THE QUEEN by Kenneth Harris


Royalty and Reality
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 Harris (Thatcher, 1988, etc.) provides a dreary if competent chronological summary of Queen Elizabeth II's life and role in British history. Long live the queen. Elizabeth has ably and nobly represented the monarchy for more than 40 years. As her family gets sordid and scandalous press, she plods on, sovereign of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, with the duke of Edinburgh, if not exactly by her side, then a few paces behind her. Harris dutifully summarizes the queen's duty-filled history; he explains and defends the institution of the monarchy; he talks about the monarchy's mystique and about the disagreement between those who would keep it magical and those who would make it more accessible. Regrettably, this virtuous survey does not make very interesting copy, and Harris provides little new material. He traces the queen's sense of obligation and morality back to her father, George VI, the shy and reluctant king who ascended the throne in 1936 after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII. We see ``Lillibet'' as a child and follow the royal family through the Second World War, when they became a beloved symbol of Britain's courage and fortitude. Harris then dutifully and soberly traces Elizabeth's marriage and coronation; her sister Margaret's ill-fated romance with Peter Townsend; the queen's relationships with her various prime ministers; her children's scandalous marriages; the annus horribilis, etc., etc.--all in order, with some pretty rough transitions. More interesting is the discussion of the queen's role as arbitrator and consensus maker in the Commonwealth; much less so are ones about her income, her staff (why ladies-in-waiting are not black), the European Community, and monarchic reformation. Harris's history seems intended for an unsophisticated audience, but some terms (e.g., the Privy Council, the Annual Register, the queen's prerogative) may be unclear to Americans. A royal rehash that's a royal bore.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-11878-3
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994