Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Five Cousins

I find that if I go on the internet to look up ONE THING about the English monarchy, I end up spending hours clicking on links in Wikipedia trying to figure out how they are all interconnected and related to each other. It doesn't help that Victoria and Albert had nine children, everyone married a cousin of some sort, and they named all of their kids after each other, so that there are multiple "Vickys", "Louises", "Alberts", and "Georges" in a generation. (It is more difficult to keep everyone straight than in One Hundred Years of Solitude.) There is always something new to learn about VR's extended family. For example, last night, I learned that King George V of England and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia were first cousins, not just by marriage, but by blood through their mothers (who were sisters and princesses of Denmark), which explains why they look SO alike (although George has Queen Victoria's eyes, which you don't really see in England's royal family these days.)
George Nicky
That's George, on the left; Nicholas, on the right (from Wikipedia)

But, at least now, I am now able to keep five of Queen Victoria's granddaughters straight. This leads me to the real purpose of this post, to recommend the book Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia Gelardi, which I found to be a great read. Five of Queen Victoria's granddaughters married into other royal families and became queens themselves. One I had known about, Tsarina Alexandria of Russia, but I didn't know about her cousins, the queens of Spain, Norway, Romania, and Greece. Each of these (essentially English) princesses has a different story on their way to the throne, and they are fascinating people. The period of time in which their stories took place is fascinating too. Mix the girls in with a big dash of their boy cousins/brothers, Wilhelm of Germany and George of England, and World War I becomes one big bad dysfunctional family nightmare. (Of course, I am oversimplifying, but it did made for some nasty family politics.)

If this was a book about just one of these ladies, I would say that would be pleasantly interesting, but the fact that Gelardi draws comparisons in the experiences of five women of this generation in the broader context of the Great War makes the book really appealing. But it isn't just the war that is interesting; the dramatic divergence in family life is compelling. (One of the biggest issues of interest to me was the disparity in the way that two of the royal families dealt with the hemophilia issue when it hit.)

The book has a lot of family photos, which is always helpful when reading biography, but could have done better on maps. (I NEED my maps. It is one of the reasons that I so appreciate the New York Times.) I ended up printing out a map of pre-WWI Europe and gluing it into my copy for easy reference. (This is not unusual for me; my copy of The People of the Book has six maps glued into it.) I would definitely recommend this for book clubs as it is a relatively fast read for a biography, and it isn't too dry or detail heavy. I read this book on a beach vacation. (It was actually recommended to me by my aunt, who had read it for one of her book clubs. Yes, clubs; she is hard core!)


  1. Finally....someone with my affinity for English monarchy!

  2. Oh yes, I love the monarchy...BIG TIME. I have photos of the queen on my desk at work. It started as a joke, but now I have a bit of a collection!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...