Early-life biography of the queen, who “in one sense…is the twentieth century.”
As CNN’s British royalty expert Williams (Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte, 2014, etc.) acknowledges, Queen Elizabeth II has not lacked biographers. While breaking no new ground, the author’s lively, gossipy narrative offers a sympathetic portrait of a young woman whose path to the throne resulted from two unexpected events: the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, which made her father King George VI; and her father’s early death, which elevated 25-year-old Elizabeth to queen of England. As princesses, Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, grew up sheltered, doted upon, and happily carefree. Their parents saw education as irrelevant for girls who were destined to do nothing more than marry well. Their governess was charged with tutoring them for an hour and a half per day. When Elizabeth was 10, however, her prospects changed. As royal watchers well know, Edward VIII, much preferring a glittery social whirl to the tedium of kingship, claimed that he could not rule without the support of the woman he loved, the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Like the royal family, Williams characterizes Edward and Wallis as spoiled, selfish, and irresponsible. Edward’s threat to abdicate was, Williams writes, “a bluffing game.” But the cabinet would not concede, he was forced to abdicate, and his brother was forced into a position for which he felt ill-prepared. As royal heiress, Elizabeth’s education somewhat intensified: she was sent to Eton twice a week to learn constitutional history. Socially, though, she remained sheltered (she did not leave her nursery bedroom until she turned 18), which Williams believes explains her intense romantic crush, at the age of 13, on debonair Prince Philip of Greece; they married when she turned 21. The author sees Elizabeth as exemplary: although “not born for the role,” she has fulfilled it “with grace and dignity.”
A celebratory and entertaining royal biography.