In The Queen: A Life In Brief, Robert Lacey distills the volumes which have been written about the Queen (much of it by him in his bios Monarch and Her Majesty) into a 175 page book which captures the high points of the British Monarch’s life while offering interesting insights which may not be widely known.
The book starts, as one might imagine, with the early years of the Queen’s life including her uncle’s abdication of the throne and the subsequent ascension to the throne of her father, King George. Lacey describes then Princess Elizabeth as a relatively unassuming young girl who loved and admired her father fiercely. As her father had when he unexpectedly took the throne, Elizabeth - a girl who was never born to be Queen - began to come to terms with the fact that she would one day succeed her father to the throne. With all the apparent privilege of being King or Queen, the role also comes with a tremendous responsibility and duty to the British people.
The realization of that responsibility humanizes Elizabeth and the author offers examples of the many ways in which she has served her country and where it has required sacrifice on her part. Her schedule is grueling - with more than 365 events a year at which she must make an appearance. Many of these events span the British Commonwealth which extends across Canada, Africa and Australia, among others. At times, she has served the British people at the expense of her family’s needs - she often left her young children home for months at a time while she traveled abroad for these events.
How the obligations of the role of Queen have impacted Elizabeth and her family can most obviously be seen in the family’s choices in marriage. It seems many were denied their true love only to have the marriage they did choose end in ruins. When Prince Philip asked King George for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, he was denied. Elizabeth’s parents felt she was too young for marriage but they also had concerns about Philip because he was not a British subject - he held both Danish and Greek royal titles. But Philip overcame the King’s objections, became a naturalised British citizen and was eventually given permission to marry Elizabeth. I found it interesting that Elizabeth faced obstacles in marrying who she wanted to marry when she seemed to place similar obstacles in front of her own sister and children. Princess Margaret was forbidden to marry a divorced man while Prince Charles, famously, denied his love for Camilla to marry a more suitable (young, virginal) Diana only to have that marriage end tragically. Elizabeth’s other children’s marriages also seemed to tremble under the pressure of royal life.
Overall, Lacey paints a very favorable picture of the Queen as a woman who has steadfastly served her people and done her duty with little fanfare. It is a fitting tribute at the Queen’s celebration of the Diamond Jubilee after 60 years on the throne. The more salacious events in the Queen’s life are glossed over in the book but not ignored. The length of this book was perfect, in my opinion. I was not interested in reading a 400+ page biography of the Queen but I did enjoy reviewing the high points in her life especially with the insights offered by the author which made the book much more than just a regurgitation of facts already well known. If you are at all interested in the Queen or the British Monarchy, this book is a great primer!
Thank you to Harper Perennial for providing a copy of this book for review