Gimson's Kings & Queens: Brief Lives of the Monarchs since 1066

Gimson's Kings & Queens: Brief Lives of the Monarchs since 1066

Andrew Gimson
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Like its companion-volume, Gimson's Prime Ministers: Brief Lives from Walpole to May, reviewed for ARRSE in April 2018, this is a handsome hardback volume in a handy size (A5). If you are looking for a birthday present for an intelligent and historically-aware person, this book should definitely be a candidate. At £10.99 RRP, but costing less from Amazon; it represents value for money. As with Gimson's Prime Ministers, my main complaint is that there is no index or bibliography.

There are however two insightful essays by Andrew Gimson: the historical Introduction and the Afterword, “Why has the British Monarchy Survived?”. There are also Martin Rowson's brilliant, scurrilous, but still easily recognisable, caricatures.

Boris Johnson has commented that this book is “totally gripping – a factually accurate version of 1066 and All That”, and Boris is right. Gimson's Kings & Queens combines business with pleasure. It can be read for fun; the short chapters are three to five pages long; the right length for bedtime reading. Everyone can enjoy the caricatures. But because the biographical information is generally very accurate, the book is also a useful work of reference. Some Kings (Stephen, Henry III, Edward VI, William IV) are relatively unknown, often because they only reigned for a short time, but they all feature here. If you are swotting for a school History exam; doing the crossword; about to take part in a pub quiz or in something more serious, like Pointless or Mastermind, you should buy, borrow or steal this book.

The answers to innumerable questions are to be found here. Which King may have died of a surfeit of lampreys? Henry I. Which King founded the grammar schools? Edward VI. What did Edward V do? Nothing; one of the two Princes in the Tower, he reigned for less than a year and was probably murdered on the orders of Richard III. Occasionally the information is revolting; ghoulish children will enjoy the book for this reason. When William the Conqueror was buried in Caen, his bloated corpse burst open as it was being squeezed into a stone sarcophagus that was far too small: an unbearable stench filled the church and the burial service had to be hurried to its close. Edward II, a suspected homosexual, was murdered by having a red-hot spit thrust up his rectum. His screams reportedly roused the town of Berkeley.

I admit to a very few quibbles. Gimson states that “Cromwell nominated his son Richard as his successor”. That is what was announced at the time, but it is not certain that he really did so. Gimson seems to accept that the two skeletons discovered in the Tower of London in 1674 and reverently re-interred in Westminster Abbey were those of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. Yet modern research suggests that they were not, and that one may even have belonged to a girl. These however are minor details that should not spoil our enjoyment of a splendid and well-written book.

5 mushroom-heads

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  1. Why 1066?

    I asked Gimson's publishers why the arbitrary date of 1066 was chosen for the start of this...