22 May 2010

Born to Rule

Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria has been hanging around the bookshelves for several years.  I'd actually forgot I had it until I started cleaning out the book hoard because it needs to decrease a bit before moving house.  So I started reading it before getting rid of it (I'll see if my mom wants it).  I would have sworn I read it before but there wasn't a book journal entry (maybe I only read the part about Alix marrying Nicholas of the Romanovs).

The subject matter is interesting - of Queen Victoria's numerous grandchildren, five of the girls grew up and became Queens Consort, dotted around Euope.  Maud of Wales (Queen of Norway), Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (Tsarina of Russia), Marie of Edinburgh (Queen of Romania), Sophie of Prussia (Queen of the Hellenes), and Victoria Eugenie (Ena) of Battenburg (Queen of Spain) married into reigning houses during the tumultuous period marking the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries.  Each woman is interesting enough for a biography of her own (and in Marie's case, she wrote three volumes of memoirs).

Putting all five Queens into one book is interesting in that it shows the parallels between each woman's life, from childhood to adulthood, but the constant ping-ponging around between Queens within each chapter can get confusing.  So much so that you can forget which person is which; there are a lot of family names and nicknames used frequently in the book.  I also would have appreciated a map or three or more; this period in European history has constantly changing national boundaries so sometimes it's hard to remember where the Austro-Hungarian boundary was pre-World War I, or where the heck in Greece Tatoi is located, or where Ekaterinburg is in relation to St. Petersburg, or where Hesse and it's boundaries were in relation to Berlin.  There are two sections of very lovely photographs, which is nice, but a map would have done wonders.  I did a lot of Wikipedia-ing and Google Map-ing.

Confounding this lack of geography was the irritating habit of the author to foreshadow coming events with some form of the verb "to shatter."  Everything is earth-shattering, shatters the peace, shatters a marriage, or someone's life is shattered prior to the description of whatever event it is that does the shattering.  Annoying, truly, especially when the last line of chapter eighteen closed with a teaser concerning Queen Marie's knowledge of "earth-shattering news concerning the Tsarina of Russia's indispensable favorite, Rasputin" (p 225) but the opening of chapter nineteen concerned the birth of Queen Ena's last child in Madrid.  We get back to Rasputin on page 238 in chapter twenty.  The saving grace of this book is the personal story of the five Queens; it was the only thing keeping me going when I was on the verge of chucking it all and looking up everyone on Wikipedia to see what happened.


  1. sounds like fun but maybe like it could have used some better organization. neat though! :)

  2. @Marie - the women have amazing life stories but the organization/writing of the book really let me down; definitely worth checking out for the information factor alone

    I also forgot that the "Dramatis Personae" - something I tend to dislike in a non-fiction book - left off Prince Olav's (later King Olav V of Norway) marriage and number of issue. Considering all the other children of the other four Queen's had very complete marital histories (including Princess Ileana of Greece, who's second husband is not mentioned by name in the text of the book but is listed in the "Dramatis Personae") it seems a lamentable oversight.

  3. I love reading books about Queen Victoria's descendants! They really have to have detailed family trees, though, because there were so many inter-marriages and so many with same names, or they're referred to by their titles, etc. etc. !