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Welcome to the first coronavirus edition of The Royal Tea newsletter! Fun fact! Coronaviruses got that name because of the crownlike spikes on their surface!
The Queen has gone into self-isolation at Windsor Castle and issued a statement of solidarity to the UK about the global pandemic and who the heck knows what will happen next! (Not me, but I will, of course, be here to keep you updated when it does.)
I know that many of us, including myself, are stuck inside for the foreseeable future as we do our civic duty to curb the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus. So I decided to put together a different kind of newsletter — a list of my personal recommendations of royal longreads and books to read during your self-isolation.
Although the recommendations below span a time period of hundreds of years, most of them are about the UK royal family, since the Windsors have been the focus of the newsletter so far. OBVIOUSLY there are other royal families in the world and there have been throughout history, and if people are into this coronavirus content I am so ready to do a second, more diverse list.
Also, to be clear, as far as the fiction section goes, I’ve limited it to historical fiction. No royal-themed fantasy à la the Game of Thrones series — although, once again, if there’s interest, I will OF COURSE make that list and send it out.
Before we get going, I need to give a shoutout to the amazing Scholastic Royal Diaries series. These historical fiction books for young readers (recommended for ages 9–12) are written from the perspective of famous royal young women from all over the world. The royal girls “writing” the books form an incredibly diverse bunch — you have princesses from all over Europe, Africa, India, Japan, precolonial United States, etc. I highly recommend them for younger readers, and, honestly, a lot of them hold up for adults if you’re looking for a quick and easy read.
Plus, each book ends with a bonus section that has historical context and facts about the time period and what happened in the lives of these royal girls after the “diary” ended. I know a lot of parents around the world are trying to find ways to teach their children at home in the wake of schools closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t have kids, but I straight-up loved these books as a child and they made me want to learn more about history.
Okay! Let’s get into this royal reading list.
The “Queens of Infamy” series by Anne Thériault: This series about badass royal women from around the world and throughout history was one of the best things published in 2019. Period.
“Royal Bodies” by Hilary Mantel: This hugely controversial speech-turned-essay caused a firestorm in the UK media when it came out in 2013, because the author referred to Kate Middleton, who was at the time pregnant with her first child, as a “plastic” princess whose purpose was to “breed.” It’s one of the most famous pieces on the royals in the past decade, it’s often cited as an example of Kate’s harsh treatment by the media — and it’s a well-written meditation on what it means to be royal.
“The Issue With Meghan Markle’s Vogue Issue” by Helen Lewis: Meghan’s Vogue issue generated a lot of controversy (not all of it in good faith) over its “wokeness” and focus on social justice, climate change, transgender rights, and other causes. This piece does a great job of breaking down the limits of royal activism, and, in retrospect, does a pretty good job of laying out reasons why Harry and Meghan decided to leave life as working royals to pursue their charitable aims.
“Princess Diana Was The Opposite Of Everything Royals Represented” by Bim Adewunmi: I have read this beautiful, thoughtful piece by my former colleague Bim on Princess Diana’s death and how it affected her Nigerian mother probably half a dozen times since Meghan and Harry made their announcement in January.
“Meghan Markle, Wild About Harry” by Sam Kashner: This Vanity Fair cover story with Meghan was her introduction to the world as Harry’s girlfriend. It was published two months before the royal couple announced their engagement, and, like most celebrity profiles, it was very clearly written to present her in a positive light. It’s still a good interview, though, and a look at what Meghan’s life was like before she met her future husband.
The entire Order of Splendour blog: Okay, so this is technically not a longread, but it is one of my favorite royal websites on the internet. It’s a blog about the extensive jewelry collections of the world’s royal and imperial families — with a particular focus on the history and symbolism of crowns, tiaras, brooches, and royal family orders (like those sashes you always see members of royal families wearing at fancy events). I have spent actual hours on this website. It’s so interesting.
To Marry an English Lord by Carol McD. Wallace and Gail MacColl: A fascinating book about the wave of American heirs who married into the impoverished British aristocracy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fun fact! It was one of the primary source materials for Downton Abbey.
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith: Okay, so this is a biography, and a pretty hefty one at that, but it’s an easy read and once you get into it, you won’t want to put it down. It’s an intimate, clearly well-sourced look at the Queen’s life and reign, and it’s just straight-up one of the best biographies of a public figure that’s been published in recent history.
Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge by Eleanor Herman: Like it or not, extramarital affairs have always been part of royal families’ histories, both past and recent (Charles, Camilla, etc). Yes, the title is a bit salacious, but the book itself isn’t — it’s a look at one of the most important forces adjacent to the crown throughout history and how the role of royal lover has changed over the years (it used to be practically an official position at royal courts).
The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly: This book, by the Queen’s longtime dresser and designer, was approved for publication by the sovereign herself. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into deciding what the Queen will wear and is full of anecdotes about what she’s like behind closed doors.
We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill: A biography of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, that looks at both their relationship and the power dynamics of being a woman ruler of a nation during a time when the husband was the king of the household.
At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England by Walter Dean Myers: A captivating read about a historical figure that you don’t hear about too often — Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a Yoruba princess who enslaved by a rival king after her parents were killed, and then given as a “gift” to Queen Victoria when she was 7. The Queen entrusted the girl to upper-middle-class guardians and raised her as her “goddaughter.” A great book about a remarkable life.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: The premise is this: Imagine if Kate Middleton had been American. Girl meets boy at college; boy happens to be future king of England. It’s a perfect beach/escapist read and one of my favorite books — and the sequel comes out in July!
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (yes, the same woman who wrote the controversial piece in the first section): This is definitely the densest book in my list of fiction recommendations, but it’s so worth it. The first in a trilogy about the rise of Thomas Cromwell, a common-born adviser to Henry VIII who became one of the most powerful figures behind the throne, this book and the series have won multiple awards. Plus, the final book in the trilogy just came out!
Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar: A fictionalized account written from the perspective of Nell Gwyn, an orange-seller turned actor turned lover of King Charles II. She had a wild life, and this book is an engaging look at her strange journey to the royal court.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: One of the most popular YA books of 2019, this imagines a romance between the son of the US president and a UK royal prince. That’s it. That’s the plot — and it’s delightful.
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin: A spoiled American princess marries a duke and has absolutely no idea what she’s gotten into. Told alongside her story is that of her lady’s maid, a young black woman who accompanies her to the UK after she marries. It’s a darker, more authentic look at upstairs and downstairs life during the time of Downton Abbey, as well as the contrast between American and British society life.
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory: I know. People either love this book — and its author, a prolific writer of historical fiction — or they don’t. It’s about Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary Boleyn, who was Henry VIII’s lover before he became obsessed with the woman who would become his second wife. It’s rooted in fact; there’s documented evidence that Mary had an affair with the king and had at least one child that was probably his. Anyway, it’s an easy read and arguably the book that started the historical fiction craze of the 2000s. It was even made into a movie of questionable quality starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson!
And that’s it for now! Once again, these are all my personal recommendations; this is not a sponsored list, although I did make a point to only include books that were available digitally as well as in hard copy. If you’re interested in one of them, check to see if your local library has it available for digital checkout!
I’ve received a few reader emails asking for content that’s not breaking/recent news (since the royals are all self-quarantining) and I’d be eager to do more historical and analytical posts if there’s interest! I’m also here for any questions about the royal family that you’d like answered in a future ~ serving ~ of The Royal Tea. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are scary and uncertain times — we can try to “keep calm,” but there’s no way to “carry on” when you must change your entire way of life to keep yourself and others safe.
But, as the Queen said in her statement Thursday, “At times such as these, I am reminded that our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one, concentrating our combined efforts with a focus on the common goal.” She was talking about the UK, but I believe it’s true no matter where you live.
Be safe. Be healthy. Be well.
I remain, as ever, your faithful royal correspondent,