Sunday, January 15, 2012

Elizabeth The Queen...The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith

I must admit I am at least two things 1) A Royalist and 2) a huge fan of the writing of Sally Bedell Smith. I have read all her books and she has never failed me as the reader.
I was very much looking forward to this book because unlike her late daughter-in-law Diana, Elizabeth would not strike as a natural subject for Bedell Smith but that is very much the way this writer rolls, you never know who will be her next subject.
This book was a delight to read, a 600 page door stopper that was so well written that it simply flowed along, tackling each aspect of Elizabeth's life with a well researched ease. It paints a portrait of an Elizabeth who grew up in a warm, loving family who found themselves unexpectedly Throne bound and whose two daughters adapted along with their parents in strikingly dissimilar ways. While Elizabeth was trained and groomed by both her Father King George V1 and her Grandmother the redoubtable Queen Mary, her sister Margaret was spoilt and dotted upon and lead a life that could only for all its advantages be called unhappy, sad and miserable. Elizabeth's grooming however did have a tendency to leave her with a sense of propriety that made her somewhat remote and standoffish in public, a slave in many ways to duty which until the death of Diana did not translate into the change needed to carry the Monarch forward. In private it was quite a different story, she radiated warmth, loved her corgis,horses and the country life. She has been blessed in her marriage to Phillip,The Duke of Edinburgh, a man who gave up his own hopes and ambitions to support hers, while taking an interest in things of the Environment at which we once all laughed, and giving great service to the British Commonwealth. A man with a divine sense of humour, he has managed to offend billions but is loved none the less.
Bedell Smith paints a portrait of a Wife that handed over Household matters to her husband, a mother who loved her children but was quite remote at times especially with Charles and Anne.
Insightful and with a tendency to tackle tricky questions especially her 3 oldest children's marriages, Bedell Smith doesn`t beat around the bush, she paints a fair and evenhanded portrait laying blame where she feels it should go especially in the case of Diana and Sarah who hardly behaved in an ideal manner themselves, it is fair to note that Bedell Smith has written the definitive book on Diana and holds strong opinion about her especially the emotional burden that Diana put on a very young William.
Elizabeth comes across as a woman of strong opinions, of refined tastes, devoted to her subjects, a friend and a wife a mother and a great grandmother who is really quite anchored in humanity, its just that she has servants and we don`t! She has also been shot at and had an intruder in her bedroom, shaken a million hands, breed champion horses, worn endless hats and has handbags to die for!
I did come to the conclusion  that Elizabeth was duty bound to the point of willfulness until the death of Diana forced her hand and without the strong hand of the novice Tony Blair we may have found the British Monarchy a thing of much reduced nothingness, the influence and steadfastness of Charles in supporting Blair cannot be under estimated, together they saved the Throne, as both realised the British people wanted their Queen to behave towards their Princess and themselves in a comforting, compassionate manner that was both dignified and hands on. It says alot that she rose to the challenge, and as a result took over the role that her then very elderly mother had taken on for so many years the Nations and for that matter the Commonwealths Grandmother.
Never dull, never boring, full of humour and so readable, I would not hesitate to recommend it. When the Queen dies an Official Biographer will be appointed to recount her life, I doubt however that anyone will write a better narrative of the life of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.
My copy of this book is the American edition, it will be published here in April by Penguin Books and will be titled Elizabeth The Queen...The Woman Behind The Throne.

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