After her first venture into fiction (The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, 2005), Erickson returns to the familiar turf of royal biography (Alexandra, 2001, etc.).
From William of Normandy, who seized the English throne in 1066 and became the formidably galvanizing William I, to the remote Elizabeth II, Erickson covers centuries of British monarchy in knowledgeable, fairly dispassionate brief biographies. She moves chronologically, treating each royal subject where the previous left off (by natural death or murder), filling in necessary parentage and occasionally repeating herself. She introduces each protagonist with an epigraph: an extract from a chronicler or close observer of the throne that throws some light on the royal subject (e.g., Walter Map notes of Henry II [1154–89], “He was impatient of repose, and did not hesitate to disturb half Christendom”). Quotes from Shakespeare appear rather too rarely; few of the epigraphs are as juicy as “I am the scourge of God sent to punish the people of God for their sins,” from Henry V. Erickson apparently is not a Bardolator: She discounts his villainous portrait of Richard III as “fanciful imaginings” and confesses some sympathy for Richard’s last heroic cry of “Treason! Treason!” before being cut down by the invading Tudors. Curiously emphasized here is the fact that England did not tolerate a ruling female monarch until two queens, Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, battled for succession after Edward VI died in 1553. Perhaps due to the medieval Norman law that the property of a married woman became the property of her husband, the only queen who had previously ruled directly was Matilda, vilified for the same imperious qualities admired in her father, Henry I. Erickson’s prose is coolly restrained, though she does express strong opinions. She savages George IV (1820–30) for wallowing in love, gives Victoria only desultory treatment and lets off Edward VIII (The Abdicator) awfully easily.
No surprises here, but an accessible source for readers who can’t get enough of kings and queens.