In his latest biography on royalty, Matthew Dennison has written an empathetic, and balanced, life story of our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth. His book is not just another narrative of her life; rather, an informed analysis of her personality, the pressures and challenges the monarchy has had to face over seven decades of rule (both within the Royal Family and externally) and the dynamics of the myriad of complex relationships within the Royal Family. The book is all the more authoritative by the depth of research Dennison has undertaken, including interviews with members of the Royal Household, and access to correspondence held within the Royal Archives.
Dennison has chosen to chart Elizabeth’s story not only by a narration of the chronology of factual events. He has also used, as reference points, her various sittings, over the years, alone, or with other members of her family, for portraits and photographs. It’s a clever way to write a biography – the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words. Dennison uses the expressions, body language and clothes from the output of the sittings, and the context behind them, to develop his story of Queen Elizabeth’s life.
The book brings out clearly Elizabeth’s purpose in life – her desire to serve her subjects – as the cornerstone of her reign. It also portrays vividly the complexity of her life. Her realisation, from a young age, that her life would never be ordinary. A realisation made starker by the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, in 1936. Dennison covers the ebb and flows of public support for the monarchy starting, in the late 1950s, with public allegations of an ‘out of touch’ Queen by Lord Altrincham, followed by republican currents in British society during the 1960s, the public tribulations of her children’s failing marriages in the early 1990s and the public reaction to her decision to stay at Balmoral, after the death of Diana in 1997. Ever aware of the need for popular support for the Windsor dynasty, Elizabeth has always been willing to respond to those challenges. This included the screening, in 1969, of the highly successful film, The Royal Family, a “fly on the wall” insight into the daily life of the Queen and her family and the subsequent documentary Elizabeth R in 1991, both brave and successful innovations to bring public opinion back to the ‘normality’ of regal life. Dennison provides a great insight into the dynamics of the relationships within the Royal Family. The closeness of her relationship to her father, George VI, and, particularly, her grandfather, George V. Her enduring love for Philip and the strains and stresses of their work on their relationship. The difficulties experienced by Charles and Anne of having a mother who was never physically around and the Queen’s attempt to redress that perceived injustice by allegedly “spoiling” Andrew and Edward. Using the unique insights of former members of the Royal Household, Dennison gives the reader a real sense of the complex web and strains of life within the Royal Family.
If I had a “gripe’ about the book, it would have been helpful to have had a family tree to help the reader navigate the intricacies of the extended Windsor family. That minor issue aside, a thoroughly recommended book, with some superb photographs.
Rupert Hague-Holmes is an amateur military historian, currently writing a biography about the life and career of Lieutenant General Sir George Lea KCB, DSO, MBE, one of the leading post WW2 British counterinsurgency warfare experts.