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For a man with such conventional tastes and views, George V had a revolutionary impact. Almost despite himself he marked a decisive break with his flamboyant predecessor Edward VII, inventing the modern monarchy, with its emphasis on frequent public appearances, family values and duty. George V was an effective war-leader and inventor of 'the House of Windsor'. In an era of ever greater media coverage--frequently filmed and initiating the British Empire Christmas broadcast--George became for 25 years a universally recognised figure. He was also the only British monarch to take his role as Emperor of India seriously. While his great rivals (Tsar Nicolas and Kaiser Wilhelm) ended their reigns in catastrophe, he plodded on.
David Cannadine's sparkling account of his reign could not be more enjoyable, a masterclass in how to write about Monarchy, that central--if peculiar--pillar of British life.
Charismatic, insatiable and cruel, Henry VIII was, as John Guy shows, a king who became mesmerized by his own legend - and in the process destroyed and remade England.
Said to be a 'pillager of the commonwealth', this most instantly recognizable of kings remains a figure of extreme contradictions: magnificent and vengeful; a devout traditionalist who oversaw a cataclysmic rupture with the church in Rome; a talented, towering figure who nevertheless could not bear to meet people's eyes when he talked to them.
In this revealing new account, John Guy looks behind the mask into Henry's mind to explore how he understood the world and his place in it - from his isolated upbringing and the blazing glory of his accession, to his desperate quest for fame and an heir and the terrifying paranoia of his last, agonising, 54-inch-waisted years.
Edward VI, the only son of Henry VIII, became king at the age of nine and died wholly unexpectedly at the age of fifteen. All around him loomed powerful men who hoped to use the child to further their own ends, but who were also playing a long game - assuming that Edward would long outlive them and become as commanding a figure as his father had been.
Stephen Alford's wonderful book gives full play to the murky, sinister nature of Edward's reign, but is also a poignant account of a boy learning to rule, learning to enjoy his growing power and to come out of the shadows of the great aristocrats around him. England's last child monarch, Edward would have led his country in a quite different direction to the catastrophic one caused by his death.
Written by Philip Ziegler, one of Britain's most celebrated biographers, George VI is part of the Penguin Monarchs series: short, fresh, expert accounts of England's rulers in a collectible format
If Ethelred was notoriously 'Unready' and Alfred 'Great', King George VI should bear the title of 'George the Dutiful'.
Throughout his life, George dedicated himself to the pursuit of what he thought he ought to be doing rather than what he wanted to do. Inarticulate and loathing any sort of public appearances, he accepted that it was his destiny to figure conspicuously in the public eye, gritted his teeth, battled his crippling stammer and got on with it.
He was not born to be king, but he made an admirable one, and was the figurehead of the nation at the time of its greatest trial, the Second World War. This is a brilliant, touching and sometimes funny book about this reluctant public figure, and the private man.
Philip Ziegler is the author of the authorised biographies of Mountbatten, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. His other books include The Duchess of Dino, William IV, The Black Death and most recently Olivier. Initially a diplomat, he worked for many years in book publishing before becoming a full-time writer.
SPECTATOR AND TELEGRAPH BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2015
The short, action-packed reign of James II (1685-88) is generally seen as one of the most catastrophic in British history. James managed, despite having access to tremendous reserves of good will and deference, to so alienate his supporters that he had to flee for his life. And yet, most of that life was spent not as king but first as heir to Charles II, as Duke of York (after whom New York is named) and then in the last part of his life as the first Jacobite 'Pretender', starting a problem that would haunt Britain's rulers for generations.
Part of the Penguin Monarchs series: short, fresh, expert accounts of England's rulers in a collectible format
Queen Victoria inherited the throne at 18 and went on to become the longest-reigning female monarch in history, in a time of intense industrial, cultural, political, scientific and military change within the United Kingdom and great imperial expansion outside of it (she was made Empress of India in 1876). Overturning the established picture of the dour old lady, this is a fresh and engaging portrait from one of our most talented royal biographers.
Jane Ridley is Professor of Modern History at Buckingham University, where she teaches a course on biography. Her previous books include The Young Disraeli; a study of Edwin Lutyens, The Architect and his Wife, which won the 2003 Duff Cooper Prize; and the best-selling Bertie: A Life of Edward VII. A Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature, Ridley writes for the Spectator and other newspapers, and has appeared on radio and several television documentaries. She lives in London and Scotland.
Known as 'the anarchy', the reign of Stephen (1135-1141) saw England plunged into a civil war that illuminated the fatal flaw in the powerful Norman monarchy, that without clear rules ordering succession, conflict between members of William the Conqueror's family were inevitable. But there was another problem, too: Stephen himself.
With the nobility of England and Normandy anxious about the prospect of a world without the tough love of the old king Henry I, Stephen styled himself a political panacea, promising strength without oppression. As external threats and internal resistance to his rule accumulated, it was a promise he was unable to keep. Unable to transcend his flawed claim to the throne, and to make the transition from nobleman to king, Stephen's actions betrayed uneasiness in his role, his royal voice never quite ringing true.
The resulting violence that spread throughout England was not, or not only, the work of bloodthirsty men on the make. As Watkins shows in this resonant new portrait, it arose because great men struggled to navigate a new and turbulent kind of politics that arose when the king was in eclipse.
Foremost medieval historian Anne Curry offers a new reinterpretation of Henry V and the battle that defined his kingship: Agincourt
Henry V's invasion of France, in August 1415, represented a huge gamble. As heir to the throne, he had been a failure, cast into the political wilderness amid rumours that he planned to depose his father. Despite a complete change of character as king - founding monasteries, persecuting heretics, and enforcing the law to its extremes - little had gone right since. He was insecure in his kingdom, his reputation low. On the eve of his departure for France, he uncovered a plot by some of his closest associates to remove him from power.
Agincourt was a battle that Henry should not have won - but he did, and the rest is history. Within five years, he was heir to the throne of France. In this vivid new interpretation, Anne Curry explores how Henry's hyperactive efforts to expunge his past failures, and his experience of crisis - which threatened to ruin everything he had struggled to achieve - defined his kingship, and how his astonishing success at Agincourt transformed his standing in the eyes of his contemporaries, and of all generations to come.
William IV, the 'Sailor King', reigned for just seven years. Rash and impetuous as a young man, he was sent to join the navy by his father, George III, to bring him to order, but he was overpromoted at an early age and saw his years of active service marked by a series of calamities. He was also notorious for his mounting debts and his long relationship with the actress Mrs Jordan, with whom he had ten children.
Yet, as Roger Knight, one of Britain's foremost naval historians, shows in this concise and perceptive biography, William's bluff, unpolished sailor's manner made him popular with the people. Inheriting the throne amid strikes, riots and the push for parliamentary reform, he helped see the country through the great constitutional crisis of the era. Despite his many flaws, he was perhaps a better king than sailor, leaving the monarchy in a healthier state than when he found it, and enabling the smooth succession of his niece, Victoria.
In September 2015 Queen Elizabeth II becomes Britain's longest-reigning monarch. During her long lifetime Britain and the world have changed beyond recognition, yet throughout she has stood steadfast as a lasting emblem of stability, continuity and public service.
Historian and senior politician Douglas Hurd has seen the Queen at close quarters, as Home Secretary and then on overseas expeditions as Foreign Secretary. Here he considers the life and role of Britain's most greatly admired monarch, who, inheriting a deep sense of duty from her father George VI, has weathered national and family crises, seen the end of an Empire and heard voices raised in favour of the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Hurd creates an arresting portrait of a woman deeply conservative by nature yet possessing a ready acceptance of modern life and the awareness that, for things to stay the same, they must change.
With a preface by HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
Richard II (1377-99) came to the throne as a child, following the long, domineering, martial reign of his grandfather Edward III. He suffered from the disastrous combination of a most exalted sense of his own power and an inability to impress that power on those closest to the throne. Neither trusted nor feared, Richard battled with a whole series of failures and emergencies before finally succumbing to a coup, imprisonment and murder.
Laura Ashe's brilliant account of his reign emphasizes the strange gap between Richard's personal incapacity and the amazing cultural legacy of his reign - from the Wilton Diptych to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman and The Canterbury Tales.
Charles II has always been one of the most instantly recognisable British kings - both in his physical appearance, disseminated through endless portraits, prints and pub signs, and in his complicated mix of lasciviousness, cynicism and luxury. His father's execution and his own many years of exile made him a guarded, curious, unusually self-conscious ruler. He lived through some of the most striking events in the national history - from the Civil Wars to the Great Plague, from the Fire of London to the wars with the Dutch.
Clare Jackson's marvellous book takes full advantage of its irrepressible subject.
'After my death,' George V said of his eldest son and heir, 'the boy will ruin himself within twelve months.'
The forecast proved uncannily accurate. Edward VIII came to the throne in January 1936, provoked a constitutional crisis by his determination to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and abdicated in December. He was never crowned king.
In choosing the woman he loved over his royal birthright, Edward shook the monarchy to its foundations. Given the new title 'Duke of Windsor' and essentially sent into exile, he remained a visible skeleton in the royal cupboard until his death in 1972 and he haunts the house of Windsor to this day.
Drawing on unpublished material, notably correspondence with his most loyal (though much tried) supporter Winston Churchill, Piers Brendon's superb biography traces Edward's tumultuous public and private life from bright young prince to troubled sovereign, from wartime colonial governor to sad but glittering expatriate. With pace and panache, it cuts through the myths that still surround this most controversial of modern British monarchs.
The formation of England occurred against the odds: an island divided into rival kingdoms, under savage assault from Viking hordes. But, after King Alfred ensured the survival of Wessex and his son Edward expanded it, his grandson Athelstan inherited the rule of both Mercia and Wessex, conquered Northumbria and was hailed as Rex totius Britanniae: 'King of the whole of Britain'.
Tom Holland recounts this extraordinary story with relish and drama, transporting us back to a time of omens, raven harbingers and blood-red battlefields. As well as giving form to the figure of Athelstan - devout, shrewd, all too aware of the precarious nature of his power, especially in the north - he introduces the great figures of the age, including Alfred and his daughter Aethelflaed, 'Lady of the Mercians', who brought Athelstan up at the Mercian court. Making sense of the family rivalries and fractious conflicts of the Anglo-Saxon rulers, Holland shows us how a royal dynasty rescued their kingdom from near-oblivion and fashioned a nation that endures to this day.