The Royal Book of Lists

Spring 2002 CSANews Issue 42  |  Posted date : Apr 05, 2007.Back to list

For that monarchist on your gift list, here is the perfect book to commemorate the Golden Jubilee year of Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Book of Lists is subtitled, "An Irreverent Romp Through History from Alfred The Great to Prince William," and Matt Richardson has provided that "Romp."

What I thought would be a compendium of royal trivia, turned out to be a fascinating, humorous and often dramatic overview of a thousand years of Britain's and Canada's royal family.

The book is organized like a tantalizing, delectable tray of hors d'oeuvres. You can sample, at random, from 25 chapters covering such provocative categories as "Sex and Scandal," "Madness and Eccentricity" and "Love and Marriage," as well as more serious subjects including "The Arts and Architecture," "Science and Learning" and the actual development of "The Royal Line of Succession."

Although The Royal Book of Lists is often irreverent in approach, it is also balanced and always compelling.

Elizabeth II is our seventh constitutional monarch. King William IV (1765-1837) was the first ruler to practise cabinet government. (That is the system whereby the prime minister's time in office depends on majority support in the Commons.) In other words, for the past 200 years, our monarchs have not ruled directly, but have had only three areas of influence: "The right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn the country's government."

Many believe that the whole institution is now irrelevant, but it has been a stabilizing influence, and it's interesting to note how various royals have actually altered history. For example, Albert, Victoria's Prince Consort (1819-60) is credited with "single-handedly preventing the British government from entering the American Civil War on the side of the confederacy."

Although the royal legacy comes with a lot of luxurious perks - i.e. servants, jewels, castles, etc., it is not all a bed of roses. One chapter labelled, "Uneasy Lies the Head," lists Nine Royal Assassinations and Eight Royals Who Survived Assassination Attempts.

This includes the incident in 1981 in which our own Queen Elizabeth narrowly escaped death at the Scottish Oil terminal when three kilos of gelignite exploded. Earlier that same year, she had six shots fired at her during The Trooping of the Colours (fortunately they were blanks!). Earl Louis of Mountbatten wasn't so lucky. In 1979, he was killed instantly when his fishing boat was blown up by an IRA bomb.

Then there were the kidnappings or kidnapping attempts. The earliest was Richard I (1157-99), who was kidnapped in Austria on the way back from the Crusades. "In order to secure his release, every man in England was required to contribute one-fourth of his income and every sheep was shorn." The most recent was the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne in 1974. Her assailant shot and wounded four men, while trying to drag the princess from her car outside Buckingham Palace.

There are salacious little nuggets of juicy gossip throughout the whole Royal Book of Lists ­ starting back in the reign of King John (1166-1216). Apparently, John was a notorious lecher, but his abduction and rape of a young noble woman was the last straw. This deed so enraged his barons that they forced him to sign the Magna Carta ­ the ultimate political weapon against royal tyranny.

Then there was George IV (1762-1830), who kept score of his sexual conquests by placing a lock of his current lady love's hair inside a labelled envelope. His brothers claimed to have found some 7,000 envelopes when they were going through his belongings after his death. Could this have been royal hyperbole?

The lists also include "Nine Gay or Bisexual Royals" and "Eight Celebrated Royal Mistresses" (including Camilla Parker-Bowles). The "Royal Flings with Actors and Actresses" intimates that Prince Philip conducted a "long-term friendship" with actress Merle Oberon, and there were rumours of the late Princess Margaret and her association with American comedian Danny Kaye. To be fair, though, there is also a list of "Five Royal Prudes."

The Queen's "Annus Horribilis" (Year of Horrors) records the monthly highlights of scandal, separation and divorce that plagued the Windsors in 1992. That year was topped off by a dramatic fire at Windsor Castle, but the tabloid escapades of Diana, Fergie, Charles and Camilla continued throughout the entire decade, until Diana died in that tragic car accident in Paris.

The confirmed monarchist will be disturbed by one particular list included by Matt Richardson in his Royal Book of Lists. This list consists of his somewhat apocalyptic "Six Predictions Regarding the Monarchy's Future."

The book was published just before the death of our beloved Queen Mum. I wonder if the views of the author have been altered by the genuine outpouring of love and sorrow from around the world, honouring her and the royal family.

I won't disclose Richardson's predictions, except to hint that Queen Camilla WILL be accepted by her subjects, and that Prince William will, by 2030, succeed his father as King William V. But will King William be the last constitutional monarch?

You'll find the answer on page 192 of The Royal Book of Lists.