings of the British royal household over several centuries – from Elizabeth I to II – it seems to spend more time on the personal lives of the monarchs and royal families themselves. Also, the narrative seems to be determined by just whatever information is most available about each reign, which means it doesn’t trace consistent subjects through time. I did find the stories included interesting, but I also came in not knowing much about the history of the British royal family. There’s some interesting stuff about the workings of the household too, though I think this book is best read for general interest rather than any kind of focused research purposes. The writing style is smooth and it makes for easy reading.

It got a bit weird at the end when the author started sneering about the unwashed masses daring to sully the royals with interest in and opinions about their personal lives, with particular venom for those former staff who wrote memoirs describing the royals’ personal lives. He then quotes those very memoirs for basically all of the information he provides about Elizabeth II and her family – which, she gave him some kind of award so best be careful I guess. And he conveniently ignores that this book itself is basically 450 years of gossip about the royals and those around them. Seems a little hypocritical to condemn the very interest that produces your own book sales.

For those interested in this sort of thing, I found The Courtiers better; it has a stronger narrative because it’s more focused on a particular time period (George I and II), and there’s a little more focus on the people around the royals than on the royals themselves. There are definitely a bunch of interesting tidbits and anecdotes in this one too, but Behind the Throne doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts.