cover image On Royalty: A Very Polite Inquiry into Some Strangely Related Families

On Royalty: A Very Polite Inquiry into Some Strangely Related Families

Jeremy Paxman, . . Public Affairs, $26.95 (370pp) ISBN 978-1-58648-491-0

As Paxman seeks to fathom the mesmeric hold of monarchy—particularly British—on our imaginations, his remarkable access lets him spy closeup on today's royals. At a royal house-party at Sandringham, Prince Charles offers a world-weary explanation of monarchy's function: "we're a soap opera." An out-of-the-blue lunch with Princess Diana, who strikes him as a lonely woman who wanted someone to talk to, leads him to ponder the public passion she inspired. And the prospect of meeting the queen at a Buckingham Palace press reception finds the seasoned BBC host with staunch republican sentiments strangely overcome by nerves. Examining how royalty actually becomes royalty, Paxman examines how a monarch finds a throne (Albania invented a king in 1923 and sought an English country gentleman for the post); the matter of producing an heir; royalty's role of being, as one of Queen Elizabeth's secretaries put it, "in the happiness business." This wide-ranging work tackles everything from the enigmatic cuckolded husbands of Edward VII's mistresses to contemporaneous comparisons of the last moments of Charles I to the passion of Christ; George V's abandonment of his cousin the Russian czar; and the sticky finances of the House of Windsor and Charles's eccentricities. Paxman proves a vastly knowledgeable and tartly entertaining guide to a magical realm that is stranger than fiction. (June)