Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll
Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll
I recently read a bio about Leslie Carroll and was intrigued by her self-described departure from romantic fiction to true historical accounts of the exploits, romantic or otherwise, of royalty and nobility. I love a good romantic tale, but in general, I do not enjoy the romance genre much. I dislike the sense of romance occuring in a vacuum, absent any other motivations or actions, driven forward by angst and internal drama alone. This obviously does not represent romantic fiction as whole, nor do I know whether or not it even describes Leslie Carrol's work. I've never read any of her fiction. Given my feelings and her background though, I wasn't really sure how I would enjoy Inglorious Royal Marriages. I was quite surprised to find myself unable to put it down. I enjoyed it immensely!
Carroll has released a number of books on the broad topic of romance and historical royalty, each with a different theme. Inglorious Royal Marriages focuses on relationships which were, for one reason or another, disastrous choices for the participants. Each chapter focuses on an individual, such as Margaret Tudor, and follows their relationships from beginning to end. Carroll offers a broad overview of the person's entire life, but the focus lies on their relationships and the internal and external consequences of it. The effect of this is that each chapter feels like an entertaining examination of love gone wrong, but also offers a crash course in the history of the given region. I enjoyed this, particularly in the case of countries like Portugal and Romania, whose histories I'm less educated in. Speaking of which, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book included a range of settings and did not focus solely on English history. Tales from England, Scotland, France, Italy, Romania and Russia are all included. A handful of other countries are also discussed in connection such as Portugal, Spain and Prussia.
Some of the royalty discussed are quite well know, such as Mary I, or Mary Tudor, while I was much less familiar with many of the others. I appreciated this diversity. In the case of women like Mary Tudor, of which a good deal is known, there tends to be a cultural understanding which may or may not be accurate. I've always known Mary I as Bloody Mary. I was impressed by Carroll's willingness to cut across these culturally held beliefs and contradict them. She skillfully builds a case for her own interpretations using letters, historical commentary and detailed accounting of local histories. In many cases, she provides evidence to exonerate royals from undeserved reputations, while other times she may reinforce them. In either case, her goal doesn't seem to be laying blame or glory, but rather to humanize the stories of people who have come to seem mythic over the years.
The biggest strength of the book, in my opinion, is Carroll's skillful ability to tell a good story, likely developed during her time writing fiction. She weaves history, evidence and narrative together easily so that each chapter feels full and complete. For those paying attention, she does call back to earlier chapters, mentioning how one set of royals may relate to another or how past relationships may impact the one she's currently discussing. These details feel more like Easter Eggs than intrusions though. I was consistently impressed by the ease with which each chapter could be read, despite the density of history and relationships involved.
The only fault I could readily find with the book is the weakness of the conclusions. Since each chapter is self-contained, there is a brief introduction and conclusion. While the body of each chapter flows naturally and easily, many of the conclusions felt forced and trite, as if she felt the need to find some didactic theme or message. They were jarring and at odds with what is otherwise a pleasant an entertaining read. Admittedly though, this is a fairly minor concern. By the end, I began to recognize the tonal shift at the end of each chapter, and I would simply skim through the conclusion for an interesting information. Though I did find this aspect annoying, it doesn't color my overall recommendation. I enjoyed the book much more than I thought I would, and I'm actually already planning to read more of her work, which I will likely also review. So, take my criticism with a grain of salt and recognize it for a minor complaint against an otherwise skillful and entertaining book.
-Easy to read, particularly because of its modular format
-Skillful examination of historical figures from a humanizing point of view
-Thoughtful challenges to historical assumptions
-Educational without being didactic
-Weak conclusions are annoying, but not particularly detrimental to the book
-Keep in mind that these are "inglorious" marriages. Don't read this if you're in the mood for happily ever after.
Provocative Ideas Raised:
-Cultural views on infidelity vary widely
-Power of cultural opinion whether true or false
-Gender roles and expectations relative to time period and culture
-Examination of monarchy
-Love as it translates across cultures and throughout time
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If you like this, you may also like:
Royal Pains: A Rogue's Gallery of Brats, Brutes and Bad Seeds by Leslie Carroll
Miss Match by Leslie Carroll (Fictional Romance)
A Treasury of Royal Scandals by Michael Farquhar
A Treasury of Great American Scandals by Michael Farquhar
The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (Diary exploring life and intrigues of Heian period Japanese nobillity)
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (historical fiction)
The Tudors (Dramatic, fictionalized television series)