Since William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy, crossed the English Channel in 1066 to defeat King Harold II and unite England's various kingdoms, 41 kings and queens have sat on Britain's throne. Borman reveals the characters and personalities who have ruled and, since the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, more ceremonially reigned.
Given its extensive timeframe and diverse cast of characters, Crown & Sceptre could easily have become little more than a potted history of Britain from 1066 to the present. But while Ms. Borman offers deft and thoughtful assessments of every reign, the chronological approach is enriched by details that help to humanize her subjects ... A judicious selection of illustrations not only shows how monarchs have sought to shape their own public image—notably the striking portrait commissioned by Elizabeth I to commemorate naval victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588—but also the way in which critics have subverted convention.
Borman offers brisk descriptions of the circumstances each monarch met in assuming the crown and nimbly sketches his or her character and talents ... Though dynastic troubles are woven into the fabric of British history, it is only one element in this lucid, character-rich book. Throughout, Borman traces the changing relationship between a weakening crown and the growing power and makeup of Parliament, the country's true ruler since the 17th century.
While [Borman] doesn’t ignore the institution’s darker aspects, she’s nevertheless in thrall to its 'other-worldliness' — its magic and mystery ... Borman embraces a huge task, which she carries out reasonably well. A book of this sort requires not only biographical sketches, but also a solid historical context and an analysis of the monarchy’s evolution according to time and taste. The author is quite good with the sketches, but her background knowledge is occasionally shallow and inaccurate, especially when covering the 19th and 20th centuries ... The main fault of this book, however, is that there’s not enough of the weird and wonderful stuff that makes the monarchy enthralling and, to some, repugnant.