Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer
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Imagine yourself at age 10. Life then was relatively carefree. You spent your time riding your bike, playing games, and being a kid. Your future stretched for miles; the possibilities were limitless.
Now imagine that you’re 10 years old and the life you dreamed about is suddenly no longer possible. You’ll never have a “best friend.” You’ll never be allowed to make a happy fool of yourself in public. No more sloppy jeans, shopping sprees, or spontaneity.
Would you chafe under the new rules?
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York did not. She gracefully accepted the mantle of responsibility, and in the new book Her Majesty by Robert Hardman, you’ll see how she copes.
Her full name is a mouthful. Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith is a name that explains her life for the past 60 years, ever since her father died and made her the British sovereign. The name tells you who she is, but not completely.
While many think Her Majesty is traditional, impersonal, and rather humorless, she is, privately, quite the opposite. Queen Elizabeth loves the absurd, enjoys sharp wit, and she’s keenly interested in her subjects’ lives. She’s purposefully modernized protocol by including women on her staff and by changing some long-standing rules to include divorcees and gay citizens. She reads most letters sent to her (but doesn’t send or receive e-mail) and sometimes answers missives personally.
She’s warm, but anyone who inappropriately tries “familiarity” with her may be on the receiving end of the “royal stare” that can reduce one to “jelly.”
Yes, it’s good to be Queen, but the job has its downsides. Hardman says that Her Majesty doesn’t have a “best friend” in which to confide and is, in fact, constitutionally barred from discussing certain matters with non-officials. She’s expected to embrace decorum and maintain a certain regal bearing at all times, and it’s her duty to “be nice” to even the most ill-behaved government visitor.
In the past six decades, a lot of trees have died in order to chronicle the lives of the Royal Family. Most of those books seem basically the same. This one, though, stands out. Unlike those other books, Her Majesty gives readers a warts-and-all inside peek at the private face of Elizabeth the Enigma.
Author Robert Hardman doesn’t allow any stuffiness here; his biography of the Queen is lively and, at times, sweetly amusing with a touch of respectful awe. Hardman dishes a bit of light scandal as he delights us with things we don’t know about his subject and her subjects. I liked the way he subtly includes other Royals and Royal matters in Her Majesty’s story, without bogging it down in hard history.
Anglophiles will eat this book up, biography lovers will be charmed, and if you’re both, then you’ll feel quite regal. For you, Her Majesty is queen-sized enjoyment.
Her Majesty: Queen Elizabeth II and Her Court
by Robert Hardman
2012, Pegasus Books (pegasusbooks.us)
$27.95 U.S. and Canada
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.