Washington Post editor and history buff Michael Farquhar returns with another witty and meticulously researched book about the dirty linen of powerful people – namely, royalty. In his previous book, “A Treasury of Royal Scandals”, Farquhar includes the crowned heads of Europe but now devotes his new work entirely to the most colorful – and often reprehensible – characters within the British monarchy itself.
“Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain” is a veritable circus of debauchery and bad luck, striking pale the antics of today’s royals by comparison.
Husband and wife monarchs William III and Mary II ruled together after James II (Mary’s father) was ousted from England. Angry at his expulsion, he plotted to regain the throne by killing his own daughter and son-in-law.
“I was told of dreadful designs against me [by James’ supporters, known as Jacobites]”, she wrote, “and had reason to believe if their success answered their expectations, my life was certainly at an end.”
It makes Fergie’s antics look a bit weak in comparison, doesn’t it?
Farquhar is known for his previous works on the tomfoolery of historic hedonists. They are filled with his trademark wit and shrewd observations, and his new “Behind Palace Doors” carries on this exquisite tradition. Farquhar’s deft and sophisticated pen makes otherwise heinous royal folly fascinating and fun.
We move from Henry VIII to his offspring, then down through the ages into the Hanoverian reign. We conclude with the Houses of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Windsor. Farquhar brings it all to a close on a good note with Elizabeth II, but not before comparing her dutiful father, King George VI, to his listless and selfish elder brother, the Duke of Windsor.
One thing surprised me, however: while Farquhar notes that the King stammered and had to overcome painful shyness, there is no mention of Lionel Logue within the chapter. It did teach me something new, and that is the credit due to BBC engineer Robert Wood for helping the king train to become a better broadcaster with the latest equipment.
Three cheers to a fabulous book, and an all-around excellent history series. Go forth and purchase all of them today!
Other books by Michael Farquhar: