The best books on the modern British monarchy

Who am I?

I’m an American who was taken by his parents to live in England for a year when he was a kid of eleven. The accents? The traditions? The school uniforms? All the traffic tangled up for a day because the Queen was riding to the State Opening of Parliament? It frightened me. It repelled me. I ended up loving it. I wrote my PhD thesis on the Victorian monarchy. A substantial part of all three of my first nonfiction books are about it. My novel on the current Queen of England has been a bestseller. It’s all about setting out to master what first strikes you as incomprehensible.

I wrote...

Mrs Queen Takes the Train

By William Kuhn,

Book cover of Mrs Queen Takes the Train

What is my book about?

Elizabeth II, Queen of England and all she surveys, is feeling low. The Diana debacle has shown her just how much the British public rates her lifetime of service. As a cure for her depression, she decides to make an impromptu outing to Scotland. She’s going all by herself on a public train. A mismatched group of staff members are on her trail and following close behind. They’re trying to bring her back before the tabloids find out what’s happened. In the course of her journey she makes a surprising rediscovery, her vocation.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Elizabeth: A Biography of Britain's Queen

Why did I love this book?

In the guise of a biography of the current queen, this is one of the best books on the modern British monarchy as an institution. Sarah Bradford talked to all the palace insiders, an amazing feat given how touchy and protective everyone around the queen is. Bradford has the best sense of the strengths of the current queen and her weaknesses.  Because Elizabeth II is now the longest-reigning monarch in British history, she epitomizes most of the advantages and disadvantages of the institution in her own single lifetime.  You will find out which of the episodes from Netflix’s The Crown are all made up, and which are close to the truth.

By Sarah Bradford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A court insider's portrait of Elizabeth II and her eventful and turbulent reign journeys beyond the facade of Buckingham Palace to answer questions about the scandal-ridden royals, relationships among members of her family, her personal beliefs, and future prospects for the House of Windsor. Tour.

Book cover of The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II

Why did I love this book?

This is another biography of the current queen that shows how the monarchy works. It differs from Sarah Bradford’s biography. Pimlott was a historical expert on the labour party during the twentieth century. He brought to his book all the skepticism about the crown that people on the political left traditionally have in Britain. Perhaps surprisingly, then, he comes out admiring Elizabeth II. He sticks much more narrowly than Bradford does to political crises in which the queen had some noted or decisive influence.

By Ben Pimlott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Queen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"There will be no better biography of Elizabeth II as a figure of state until her official one appears-and perhaps not even then."-The Independent. "One of the many merits of Ben Pimlott's superbly judicious biography of Elizabeth II is that it understands this connection between monarchy and masses, and carefully evokes its political importance."-The New York Times Book Review. "The best all-around study of the Queen so far, showing understanding as well as amused irony."-Sunday Telegraph. Written by Ben Pimlott, considered Britain's most respected political biographer, The Queen brings us the most authentic life yet of the reigning monarch. For…

The Diana Chronicles

By Tina Brown,

Book cover of The Diana Chronicles

Why did I love this book?

This is a third book which appears to be a biographical account of Diana Spencer’s life in the royal family. It really focuses on the interaction between the monarchy and the press. The two are in a relationship that is sometimes acrimonious and sometimes symbiotic. It’s impossible to understand how the media establishment and the monarchy function without reading Brown’s book. She was herself the editor of major magazines on both continents. For a while, she ran Vanity Fair and later The Daily Beast. She was married to a prominent newspaperman who held prominent roles in London and New York. She knows what she’s talking about.

By Tina Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The 20th Anniversary Edition of Tina Brown's definitive behind-the-scenes insight into the life of Diana Princess of Wales, as depicted in the hit Netflix series The Crown, with a brand new introduction by Andrew Marr.
More than twenty years after her death, Princess Diana remains a mystery. Was she "the people's princess," who electrified the world with her beauty and humanitarian missions? Or was she a manipulative, media-savvy neurotic who nearly brought down the monarchy?

In this commemorative edition, which includes a new introduction by Andrew Marr, The Diana Chronicles parts the curtains on Diana's troubled time in…

Book cover of Royal Bounty: The Making of a Welfare Monarchy

Why did I love this book?

This is the first history that details how the late nineteenth-century monarchy became an engine of philanthropy. As kings and queens were sidelined, or reduced to insignificance, in political transactions, they increased their role in assisting non-profit institutions that contributed to the public good. They gave their patronage, for example, to hospitals, veterans’ associations, and civic charities. This gave the royal family an outsized influence in the do-good world, and this itself increased the respect in which the monarchy was held by people of all parties. Frank Prochaska is an American historian of Great Britain, so he brings a healthy objectivity to literature about royalty that is sometimes too credulous and deferential.

By Frank Prochaska,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As the constitutional importance of the monarchy has declined, the British royal family has forged a new and popular role for itself as patron, promoter, and fund-raiser for the underprivileged and the deserving. This book-the first to study the evolution of the "welfare monarchy"-tells the story of the royal family's charitable and social work from the eighteenth century to the present.

Drawing on previously unused material from the Royal Archives, Frank Prochaska shows that the monarchy's welfare work has raised its prestige and reaffirmed its importance at the same time that it has brought vitality and success to a vast…

The Quest for Queen Mary

By James Pope-Hennessey,

Book cover of The Quest for Queen Mary

Why did I love this book?

This is the hilarious account of an official biographer tracking down European royalty. They were the extended family of Queen Mary, the current queen’s grandmother. Pope-Hennessey had been commissioned to write the official biography of Mary, the wife of King George V.  He talked to a full range of eccentrics who were either relations of Queen Mary, or knew her well.  The behind-the-scenes gossip he was given, as well as the insight into the absurdities of having a royal family in a democratic country, are both priceless.

By James Pope-Hennessey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A delightful insight into an eclectic life'
The Daily Telegraph

'Very funny and astute . . . a loathly feast for royal-watchers'
Hilary Mantel, New Statesman Books of the Year 2018

'A complete delight, conjuring up, with a few sharp strokes of the pen, a mad, exotic species from a world gone by'
Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

'Gloriously indiscreet . . . the best royal book ever'
Harry Mount, Financial Times

* * *

When James Pope-Hennessy began his work on Queen Mary's official biography, it opened the door to meetings with royalty, court members and retainers around Europe.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in queens, the British Monarchy, and welfare?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about queens, the British Monarchy, and welfare.

Queens Explore 87 books about queens
The British Monarchy Explore 7 books about the British Monarchy
Welfare Explore 12 books about welfare

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