Author and royalty expert Hugo Vickers brings us an exciting new book from the research of James Pope-Hennessy. The Quest for Queen Mary encapsulates Pope-Hennessy’s extensive research notes and interviews he conducted to write Queen Mary’s official biography. The biography was published in 1959 to wide acclaim.
Thanks to Vickers and the publishing house Zuleika, we now know what it was like behind the scenes as Pope-Hennessy navigated his way through royal etiquette, cautious courtiers, and years of history through German, Danish, and Norwegian royal eyes.
Getting to Know You
Queen Mary was seen as extraordinarily regal, bejeweled, and rather stiff. But what was she really like? In Quest, we get a real sense of her private life and her personality from those who knew her as Princess May, daughter of the German Duke and Duchess of Teck. Those who remembered her as a young, newly married Duchess of York. Those who remembered a world of a bygone era. They don’t disappoint.
A surprise or two is revealed, and various people help unwrap Mary’s character development – her shyness, her relationship with her children and her husband, and her habits. How she became a curious mix of kind and generous, but also selfish and remote.
So royals are human after all, despite the pomp and circumstance. Underneath the mountain of jewels, Mary was a complex character. Other royals prove to be similarly human. While setting up an interview with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Pope-Hennessy noted that royalty are not as intimidating as one would expect – the air of terror is produced largely from the fretting, deferential courtiers. Once you meet the royal in person, you realize that they are “not like others”, but one can “get on with the species, like an ornithologist making friends with some wild duck.”
Other “wild ducks” with whom we could get on provide their own delightful background, too, not just on Queen Mary. Pope-Hennessy brings us Grand Duchess Xenia of Russia, Crown Prince Olav of Norway, and the king and queen of Sweden. All are fascinating, and Pope-Hennessy’s interactions delightful.
And those courtiers provide their own round of interesting moments. Pope-Hennessy got right to the heart of all the people he could find, not just the royals, and it is a treasure.
Pièce de Résistance
Hugo Vickers’s own literary background and deft editorial skill adds clarity to The Quest for Queen Mary. Whatever Pope-Hennessy didn’t include is clarified by Vickers, who explains titles, places, and names for anyone not familiar with deeper royal history.
I highly recommend The Quest for Queen Mary. What Pope-Hennessy found throughout his journey is truly a behind-the-scenes look at a gilded royal world that is no more. What will you think of it? Will you be glad it’s gone, or will you wish for its return? Will you like Queen Mary more, or less?
Not only did Pope-Hennessy find depth to Queen Mary, but also to other royals along the way, and what they thought of events of their day. Vickers provides those delicious details on titles, dates, and people. You couldn’t ask for more in a book about royalty.
A prolific writer esteemed for his wit and clarity, Pope-Hennessy was best known for his official biography on Queen Mary. His career produced many great books, including Pope-Hennessy’s first, “London Fabric”, a study of London architecture; “Queen Victoria at Windsor and Balmoral”; “Lord Crewe, the Likeness of Liberal”; and a biography of the English novelist Anthony Trollope.
The son of an Army general, Pope?Hennessy was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and began his career as an editorial assistant at a publishing house. He was the brother of Sir John Pope-Hennessy, renowned historian and museum curator.
Pope-Hennessy was killed in 1974 after an intruder attacked him in his home. At the time of his death, Pope-Hennessy was working on research for an official biography on Sir Noel Coward.
Hugo Vickers is a writer, lecturer, and broadcaster. He has written biographies of many twentieth century figures, including the Queen Mother, Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough, and Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece.
Vickers has lectured all over the world, and some lectures have had the attendance of royals, including HM King Constantine of Greece, HRH The Duke of Kent, and HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent.