A gossipy look at some of Europe’s oddest ducks: the royals.
In an earlier century, English journalist Shaw (The Mammoth Book of Tasteless Lists, not reviewed) would probably have been sent to the chopping block for dishing this sort of the dirt on Europe’s maniacal ruling families (those whom the poet Shelley called “royal vampires”). In a somewhat haphazard, fast-paced indictment, he ticks off a long list of royals whose own heads were and are prime candidates for separation. “Every monarchy in Europe,” he writes, “has at some time or another been ruled over by a madman, although Bavaria alone had the good fortune to have a king crazy enough to remain marketable as a tourist attraction more than a century after his death.” Among his exhibits are the Braganzas of Portugal, the Savoys of Italy (“so grotesquely inbred that they became too stupid to avoid their own extinction”), Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm I and his wife Alberta (“said to be the most argumentative woman in Europe”), Edward VIII of England (who pursued young men), Frederick the Great of Germany (who pursued Voltaire), George IV of England (who, at every dinner, “would demolish at least three bottles of wine, chased by maraschino punch and Eau de Garouche”)—and, of course, Charles, Di, Queen Elizabeth II, along with the other newsmaking notables on Shaw’s home turf. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes even deadly (as the author gleefully chronicles), the royals have also provided Europeans with a great deal of tongue-clucking entertainment—which, he adds, “may help to explain why most continentals can’t get enough of royalty, provided it isn’t their own.”
Good, fun, mindless reading—and a vigorous slap at monarchists everywhere.