As HM The Queen celebrates 70 years on the throne, we look at the colourful lives of her closest relations.

For better or worse, one thing that every member of the royal family has in common is the mystique that blocks us from their inner sanctum. If it weren’t for expert biography (and the odd calamitous tabloid scandal), we’d never get a glimpse of what goes on behind the walls of the palace or understand what makes our monarchy tick.

Whether historical, contemporary, authorised or unauthorised, meticulously researched biography can shed light on all of it. The best ones are so compelling they read like a novel anyway. Now, as we mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, is the time to dig deep beneath the surface of the House of Windsor.

Here, we’ve rounded up our favourite royal biographies.

YOUNG PRINCE PHILIP BY PHILIP EADE




The true story of Prince Philip’s bizarre and often horrifying early life is written here with accessible detail and plenty of colour. Wherever you stand on the controversial figure that is late Duke of Edinburgh, this book will make you like him a while lot more. The Guardian said: “Eade’s account is as thoughtful and unbiased an explanation as we are likely to get of the contentious, sensitive, grouchy old martinet who, for all his flirtations, has proven himself a loyal consort to the queen.”


THE QUEEN BY MATTHEW DENNISON




We will have to wait for the Queen’s official biography but Matthew Dennison’s attempt is a good idea in the meantime. While HM’s official biographer will have access to her private papers and diaries, Dennison has made use of local archives, regional newspapers, old Pathe footage, presents she’s been given, ordinary Britons’ diary entries about her and so on.

He says: “My aim was always very clear. Biographies of the Queen can become accounts of the timespan of her reign; they discuss her prime ministers, members of her family and, as a result, royal scandals. She herself slips into the background. I was determined to write a book in which this remarkable woman remained consistently center stage.”


A ROYAL LIFE BY THE DUKE OF KENT AND HUGO VICKERS




Hot off the press comes this memoir by the Queen’s cousin, HRH The Duke of Kent. He has been a working member of the royal family since he was 16, so he has plenty of excellent tales – and personal photographs – to share. Woven out of a series of conversations the Duke had with royal historian Hugo Vickers, this book is an artfully honed report from the horse’s mouth.


THE DIANA CHRONICLES BY TINA BROWN




Brown’s most recent royal tome, The Palace Papers, has just been published and is receiving due attention but we think that her 2007 book about Diana, Princess of Wales deserves to be dusted off. Veteran journalist Tina Brown spoke to over 250 people to put together this masterful, glamorous and ultimately sad portrait. A New York Times bestseller, it is brimming with Brown’s invaluable social observation. The Sunday Times said: “Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles is not a book on Diana. It is the book.”


THE CROWN IN CRISIS BY ALEXANDER LARMAN




Larman is an infinitely readable author, journalist and historian, whose other subjects include the Earl of Rochester and Lord Byron. Having immersed himself in archives and previously unseen sources, he has produced a book about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson that is packed full of detail and intrigue. Even if you know the story before you pick up The Crown in Crisis, elements of its fresh take will stay with you long after you put it down. The Guardian praised Larman’s “delicate touch”.


MA’AM DARLING: 99 GLIMPSES OF PRINCESS MARGARET BY CRAIG BROWN




Nancy Mitford described Princess Margaret as “a hedgehog covered in primroses”. In Craig Brown’s award-winning, unconventional biography, he combines “essays, lists, catalogues, diaries, palace announcements, newspaper cuttings and interviews, as well as parodies” to create a unique portrait of the Queen’s younger sister. Some readers laugh out loud; others succumb to an inward chuckle. Few come away unmoved. The Guardian said: “Brown has done something amazing with Ma’am Darling: in my wilder moments, I wonder if he hasn’t reinvented the biographical form.”


QUEEN ELIZABETH: THE QUEEN MOTHER BY WILLIAM SHAWCROSS




The Queen Mother’s official biographer, William Shawcross, published this giant work in 2009. With access to the Royal Archive, he left no stone unturned. The New York Times describes his work as “dutiful, sober and meticulous”. Fans of the old Queen Mum will love being reminded of her wit and good cheer.

By Becky Ladenburg
May 2022

Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.

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