For the last century, the British royal family has kept readers rapt
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The return of The Crown to Netflix inspires this week’s journey down the archival rabbit hole, resulting in an array of articles charting the vicissitudes of the House of Windsor since the dawn of the 20th Century. I am not a Crown-watcher, at least not as of yet And I’m not monarchist, though I am a subject of His Royal Highness, King Charles III. But while I’ve read a ton about the British monarchy, I start to lose interest after the Glorious Revolution, to be quite honest.
All this is to say, I really didn’t know much about the last 100-odd years of the Royal Family, until I started reading this weekend. What a strange family! No wonder The Crown in such a hit. The selection of articles below tracks the monarchy from the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 through the abdication of King Edward, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the death of Diana, and all the bad behavior from various members of Windsor clan that’s kept readers enraptured since the advent of the tabloid.
The Essence of Parliament
Punch, January 30, 1901
Last night, Tuesday, January 22, the Queen died.
Today, Wednesday, January 28, the King lives.
Parliament hastily summoned to take the oath of allegiance to the new Sovereign. Considering abruptness of summons the muster large, especially in the Commons. Many come on from St. James's Palace, where they saw the King subscribe the oath enacted at the Union.
Members not yet Privy Councillors cluster in the Lobby and wonder by what title they shall hail their King. At Westminster no one as yet knows. The form of oath is written out ready, all but the title of his Majesty. Under which King, ALBERT or EDWARD. ZOBENZONIA GIBBONS, Clerk of the Public Bill Office, who has the matter in charge, could not speak if for his silence he had to die.
The news finally flashes forth in manner the more impressive because undesigned. Four o'clock having struck and the Speaker taken the chair, he rises and says: “It now becomes our duty to take the oath of allegiance to HIS MAJESTY KING EDWARD THE SEVENTH.”
George V and the British Crown
The Atlantic, May 1935
Like most great human institutions, Constitutional Monarchy did not come into being as a result of the conscious reasoning of men. Because George I, the King who came from Hanover, did not speak English, the King gave up presiding over the Cabinet of his Ministers as early as the eighteenth century, and thus, without conflict, there came about a first division of the executive power. Because Queen Victoria was a woman, devotion to the Crown has become a chivalrous sentiment. Because she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, who possessed all the family virtues, the royal family has become for a religious people an object of affection, and even of tenderness. Because three successive sovereigns—Victoria, Edward VII, and George V—were reasonable, moderate, and capable of playing the rôle of impartial arbiter, the usefulness of the monarch has become universally apparent. A sovereign who, in the nineteenth century, had attempted to rule as an absolute monarch would speedily have made England a republic. But the family of the Coburgs, in England as in Belgium, understood to perfection the delicate mechanism of constitutional monarchy.
The Education of a Queen
By Wilson Harris
The Atlantic, December 1943
The people of Britain are beginning to take a growing interest in the personality of their future Queen—only beginning, because so far Princess Elizabeth’s life has most rightly been spent in her home rather than in the public eye, and her future subjects know relatively little of her, apart from the admirable broadcast talk she gave some three years ago to the children of the Empire, at home and overseas, when she was only fourteen. Now that the Princess stands on the threshold of public life, both they and persons in other lands who watch the fortunes of the British Royal House may feel some natural desire to know how she is being prepared for the high office that will one day be hers; and the Queen has shown a gracious readiness to make available such information as is requisite for that purpose.
A King’s Story
Edward, Duke of Windsor
LIFE, May 22, 1950
Looking back, I have no doubt that one of the things about me that puzzled and disturbed my father was my continued bachelor-hood. Neither he nor my mother ever really tried to push me into marriage; nevertheless signs and hints were not wanting that in their judgment the time had come for me to take a wife and settle down. I knew exactly what was in my parents' minds; it was that in the interest of assuring the line of succession I should take my chances on what I used to call the “lucky dip” of the royal marriage market.
To begin with, the idea of an arranged marriage was altogether repugnant to me; and in addition, such a union as a means of maintaining the purity of the royal line no longer offered so wide a range as in the past—principally because of the collapse through defeat in war of some of the imperial and royal Protestant dynasties of Europe which had for centuries supplied the British Royal House with suitable brides and grooms. Thus when first my sister Mary, the Princess Royal, and then my brother Bertie chose commoners as spouses the British public approved. No doubt the same dispensation would have been extended to me had I sought the hand of some daughter of a peer of the realm. But because no one in such a category had stirred my blood or been sentimentally drawn to me, and because, furthermore, I was determined under no circumstances to contract a loveless marriage, the question did not arise.
Britain’s Next Ruling Family: Will it Be a Success?
By Jack Winocour
LIFE, October 1, 1951
For the past four years Philip Mountbatten has been engaged in a strenuous effort to live a double life: in one role as a career naval officer, now advanced to the rank of lieutenant commander; in the other as the Duke of Edinburgh and future prince consort—in fact if not in title—of a young woman who is almost certain to be Queen Elizabeth II. This fall, as the heiress presumptive and her handsome 30-year-old husband begin a goodwill tour of North America, the end of Philip's double existence seems at hand. The recurring illness of his father-in-law, King George VI, and consequent possible increase in Elizabeth's responsibilities of state, indicate the presence of Philip at her side. Although he loves the navy life, his whole training and discipline require Philip to sacrifice his private career. Actually, he has already adequately discharged the more urgent of his vaguely defined duties to the state by doubly securing the direct succession to the throne. In this Lilliputian age he will hard.ly be called on to equal the performance of his—and Elizabeth's—great-great-grandfather, Albert, the original prince consort, who manfully provided Queen Victoria's line with nine-fold insurance against extinction.
Time, February 18, 1952
Last week, with fearful suddenness, Britain's Princess entered the life of service she had promised.
With her husband Philip, Princess Elizabeth was once again visiting her father's African realm when the tragic news reached her.
“The King is dead; long live the Queen,” stated thus traditionally with hardly a pause, is no mere paradox. It encompasses a principle close to the essence of British monarchy; that the realm is never, even for an instant, without a ruler. Britain's new Queen, the sixth woman to rule over England, became sovereign without even knowing it. With Philip, her staff and their game-hunting hosts, she was spending the night in a tree hut in Kenya's Royal Aberdare Game Reserve, watching big game gather at a jungle waterhole. It was one of the rare moments of her projected five-month tour during which Elizabeth could really enjoy herself. As a herd of 30 elephants lumbered into view before sunset, she seized her husband's arm. “Look, Philip, they're pink,” she whispered.