Kings & Queens Of England & Scotland, by Plantagenet Somerset Fry
This short volume by an improbably named author is not the sort of book that will give a reader a deep insight into the history of the royal family, but it will provide a reader with at least some familiarity with the rulers of England and Scotland and the major achievements or struggles of their reigns. The author appears to be someone with a high degree of interest in the strength of rulers as well as the extent to which they were able to draw upon the favorable feeling of the common people. As a fairly notable Anglophile myself , this sort of book is appealing to me as it is written by someone whose name suggests a great reason to be interested in royal matters and who has a skill at writing about the reigns of England and Scotland’s monarchs in a concise fashion that would likely aid someone who had to take A-levels in history or AP European History (if they were Americans). For those reading it for fun, this book has a lot to commend itself as a thoughtful and brief history of the royal family, albeit one that looks at culture and electoral politics as well as military history as a way of putting the royal family in a context of what they faced as rulers.
For the most part, this book of less than 100 pages is a straightforwardly and mostly chronologically organized book. Beginning with a discussion of the early Anglo-Saxon and Viking monarchs between the rise of the Heptarchy and the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, the author then moves on to the Norman and Blois kings, the Plantagenets, the houses of Lancaster and York, and the Tudors before moving to discuss the pre-unification rulers of Scotland. After that the author continues his thread and talks about the later Stuarts (including the pretenders), the Hanoverians/Saxe-Coburg Gotha, and the House of Windsor. Aside from having brief discussions of most of the kings and queens of England and Scotland, especially after 1066, the author includes timelines and occasional special discussions of Princes of Wales, the wives of King Henry VIII, as well as the future king of England after the death of Elizabeth II. As might be expected, the timelines are considerably more dense for those rulers whose reigns were short, and considerably less dense for those rulers whose reigns were long. Overall, though, this book provides enough information that someone who wanted more information could do additional research and have some handy dates and names to search with.
Overall, there is one quality above all I noticed about this book that increased my goodwill for the author, and that was the author’s considerable politeness in talking about the various rulers of England and Scotland. For example, the author refers to Queen Anne as plump, not as less polite terms, and comments how some historians in recent years have viewed King John and Richard III in more favorable lights. Overall, the author has an anti-Catholic bias, which I do not necessarily disagree with but feel it worthwhile to note and has a strong tendency to dislike royal absolutism, but is generally favorable towards those rulers who were peaceful, fiscally responsible, and generally had favorable relations with the common people. I must say that as far as biases go with regards to rulers, that is a good bias to have. The author also shows considerable concern for those monarchs who were deeply shy and/or diffident and seems to treat such rulers graciously, for shyness is one of those qualities that can easily be confused for arrogance or unfriendliness. If you want a brief and generally good-natured view of the royals of England and Scotland, this is certainly a worthwhile book.
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