Behind the throne A domestic history of the British royal household

Adrian Tinniswood

Book - 2018

"Monarchs : they're just like us. They entertain their friends and eat and worry about money. Henry VIII tripped over his dogs. George II threw his son out of the house. James I had to cut back on the alcohol bills. In Behind the Throne, historian Adrian Tinniswood uncovers the reality of five centuries of life at the English court, taking the reader on a remarkable journey from one Queen Elizabeth to another and exploring life as it was lived by clerks and courtiers and clowns and crowned heads: the power struggles and petty rivalries, the tension between duty and desire, the practicalities of cooking dinner for thousands and of ensuring the king always won when he played a game of tennis. A masterful and witty social history of ...five centuries of royal life, Behind the Throne offers a grand tour of England's grandest households"--

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New York, NY : Basic Books 2018.
Main Author
Adrian Tinniswood (author)
First edition
Item Description
"October 2018"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
xii, 402 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 347-375) and index.
  • Introduction: Black Books and Spangles
  • 1. Progress
  • 2. Behind the Masque
  • 3. Diplomats and Fools
  • 4. A Court Without a King
  • 5. We Have Called You Gods
  • 6. The Catholic King
  • 7. Mrs Morley and Mrs Freeman
  • 8. Happy Families
  • 9. An Agitation of Spirits
  • 10. Regent
  • 11. The Respectable Household
  • 12. After Albert
  • 13. Court Circular
  • 14. That Dear Little Man
  • 15. Secretaries
  • 16. Gloriana
  • 17. Affectionate Memoirs
  • Postscript: It's All to Do with the Training
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

This is an enjoyable and lively account of the British royal household from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II. The volume is timely, considering the increased interest in the royal family since the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The royal household might be described as a domestic institution on a massive scale. Those in service to the monarch held traditional titles, and as with any large group working in close proximity, there were many feuds as well as considerable accomplishments. The stories told are interesting and illuminating about how the British monarchy works. But this study significantly lacks an explanatory historical context: why and how did the monarchy change over the years? Paradoxically, the monarch was treated with less respect when the office was more politically powerful. While Parliament and the Cabinet became increasingly dominant from the 18th century on, the monarchy brilliantly if reluctantly adapted. Its many changes beginning with Victoria managed to preserve its position, both utterly changed and much the same. As Macaulay said about the Reform Act of 1832: "Reform, in order to preserve." Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and undergraduates. --Peter Stansky, emeritus, Stanford University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

Britain's modern-day royal household appears to run like a well-oiled machine: It has its own human resources department and employment comes with a standard package of benefits. But it was not always so. In this domestic history of five centuries of palace life, Tinniswood paints a picture of barely controlled chaos. If a flattering history of British royalty exists, this isn't it, perhaps because no one looks good through the eyes of servants. Sovereigns, courtiers and unruly royal children are cast in unforgiving light as Tinniswood, in some cases quite literally, airs their dirty laundry. While a few sympathetic characters emerge, for the most part members of the royal family appear variously insane, opportunistic, petulant and mercurial. Pulled from ledgers, maps and other correspondence, this is a chronicle of beleaguered officials' attempts to impose some structure and economy on the royal household. The subjects are equerries and clerks, courtiers and grooms of the stool (an office that, in its original incarnation, was responsible for keeping the sovereign company during his or her bowel movements). A good portion of the people employed by the royals appear to have been freeloaders. Tinniswood is constrained by the source materials available to him, which at times can make for dry reading. This is a history of stuff as much as people, especially in the early years: food, jewels, robes, tapestries, renovations. Procuring, managing and distributing the goods the royal household needs seems to be half the job of maintaining the crown. However, the author displays a knack for uncovering the absurd and delightful. A wit borne of a deep intimacy with his subject shows through. It all has the effect of bringing the monarchy down to earth. Behind the somewhat surreal pomp and pageant, Tinniswood reveals the all-too-human reality of royalty. EMMA L. McALEAVY is a former news assistant at The Times and Fulbright fellow.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 11, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

If Downton Abbey showcases a well-oiled machine of domestic efficiency in an English estate, you might think the servants surrounding British monarchs would be held to an even higher standard of discretion and excellence. And, as historian Tinniswood warns, you'd be entirely wrong. The reality, as he explores in this diverting book covering the domestic life at court from Elizabeth to Elizabeth, is both much messier and incredibly interesting. The palace at Whitehall in the seventeenth century, for example, was like a massive apartment complex with no real way to know who exactly lived there, while security at Queen Victoria's Buckingham Palace was so lax that a builder's boy broke in, not once, but three times. In addition to explaining tidbits such as why a single three-night visit from Queen Elizabeth I cost the equivalent of $10 million in today's money, Tinniswood charts the changing fortunes of monarchs over the centuries. As power shifts from the throne to Parliament, this rare glimpse into royal households reveals the priorities and peculiarities of kings and queens.--Bridget Thoreson Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Beginning with Elizabeth I and ending with her reigning namesake, this well-researched, often entertaining narrative illuminates the domestic army of little-known names that manages palatial daily duties and orchestrates elaborate special occasions. Tinniswood (The Long Weekend) describes the behind-the-scenes drudgery of complex Tudor tours of the realm, lavish Stuart masquerades, and the nearly futile efforts of private secretaries attempting to rein in spending (not to mention mistresses, in the cases of Charles II and Edward VIII). Usefully for American readers, Tinniswood explains touchy political matters such as Victoria's refusal to employ both Tory and Whig ladies of the bedchamber, resulting in a scandal and the famed Sir Robert Peel's resignation. Twentieth-century royals receive an especially rich treatment, partly because of the advent of television coverage; devoted watchers of The Crown will especially enjoy the nimble analysis of both the narcissistic Edward VIII's brief reign and Princess Margaret's doomed romance. In keeping with the sometimes gossipy tone, Tinniswood recounts tell-alls with glee even as he bemoans the lack of privacy for the royal family. Utilizing a Downton Abbey approach, this enlightening narrative allows the royal family mystique to disappear just a little, so those working quietly to maintain the world's most famous monarchy receive recognition. (Oct.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

When Elizabeth I (1533-1603) went on progress to her various palaces and courtiers' estates, those whom she visited were expected to bear most of the cost, from lodgings for her royal highness to kitchens and accommodations for all of her household and court. One particular three-day visit to a Sir Thomas Egerton reportedly cost him over £2,000 at the time. In her latest work, Tinniswood (The Long Weekend) explores the inner workings of the well-oiled machine that is the household, servants, and monarchy of Britain. Using personal stories of courtiers and hired help from the period, Tinniswood brings history to life through the eyes of those who lived it. Stand-alone chapters for each royal build upon the successive history from Queen Elizabeth I to Queen Elizabeth II. Insightfully covered topics range from the architecture of palaces to explorations of the varying personalities who wore the British crown in this intelligently written chronicle that will appeal to history buffs and laymen alike. VERDICT Tinniswood has crafted a masterpiece of history that reads like a novel; a true delight.-Stacy Shaw, Denver © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

From bedchambers to ballrooms, a revealing portrait of daily life among the royals.Steeped in British history, Tinniswood (History/Univ. of Buckingham; The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 2016, etc.) offers an intimate and entertaining look at the private lives of monarchs from Elizabeth I to the current occupants of Buckingham Palace. Funded grandly by their subjects, kings, queens, and their families have always inhabited "a cocoon of support to ease their paths through life": cooks, dressers, housekeepers, valets, wet-nurses and governesses, pages, footmen, gardeners, butlers, secretaries, and a hierarchy of staff overseers. "The rituals of royal care," Tinniswood writes, "are there to separate sovereigns from the rest, to remind their subjects that they are not like other people, not even presidents and billionaire executives." In centuries past, body servants included a bedchamber-woman who handed the queen her fan, poured water out of a jug when the queen washed her hands, and pulled on the queen's gloves; a page was called in to put on the queen's shoes. Some 1,200 employees attend to the household of Elizabeth II; her great-great-grandmother Victoria had 921 salaried retainers. Royals were rarely alone. Charles II, annoyed that Whitehall palace was "cluttered with people," devised a set of household ordinances to control the throngs. Royal palaces, the author asserts, were not "like some regal version of Downtown Abbey"; Whitehall, particularly, "was more like a vast apartment complex" with around 1,500 lodgings for countless servants, government staff, menials (who slept in closets), and squatters. Tinniswood cheerfully chronicles the flirtations, affairs, family squabbles, back-stabbing, and jockeying for favor that characterized the royal courts, even giving pets a quick nod. George V, for example, doted on Charlotte, a parrot who had the habit of defecating on the tablecloth. The author also recounts the madness of George III, whose "weeping, insomnia, and feverish agitation" may have been caused by acute attacks of porphyria or, as recent historians suggest, "recurring bouts of manic-depressive psychosis." Some sovereigns, the author admits, "are more interesting than others."Deft, zesty social history. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.