More Royals Please: Books on Empresses, Queens, and Kings | The Reader’s Shelf

Royals. Will our hunger to know more about their lives ever be sated? These titles should more than fulfill a desire to learn more about what it means to live the life of a royal.

Royals. Will our hunger to know more about their lives ever be sated? Oprah’s recent interview with Meghan and Harry seemed to whet our collective appetites even more for all things monarchy. Happily, a number of books address that very need. These titles should more than fulfill a desire to learn more about what it means to live the life of a royal.

Sena Jeter Naslund’s Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (William Morrow Paperbacks. 2007. ISBN 9780060825409) begins with a portrait of a 14-year-old girl who was thrust by her mother, the empress of Austria, into an arranged marriage to the future king of France, Louis XVI. Because the story of Marie’s life (1755–93) unfolds in the first person, readers see through her eyes how a revolution can unseat a regime that disregards the people it is charged to help. MORE ROYALS PLEASE? Offer readers Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antionette Wore to the Revolution, an enchanting look at the making of a fashion legend. Marie desperately wanted to please the people she was to rule in her new country of France; in the beginning, she did just that by dressing in the French style. But as Marie matured, so did her interest in design and the image she wished to convey. None of this would save her when the French Revolution took hold.

In her novels Empress Orchid (Mariner. 2005. ISBN 9780618562039) and The Last Empress (Mariner. 2008. ISBN 9780547053707), Anchee Min shines a light on the real Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908), the woman who ruled China for over 40 years during the Qing dynasty. The Empress Orchid of Min’s novels first enters the royal realm as the emperor’s concubine. She ultimately becomes a woman the entire world must reckon with, recognized on the global stage as having a talent for moving her nation forward without sacrificing tradition. Min excels in crafting a vivid and compelling fictionalized portrait of the resourceful empress, whom nonfiction biographers often portrayed as a blood-thirsty despot. MORE ROYALS PLEASE?The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon, by Weina Dai Randel, offer a fictional look at the life of Wu Zetian (624–705), an empress who ruled China during the Tang dynasty. This duology provides a look at another woman who charted a path from concubine to ruler of a vast country.

Julia Baird has penned a delightfully insightful biography of the woman who ascended to the British throne when she was 18 and stayed firmly on it for 63 years (1837–1901) with Victoria: The Queen; An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire (Random House. 2016. ISBN 9781400069880). Using newly available source material, Baird presents a truly flesh-and-blood woman who ruled over a quarter of the world’s population. MORE ROYALS PLEASE? Suggest A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter, by Clare McHugh, which pulls back the curtain on Princess Victoria (daughter of Victoria and Albert) and her marriage—a love match that was also a strategic move to strengthen the ties between England and Prussia. This novel is a fun peek at a court rife with intrigue and a child who will destroy all his parents have worked for.

Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (Random House. 2000. ISBN 9780345438317) is a wonderful examination of the doomed Romanov dynasty (1894–1917). This history has it all—true love, lavish riches, lush palaces, priceless jewels, beautiful princesses, a tragically ill and doomed prince, and a monk who is as corrupt as the day is long. Originally published in 1967, Massie’s deeply researched history has aged like a fine wine. MORE ROYALS PLEASE? Suggest Helen Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra, which explores the short lives of the grand duchesses. Using primary-source material (diary entries and letters to family and friends), Rappaport paints a portrait of four remarkably modern, intelligent young women. Olga and Tatiana proved to be stellar nurses, while Marie and Anastasia worked as hospital hostesses of a sort. The what-ifs are still heartbreaking.

In Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch (Random House. 2012. ISBN 9780812979794), Sally Bedell Smith gives us an insider’s look at Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926), who will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee in 2022. Smith was given unprecedented access to Elizabeth’s private letters and close associates, in order to pen the most comprehensive portrait of a woman who has worn many hats other than the crown—she’s been a World War II truck mechanic, horse breeder, wife, and mother. A fascinating study of a woman who, even at age 95, seems to still be evolving. MORE ROYALS PLEASE? For a different look at Queen Elizabeth, point readers toward Alan Bennett’s novella The Uncommon Reader. When the royal corgis wander off at Windsor, Her Majesty goes in pursuit and stumbles upon a bookmobile. She feels obligated to check out a book; as ever, one good book leads to another, and then another. Before she knows it, she has become an obsessive, insatiable reader. How will she balance the need to read with the need to rule?

Jennifer Dayton was the Collection Development Coordinator for Darien Library in Connecticut for six years. Currently, she can be found occasionally working the reference desk at Fairfield Public Library in Connecticut.

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