Historical romances, part 2!
Some of my astute readers may remember that this isn't my first review of a Leslie Carroll book. I reviewed Inglorious Royal Marriages here a couple of years ago, which I enjoyed it quite a bit, and Royal Romances felt like the perfect nonfiction follow up to The Buccaneers.
Carroll follows the same formula as she did before, each chapter dedicated to one royal and their respective relationships. In the case of Royal Romances, some of these are marriages and some are affairs, but thankfully, there are at least some happy endings, which there were very few of in Inglorious Royal Marriages. The setting vary from England, to Russia to Bavaria, but most are located in France. Most, though not all, are men. Despite the similarities though, I quite enjoyed Royal Romances!
I find Carroll's attitude toward her subjects, particularly the women, refreshingly open. In nonfiction generally, and historical texts specifically, all too often women's actions are viewed in a much harsher light than the men who surround them. A good example of this is to consider Catherine the Great against practically any of her contemporary male rulers. The fact that she kept a lover all the way into her sixties is often ridiculed or used as evidence against her character. On the other hand, take any French or English king, nearly all of which kept mistresses, and their actions are mostly hand-waved as being representative of their position and their era. Carroll strikes a decidedly different tone, avoiding condemnation of either sex for their romantic engagements, but instead examining their character and actions in light of their circumstances. This sounds simple, but can be difficult when examining historical figures who were controversial in their time. Madame du Barry is a good example. I've only ever heard her discussed in almost universally negative terms. Royal Romances offered a different perspective. Carroll certainly didn't hold her up as a role model, but she took a less aggressive position toward the controversial woman and offered up a description of her upbringing, circumstances and interests to go hand in hand with all the negative propaganda surrounding her.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Royal Romances didn't stop in the 1800's, like many books on similar topics do, but also included George VI with his wife Elizabeth Bowes Lyons and the current Prince William of Whales with Kate Middleton. It was an unexpected foray into the life of contemporary royalty. I can't imagine anyone at this point is completely unfamiliar with Kate Middleton. However, George VI will also be of interest to anyone watching the Netflix orginal series The Crown. These two chapters showcase the best of Carroll's work, and are more upbeat and energetic.
There are times that the book does drag some. In certain sections, Louis XV and Napoleon Bonaparte come to mind, the writing got repetitive and I found myself checking how many pages there were before the chapter ended. I only needed to read about Napoleon writing love letters and then not following through a couple times before I understood that he was a total tool when it came to women. And, while I appreciated the bibliography, I wish that she had used footnotes in the text to help keep all of the names, places and pronunciations straight. The chapters dealing with French monarchs needed this particularly badly. I kept having to flip back to make sure I was reading about the same person or place, and though I had a vague understanding that certain people were politically significant, if I wanted to know how or why I had to look it up on the Internet. Footnotes could have solved a lot of these problems.
These issues ultimately did not detract much from my enjoyment of Royal Romances though. It's a fascinating exploration of how royals of the past and present handle love and romance, and I found it humanizing to many historical figures that have seemed dry and flat in my mind up to now. If you're interested in a lighthearted history book where politics take a backseat to personal lives, then I think you'll enjoy it.
You can find Leslie Carroll's books here: