Through the key­hole

LINDA PORTER is amused by a fast-paced ex­posé chart­ing key mo­ments in the pri­vate lives of Bri­tain’s roy­als

BBC History Magazine - - Books / Reviews - Linda Porter’s lat­est book is Royal Rene­gades (Pan Macmil­lan, 2017). Her up­com­ing book on Charles II’s mis­tresses is due in early 2020

Be­hind the Throne: A Do­mes­tic History of the Royal House­hold by Adrian Tin­nis­wood Jonathan Cape, 384 pages, £25

On 31 July 1737, the Princess of Wales’s danc­ing mas­ter was un­ex­pect­edly sum­moned to his royal mis­tress. But it was not in­struc­tion on the finer pointsi off theh quadrille that Princess Au­gusta needed. This young woman from Saxe-Gotha in Ger­many had sud­denly gone into labour. It was her first child and the pains were com­ing fast and fu­ri­ous. She was then at Hamp­ton Court, where her in-laws, Ge­orge II and Queen Caro­line, were in res­i­dence. They wanted her to give birth there, but her hus­band, Prince Fred­er­ick, longes­tranged from his par­ents, was de­ter­mined that the baby would be born at his Lon­don home, St James’s Palace.

Ac­cord­ingly, with the help of the danc­ing mas­ter, Fred­er­ick half-dragged and half-car­ried the des­per­ate Au­gusta, her break­ing wa­ters gush­ing all over, to a coach. Off it sped, com­plete with her lady-in-wait­ing, two dressers and a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of hand­ker­chiefs in­deco­rously “thrust one af­ter an­other up Her Royal High­ness’s pet­ti­coats”. Mirac­u­lously, both the princess and her child sur­vived this un­nec­es­sary or­deal, which had been brought about by the ap­pallingly bad re­la­tions be­tween her hus­band and his par­ents, an ex­am­ple of the pre­dis­po­si­tion of Hanove­rian mon­archs to dis­like their first­born sons.

This episode is one of many vi­gnettes which form the sub­stance of Adrian Tin­nis­wood’s lat­est book. The ti­tle is mis­lead­ing for, as he ad­mits him­self, this is re­ally a book about the pri­vate lives of roy­alty rather than the royal house­hold. We learn noth­ing more about the hap­less danc­ing mas­ter, or, in­deed, much about the per­son­al­i­ties of most other royal ser­vants un­til we get to Queen Vic­to­ria. Those who waited on mon­archs were meant to be qui­etly loyal – the souls of dis­cre­tion – if they wanted to keep their jobs. The royal house­hold may now be firmly in the dig­i­tal age, but it is still no place for any­one ad­dicted to self­ies.

In­stead of rev­e­la­tions about page­boys and laun­dresses, Tin­nis­wood retells some of the best-known and best-loved episodes in Bri­tish royal history, from El­iz­a­beth I to El­iz­a­beth II. We start with the ex­pen­sive en­ter­tain­ments put on for Glo­ri­ana at Ke­nil­worth by Robert Dud­ley in 1575 and end with the death of Diana in 1997. In be­tween are more fa­mil­iar sto­ries – the mad­ness of Ge­orge III, Prince Al­bert’s deathbed, the ab­di­ca­tion of Ed­ward VIII and Princess Mar­garet’s doomed ro­mance with Peter Townsend – as well as other tales that are less well known, such as those from the lively court of Oliver Cromwell.

Tin­nis­wood re­lates all of this with el­e­gance and wit. The sub­ject mat­ter may not be en­tirely orig­i­nal but it is based on ex­ten­sive re­search, as is ap­par­ent in his bib­li­og­ra­phy. Your grand­par­ents will ab­so­lutely love this book as a Christ­mas present – un­less, of course, they are closet

repub­li­cans.

Au­gusta of Sax­eGotha was caught up in her royal in-laws’ dis­putes

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