Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch – Sally Bedell Smith

Here we have a biography of the Queen and in her diamond jubilee year a rather fitting book which takes us from the latest royal event, the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton back to when the Queen’s father became King and she thus became Heir Presumptive, right through some seventy plus years back to the marriage of Prince William.

Sally Bedell-Smith has covered nearly everything you could possibly want in a biography of the Queen, her family and the work she does for the country and perhaps the world as a whole. How much of this book is exact truth remains a mystery? I am rather cynical – as do we ever know what is said or thought by those in ‘The Firm’? A quote from David Attenborough in the book sums it up quite nicely I feel.

an institution that “depends on mystique and the tribal chief in his hut. If any member of the tribe ever sees inside the hut, then the whole system of the tribal chiefdom is damaged and the tribe eventually disintegrates”.

I think here is a book where a lot of second-hand information passed through observers, and information drawn from many other sources; television programmes and the ilk. However this books draws all these things succinctly together and gives a very rounded book.

It covers all the Prime Ministers of the UK, from Churchill to Cameron, American Presidents and other world leaders. Her obvious love for the Antipodes which started many years previous is apparent, although perhaps the inhabitants of these islands have other ideas. Her love of horses is well covered and I was slightly bored at some of this and it went into much detail of the process for breeding etc.But then I loved all the pomp and ceremony of many other events such as the Order of the Garter which were explained fully and well. History learning without you even realising it.

Mention is made of all her children both good and bad including the problem that Lady Diana brought to the Royal family as well as on herself. Perhaps Bedell-Smith is a bit harsh on Diana’s memory but I think we know she was not entirely blameless herself. Effort is made by the Queen in all areas of her life both through her families choices (personal and professional) as well as the strangers she meets on a day-to-day basis where she knows that she will have an everlasting effect for the brief minutes she spends engaging with her subjects.

A good book to perhaps refresh your knowledge of what the Queen does every day, day in day out, no matter where she is in the world or who she is dealing with. The attention to detail and routine is paramount and I think this has been laboured slightly throughout the book to the point there the reader loses interest which is what disappointed me the most about it.

An ideal present for anyone who is a fan of the royals but has perhaps not ventured into reading about them yet.

I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review. 

If pushed I am a royalist and I think that this book is really good and certainly one to be reading in the Diamond Jubilee Year. This I did not plan but have fallen into rather as I have a couple of ‘Royal’ related books to read at some point.

I did not know anything that I did not already know, it may well have refreshed my memory of such things in the “oh yeah, I did know that” kind of way. It was perhaps geared more to an American reader than perhaps British which is maybe why I did not learn anything (not that I pick up a book expecting to learn something).

Perhaps as I have quoted in my review we really do not want to know the complete truth about what goes on as then we lose the mystery of the unique place a Queen and the Royal Family have in our lives. However, that said there can be no doubt that whilst that mystery must remain to some degree the monarchy must be acknowledged that they have moved with their times and changed their attitudes and when television programmes are made of their daily work it gives us an insight into something and takes are minds off what else might be going on that we do not know about. I like the element of mystery but I also like the element of ‘nothing changed’

The wedding the next day…was yet another royal tonic at a time when Britain was plagued by urban race riots and rising unemployment. The atmosphere was exultant….

Not last year’s match but that of some 30 years previous at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. Is everything cyclical in this world and the monarch goes through whichever is the most appropriate phase. In my years I have seen a change on how the monarchy has changed nad been perceived and as I work  with members of the Armed Forces I see it again in a different light and different perception is projected.

I think I would like to finish this review with a quote from the book, which the Queen is said to have said some decades ago but is still so true to this day

“I have to be seen to be believed”

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch – Sally Bedell Smith

  1. The monarchy has certainly changed in my lifetime and I think nowadays they are much more in the public eye due to media attention. Very much part of Britain for me and I consider myself a royalist. As you say this book sounds of interest for anyone who has never read any books about them before.

  2. What an appropiate read for this year. I am rather fond of the Queen but I’ve never actually read anything about her, so this book might be a good level for me.

  3. I’m not a royalist but I wouldn’t want to see them go other, so I guess I’m with the majority of Brits?

    This does look interesting, I’m hoping to read Andrew Marr’s book before the jubilee, I have it waiting on my kindle.

  4. I’m not sure I would describe myself as a royalist exactly, but I do like the Queen and have never read any books about her, so maybe this would be a good place to start. I love the last quote you included!

  5. I’m more a Queen -ist than Royalist but I’m always mesmerised by all the ‘pomp and circumstance’ which goes with it. Charles will have a hard act to follow, if he ever has to and I don’t think he’s up to it. It sounds like a good book for people who don’t know too much about it all. Does it have lots of photos?

    1. The kindle edition I had there were a few very good pictures, not sure how many are in the book itself.

  6. Hello Jo,
    I’m not a fan of the british monarchy, but I do believe the Queen has led a very interesting life, so her biography should be interesting, if not inspiring.

    You have a very nice site, with interesting heartfelt reviews, which I found very enjoyable to read.

    I am a book fanatic,and I recently started my own book review blog. It’s only two posts old, but I’m going to update very regularly.

    Please pay me a visit at

    If you like the blog, please become a follower! I really need feedback and encouragement from experienced reviewers like you.

    Thank you!

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