cover image Royal Panoply: Brief Lives of the English Monarchs

Royal Panoply: Brief Lives of the English Monarchs

Carolly Erickson, . . St. Martin's, $27.95 (351pp) ISBN 978-0-312-31643-3

Erickson, author of several royal biographies, offers an entertaining history of English rulers from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II that proves why this rather old-fashioned genre is still popular. Erickson devotes about 10 pages to each monarch—as much to Queen Anne as to Queen Victoria. Each chapter stands independently: material is often repeated about transitions in reign, convenient for use as a reference but not suitable for reading cover to cover. Obviously some subtlety of interpretation is lost in this format: there's no assessment of recent research suggesting Edward II survived his assassination or analysis of the increasingly cultural role of the monarch in the early modern era. Yet patterns can be detected: kings and queens get fat, kings mentally deteriorate, heirs misbehave, illegitimate children abound. Although Erickson doesn't offer an overarching analysis, anyone who reads the entire book will see steady change in the nature of kingship and be surprised when the author presents the current reign as a break with a past in which monarchs were held in awe rather than continued evolution. But taken as they are, these accounts remain fascinating and, in the end, great stories. 16 pages of color photos not seen by PW . (May)