A richly illustrated, well-written biography of England’s reigning monarch, now celebrating 50 years on the throne.
Readers who remember Shawcross (Deliver Us from Evil, 2000, etc.) for his excoriating reports on the Vietnam War policies of Nixon and Kissinger may be surprised to find him penning this extended love letter to his country’s figurehead. But he delivers a nuanced, highly sympathetic portrait of a woman whose story, he holds, is “one of duty done with devotion and diligence in a kingdom that has been utterly transformed around her.” Shawcross often touches on just how sweeping the changes in British society have been since Elizabeth succeeded her father in 1952. To name just one instance, half a century ago, a national furor forced Princess Margaret to renounce matrimony with the divorced man she loved; since then, no royal marriage except the queen’s has gone unbroken. Shawcross points out that, though plagued by bad press, Elizabeth has been highly effective in adjusting the monarchy to modern requirements. He cites in particular her remarkable job of crafting a working commonwealth from the tattered remnants of the British empire, “an achievement made possible,” comments Zambian president and former opponent Kenneth Kuanda, “because of the personality of Queen Elizabeth.” Shawcross writes with restraint about the tensions between Elizabeth and the late Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson, wisely suggesting that the queen came in for public criticism not so much because her daughters-in-law were right in their various complaints against their spouses, but because “one of the royal family’s functions is, in writer Rebecca West’s phrase, to hold up to the public ‘a presentation of ourselves doing well.’ When some of them do badly, we do not like what we see of ourselves.”
Essential reading for Elizabeth’s admirers and a good vehicle for Americans seeking to understand the affection she commands.