Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Elizabeth the Queen - Sally Bedall Smith

Elizabeth the Queen:
The Life of a Modern Monarch
Apparently it's time for my annual foray into the British royal family. Last year, I read Robert Hardman's exploration into the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and her court lift (Her Majesty). Two years ago, I read Greg King's biography of the controversial American who became The Duchess of Windsor. Guys, I'm obsessed.

One book a year reviewed on the blog may not translate to an obsession to the reader, but I promise what you see here is only scratching the surface. My husband knows - he's the one who has to deal with my Kate Middleton obsession day in and day out.

Sally Bedell Smith's new biography of Queen Elizabeth has been out since 2012; it realized in conjunction with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Well timed, Sally's publicist, well timed.

The book could have easily sat On Reserve for months yet. You all know better than anyone how long things can stay on that list before I get around to them. However, grad school intervened. 

This term, I am taking a course on Monarchies of the World. Seriously, it's a class. And I'm taking it. And loving it. Grad school is awesome. If you would have told me I could study royal families around the world and get graduate credit for it, I would have signed up years ago. 

Ok, the book, the book. This week we are studying King George VI (he's the one Colin Firth played in The King's Speech) and Queen Elizabeth II specifically. Since I had to write a paper on the one or the other anyway, I figured now was a great time to pull Elizabeth the Queen off my waiting list. 

The book is long: 688 pages. No walk in the park in that regard, but I ate up every single word. Smith has compiled a really excellent account of Elizabeth's life. It is a true, thorough biography where Hardman's book really only cover some specific aspects of the monarch's life and work. 

I learned a ton. I could ramble on here for ever and ever about all I learned. I'll spare you, though. Just read the book.

One thing I really did take away from Smith's account is how steadfast the Queen has been over the years. For my course, we were asked for consider why her long reign has been so successful. I truly believe it is because of the Queen's consistency and longevity. In fact, I titled my paper 'Elizabeth the Stalwart.' 

Smith did a lot of wonderful research and her work is mostly well-documented. She drags on a bit when talking about some of the political aspects of the monarch's reign. Who can blame her, though? She had to work twelve prime ministers into Elizabeth's history. Even the Queen herself must be getting tired of getting to know new politicians. I did, however, learn a lot about the Commonwealth, which is an aspect of Elizabeth's rule with which I was not as familiar.

My one large complaint lies in Smith's treatment of Diana, Princess of Wales. While nearly every person mentioned in the book is presented in a positive light, or at least has their actions semi-explained, Diana is continuously portrayed as manipulative and ungrateful. I absolutely recognize that the woman was far from perfect and likely had some psychological issues she was dealing with. Still, Smith glosses over some of the mistakes made by the royal family in relation to Diana and her marriage. To top things off, she paints Charles as a near victim and does her best to cast Camilla in a good light as well. From my brief look at a few Goodreads reviews, I can see I am not the only one who noticed this or was bothered by it.

I understand that Smith wanted to present the royal family in the best light possible. She was, after all, capturing their matriarch for history. Still, I think there is some more nuance to the story. It should not be quite as one-sided as it is made out to be. After all, there really are two sides (or more) to every story.  

I did appreciate, being the modern royal fanatic I am, that Smith spend some time discussing the future monarchs of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. She spends some time on Charles and then on Will and Kate as well. She speaks particularly highly of Will and Kate, which, of course, I enjoyed (See, I'm just as biased in some regards as Smith is).

I highlighted so many quotes from this book, partially because of the paper I was to write, but also because I truly found the information so fascinating. Of particular interest were the praises for Elizabeth sung by other prominent world leaders, including American presidents and international prime ministers and politicians.

If you have made it this far in the post, I applaud your patience. I really could discuss this book and the Queen's life for pages upon pages. But, at least point, I really feel you need to go read it yourself. Even if you only have a mild interest in the Queen, I think you will find her life and responsibilities fascinating. Smith may even make a royalist out of you.

Pages: 688
Date Completed: May 25, 2014


  1. Based on your observations about the treatment of Diana in the book, I'm quite curious about 'Diana In Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess' by the same author. I may have to add that to my Goodreads To-Read list as well.

    1. Interesting. It surprises me that she has written a book about Diana as well. Worth checking out just to see her approach!

  2. This book would be enthralling for me. Since I grew up in Canada and was fortunate to experience Queen Elizabeth's visit to Montreal when I was young, this subject is meaningful and fascinating.

    1. That's awesome! Being an American seriously lowers my chancing of ever meeting or seeing a member of the royal family, but I'm still holding out hope!