KATHERINE A. POWERS Star Tribune
“Crown & Scepter” by Tracy Borman; Atlantic Monthly Press, 576 pages, $32.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, an accomplishment that provides the occasion for another book on the British monarchy.
Tracy Borman’s “Crown & Sceptre” brings us short, snappy chapters from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth herself, much of it a grim record of adversaries, rivals and spouses, confiscation of vast estates and invasions military. It is also an account of the steady rise and fall of royal power.
Borman offers sweeping descriptions of the circumstances each monarch encountered in assuming the crown and deftly sketches their character and talents – or lack thereof. She chooses to start with William the Conqueror, because his reign (1066-1087) transformed the country by killing the Anglo-Saxon nobility, replacing the language, establishing feudalism and fostering the influence of Western Europe on that of Scandinavia from where many Anglo-Saxons. The Saxons came originally.
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The success of an orderly succession in the face of regional and religious enmity, the ambition of powerful families and conflicts within the royal family is of paramount importance to the monarchy. But the discord between monarch and heir – or potential heir – has been a recurring theme throughout British history.
It was so before the Conquest and continued with the Conqueror himself, whose wife, Mathilde, and eldest son, Robert, conspired to usurp him. He survived, unlike Edward II (1307-1327), who met a (supposedly) gruesome and humiliating death after being deposed and imprisoned by his wife and lover in favor of his 14-year-old son, Edward III (1327 -1377).
George II (1727-1760) spoke for more than one royal relative when he described his eldest son and heir, Frederick, as “a monster and the greatest villain ever born… the greatest ass and the most great liar…and the greatest beast in the world”. the whole world.”
True, Frederick redeemed himself by dying before he could inherit the throne, and in time the crown passed to his son, our own former king, George III (1760-1820). Alas, he too had his hands full with his own eldest son, the future George IV, a libertine and spendthrift whose actions, Borman suggests, helped drive his father into madness.
Queen Victoria, the longest-reigning monarch after Elizabeth, was also appalled by her fast-living son, the future Edward VII. Indeed, Borman suggests that the prospect of this libertine becoming king kept the queen alive through sheer willpower.
Although dynastic unrest is woven into the fabric of British history, it is only one element in this lucid, character-rich book. Throughout, Borman traces the changing relationship between a weakening crown and the growing power and composition of Parliament, the true ruler of the country since the 17th century.
And what about the crown today? Many British subjects would like to abolish it as an odious relic of the past, costly and undemocratic. But what would that leave? Yet another overly wealthy family with no responsibilities, dignity or purpose – and a dark final episode of “The Crown”.
Katherine A. Powers, originally from Minnesota, is also a critic for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.