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Book review of Ed West's 'A Century of Royalty'

<![CDATA[kjjkoppAs the introduction states: “Under Queen Elizabeth II royalty has continued to adapt to the modern world, and despite some bad times, remains the strongest of British institutions”. In many ways, this sense of pride and admiration for the British monarchy is the overriding feeling you are presented with when reading this book. A Century of Royalty focuses on the past one hundred years of the Royal family’s vast and remarkable history and is filled with over one hundred pages of stories and illustrations from the extensive image archive at the Daily Mirror.
A Century of Royalty reflects on how the Royal family’s story has been told in front of the media’s cameras over the decades, beginning with an image of Edward VII’s funeral procession in 1910 and finishing with a much-celebrated photo of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge emerging from St Mary’s hospital with a one-day old Prince George.
Ed West successfully takes readers through images and stories from George V’s reign, who faced the First World War, the abdication and murder of his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, the growing number of people confronted with poverty in Britain and increasing fears that the British monarchy would not survive like some of their counterparts within Europe. Yet, West illustrates how George V, and George VI later on, would become beacons of hope and national identity for the British people in times of need.
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On one page there is a formal image of the Royal family after our current Queen’s christening in May 1926, which is nicely paired with the famous story of how Bertie, the future George VI, had to ask Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to marry him three times before she accepted his proposal. Their marriage was a love-match, compared to previous Royal matches, who continued to show great support for one another and their daughters. It is interesting to think that although we may look upon this image of our Queen’s christening as just the start of her long and prosperous life, the people in this image may never have even assumed that this baby would later become Queen.
There are a number of images of the Royal family from during the time of the Second World War, with one photograph being one of the then Princess Elizabeth in a mechanic uniform, fixing the wheel of a car. This image, showing how all of the Royal family became greatly involved in the war effort, is reflected with stories of how Princess Elizabeth spoke to fellow children through the airways on BBC’s ‘Children’s Hour’ about the bravery of our Armed Forces during times of war.
My particular favourite image from the book is an image many readers may not have seen before; it is of Prince Philip laughing and joking with his uncle and his naval friends the night before his wedding to Princess Elizabeth in 1947. This page of the book is dedicated to Prince Philip’s upbringing and how he became introduced to the future Queen. The story of their relationship is reflected on the next page with an image of the happy couple leaving Westminster Abbey on their wedding day.
There are a number of extremely poignant photographs used within this book, one of which being an image of a frail George VI waving his daughter goodbye in 1952 as she made her way onto a plane to fly to Africa for a Royal tour. This was to be the last time that our Queen would see her father, as he passed away just a few days later at the age of 56. The next image is equally poignant, as it sees three Queens, Queen Mary, the Queen Mother and the newly proclaimed Queen Elizabeth II, all in black veils at the funeral of George VI.SCE Royalty 58_59
After discussing the struggles the Royal family faced in the first half of the twentieth century, including two world wars, an abdication and the death of George VI, West takes readers through the next, most probably lighter, era of this century, through the use of images of The Queen and Princess Margaret meeting the stars of the day from film, music and the football field.
In the second half of this book, West certainly focuses more on the Royal family as an actual family, and looks at the marriages, births and divorces that occurred during the later decades of the twentieth century. Although other publications have found it all too easy to concentrate on the relationships of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, and condone the 1990s as a time where Royal support lapsed, West highlights how prominent The Queen Mother was during these years and celebrates the dedicated charitable work that Diana promoted, especially that of her work with AIDs and landmind charities.
The last few pages of the book focus on the younger members of the Royal family, of whom we look at as the future faces of our monarchy. There is a priceless image of a red-faced and laughing Prince Harry in uniform, lined up beside his comrades, being inspected by The Queen. In addition to this, as readers will assume, there is of course an image from The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s widely-celebrated wedding included in the book, and the image is paired with the story that we all know too-well of how the couple came to meet at university.
West also highlights how, even though our monarchy may be centuries old, it is continuously embracing the modern world and the digital age, which is reflected with the mention of the 72 million viewers who watched William and Catherine’s wedding from the Royal family’s YouTube channel. Finally, to top it all off, the book ends on a high note with the much anticipated birth of Prince George last year, illustrating to readers how there are still plenty of stories of our modern Royal family just waiting to be written.
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With so many colourful images, stories and anecdotes, this small book is the perfect size for any Monarchist’s coffee table or book shelf.
The blurb reads: “The British Royal Family: beloved worldwide, poised and gracious, and above all resilient. With striking images from the Daily Mirror‘s famous archive and expert text from Ed West, A Century of Royalty looks from unexpected angles at these fascinating lives, controversies and traditions, from Edward VII’s coronation to the birth of Prince George in 2013″.
The author note states that Ed West is a “regular columnist for the Daily Telegraph and a features editor for the Catholic Herald. He is a social historian with interest in broad trends in British identity and society, and the author of an overview of British immigration policy”.
A Century of Royalty was published by Shire Publications Ltd and is available to purchase from leading bookshops and online.]]>