The best 19th/20th century royal history books

Why am I passionate about this?

It’s not the dates or Acts of Parliament that inspire my love of history. It’s the people and their personalities - the Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses. They shape their times - but also build palaces, collect art, wear jewellery, patronise composers - it’s a far more wide-ranging subject than you would think. I have been studying, researching, and writing Royal history for many years - travelling the world to follow in the footsteps of Monarchs. Or in the case of my absolute history hero, Franz Ferdinand - weeping at the spot where he was assassinated - not just for him but for all who died in the First World War.


I wrote...

The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World

By Sue Woolmans, Greg King,

Book cover of The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World

What is my book about?

In the summer of 1914, three great empires dominated Europe: Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Four years later all had vanished in the chaos of World War I. One event precipitated the conflict, and at its heart was a tragic love story. When Austrian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand married for love against the wishes of the emperor, he and his wife Sophie were humiliated and shunned, yet they remained devoted to each other and to their children. The two bullets fired in Sarajevo not only ended their love story, but also led to war and a century of conflict.

Set against a backdrop of glittering privilege, The Assassination of the Archduke combines royal history, touching romance, and political murder in a moving portrait of the end of an era. 
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Queen Victoria

Sue Woolmans Why did I love this book?

This was the first Royal history book I ever read and it hooked me into the world of Queen Victoria and her descendants.

It is a classic, standard biography of Victoria - an excellent overview of her life as a woman in a man’s world, her marriage and her widowhood. Many biographies since have dissected various aspects of Victoria’s life without giving a good general telling of her story. But this is what Elizabeth Longford does - with a writing style that flows and is so so easy to read.

It is “warts and all” -  Victoria was not the easiest of characters, had steaming rows with Albert, was dictatorial as a mother, and a professional widow. I came away feeling as though I knew Victoria.

More importantly, this book made me want to find out more about her family, and royal history in general. It influenced me so much that I have spent the rest of my life reading about royals, and now writing about them. I owe Elizabeth Longford a huge debt.  

By Elizabeth Longford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Queen Victoria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The truth was stranger than any of the fictions that have since been offered to explain her away'

Drawing upon Queen Victoria's previously unpublished journals, Elizabeth Longford's classic biography recalls the contrasts and curiosities of an earlier era with exquisite detail - and transforms the queen from a severe, time-worn effigy into a human being who loved, feared and fumed.

Longford probes the contradictions of a woman who wore a bonnet instead of a crown at her Golden Jubilee and yet was recognised always as both dignified and formidable. She chronicles both the Queen's public life and her emotional travails,…


Book cover of Grandmama of Europe: The Crowned Descendants of Queen Victoria

Sue Woolmans Why did I love this book?

Victoria had 9 children and 42 grandchildren and was nicknamed “Grandmama of Europe” before Mr. Aronson used it to title his book.

Of them, one was an Emperor, one a King, and 5 were consorts of rulers; whilst most of the others married into European royal families. This overview weaves their stories together like a novel, taking us to the First World War, the fall of Empires at the end of the war, and then on into the last century where, of the 7 European monarchies still on thrones, 5 are descended from Victoria - the other 2 related to Victoria.

Don’t worry, you won’t get lost, Mr. Aronson uses family nicknames to differentiate which Victoria or William is which.

By Theo Aronson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Grandmama of Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Grandmama of Europe: The Crowned Descendants of Queen Victoria


Book cover of Hessian Tapestry: Hesse Family and British Royalty

Sue Woolmans Why did I love this book?

Narrowing things down a bit, this book centres on just one line of descent from Victoria - that of her 2nd daughter, Alice.

Alice married Louis of Hesse - a small central German state that was at the maelstrom of the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars. Alice carried Prince Albert’s emancipated vision of Royalty as servants of the people, founding charities and nursing during the wars - helping to carve out the role of royalty today. She also carried Victoria’s gene of haemophilia which passed to some of her children. Amongst Alice’s descendants is our King Charles and the last Tsarina of Russia.

A word of warning - do not open the family trees unless you can sit yourself down at a table and spread them out. They are excellent and huge - and fold out like a map.

I opened one whilst commuting on a train and it ended badly.    

By David Duff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hessian Tapestry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

, 415 pages, with black and white illustrations and genealogical tables


Book cover of Nicholas and Alexandra

Sue Woolmans Why did I love this book?

Narrowing things down still further, brings me to this book - and film - the story of Alice’s daughter, Alexandra, who married the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas.

Theirs was a tale of royal romance, and happy marriage. But they were not made to rule. And Alexandra inherited the haemophilia gene, which she passed on to their heir, leading to Rasputin and revolution. 

The Massie’s were the first tellers of this story, which has since grown in fascination - fuelled by the excellent 1971 film based on the book. And then by Boney M and their song, “Rasputin”. The Massie’s debunk the story of “the lover of the Russian Queen”.  The tragic murder of the whole family, the discovery of their remains, their reburial in Petersburg, all keep the story relevant.

Just before Putin invaded Ukraine, their home, the Alexander Palace, was completely renovated and opened to the public. Will we ever see it?

This is the most authentic telling of Nicholas and Alexandra’s story.

By Robert K. Massie,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Nicholas and Alexandra as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A superbly crafted and humane portrait of the last days - and last rulers - of the Russian Empire.

Complementing his Pulitzer prize-winning Peter the Great, in this commanding book Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of imperial Russia to tell the story of the decline and fall of the ruling Romanov family: Tsar Nicholas II's political naivete; his wife Alexandra's obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin; and their son Alexis's battle with haemophilia.

Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a family tragedy played out on the brutal stage of early twentieth-century…


Book cover of The Lonely Empress: Elizabeth of Austria

Sue Woolmans Why did I love this book?

Royal history centres around marriages, but one thing that rarely happened in the 19th century was intermarriage between Protestant and Catholic houses. 

In an effort to find out about the families that  Victoria’s descendants didn’t marry into, I read this book and came across the Habsburg dynasty and a European icon - Empress Elizabeth. Known as Sisi, Elizabeth was a stunning beauty who captivated the Emperor of Austria. He was supposed to be marrying her sister. The poor sister was dropped, Sisi and the Emperor married and lived not very happily ever after. She hated being an Empress and became an eccentric recluse.

There are lots of books about Sisi, many painting her a tragic heroine, and some as a selfish egomaniac. Haslip doesn’t judge, she just states the facts in a very readable way, allowing you to form your own opinion.

Do read this before watching the Romy Schneider films.

By Joan Haslip,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lonely Empress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Princess Elizabeth of Bavaria was only 16 when her cousin Francis Joseph came to visit her eldest sister with a view to arranging a marriage. The 23 year old Austrian Emperor fell in love with the fine featured, long limbed, dark haired beauty Elizabeth instead, married her and loved her until her death in 1898 when she was assassinated by the Italian anarchist Luccheni. Elizabeth, though, was a 'modern' woman at a time when that notion was unheard of. Her love for sport, gymnastics, dangerous riding, sailing, poetry and all things Greek were not catered for by Habsburg family life.…


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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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