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Britain's Royal Families - Alison Weir

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Paperback: 400 pages / Publisher: Vintage / Published: 18 Dec 2008

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      18.04.2013 10:31
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      An interesting reference book

      My friend knows I am a bit of a Tudor 'geek' and often buys me biographies of Tudors or other historical royals for Christmas. This year she included something completely different when she got me 'Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy' by noted historian Alison Weir. The book has been a real labour of love over twenty years for the author, who usually writes historical biographies and the occasional novel. Here she has effectively written a family tree of British monarchy since the ninth century.

      The book is divided into sections - more like eras - and each section starts with an introduction. It varies in length but tends to get longer as increasing information becomes available as we get closer to the present day. However this introductory text tends to be a summation of the information available in that section. Instead of drawing up a family tree, Weir has 'translated' it, so it can be read in book form. As an Example:

      King Thingy II
      Father: King Thingy I (See page xx)
      Mother: Queen Whatsit, daughter of Lord Watchacallhim and Lady Watchacallher of Somewhereorother
      Siblings: Listed under King Thingy I

      Then follows a short text about when and where Thingy was born and when/how he succeeded to the throne.

      King Thingy II married Hernextdoor, daughter of Somebloke and hiswife from Somewhere. Possible brief text as to her heritage if significant (or known).

      Issue of marriage:
      1. King Thingy III (see page yyy)
      2. Junior. Date and place of birth, any titles that Junior may have held in his own right, dates of birth of wife of Junior, and children of Junior's marriage:
      (i) Junior Jnr - dates, titles, marriage, issue etc so forth for several generations.
      (a) Junior Junior Jnr - etc etc etc
      1. JJJ Jnr etc etc
      (ii) Daughter - dates, marriage, brief summation/acknowledgement of issue unless relevant to direct royal line due to primogeniture, as succession follows the male line.

      Therein follows a bit about any illegitimate issue Thingy may have had, and threats to his succession, his death including place and date, and his successor.


      This is just a made up example, typical of extracts in the book. You may be thinking that it gets a bit confusing with the issue all being called Junior, but whilst I made up the name in this instance, the Royals were not an imaginative lot when it came to naming their offspring and it often got confusing. Some Monarchs (or their sons) ended up having six or seven pages of lists as they had eight children with each of two or three different wives and it took a while to get through them all and remember who was who and which generation they were. If you look at the 'Look Inside' part on the Amazon page for this book, you will see some real examples - however, as some of these are Saxon Kings, the level of information is quite brief, once you go forward six hundred years, you will find that it gets much more confusing. I used to have to keep my finger in the opening page for each King, to remember who I was originally reading about, especially as the same names cropped up again and again. Sometimes I was reading about the great-great grandson of a king and who he married (but never challenged the line of succession) and I wondered why I needed to know this. Whilst I understand that a massive, sprawling conventional family tree would be hard to read in book form, I did think that the occasional, more compact one would help with clarification for each branch.

      It is not an easy book to retrieve information from in this format. I read it cover-to-cover when I first got it (I must admit to skipping a bit when we got to the great-grandchildren of the seventh son of the second wife), and I could see that it could be a useful reference tool if you wanted to know the connections between various characters in history (there is a lot of interlinking and marriages - Weir does cross-reference the page numbers to help you).

      This sounds like I didn't enjoy the book, but that is not the case, I did find it interesting overall, as there is a lot of trivia inside that is quite interesting, but also some missing. For example, she talks of King Edmund being known as 'Edmund Ironside' but doesn't say why. What I do find interesting is that they mention where the body is buried, so if you are visiting a certain cathedral or church, you can impress your friends and family by knowing that Lord Suchandsuch, whose tomb you can see, was the son of the Duke of Somewherewest and grandson of Junior Jnr, a descendent of King Thingy II. Admittedly I can't actually see myself in that situation, and would undoubtedly muddle up the generations if the opportunity presented itself. However there are other little observations that kept me interested in the book such as:

      1. The Saxon names - Ethelwulf, Ethelweard, Ethelbald, Ethelred (and that was just the men).
      2. Wondering why every Norman woman was called Margaret or Isabella
      3. The names of the Scottish Kings and their offspring. If you are planning on having children and need a boy's name may I suggest Dolfin, Gospatrick or Gillacomgain?
      4. The lifespan of some of the children - if children from privileged backgrounds died so young, it makes you wonder how those from poorer families survived.
      5. Queen Victoria spoke English with a German accent.

      When you are dealing with people from so long ago, it is hard to find supporting evidence, especially of daughters or wives, or children who have died young or were illegitimate and not recognised officially. Weir always acknowledged this problem and indicated if she believed past sources to be inaccurate. Full citations are not given, which is just as well as the book would be double the size.

      So whilst I was undoubtedly frustrated by the format of the book, I did find a lot of inspiration for me to find out more about other periods in history that I am less aware of and that can only be a good thing.

      Amazon have claimed that it is up to date for the Queen's Jubilee last year, but the book I received at Christmas 2012 was published in 2008 and does not mention Prince William's marriage or Zara Phillip's. Obviously the place of burial for Richard III will also have to be amended from 'church destroyed in reformation' to 'under a Leicester car park'!

      The book has an RRP of £9.99 but offers are available elsewhere. It is also available in Kindle format, but I do not think that would work to well as you would easily lose track of who is who if you could not flick through the pages.

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