Royal Panoply : Brief Lives of the English Monarchs

Written by Carolly Erickson
Review by Ilysa Magnus


Somehow Erickson manages, in the space she permits herself, to give us vignettes about 40 English monarchs from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II. It takes a talented writer, and one who loves her subject matter, to personalize each and every one of these monarchs and make them come alive.

We learn a bit about each monarch’s relationships with family, sometimes more “dishing the dirt” about them than your run-of-the-mill biography would permit. Erickson tells us about their mental illnesses, their proclivities, their rages. The old adage of power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely comes to mind. Most of these monarchs were clearly more concerned about enjoying the excesses that their power brought them than caring about the needs or love of their people.

Elizabeth I stands out – as usual – as she is one of the most impressive of all of England’s monarchs through the centuries. A novice to foreign affairs when she assumed the throne, Elizabeth, savvy and fearless, soon gained an expansive knowledge of politics and assured her kingdom’s place in the world. And yet Erickson, in an exercise of self-control, gives Elizabeth the same page count as most of the other monarchs in her book.

I enjoyed each little tidbit Erickson offers up.