If you’re anything like me, or a good portion of Americans, you experience a bit of “castle envy” or absolute fascination with monarchies, especially the British monarchy, since we don’t have our own. Their scandals, their family drama, and their problems all seem so different because they aren’t elected, don’t they? Whether it’s William and Kate, old Czar Nicholas, or Henry VIII, the craziness or the monarchy has fascinated generations. It’s like a celebrity but instead of earning your fans, you’re given them at birth.
I love consuming pop culture about royal history–near and far–and here I’ve compiled ten must-know books and podcasts you need to devour if you can’t get enough of royal history–British and beyond.
The son of Greek and Danish royalty, consort to the queen, and the grandfather of Princes Harry and William, Prince Philip has been at the heart of the royal family for decades—yet he remains an enigma to many. Now, Ingrid Seward, the editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, brings her decades of experience covering the royal family to this fascinating and insightful biography of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, and father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of the next three kings of England. From his early childhood in Paris among aristocrats and his mother’s battle with schizophrenia to his distinctive military service during World War II and marriage to Elizabeth in 1947, Seward chronicles Philip’s life and reveals his many faces—as a father, a philanthropist, a philanderer, and a statesman. Though it would take years for Philip to find his place in a royal court that initially distrusted him, he remains one of the most complex, powerful, yet confounding members of Britain’s royal family.
The secrets of Queen Victoria’s sixth child, Princess Louise, may be destined to remain hidden forever. What was so dangerous about this artistic, tempestuous royal that her life has been documented more by rumor and gossip than hard facts? When Lucinda Hawksley started to investigate, often thwarted by inexplicable secrecy, she discovered a fascinating woman, modern before her time, whose story has been shielded for years from public view. Spirited and lively, Queen Victoria’s Mysterious Daughter is richly packed with arguments, intrigues, scandals, and secrets, and is a vivid portrait of a princess desperate to escape her inheritance.
The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants, and tested their chamber pots. Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes.
The story that has been told repeatedly is this: The handsome, charismatic, and popular Prince Edward was expected to marry a well-bred virgin who would one day become Queen of England when he ascended the throne. But when the prince was nearly forty, he fell in love with a divorced American woman—Wallis Simpson. No one thought the relationship would last, and when the prince did become king, everyone assumed that was the end of the affair. But to the shock of the British establishment, the new king announced his intention to marry the American divorcée. Overnight, Wallis was accused of entrapping the prince in a seductive web in order to achieve her audacious ambition to be queen. After declaring that he could not rule without the woman he loved, the king abdicated, and his family banished him and his new wife from the country. The couple spent the rest of their days in exile. With profound insight and evenhanded research, Pasternak pulls back the curtain on one of the darkest fairy tales in recent memory and effortlessly reveals “a host of intriguing insights into a misunderstood woman”
This is the story of Catherine the woman, whom power alone could never satisfy, for she also wanted love, affection, friendship and humor. She found these in letter-writing, in grandchildren, in gardens, architecture and greyhounds—as well as in a succession of lovers which gave rise to salacious rumors throughout Europe. The real Catherine, however, was more interesting than any rumor.Using many of Catherine’s own words from her voluminous correspondence and other documents, as well as contemporary accounts by courtiers, ambassadors and foreign visitors, Virginia Rounding penetrates the character of this most powerful, fascinating and surprisingly sympathetic of eighteenth-century women.
There are some podcasts, like Noble Blood, which traffic entirely in royal history, but I wanted to highlight five specific episodes of podcasts that are great dives into royal history from around the world!
Noble Blood did a GREAT six part series on the wives of Henry VIII, and while you should listen to them all, I LOVED this episode about Katherine Howard (wife #5) and her experience growing up. It’ll definitely make you look at her in a new light.
British and Russian royal history intersect in this fascinating episode about Tsar Nicholas II and his cousin, King George V, and if you’re fascinated by the story of the Romanovs, you won’t be able to stop listening!
Off-beat history is fascinating, and this nearly 45 minute episode about a Belgian royal who ends up in Mexico and finds death, plots against her life, and begins to wonder if someone is out to get here. It’s a great episode!
There are SO many urban legends about Catherine the Great of Russia, and while she’s excellent fodder for raps and television shows,this podcast from the BBC breaks down the facts.
Okay, Caesar is not your typical royal for this, but what a fascinating story that hits on a lot of the scandals and drama we see in future royal stories! Plus, this podcast is well-done and compelling and you’ll love this blast from the past.
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