Tuesday, December 29, 2009

British Kings and Queens

Mike Ashley's British Kings and Queens provides a great overview of all of the kings and queens of Britain. I feel like I have a better overall grounding of the subject now, and can better place them in history now. Before, I had read about various monarchs, but not in sequence, so I would often get confused about who went where. There are far too many to remember them all, but this gives me a better chronology at least. It was also neat to follow the genealogy and think about the current royal family descending from all of these other people.
I was also struck by the fact that the two best times in England's history were when Elizabeth and Victoria reigned. I knew that before reading this, but it's really striking when you read about them in conjunction with all of the other ones. Both of them ruled over great empires, the two biggest points in England's history. Both also ruled over a united Britain, which was rare. There was also great literary and scientific movements during both times.
On the other hand, it's surprising how many of the monarchs were somewhat crazy. Maybe that shouldn't really be surprising. They all either were raised to believe they were better than everyone and were coddled and spoiled, or weren't raised expecting to rule and were thrown in to it unexpectedly and didn't know how to handle it. And there's the fact that they married their cousins and once you do that a few times you're bound to get a few crazies.
Since Ashley is British, it was interesting to get his take on George III, the king during the American Revolution. George III was apparently one of the crazies, although they now think that was due to a blood disease, not actual madness. The war is covered pretty quickly since that's not the point of the book, but it renewed my interest in finding a British history book about that time period. I'd love to see how they teach that war in England.
Overall, if you're looking for a great overview of the British monarchs, this is a great choice.

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