Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II
(HODDER & STOUGHTON, 576 PP, £25)
Tablet bookshop price £22.50 • Tel 020 7799 4064
The sixth of February is a day that the Queen always spends quietly, to mourn the death of her beloved father. But perhaps even she might raise a glass this coming 6 February, as it marks 70 years since her accession to the throne.
Tracy Borman, best known as a Tudor historian, has spotted an opportunity here. Debates about the monarchy, she argues, “are bound to be reignited” by the Platinum Jubilee. “The focus of these will no doubt be on its future, yet the key to this lies in its past,” she writes, and so serves up a broad-sweeping, broad-brush account of British sovereigns from William the Conqueror to the present.
Borman’s accessibility, range, drama and colourful characters reminded this reader a little of H.E. Marshall’s classic Our Island Story, but there is far more light and shade here. Borman not only questions empire but also points to Britain’s ventures into African slavery, driven by the monarchy, as early as 1672.