Matriarch Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards

Review :

After a week of Prince George coverage, I was in the mood for a big, comforting royal family kind of read. I've read about a million Diana biographies and quite honestly biographies of Elizabeth II don't exactly make for riveting reading. That's when I remembered one of the very first "big" books I ever read when I was only ten years old. Yes - you read that right! Going back and reading it now, I can't believe I was that young and able to comprehend all of the historical information contained here. I do remember it being one of the books I read that year (along with Elizabeth Longford's biography of Queen Victoria) that completely pulled me in and solidified my love of English and Royal history.

Reading it now - more than twenty years later - I was struck by the vast amount of social and cultural change that Queen Mary witnessed in her life. I've always been fascinated by history from roughly about 1880-1940 and suspect that fascination is partly due to my reading this book at such a young age. Queen Mary's life (1867-1953) encompasses an epic span of royal history - her life began during the reign of her grandmother-in-law Queen Victoria and it ended during the reign of her granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II.

Everyone thinks of Queen Mary as a stodgy old lady but she was actually a spirited woman who was passionate about art, reading, royal history and Shakespeare. She had a wry sense of humor and always tried to stay in touch with the times, even as an old lady. Edwards tells the story of her plotting with a lady in waiting in the 1920s to see if they could raise the hemlines of their skirts without King George noticing. Spoiler alert: they tried but didn't succeed. Queen Mary is also the source of one of the most poignant comments I've ever read in a biography - she once told a lady in waiting that she had only one regret - that she had lived such a restrained life that she never had a chance to jump over a fence!

Edwards does a good job of revealing Mary's very real faults as a mother. Her almost complete inability to function as a mother directly led to her eldest son's immaturity and his eventual abdication of the crown as well as the humiliating stutter of her second son, George VI. I was a bit surprised that Edwards barely touched on Mary's relationship with her husband George V other than a few brief notes that she prepared him for kingship by tutoring him on royal and constitutional history.

It was surprisingly hard to find a copy of this book and that's quite unfortunate. Edwards is a wonderful writer who takes the time to describe the feelings and images of the historical era in great detail. I remember consuming her biographies of famous women as a kid. Her books seemed to be everywhere back then but I had to search two major public library systems and inter-library loan it from the one library that had it available.

If history fans can find a copy of this old classic, I would strongly encourage them to read it. You'll have a deepened appreciation for the current Queen's background and the span of English history that is so incredibly popular right now with the advent of Downton Abbey and the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I.

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