Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Book Review: The Diamond Queen

It's a book that was written for this year, and had to be read this year as well! In 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth has been celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, sixty years on the throne. Among the swathe of books to mark the occasion, I decided to plump for Andrew Marr's The Diamond Queen, having so much enjoyed his 'The Making of Modern Britain' (and looking forward to Modern Britain too). I think it was a good choice, as I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

As Marr points out early on:
This book is an attempt to tell her life story, looking at the influences on her, and trying to explain why she does what she does. Though the well-known tales of her children's trials and tribulations are included, as they have to be, this is not a particularly gossipy life story.

Rather, I think he achieves a powerful, colourful, loving and respectful bigraphy, with much to draw and hold the reader's attention. There will be much that the reader thinks they know, but also lots that they never realised before. The workload of the Queen is presented simply, and admirably. Again,

And honestly, the more you see of her in action, the more impressed you are. She has been dutiful, but she has been a lot more than dutiful. She has been shrewd, kind and wise. Britain without her would have been a greyer, shriller, more meagre place.

It was interesting to read of her faith:

She is a woman of faith. She stands atop the Anglican Church, that national breakaway from Rome hurriedly decided by her Tudor ancestor, the beef-faced and priapic Henry VIII. So she is called Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The former title is technically absurd since it was given to Henry by Pope Leo V before he rebelled. but the latter one certainly counts: the Queen appoints bishops and archbishops and takes her role as the found of Anglican respectability very seriously, addressing the General Synod and talking regularly to its leading figures.

Marr presents the story of monarchy in general from Victoria to Elizabeth, because to understand the Queen, you have to understand what has led to her and influenced her. Nothing is left out, from the difficulties of the 'German' appearing monarchy during the First World War, leading to the 'invention' of the Windsors, through to the abdication crisis of 'Uncle David'.

It's a good read, charting the history of this nation throughout my lifetime and before, with a close following of the story of the Queen's family right through to the marriage of William and Kate (whose pregnancy was announced yesterday - just as Marr had said, the pressure to produce an heir was on).

How do we assess the Queen's reign?

For most of us the Queen seems always to have been there. She has done her job so well it has come to seem part of the natural order of things, along with the seasons and the weather. One day, of course, she won't be there. Then there will be a gaping, Queen-sized hole in the middle of British life.

It's a well-written book with a good grasp of the course of British history through the last sixty years, and an intimate portrait of the lady who has been at the centre of each of our lives for that lengthy period of time. Pick it up and read it. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!

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