I am quite excited to start a new monthly series here today! While the name of my blog already implies it, for those of you who don’t know, I am trained as an historian. Although I’m not currently working in the field, I am still working on my own research and staying as up to date as I can. I have been spending a lot more time of NetGalley lately, and I’ve been lucky enough to be approved to review several different books. So, I’ve decided to share my favourite upcoming history books with you each month!
For anyone who doesn’t know what NetGalley is, readers can sign up to read books for free before they are released and all you have to do in exchange is share your reviews. I would really recommend it for anyone who reads a lot and wants to try new authors! (Note: some publishers will only accept you after you’ve submitted X number of reviews, and some will take your previous ratings into account before approving you.) I’ve been able to read some wonderful books, both from current favourite authors and newer! I’ve included the Goodreads link for each book, as well as the publishing date here.
Versailles, Colin Jones- 20 November 2018
Although I am an historian, I know surprisingly little on the specifics of Versailles. Yes, I know that it was turned to a hunting lodge to the palace that it is by Louis XIV and that it featured spectacularly in Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s downfall, but that is about it. This is a fantastic history of Versailles- Jones provides enough history and details to actually give you a solid foundation on the history of Versailles without continually overwhelming you with a mountain of minutia. A lot of architectural history tends to lean heavily into the history of the architect and/or the entire construction schedule. However, Jones balances the actual building with the people who lived in and around it.
I also very much appreciated that this continued on past the French Revolution. It is obvious (by the Instagram and blog posts that we see) that Versailles is still around to visit now, but when so many buildings didn’t survive the Revolution, how this particular palace did was my biggest question. He also carried it into the modern period, and delves into the modern curators that brought Versailles into the twentieth century and beyond!
I would recommend this history of Versailles for anyone who is interested in the palace itself, or in modern French history. Although modern history can feel overwhelming because the countless sources and sheer speed of communication, Versailles provides the perfect lens to view early modern and modern France.
What Would Mrs. Astor Do? Cecelia Tichi- 13 November 2018
For anyone interested in the late Victoria/Edwardian era on this side of the Atlantic, What Would Mrs. Astor Do is a fantastic look at social norms and expectations for the upper classes. It is a great balance between smaller tidbits and bigger stories, and is perfect for the reader that only has a few minutes to read at a time. I do have a solid background in etiquette and social expectations of the period, but I did still learn more. It is a pop history of the time, so I would say that anyone could pick this up and read it without issue (aside from the number of Astors being rather confusing).
I do wish that there had been slightly more information on the middle and lower classes. Yes, it does focus on Mrs. Astor and her like, but it wold have been quite interesting to read more on their servants and the people that they interacted with (for example at the new department stores that they shopped in). It also would have been slightly more interesting to provide the etiquette of their British and European counterparts- I think that many of us are familiar with late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, but it would give more context for what the Astors and their peers were doing.
For anyone who watched Downton Abbey and wondered about Cora, or read To Marry An English Lord and wanted more information on where these heiresses came from, What Would Mrs. Astor Do? is for you!
Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife, Sarah-Beth Watkins- 26 October 2018
Watkins begins the book explaining that Anne of Cleves is barely treated by other historians, and when she is, it is in a considerably unfavourable light- I think she has done a fantastic job of detailing Anne of Cleve’s life. Anne is often seen lurking in the background throughout Henry, Edward, and Mary’s reigns but historians tend not to go into any sort of detail. Watkins does go into far more detail, and brings Anne to the forefront (without failing into the trap of so many historians and biographers who try to fill in the gaps when they don’t know).
I wouldn’t say that you need to be an expert in Tudor history to read this by any stretch, but I would suggest it for people who have a cursory knowledge of “Who’s Who” in the Tudor courts. Watkins does a fantastic job of sharing Anne’s childhood and life before moving to England, which I loved. There isn’t a huge wealth of information but there is enough to give you more of a picture of who she was! I found it particularly fascinating that she had no knowledge of the English language prior to leaving on her journey, and spent the rest of her life in England. Watkins also shows Anne’s discussions with her family in Germany, which I very much appreciated- we often hear extensively about Catherine of Aragon’s family discussions, and of course Anne Boleyn’s, but less so about the other wives.
Overall, this is a great biography! It is lovely to see Anne of Cleves brought to the forefront, and I would recommend this to anyone who is fascinated by the Tudor period and wants to delve even further.
My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage, Ingrid Seward- 20 November 2018
It would be an understatement to say that I was excited when I was approved to read this book; Ingrid Seward has been editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine for as long as I’ve been reading it, and I knew that she would have insights into the British Royal Family’s relationship. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have been married for 70 years now, and are the rock of the royal family. No matter what happens, Elizabeth and Philip will weather it. I know that some people have said that this book doesn’t offer anything new besides what is reported in the tabloids but as an avid royal watcher, I strongly disagree!
The book begins with both Elizabeth and Philip’s childhood, which doesn’t offer much new. However, it quickly moves into their family life together. I found the discussions of their relationships with their children fascinating. We know that Charles struggled to have a relationship with his father, but Seward goes further into each of their relationships with each of their children, as well as their spouses. For anyone who saw the imploding House of Windsor in the 1980s and 1990s, it gives far more insight.
I also greatly appreciated that she explained their thoughts and approaches to religion and politics and education- while we see them often, we don’t hear much of their own opinions. It gives you much more to consider when they do give speeches and interviews! I will be watching the Queen’s Christmas speech with even more interest now.
This is the perfect book for anyone who has been intently watching The Crown or has been following the British Royal Family for years! Ingrid Seward has been reporting on the royal family for decades and has a great relationship with them; that relationship pays off in this book!