Since William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy, crossed the English Channel in 1066 to defeat King Harold II and unite England’s various kingdoms, forty-one kings and queens have sat on Britain’s throne: “shining examples of royal power and majesty alongside a rogue’s gallery of weak, lazy, or evil monarchs,” as Tracy Borman evocatively describes them in her sparkling chronicle, Crown & Sceptre. Ironically, during very few of these 955 years has the throne’s occupant been unambiguously English—the Norman French, the Welsh-born Tudors, the Scottish Stuarts, and the Hanoverians and their German successors to the present day have dominated the throne.
Appealing to the intrinsic fascination with British royalty, Borman lifts the veil to reveal the remarkable characters and personalities who have ruled and, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, have more ceremonially reigned—a crucial distinction explaining the staying power of the monarchy as the royal family has evolved and adapted to the needs and opinions of its people, avoiding the storms of rebellion that brought many of Europe’s royals to an abrupt end. Richard III; Henry VIII; Elizabeth I; George III; Victoria; Elizabeth II: their names evoke eras and dramatic events, forming the sweep of British history that Borman recounts. She is equally attuned to the fabric of monarchy: the impact of royal palaces; the way monarchs have been portrayed in art, on coins, in the media; the ceremony and pageantry surrounding the crown.
In 2024, Elizabeth II would eclipse France’s Louis XIV as the longest reigning monarch in history. Crown & Sceptre is a fitting tribute to her remarkable longevity and that of the magnificent institution she represents.