The Old Booksmith


Bibliography for Research in British & Continental
Royal & Noble Lineages & Heraldry:

Dynastic Studies & Theory of Kingship








General Overviews & Royal Surveys


Buskin, Richard. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to British Royalty. NY: Alpha Books, 1998. xx, 332p.

The rather stupid marketing-inspired titles aside, this series is often above average in quality and usefulness. Buskin, however, is not an historian but a journalist who especially covered Princess Diana, as well as an author of pop biographies of subjects like Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon, so one might not expect much. His work, while generally accurate — though he manages, through poor proofreading, to attribute the parentage of Elizabeth II to Edward VIII and Mrs. Warfield in the lineage chart at the back — and reasonably well written, does tend to cuteness and witty asides. For the rank novice in matters royal, however, this is a serviceable primer on the history, traditions, and scandals of 1,200 years of the monarchy in Britain.


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Delderfield, Eric R. Kings & Queens of England & Great Britain. 3d ed. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles, 1998. 192p.

Collections of brief sketches of the monarchs of Britain have long been a popular theme for British publishers; most of them, being repetitious and superficial, are not considered in this bibliography, but Delderfield’s is more popular, and more often purchased (and given as a gift), than most. Much more coverage is given to recent sovereigns — those, presumably, of more interest to readers — and biographies of earlier figures are extremely brief. Bare facts of events are given but not often the causes behind them. The nicely reproduced portraits, mostly from the National Portrait Gallery, are those that appear in every other book. While this volume might make a nice gift for an adolescent reader with an interest in royalty, it will be of little interest to serious students.


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Fraser, Antonia (ed.). The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England. Rev. & updated ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 384p.

Lady Antonia, daughter of the late Earl of Longford (whose expert work on the House of Lords also appears in this bibliography), is one of the best known popular historians working in Britain today. Though not an academic, she has developed a reputation for impartial, well considered, very well written prose. Here she oversees the contributions of a number of well-regarded historians, including John Gillingham, Neville Williams, Maurice Ashley, and John Clarke, each covering the dynasty in which they are expert. While this volume is primarily a collective royal biography, and therefore largely outside the scope of this bibliography, Fraser (presumably) has seen to it that the separate chapters emphasize the continuity of the Crown, even during periods of violent dynastic change. J. P. Brooke-Little, the Richmond Herald, also contributes occasional pages regarding the development of heraldry as displayed by England’s monarchs.


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Great Dynasties. NY: Mayflower Books, 1979. 343p.

The sixteen royal dynasties outlined in this nicely illustrated translation of Grandi Dinastie (1976) cover a thousand years of European history, from the Capets and the Plantagenets to the Bonapartes and the Windsors. Each chapter is written by a recognized specialist, which greatly improves the quality of insight. The principal theme, though, is that all of these extended families are of mixed blood, politically unified by matrimonial alliances stretching from Norway to Yugoslavia — but that such ties did not prevent continuing national feuds. World War I, at the top levels, was a family brawl. Well-written and insightful; an altogether entertaining account.


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Lofts, Norah. Queens of England. NY: Doubleday, 1977. 192p.

Lofts is known for her popular historical novels, but she shows herself here to be generally competent at popular history, as well. On the other hand, there have been many good biographical surveys of the female sovereigns and consorts of English kings, so the competition is considerable. Boadicea gets a few pages, but the chapter-by-chapter coverage begins with Matilda, daughter of the count (not "earl") of Flanders, wife of William of Normandy, and continues to Elizabeth II, who celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977. Because all the forty-five subjects get nearly equal time, this volume is most useful for the lesser-knowns, such as Adeliza of Normandy (Henry I’s second wife), Anne of Bohemia (queen of Richard II), Catherine of Braganza (Charles II), and Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (William IV). There is no bibliography, but the narrative is extensively illustrated, and even the adulation given the present queen doesn’t grate too badly.


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Pine, Leslie G. The Twilight of Monarchy. London: Burke, 1958. 213p.

It’s difficult to recall now that in the late 1950s there was no guarantee that the British monarchy would survive; even though the queen enjoyed personal popularity, the republican movement in Britain was much stronger than it is today. Pine, however, took the position that "the British monarchy works." Still, he was aware that the trend in his own lifetime had been away from titled heads of state, especially following World War I. Of the twenty-five surviving monarchies in the world, thirteen were in Asia and Africa — though now, of course, there are rather fewer. This book is an examination of monarchy outside of Europe, with chapters on the Dalai Lama, Japan, Thailand, Indochina, and the "Moslem monarchies" of the Middle East. Then he compares their prospects with those of the European monarchies, especially Scandinavia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. (It’s a little disconcerting to find the genocidal and thoroughly loathsome Leopold II of Belgium lauded for having "bestowed immense benefits" upon his country.) Nevertheless, Pine is, as always, very knowledgeable in his subject.


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Ross, Stewart. Monarchs of Scotland. NY: Facts on File, 1990. 192p.

This is one of the better all-the-kings-in-one-book efforts. Beginning with the arrival of Celtic invaders from Ireland about 500 AD and the establishment of Dalriada (later "Scotia") in what is now Argyll, the Scots have always been different from the Germanic Anglo-Saxons in some important ways. Subordinate to the numerically superior Picts for the first three centuries, the tribalized Scots finally were united under Kenneth McAlpin about 841, who secured his authority through a combination of charisma, leadership in battle, and political acumen. Very little is actually known of the personal lives of most of the Scots kings until the early 13th century, but thereafter the author summarizes their careers in highly readable semi-academic prose through the House of Stewart, who ruled all of Great Britain, and then follows the Jacobites into exile, ending the story with the debauched alcoholism in his later years of Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, who died in Rome in 1788, and the total lack of interest in Scotland shown by his younger brother, Henry, who concentrated instead on his career as a Catholic cardinal — until he lost all he possessed to Napoleon and had to be rescued from destitution by the Hanoverian George III. Ross also expertly explains such matters as tanistry, the nomination of a successor from among the king’s close male kindred, and carefully distinguishes between provable history and political and dynastic mythology. The numerous portraits and photos include many not often reproduced while a two-page list of "Suggested Further Reading" substitutes for an actual bibliography. A very competent survey.


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Seymour, William. Sovereign Legacy: An Historical Guide to the British Monarchy. NY: Doubleday, 1980. 331p.

There are plenty of historical surveys available of the royal dynasties of Great Britain — the author says as much in his Preface — but this is one of the more competent. Following a very brief overview of the early Anglo-Saxon kings, he begins his detailed coverage with Alfred, the first to rule a more or less unified England. Seymour combines historical nuggets (and explanations of their importance) with anecdotes laying out the personality and executive style of each ruler. He also carefully relates each to the generation immediately before and after, nailing down the dynastic aspect of the monarchy. While there’s nothing new here in the way of interpretation, this is a reliable picture painted for the intelligent nonspecialist. Seymour’s specialty is military history, but he does a good job of explaining dynastic politics as well. Each chapter ends with a list, apparently for the tourist, of locations (churches, castles, battlefields, private homes, etc.) associated with each ruling family.


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Smith, Robert & John S. Moore (eds.). The Monarchy: Fifteen Hundred Years of British Tradition. London: Smith’s Peerage for the Institute for Constitutional Research, 1998. xvi, 381p.

This is the third of a trio of similarly-titled collections of essays, the themes of the first two being the House of Lords (see elsewhere in this bibliography) and the House of Commons. This volume comprises seventeen papers presented at the 1993 conference at Oxford of the Manorial Society of Great Britain and the contributors include, among others, such well-known scholars as Rosamond McKitterick (on Charlemagne), Alfred P. Smyth (on the Anglo-Saxon kings), David Carpenter (on the 13th century), Barry Coward (on the early Stuarts), and David Starkey (on the modern monarchy and the problem of privacy). The politically somewhat infamous Enoch Powell writes on monarchy as "the expression of the Nation," David Williamson on "why the monarchy will survive," Robert Smith on the royal prerogative, and Hugo Vickers on the legacy of Princess Diana.


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Van der Kiste, John. Crowns in a Changing World: The British and European Monarchies 1901–36. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1993. xvii, 205p.

The generation that passed between the death of Victoria and the accession of her son, Edward VII, in 1901 and the death of Edward’s son, George V, in 1936 was one of great change not only in the British monarchy but in kingdoms and empires throughout Europe. Edward’s personal power was subject to the close limitations of the unwritten English constitution, but his cosmopolitan personality and astute knowledge of international affairs gave him great informal authority, especially since the emperors of Germany and Russia were his close relations. George, though likeable, shared neither his father’s eminence abroad nor his extroverted style, and was much more subordinate to his ministers — and during the early part of his reign, as a result of the Great War, the empires of Germany, Russia, and Austria ceased to exist. The author of this well-researched study, who has written a number of other books and articles on modern European royalty (many of them incouded here), follows the complex interconnections among the royal houses of Europe during this period, pointing out just how much diplomacy depended before the War on personal relationships between monarchs, and also just how little such things came to matter during the subsequent Age of Dictators. He includes a great many photographs and illustrations, many of which are new to me, as well as a (necessary) genealogical chart and table of accession dates.


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Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. London: Pimlico/Random House, 2002. 391p.

Weir is a well-known popular author whose subject is usually English royal history, though opinions differ somewhat on how well she succeeds as an historian. This volume, which she says required more than twenty years of research, is pretty straightforward, being not narrative history but lineage in a narrative format. Happily, she doesn’t try to go back to the semi-mythical Cerdic. Beginning with Egbert, generally regarded as the first king of all the English, she provides details on birth, death, marriage, and coronation dates and places, burial sites, names of siblings and children (legitimate and otherwise), and the immediate lineage of spouses. Beginning with the Hanoverians, the monarch’s grandchildren also are included. Just before the Stewarts take over, she pauses to similarly trace the Scots royal houses from the 9th century, then continues to the present; the 2002 updated edition even includes the miscarriage in December 2001 of Sophie Rhys-Jones, spouse of Prince Edward. Even though the bibliography is called "select," it covers nineteen pages, and I saw nothing obvious that had been omitted — though I wish it had been annotated. There’s also a very complete index. While there’s nothing special to set this volume apart from all its competitors, it’s not expensive, it’s very complete, and it’s easy to use. You could do a lot worse than to acquire this for your "ready reference" shelf.


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Zophy, Jonathan W. (ed.). The Holy Roman Empire: A Dictionary Handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980. xxvii, 551p.

It took the author some fifteen years to compile this reference work, and he would no doubt shudder at "mere genealogists" making use of it, but go ahead and do it anyway. Excellent for sorting out the "minor" Germanic houses.


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Dynastic Studies: Britain, Scotland, & Ireland


Aronson, Theo. Grandmama of Europe; the Crowned Descendants of Queen Victoria. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973. 353p.

There’s a famous painting by Tuxen (reproduced on the jacket of this fat volume) of Victoria’s family gathered around her at the time of her Golden Jubilee in 1887; the crowd completely fills the royal drawing room. During those celebrations, the women of the family filled ten carriages while the men, including a number of ruling and future monarchs, made up an impromptu cavalry troop. Aronson is an old and skilled hand at producing popular biographies of European dynasties and he uses Victoria’s position as matriarch of a vast royal clan to construct an overview in the late 19th and early 20th century of Europe’s ruling families on ten thrones, from London and Madrid to Athens and St. Petersburg. This is also a personal and domestic study, focusing on court life, rather than a political history, and it is limited to only the first generation, not their heirs to the present day — which also means that, except for the future Edward VIII, the author is concerned mostly with Victoria’s daughters and granddaughters who married into other royal houses. The author’s style is easy and his insights and judgments are astute, making this a good introduction to the modern monarchies of Europe.


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Ashley, Maurice. The House of Stuart, Its Rise and Fall. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1980. xii, 237p.

The author generally accepts the "great man" theory of history, so the emphasis in this very readable volume is on the key individuals of the ultimately far-flung Stuart family. From Alan, the dapifer (steward) of Dol in Normandy in the 12th century, to Robert II, first Stuart King of Scots, to Henry Stuart, Cardinal of York, who was proclaimed "Henry IX" by his adherents and who died childless in Rome in 1807, the Stuart dynasty had probably a greater impact (intentional and otherwise) on the social and political development of Great Britain than any other of its ruling houses. Lacking notes and other scholarly apparatus, this is recommended simply as a first reader on the House of Stuart.


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Bagley, J. J. The Earls of Derby, 1485-1985. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985. 257p.

This volume was produced to celebrate the Quincentenary of the Stanleys, created Earls of Derby following Bosworth; Thomas, second Baron Stanley, already a power in Lancashire, had held back until late in the battle but eventually threw his support, and his troops, behind the Earl of Richmond. When the victorious earl became King Henry VII, he rewarded his supporters accordingly. Derby is now the second-oldest independent earldom (in the 3rd creation) in England (i.e., not counting those held as subsidiary titles by the Crown). The last previous study of the family was published in 1864, so the 18th earl (now deceased) decided it was time for an update and officially sponsored this work by Prof. Bagley. The Stanleys have been active in the social and political affairs of the nation for five centuries now: The 5th and 6th earls patronized Shakespeare, the 7th earl died fighting for the royalist cause against Cromwell, the 12th founded the most famous horse race in the English-speaking world, the 13th was an eminent zoologist, the 14th was Queen Victoria’s prime minister on three separate occasions (and disdainfully passed on a new dukedom), the 15th served several times as Foreign Minister, the 16th was an avid sportsman and Governor-General of Canada who presented the first Stanley Cup, the 17th was Lloyd George’s right-hand man during the Great War, the 18th was a professional soldier, and the present (19th) earl is known for the quality of his horses -- and for owning the largest public safari park in England. Bagley follows the family through each generation, managing to not gloss over the occasional failings of his subjects, and having had full access to the family’s private records and papers. He also includes numerous descent charts that pick up siblings of the earls.


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Cecil, David. The Cecils of Hatfield House: An English Ruling Family. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 320p.

A effective history of an important Tudor family, written "from the inside" by the younger son of the 4th Marquess of Salisbury, who grew up within the walls where Elizabeth I and her brother, Edward VI, played as children. (The late Lord David was also a professor of English literature at Oxford and a noted author.) Queen Elizabeth later gave the property to her first chief minister, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who passed it on to her second chief minister, Robert Burghley, 1st Earl of Salisbury. The 3rd marquess was prime minister for a decade and a half and one of his sons, Lord Robert Cecil, was instrumental in establishing the League of Nations. Since the author was born at the turn of the 20th century, the later chapters of the book concern those members of the family with whom he was personally acquainted and his observations and anecdotes provide a splendid sense of time and place.

Equally interesting is the author’s affectionate description of Hatfield House itself, a place filled with almost four centuries of history and artifacts, from Elizabeth’s straw hat and silk stockings, Mary Tudor’s wedding crystal and the oak cradle of Charles I, to the pen with which Disraeli and Bismarck signed the Treaty of Berlin, and the Muniment Room, filled with both family papers and documents of state (which a minister kept as personal papers in the days before a Public Record Office). This absorbing dynastic biography should be read (like Altschul’s book on the Clares) as a case study on the the changeable fortunes of a powerful noble family.


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Chapman, Hester W. Two Tudor Portraits: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Lady Katherine Grey. London: J. Cape, 1960. 252p.

Chapman is one of the better popular historians and this dual study of the machinations of the Howard and Grey dynasties is fascinating. Henry Howard was the son and heir of Thomas, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was granted his attainted father’s lands and titles after his victory over the Scots at Flodden; he was the deadly enemy of Cardinal Wolsey and was in and out of favor with Henry VIII. Howard had nothing like his father’s strength of character or political canniness, however, and his tendency to uncontrollable rages eventually led him to the scaffold on Tower Hill at the age of thirty. Katherine Grey, great-granddaughter of Henry VII and younger sister of Jane Grey (and therefore a princess of the blood), married Edward Seymour, 2nd Earl of Hertford, and barely escaped execution herself after running afoul of Queen Elizabeth. Placed under close arrest instead, she died at twenty-eight after much suffering. The histories of these two lesser-known individuals are both complementary and contrastive and the author is generally successful at showing the effects of personality on dynastic success or failure.


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Clifford, Hugh (13th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh). The House of Clifford from Before the Conquest. Chichester, Sussex: Phillimore & Co, 1987. xv, 320p.

This book was a long time in the making. The present Lord Clifford inherited the project when his uncle died in 1969, reworked the research already done (with heavy recourse to the library of the House of Lords and the muniment room at the family estate of Ugbrooke), and passed it on to Sir Iain Moncreiffe. Sir Iain, one of the most highly regarded genealogists of the 20th century, corrected the manuscript and added considerable new material. At Moncreiffe’s death, Noël Currer-Briggs (also a very noted genealogist) took on the editorial role and readied the manuscript for press. With such a provenance, I’m willing to give a high level of trust to the material included. Pons, the founder of the family, was one of the proven companions of Duke William of Normandy and became one of the new king’s barons in England. He is thought to have been a scion of the House of Eu (and therefore a grandson of Richard "the Fearless," the 3rd duke) and he was certainly a close friend of Richard FitzGilbert (founder of the House of Clare) and of Ralf de Toeni (who, Horace Round said, "was no ordinary baron"); the families were soon connected by marriage, as well. Pons’s immediate descendants were marcher lords in south Wales, with nearly regal powers, for "in the Welsh March the king’s writ does not run." "Fair Rosamund" Clifford, daughter of Walter FitzPons, was the mistress of Henry II and the probable mother of William Longespée, who became Earl of Salisbury. The subsequent history of the family is laid out with one generation, more or less, per chapter, through the first line of Clifford peers, which ended with the death of the 5th Earl of Cumberland in 1633, then through the cadet line from 1357 down to the author himself, the thirtieth of his descent. This line remained Roman Catholic, which complicated things after the Test of 1673. Numerous graphic descent diagrams and lineage charts in the style of Burke’s make the discussion easy to follow and there are frequent footnotes, as well as portraits from the 15th century on. Other branches of the family in Devonshire, Northumberland, Kent, and Ireland, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, also are covered in some detail, and there are chapters on the name "Pons" in pre-Conquest Normandy and on the putative descent from Rollo the Viking. A model history of one of the most historically interesting ancient families in Britain.


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Coward, Barry. The Stanleys, Lords Stanley, and Earls of Derby, 1385–1672: The Origins, Wealth, and Power of a Landowning Family. (Remains Historical and Literary Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester, 3d series, vol. 30) Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press for the Chetham Society, 1983. xvi, 252p.

The author is concerned with the economic fortunes of the great British landowning families of the 16th and 17th centuries and the social power and political influence that resulted. The Stanleys of Knowsley and Lathom make an excellent case study in this regard, having been thoroughly unprincipled in their double-dealing accumulation of land in the northwest part of the country — plus the classic device of marriage to a series of wealthy heiresses beginning in 1385. This, in turn, made them "kings" of the Isle of Man after 1406 and Earls of Derby from 1485. It has been argued that a power-shift occurred in Tudor times from the old peerage to a rising gentry class, and that this shift was in large part responsible for the English Civil War. The disputes among historians over peers vs. gentry have died down since the 1970s, but the discovery of new source materials and a new view of old materials which have been transferred from the Isle of Man to the Lancashire Record Office, keep things bubbling. Unfortunately, much other material on the family apparently was destroyed when Lathom House was demolished in 1929. Coward shows a strong narrative style to balance his thoroughly academic intentions, with numerous quotations and anecdotal examples of the points he makes, as well as several appendices detailing land purchases, sales, and grants. A very instructive study.


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Ellis, Peter Berresford. Erin’s Blood Royal: The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland. Rev. ed. NY: Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press, 2002. xv, 384p.

It may come as a shock to some that Ireland still has nineteen documented native "royal" families, probably because the island’s ruling dynasties were suppressed nearly five centuries ago by the imperialist Tudors. The conquest of Ireland was followed by the Flight of the Wild Geese, in which much of the Irish aristocracy fled to other Catholic countries (notably France and Spain) and was largely forgotten at home. The government of today’s Ireland, however, has been granting courtesy titles to claimants who can prove their descents. Ellis is a noted scholar and popular writer in the area of Celtic studies and history and this enabled him to be "invited in" by the heads of the families to examine their claims. Each of these is "the chief of the name" — though some also hold other Gaelic titles, such as Conor O’Brien, "The O’Brien," who also is hereditary Prince of Thomond (as well as being a baronet and Baron Inchiquin in the Peerage of Ireland under the U.K.). They generally have more money (based on land ownership) and education than average, and their influence in Irish culture can be considerable. The author does a very creditable job in outlining the lineage and political history of each of these families, each in its own chapter, as well as the modern-day activities of the chiefs in regaining their social positions. Following the publication of the first edition, a scandal erupted around Terence McCarthy, recognized as The McCarthy Mór, who turned out to be a complete fraud, and that episode, which badly damaged the credibility of the chiefs of Ireland generally, is also recounted in detail in this edition. An articulate, informative, and very well written book.


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Estorick, Michael. Heirs & Graces: the Claim to the Dukedom of Leinster. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1981. xi, 164p.

When Maurice Francis FitzGerald, 6th Duke of Leinster died in an asylum in an Edinburgh suburb in 1922, the outcome turned out — half a century later — to be less than straightforward. In 1967, in Marin County, north of San Francisco, another Maurice Francis FitzGerald died at the age of eighty, having claimed for years to be the 6th duke. And when the 7th duke, Maurice’s brother, died in 1976, Leonard FitzGerald, son of the California Maurice, laid claim to the dukedom. Was he in fact entitled to it? Did Maurice fake his death in 1922 and remove himself to America? The man who died in 1967 knew a great deal about the boyhood of the rightful duke, perhaps more than he reasonably ought to have known, and it’s true that stranger things have happened. Or is this another Anastasia case? Estorick, who knows how to pursue genealogical research, delves deep into the 19th and 20th century history of the FitzGerald family before coming down firmly against the California claimant, but it’s the journey to that conclusion that the reader should find fascinating.


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Falk, Bernard. The Royal Fitz Roys; Dukes of Grafton through Four Centuries. London: Hutchinson, 1950. 252p.

The Fitz Roys (written as two words, unlike certain other lines descending from the bastard offspring of Charles II) originated with Henry, born in 1653 to Barbara Villiers, later created duchess of Cleveland. And, unlike other studies of ducal dynasties, this one is notably uncritical, reveling mostly in horse-raising and hunting and sporting exploits. The 1st duke, trained as a soldier and sailor, commanded the royal troops during Monmouth’s Rebellion but later joined William of Orange in overthrowing the king. The 2nd duke, however, was a nonentity, and the 3rd nearly so, even with a two-year stint as prime minister. And so were the 4th (a deputy to Pitt the Elder) through 10th dukes (the last being the culmination of this book). Several of the dukes died childless, so the title sometimes moved sideways, but none of its holders seem to have made much of an impact on British society, history, or politics. That said, this volume is a workmanlike summary of the biographical facts of the Fitz Roy lineage up to the date of publication.


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Fraser, Flora. Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III. NY: Knopf, 2005. xv, 478p.

Daughters of kings always have tended to get short shrift, both from their families and from historians, except insofar as they have made politically useful marriages. George III had six daughters of varying temperaments, from the emotional and hypochondriacal Sophia to the "bland and beautiful" Mary. Fraser, the third generation in a family of highly regarded historians and writers, does an excellent job of portraying their lives and complex family relationships, weaving together surviving correspondence and historical accounts and demonstrating that the extremely well educated princesses largely succeeded in forging lives for themselves, acquiring lovers and even, in Sophia’s case, bearing an illegitimate son. George III has largely been rehabilitated in recent decades, and Fraser does the same for his daughters by focusing her feminist lens on the psychological details.


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Griffiths, Ralph A. & Roger S. Thomas. The Making of the Tudor Dynasty. NY: St. Martin, 1985. 210p.

The descendants of William the Conqueror remained on the throne in England until the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and while the victor, crowned Henry VII, had Lancastrian ancestry to give legitimacy to his claims, he founded what was more or less a new dynasty. And while there have been a great many books written about the three Tudor generations in power, not much has been published in accessible form on their deeply Welsh roots. Professor Griffiths pays special attention to the activities of Henry Tudor and his near relatives in exile. Of particular interest to us are the several excellent chapters on the Celtic genesis of the family, the connection with Owen Glendower, and the marriage connections they established.


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Hagger, Mark S. The Fortunes of a Norman Family: The de Verduns in England, Ireland and Wales, 1066–1316. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001. 286p.

Bertram de Verdun — who originated not in the town on the Meuse where the battle took place in the Great War but in a village of the same name on the Breton border — was one of the many Norman noblemen who probably were not present at Hastings but who acquired sizeable estates in England shortly after 1066. Most of the family’s numerous manors were located in Staffordshire and Leicestershire (especially the village of Alton, now the location of Britain’s best-known theme park), with additional lands in Wales and Ireland, but apparently the main line never acquired any title loftier than Baron Verdun. Sources on the Verdun family are relatively scarce and the author has done an excellent job in making full use of what exists. Of special interest is the last chapter, "All My Ancestors: Family Relations, Marriages and Identities," which includes an excellent discussion of Anglo-Norman family naming patterns, both traditional and toponymic, and their use in understanding relationships among the Verduns. An appendix goes even farther in identifying the numerous cadet branches that seemed in even generation for the two and a half centuries with which the author is concerned. A highly recommended study.


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Hallam, Elizabeth (ed.). The Plantagenet Chronicles. London, NY: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986. 352p.

Hallam, Elizabeth (ed.). Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry: The Plantagenet Dynasty from the Magna Carta to the Black Death. Godalming, Surrey: CLB Publishing; NY: Crescent Books, 1995. 320p. [The U.S. edition originally carried a different title: Four Gothic Kings: The Turbulent History of Medieval England and the Plantagenet Kings (1216-1377), Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Seen through the Eyes of Their Contemporaries. NY: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.]

Hallam, Elizabeth (ed.). The Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses. Godalming, Surrey: Bramley Books, 1996. 320p.

The Plantagenets ruled England for nearly 250 years, longer than any other dynasty, but their real focus was always on their domains on the Continent. In the first oversized volume in this sort-of series, The Plantagenet Chronicles, Hallam concentrates on the early period, from Count Geoffrey of Anjou (who adopted the house name) through John "Lackland," who managed to lose not only Normandy and Aquitaine but Anjou itself. The combination of well-conceived narrative, chronicles and tales recast in modern English, plus hundreds of color photos, make this a browser’s delight.

In the second volume, Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry (also published as Four Gothic Kings), Hallam follows the same style and layout and indulges in the same lavishness of illustration. In addition to the four generations of monarchs in the title, one finds featured many of the other influential figures of the time, including St. Louis IX, William Wallace, Dante and Chaucer, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, and even Jenghiz Khan. From the birth of the Age of Chivalry to the Black Death that killed almost half of Europe (and precipitated the decline of Norman-Angevin feudalism), these were what the old Chinese curse might regard as "interesting times."

The third volume, Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses, covers the period from the unlucky Richard II, successor to Edward III, through the dynastic civil wars between the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions of the Plantagenet family, to the final defeat of the Angevin line at Bosworth. The quality of the selected contemporary observations is very high, as are also the mini-essays on such topics as the Maid of Orléans, the Bohemian revolution, England’s increasing involvement in the affairs of Ireland, the rise of the new universities, and (one of my favorite personalities of the period) Louis XI of France — the "universal spider." In all three volumes, genealogy plays a significant role, explaining why relations between England and France, England and Scotland, and France and Burgundy were so often based on family connections. A number of high families closely allied with, or in conflict with, the monarchy are also considered at length, including Despenser, Neville, Beaufort, Woodville, Mortimer, Montfort, Comyn, Balliol, Bruce, and Stewart.

There’s also a fourth volume edited by Hallam, The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990), but it’s essentially a summary of the first three, repeating even many of the large illustrations at a much smaller scale. If you have the trilogy, this one would be redundant.


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Lomas, Richard. A Power in the Land: The Percys. East Linton, East Lothian, Scotland: Tuckwell Press, 1999. xvii, 254p.

While the first representative of the Percy family in England probably did not fight at Hastings, it’s likely that he arrived the following year to found what would become one of the wealthiest and most socially elevated aristocratic dynasties in the country. It survived in its male line until the death at a young age of the 11th Earl of Northumberland in 1670, leaving only a daughter. Elizabeth Percy’s third husband was a Seymour and the Duke of Somerset, and her granddaughter, another Elizabeth, married Sir Hugh Smithson, who adopted the name of Percy and became 1st Duke of Northumberland. It is through this line that the family still survives. Lomas’s goal is not to supersede but to update and reinterpret the work of Edward Barrington de Fonblanque (Annals of the House of Percy, 1887) in light of new data and perceptions. The family’s progress in national life was far from smooth and even, being visited at intervals with political disaster, economic near-ruin, and plain bad luck. His approach is one of scholarly detail but his style is quite readable, making this an entirely accessible case study accompanied by a lengthy bibliography.


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Longford, Elizabeth Harman (Countess of Longford). The Royal House of Windsor. Rev. ed. NY: Crown, 1984. 296p.

In July 1917, struggling against his German cousins in a world war, George V of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha decided that if he were going to be effective as king of Great Britain he would have to replace his overly-German family name. He and all his English relatives would now represent the House of Windsor. Though not as charismatic as his playboy father, George was much loved and respected at his death. His eldest son, Edward VIII, was another matter and his abdication was undoubtedly a good thing for the country in the long run. Edward’s brother, George VI, shared their father’s shyness but became a symbol of national unity in the next world war. George’s daughter, Elizabeth II, continues to muddle along. The author relates the facts but puts them in the context of the vast changes Britain and the world experienced in the 20th century: The disappearance of the empire, the tabloidization of royal family crises, and the magnified effects of personal eccentricities and foibles on British society. (On the other hand, she seems to pass over completely the greatly enhanced role of the United States in world affairs.)

The late Countess of Longford was both a committed socialist and a Roman Catholic convert, and produced several writers among her eight children, including Lady Antonia Fraser. They certainly came by their talents honestly, since their mother’s work displays both a gift for biography and an easy, communicative style that combines serious history with popular narrative. She also had obvious inside help in compiling much of the detail in this useful dynastic overview.


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Macleod, John. Dynasty: the Stuarts, 1560–1807. NY: St. Martin, 1999. xiii, 386p.

Macleod is a very Scots journalist, living in the Outer Hebrides and the author of several other well-received works of popular Scots history. He shares to some extent the emotionally nationalistic fondness for the Jacobite cause, though he’s certainly not blind to the failings of most of the Stuart monarchs. But he’s right to point out the key role of the family in the development of representative government in Great Britain, if only by providing bad examples and thereby giving focus to the anti-royal, pro-democratic cause. The Stuarts were largely incompetent when they ruled only Scotland; when James VI came to the English throne as James I, the canvas of failure became much broader. At the same time, the Stuarts tended to be personally courageous and have happy marriages (unlike their Hanoverian successors), and they had a strong and sincere religious streak. And in art and architecture, they possessed an exquisite taste. Most of all, the author believes, the Stuarts had charisma and glamour — and they had bad luck. Macleod tells the story in a free-swinging, enthusiastically vivid prose style that includes a sense of humor in detailing the failings of his royal subjects. The principal downside I found is a tendency to criticize Roman Catholicism (and apparently to assume sexual deviation as endemic to it) and to laud Presbyterianism. Otherwise, he appears to be factually accurate — at least for the pre-Civil War period. Though the book is completely lacking in scholarly apparatus, it’s not a bad introduction to the history of the Stuart family in Scotland and England.


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Mason, Emma. The House of Godwine: the History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon Press, 2003. xiii, 320p.

This volume is based on a course the author taught at the University of London and is enhanced by her discussions with colleagues at the annual Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies — which is to say she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to perspectives of conquest, especially as they pertain to (in this case) the losers. Certainly, Harold Godwinson is remembered mostly for having lost his kingdom at Hastings, but the family went on to be both glorified and demonized. Where did all this status come from? The hard facts regarding the family’s wealth (greater than the king’s) and power (nearly so) survive to some extent in official records but the narrative context is all prejudicial in one direction or the other. Mason tries to correct this by tracing the role of the kin-group in Anglo-Saxon society, and the importance of the church (which Godwine and his descendants carefully supported), and the astute political maneuvering by the founder of the family during the reign of Canute, the canny Danish interloper. An expert study and a good starting point for further examination of the kingdom-as-family-business.


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O’Brien, Donough. History of the O’Briens from Brian Boroimhe, A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1945. London: B. T. Batsford, 1949. 302p.

King Brian Boru (Boroimhe) is one of the near-mythic figures of medieval Ireland, the hero of numerous exploits until his death at the hands of the Viking invaders at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Besides the millions of ordinary Irishmen who carry the name of O’Brien, he was the progenitor of the Earls of Thormond, the Viscounts Clare, Earls of Lismore, Viscounts Tallow, and the Earls of Inchiquin. Because Irish Catholic peers sometimes found it wise to remove to the Continent, there are also titled branches of the family in France and the Netherlands. In fact, Patrick Maurice MacMahon (the MacMahons are a sept of the O’Briens) was Marshall of France, Duke of Majenta, and President of the French Republic, 1873–1879. An illustrious family indeed, and the author, who is a younger son of the 14th Baron Inchiquin, outlines it all very clearly, including junior branches of the family in Waterford, Cork, and Tipperary. There are numerous charts and illustrations, but no source notes or bibliography.


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O’Brien, Harriet. Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love, and Greed in 11th-Century England. NY: Bloomsbury, 2005. xxi, 264p.

Emma of Normandy was the daughter of Duke Richard I and his Danish "handfast" wife, Gunnor, whose origins are obscure. She married Aethelred II of England, was widowed, and married the Danish invader, Canute the Great, the next year. One of her sons by each husband subsequently ruled England. She also became the mother-in-law of Henry III of Germany and was the great-aunt of William the Conqueror. But Emma wasn’t the typical royal spouse. She learned how to wield power, played an expert political game, and suffered the failings of greed and scandal. Because of her wide and deep connections between the conquering Danes and Normans and the conquered English, this lively, well-written volume is more than a biography. Though the author is a journalist rather than an academic, she has produced a popular history with thorough source citations that is well worth the reading.


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Pearson, John. The Serpent and the Stag. NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1984. xvi, 318p.

The modern Cavendish family was founded by the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick who married into wealth not once but four times and built an empire. By her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, she had five children, including William (who was created Earl of Cavendish), Charles (whose son was created Duke of Newcastle), Elizabeth (mother, by Charles Stuart, of Arabella Stuart, claimant to the throne, and who died in the Tower), and Mary (whose husband, a Talbot, inherited the earldom of Shrewsbury from Bess’s fourth husband). This book follows the story of the younger William’s descendants and Pearson does a good job of getting behind the state portraits and stately homes (including the fabulous Chatsworth in Derbyshire) to the almost excessively human members of the family. The earls and dukes of Devonshire tended to marry well, including links to the Russells, Howards, Spencers, Butlers, Cecils, Fitzmaurices, and Greys, and even the sister of President John F. Kennedy. The family also produced Charles Cavendish, a leading mathematician and close friend of Descartes, and, a century and a half later, Henry Cavendish, discoverer of hydrogen. Pearson does a very creditable job of recounting the history of a fascinating family.


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Pininski, Peter. The Stuarts’ Last Secret: The Missing Heirs of Bonnie Prince Charlie. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell Press, 2002. xxi, 317p.

In 1753 at Liège, Clementina Walkinshaw, mistress of Charles Edward Stuart, gave birth to the Young Pretender’s only known child, Charlotte, later given the Jacobite title Duchess of Albany. (Being illegitimate, she had no claim to the succession.) Though she never married, Charlotte had three children by Prince Ferdinand de Rohan, who were raised in the strictest secrecy regarding their parentage; none were even mentioned in Charlotte’s will of 1789. However, the author provides convincing documentation that the youngest of Charlotte’s children, Marie Victoire de Rohan, was legitimated by her father and married a Polish nobleman named Nikorowisc. Their granddaughter, in turn, married Count Leonard Pininski and became the author’s great-great-grandparents. Claiming descent from the exiled Stewarts is practically a cottage industry, but Pininski, whose mother was a Scot and who grew up in Britain, makes a good case for the validity of his particular line.


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Plowden, Alison. The House of Tudor. NY: Stein & Day, 1976. 224p.

Though it produced only five sovereigns, the Tudor dynasty had a disproportionate impact on English history. Founded as a family of some power and fortune by Ednyfed Fychan who served Llewellyn the Great in the early 13th century, the Tudors had nearly as much English and French blood as Welsh in their veins when Henry Tudor, a little-known political refugee, staked his future on a single coup d’etat — and won. Henry VII descended from Edward III through his maternal line and wrapped up the Wars of the Roses by his marriage to the niece of the king he had defeated at Bosworth Field. This well-written volume supplies the context for England’s break with the Church of Rome and its part in the Renaissance that followed.


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Plowden, Alison. Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk. NY: Franklin Watts, 1986. 201p.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was not only the brother-in-law of Henry VIII but also his best friend; after the king’s own children, Brandon’s descendants were named heirs to the crown. The duke’s granddaughter, Jane Grey, died for her legacy at the age of sixteen, a Protestant intellectual challenging the accession of the Catholic Mary Tudor. Jane’s sister, Catherine, subsequently ruined her chances to become heir-presumptive to Elizabeth I by her unauthorized marriage to the Earl of Hertford — and then by presuming to give birth to a healthy son (seven of whose close relatives lay buried headless under the chapel in the Tower where he was christened). The Suffolk drama would have been a fitting subject for a Shakespearean tragedy.


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Plowden, Alison. Lords of the Land. London: Michael Joseph, 1984. x, 238p.

The late author was not an academic — in fact, she lived in a thatched cottage in the Vale of the White Horse and produced scripts for the BBC — but she also was one of the best English popular historians of the last few decades, specializing in biographies of Bess of Hardwick and Lady Jane Grey. This volume is a collection of seven straightforward narratives, each thirty-odd pages long, focusing on those titled families whose histories were and are especially tied to the land. Plowden’s style is smooth and erudite, including frequent quotations from early correspondents and biographers as well as poets. She obvious knows her subject extremely well but she doesn’t try to tell the reader everything she knows, which is the mark of a skilled nonfiction author.

The Percys, the "princes of the North," were well established in Normandy before William became duke and can justify their claim as one of the oldest noble families in England. William de Perci als gernon (which one might translate as "Bill the Mustache") arrived probably in the train of the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda, a year after Hastings. He acquired a great deal of land in the north of England following the failed rebellion of 1069 and his descendants, who became earls and then dukes of Northumberland, have never looked back.

The Sackvilles of Knole also were early arrivals, being descendants of the seneschal to William Giffard (Lord Chancellor to Henry I), who crossed the Channel a couple of years after Percy. They became earls and dukes of Dorset, a title which died out in 1843; the senior surviving branch are now "merely" Barons Sackville. But the family — now the Sackville-Wests — also has produced a considerable crop over the centuries of intellectuals, architects, poets, and novelists, and (not least) famous hostesses.

The Stanleys of Knowsley are almost certainly of native Saxon stock, the first notable member being a professional soldier who fought under the Black Prince at Poitiers and subsequently became an international superstar as a tournament champion. He married a Neville and his descendants, who were convinced Lancastrians, acquired connections to the Tudors. According to legend, it was a Stanley who plucked Richard III’s crown from the thorn bush at Bosworth. They became earls of Derby and prominent Whig politicians and diplomats in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as noted sportsmen.

The Howards (now Fitzalan-Howard), dukes of Norfolk, probably are one of the best known titled families outside their own territories because of their steadfast adherence to the Roman Catholic church, their status as premier dukes of England (also premier earls, as Earl of Arundel), and their hereditary title of Earl Marshal — the aristocrat directly responsible, among other things, for the coronation of a new sovereign. And yet their origins are found among the sheep farmers and burgesses of King’s Lynn in the 13th century. Many of the Howard dukes have been Knights of the Garter. Several of them also were attainted and lost their heads. But the family survived.

The Cavendish family began its history with a wealthy London draper who became Lord mayor in the 14th century and entered the public eye as associates of Cardinal Wolsey two centuries later. They did well under Henry VIII, Sir William Cavendish becoming the second husband of Bess of Hardwick and beginning the building of Chatsworth, perhaps the most famous (and certainly the largest) stately home in England. They later became dukes of Newcastle and earls and dukes of Devonshire and committed patrons of the arts.

The Russell family of Woburn Abbey, dukes of Bedford, also descend from successful entrepreneurs, in this case as wine-importers. Their growing wealth got them into Parliament and sent them into administrative posts for the Tudor government. Later generations turned their talents to international diplomacy and then politics; Lord John Russell, a younger son of the 6th duke and the first Earl Russell, was prime minister in the 1840s and a fervent champion of parliamentary reform — a role in which his descendants still are active.

The Spencers of Althorp became widely known outside Britain, of course, when Diana, daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer (when he was still Viscount Althorp), married the Prince of Wales, ensuring that the family will provide half the DNA of the nation’s next sovereign but one. But the Spencers already were known as one of the more eccentric of English titled families and were long a target of the day’s media. After all, the first earl got his start by having the good sense to be born the great-grandson of the 1st Duke of Marlborough.

The important thing to note about all the lineages Plowden discusses is that each of them failed of producing male heirs to the family estates at several points in their history, being saved only by canny or fortuitous marriages of daughters to men of perhaps less exalted breeding but possessing a well-developed sense of business. They all are proof of the English peerage’s habit of marrying out as necessary to survive. There is a highly selected bibliography but no footnotes, and one could wish for many more portraits and other illustrations.


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Plumb, J. H. The First Four Georges. Rev. ed. NY: Hamlyn, 1974. 208p.

This classic of historical writing and interpretation was first published in 1956, and it’s still the best single volume on the Hanoverian dynasty. Taylor trained under G. M. Trevelyan, another noteworthy narrator of history, and became an illustrious Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. While he produced many important works in modern English history, he still is best known for his examination of the dynasty that began with the arrival in London in 1714 of George, Duke of Brunswick, successor to Queen Anne, the last Stewart monarch. He didn’t speak English and his son and successor, George II, barely could. The family has gotten bad press for generations, their reputation for loutishness and general lack of intellect perhaps being colored by American attitudes, but Plumb portrays them convincingly as ordinary human beings caught up in a series of exceptional circumstances: The rise of parliamentary power, the loss of the American colonies below Canada, the Industrial Revolution, the effects everywhere of the French Revolution, and the struggle against Napoleon. Like many others, I first read this book as an undergraduate, but I now much prefer the present, lavishly illustrated edition; the numerous political cartoons are especially useful in providing the flavor of the times.


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Power, Bill. White Knights, Dark Earls: the Rise and Fall of an Anglo Irish Dynasty. Doughcloyne, Wilton, Cork: Collins Press, 2000. v, 303p.

The White Knights were a dynasty of Norman overlords who ruled in medieval Munster and were chiefs of the FitzGibbons, the senior cadet branch of the FitzGerald family, which included the earls of Desmond and Kildare. Edmund FitzGibbon, a renegade and the 11th and effectively last White Knight, died in 1608 with no surviving sons; his lands and authority passed to a niece, and through her marriage, eventually to Sir John King, a Cromwellian captain who was created Baron Kingston in 1660. A descendant in a collateral line, who became baronets, was created Earl and the two lines rejoined in the person of George King, the 3rd earl. Known as "Big George," he was something of a feudal throwback. In 1823, he built Mitchelstown Castle, the largest neo-Gothic mansion in Ireland. The Castle survived the Famine and the land wars of the 1880s, but was finally looted and burned by the occupying Republican army in 1922 as they retreated from government troops. The author is largely concerned with the house itself and with the great and famous who visited and worked there, but there is also a great deal of heavily footnoted information on the King family from its origins to the present day.


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Rawcliffe, Carole. The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham 1394–1521. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. xiii, 279p.

As one of the wealthiest and most powerful landed families in 15th century England, the Staffords played an important political role, as students of Yorkist history have reason to know. Influence was tied directly to land and Rawcliffe examines the unique Stafford family archives in this study of estate and finance management and the patronage it enabled. The composition and work of the ducal council is also explained, since the council was made up of the duke’s senior administrators and lawyers, upon whom the family relied heavily. The Staffords also used litigation rather than combat as their preferred means to an end. Moreover, they were instrumental in causing the crown to change its attitudes toward the nobility as a whole. A somewhat technical historical study in Cambridge’s "Studies in Medieval Life and Thought" series, but definitely worth the investment of effort.


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Redman, Alvin. The House of Hanover. NY: Coward-McCann, 1960. 471p.

The Hanoverians produced six monarchs in England — the four Georges, William IV ("the sailor king"), and Queen Victoria — who reigned for nearly two centuries. They shared an unusual continuity of personality and appearance and Victoria ended by being the ancestress of every present ruling house and pretender in Europe, excepting only the Bonapartists. "The path of events that led a German prince, who could not speak a word of English, to the throne of Great Britain was a devious one," the author notes. It all began with Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I, who married Frederick the Elector Palatine; it eventually caught up the houses of Brunswick and Hesse, the imperial Prussian and Russian families, and finally the Saxe-Coburgs, in the person of Prince Albert. But the German newcomers had also to deal with the British parliament — an experience very foreign to the absolute rulers of small German states, as were the revolutions in the American colonies and France. Lord North, Charles Fox, the Pitts, Lord Melbourne, Robert Peel, and on through Disraeli and Gladstone, all made their mark in either supporting or limiting the Hanoverians, and Britain moved finally from autocratic rule to constitutional government. A competently constructed overview of the last age of unencumbered monarchy in Britain’s history.


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Robinson, John Martin. The Dukes of Norfolk: A Quincentennial History. NY: Oxford University Press, 1982. xiii, 264p.

Very few high families in England have had so dramatic a history as the Fitzalan-Howards. All the first four Howard dukes were attainted, the 3rd duke escaped execution only because Henry VIII died that morning (though two of his nieces who became queens of England were beheaded), the 4th duke was unjustly executed, the 5th duke went insane, the 6th duke was excluded from public life because of his Catholicism, the 7th duke’s wife left him in a public scandal, the 8th duke died prematurely, the 9th duke was childless and saw the end of his branch of the family, the 10th duke died an alcoholic, the 11th duke lost two wives and produced no legitimate children, the 12th duke’s wife left him shortly after their marriage, the 13th duke’s eldest son died suddenly just before his majority, the 14th duke died young and painfully, and the 15th duke’s only son was born blind and epileptic. As the leading Catholic family in England, they were aristocratic outlaws — yet they were and are that nation’s premier peers, hereditary marshals of England, and possessed of great wealth. The author (who was Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary) makes clear that high title is no guarantee of success or happiness. And yet their dukedom has survived for more than five centuries. As Earl Marshal, the 16th duke was responsible for organizing the coronations of two sovereigns, the funerals of two more (as well as that of Sir Winston Churchill), and the investiture of the present Prince of Wales; with the advent of radio and television, this made him widely recognized to the public at large. Semi-scholarly (there are numerous footnotes) and heavily illustrated, this volume is most instructive to the general reader and of particular interest to the student of peerage pedigrees.


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Rose, Alexander. Kings in the North: the House of Percy in British History. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002. viii, 578p.

The Percy family were indeed very close to exercising the power of "kings" in the north of England. William de Perci, the founder, was not a Companion of the Conqueror, but he arrived from Normandy very soon after Hastings and received his share of the spoils, since the family had ranked high in the nobility of the Contentin for generations. Rose ably sorts out the family’s self-serving traditions (such as claiming descent from Rolf the Ganger), as well as Dugdale’s 17th century research, in developing a probable lineage from at least the early 10th century. He also sets the scene in Yorkshire, showing how and why the Percys were able to acquire so much power and such strong loyalty among lesser barons in the region. In fact, this is far from being a hagiography and Rose may not have a personal connection with the family at all; he never explicitly says, one way or the other. Rather than chronicling each action by each family member over five centuries, he goes to considerable lengths to set their story in historical, social, and political context — especially as this relates to their principal allies and rivals, the Nevilles. The Percys were almost always Wardens of the Marches and often concerned themselves more with the Scots, their immediate hostile neighbors, than with English affairs. They intermarried with the counts of Louvain, acquired Alnwick Castle in 1309, and were created Earls of Northumberland by Richard II following a marriage connection with John of Gaunt. Probably the most famous Percy was "Harry Hotspur," who died at Shrewsbury in the Wars of the Roses. Things got dicey thereafter, with the family (which remained Catholic) being involved with Mary of Scots and the Gunpowder Plot. Two earls spent much of their lives in the Tower and the next fought with the Royalists before the line "daughtered out." The heiress, however, married the duke of Somerset, who in 1766 was created Duke of Northumberland, and it’s their descendants who represent the family today. The author has a fluid, easily absorbed style and while source citations are frequent, he never bogs down in overly academic prose. And the bibliography runs for sixteen pages. This hefty volume is a shining example of what a dynastic study ought to be.


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Sanford, John Langton & Meredith Townsend. The Great Governing Families of England. 2v. Edinburgh: Blackwood & Sons, 1865 (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972).

Townsend, who was editor of The Spectator, prevailed upon Sanford to produce a series of popularly written columns for his magazine on the histories of the "greater English families — those few whose influence being still great has from age to age been perceptible in our annals, who form, as it were, the backbone of the aristocratic system." The essays were quite successful and brought in a good deal of correction and comment from readers, all of which was taken into account as the columns were revised for book publication. As Townsend points out, it’s not just a long and illustrious genealogy that determines which families will be most influential, but established influence combined with wealth in the form of land. And all this happens with the consent of the governed, for "England is governed in times of excitement by its people; in quiet times by its property." Things have changed somewhat in the intervening century and a half — but not much, not really. In any case, the thirty-one families treated here are those most likely to be of interest to the student of English peerage genealogy, from the truly ancient Percies, Talbots, and Greys to the relatively more recent Barings, Somersets, and Seymours. Sanford takes pains to question family traditions and his no-nonsense style is occasionally acerbic and sardonic. (I suspect he was not himself a Tory.) Details of family goings-on are plentiful, as are the names of those, high and low, with whom the powerful interacted. And while there are no source notes, of course, the author refers often to other authors. This work, available in a reprint edition, is an excellent source of much information in a small space.


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Spencer, Charles (Earl Spencer). The Spencers: A Personal History of an English Family. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. xvi, 350p.

The author, brother of the late Princess of Wales, succeeded to the title at his father’s death in 1992. The 9th earl has an Oxford degree in modern history and a refreshingly unprotective attitude toward his own forebears (the probable descendants of Tudor sheep-farmers with no claim to a connection with the Le Despensers of Normandy, whatever family tradition says), among whom were some very iffy characters as well as art patrons, active politicians, and military heroes. Robert, the first Baron Spencer, was perhaps the wealthiest man in England. Henry Spencer, the first Earl of Sunderland, gave Charles I the sum of £10,000 on the eve of the Civil War, then died on the battlefield, while his ruthless and over-ambitious son became politically influential but was widely disliked. Georgiana, the celebrated Duchess of Devonshire in the 18th century, was a Spencer, but her sister, Lady Caroline Lamb, was Byron’s mistress. George John, the second earl, was the patron of Horatio Nelson and built the largest private library in Europe — but nearly bankrupted his family in the process. Sir Winston Churchill was a Spencer, too. The fifth earl was Viceroy of Ireland and served often in Gladstone’s cabinet, but never succeeded in his ambition to become Prime Minister. (Apparently, the less said about the present earl’s parents and step-parents, the better; the tabloids pretty much own that subject.) And through the centuries, the family has amassed and managed and conserved its wealth, built fine homes, collected fine art (and sat for Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Sargent), and gone about its business. While the history is anecdotal, not academic (although there’s a good selected bibliography), this is a recommended treatment of one of the less-famous (until Diana) titled families in Britain. I’m also relieved to say that, despite her brother’s well-publicized disapproval of the Windsors, the late princess gets only a brief mention at the end of the book. No tabloidism here.


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Stafford, Pauline. Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh-Century England. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. xi, 371p.

Even though women as rulers weren’t part of either the Anglo-Saxon or Norman traditions, two English women in particular changed things. Neither was a sovereign ruler but both had personalities of strength and authority. Emma (Ælfgifu after her marriage), sister of Duke Richard II of Normandy (though she carried a Frankish birth-name), was the queen first of Æthelred "the Redeless," Saxon King of England, and then of Canute, the Danish conqueror of the island. Edith, daughter of Godwine, Earl of Wessex, furthered her family’s dynastic ambitions by becoming the queen of King Edward the Confessor, and thereby Emma’s daughter-in-law. But this volume is considerably more than a dual biography, and more even than the "gender study" it intends to be. It delves deeply into the dynastic power structures of 11th century ruling families and the nature of royal patronage which helped keep rulers in power. The prosopographical appendix and the extensive bibliography also are excellent.


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Tillyard, Stella. Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740–1832. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994. xxviii, 406p.

This case study of a socially and politically prominent family of bluebloods throughout the Hanoverian and Regency periods actually begins with Charles Lennox (created 1st Duke of Richmond), who was the illegitimate offspring of Charles II and Louise de Kéroualle (created Duchess of Portsmouth as a reward). The four ladies in question were daughters of the second duke and the great-granddaughters of the king. All of them married leading politicians and/or peers, all were both very private and very much in the public eye, and all were well educated, especially for women in that time. Because they were women, their influence was necessarily indirect, but they certainly were influential — although, as Tillyard, an award-winning historian, shows, they were more concerned with family matters: childrearing, household finances, entertaining on behalf of their husbands, and trying to maintain a degree of personal freedom. But above all, they were always aware of their origins. Since this book was written for the popular market, there are no footnotes, but the author’s use of public documents and private family journals and correspondence is extensive, and quotations are frequent.


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Turton, Godfrey. The Dragon’s Breed: The Story of the Tudors from Earliest Times to 1603. London: Peter Davies, 1970. xi, 303p.

The grandfather of Henry VII of England was a Welshman named Owen ap Meredyth ap Tudor (ap meaning "son of"). Since he spent much of his time at the English court, he anglicized his name to the more convenient "Owen Tudor" (being prouder, apparently, of his grandfather than his father). The earlier Tudor (who died in 1367) was a man of considerable estates and power in the island of Anglesey, an area the conquering English monarchs kept in their own hands rather than relinquishing it to the tender mercies of the marcher lords. This was the origin of the dynasty that replaced the direct Plantagenet descent from William I but which produced only five monarchs in a little over a century. Turton goes into considerable detail regarding the careers of the earlier Tudors, which is quite useful, but he also goes far afield in detailing the general international affairs of England, Wales, and France, as well as the personal lives of a number of non-Tudors, some of them quite minor historical figures. While the book is enjoyable and well written, none of this extraneous material is new or original with him. One suspects it was added to fill out what otherwise would have been a rather thin volume in a too-restricted market.


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Van der Kiste, John. George III’s Children. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1992. xi, 204p.

George III and Queen Charlotte had fifteen children in twenty-one years, all but two of whom survived to adulthood. They included George IV, William IV, and a collection of royal dukes (some of whom produced large families of illegitimate children) and princesses (most of whom married late or never). Until the middle of the 20th century, the family had a poor collective reputation, largely the product of propaganda by Whig politicians and historians. The publication of previously unseen correspondence and diaries has led to a degree of rehabilitation, but the Hanoverians probably will never rate highly with later generations. This isn’t just a collection of brief biographies but an informative study of the interrelationships among the siblings, their extra-familial connections within and outside the court. Van der Kiste has produced a number of mini-dynastic studies of this sort, of which this volume is perhaps the most useful because of the earlier period it covers.


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Van der Kiste, John. Queen Victoria’s Children. Gloucester: A. Sutton, 1986. x, 182p.

As noted, this author produces very workmanlike and highly readable popular histories of the modern period, this time with a bio-political survey of Victoria’s nine children and forty grandchildren. They possessed widely differing personalities but remained a close-knit family — though relations often were strained by divided loyalties through marriage into other European dynasties. The author also makes good use of illustration and includes a good (though brief) bibliography.


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Warnicke, Retha M. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989. xi, 326p.

The story of Anne Boleyn, doomed second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I, is well known, but the author is interested less in repeating the biographical facts and more in investigating her unintentional role in dynastic Tudor politics. Was she the victim of a Cromwellian conspiracy? Or, as Warnicke suggests, more the victim of circumstances in her inability to produce a male heir? It’s certain that Henry was profoundly insecure about his family’s hold on the throne, and that Anne, daughter of the earl of Ormond, was closely related to the Howard dukes of Norfolk. The earl, in fact, created a network of family connections in pursuit of his own dynastic ambitions that helped to doom his daughter. A first-rate study of family politics, and you don't have to accept her own conspiratorial theories.


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Wightman, W. E. The Lacy Family in England and Normandy, 1066–1194. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966. xi, 274p.

Pontefract Castle, where Richard II was starved to death (two centuries beyond the scope of this book), stands near the old Roman road in the southern part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, a dozen miles east of the large royal estate at Wakefield. The main branch of the Lacy family, begun here by Ilford de Lacy, were the first holders of the honour of Pontefract from a date certainly before Domesday Book, which is one of the author’s major sources. The other branch of the family was established at Weobley in western Herefordshire by the first Walter de Lacy, who arrived from Normandy about 1070 in the train of William fitz Osbern. Wightman traces the Lacys in detail in his examination of the basis of their power (inevitably land) and the general history of the Norman period in the north as seen through the lens of a single, two-pronged family, as well as the effects of royal policy on an important and influential dynasty of barons. The Lacys are of even more interest because of their marital connections to the Mowbrays, the Vescis, the Quincys, and the earls of Hereford and Lincoln. Oddly, there’s no bibliography as such, but the source citations are extensive.


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Wilson, Derek A. The Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black History of the Dudleys and the Tudor Throne. NY: Carroll & Graf, 2005. xii, 416p.

The ambitious and frequently overweening Dudleys of Tudor England originate in the Sutton family, who were barons Dudley; the 6th Baron Dudley fought at Agincourt, carried the royal standard at Henry V’s funeral in 1422, and began Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under Henry VI. (He was also singled out for special complaint during Jack Cade’s Rebellion, which says something about his personality and ruthlessness.) The baron’s descendants intermarried with the Beauchamps, Nevilles, Talbots, and especially with the Grey family. Jane Grey, who nearly became queen in 1553, was married off to the vacuous Guildford Dudley, son of the 1st Duke of Northumberland, who pushed his daughter-in-law’s case in (justified) fear of a return to Roman Catholicism under Mary Tudor. In the next generation, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, came closest of anyone to marrying Elizabeth I, while his successor, Sir Robert Dudley (whose legitimacy was never proved, and who therefore did not inherit the family’s titles and lands) was a scholar, adventurer, cartographer, and successful naval officer under Elizabeth but ran afoul of James I and ended up in exile. It was, in all, a politically gifted and frequently reckless family, and Wilson makes a good and highly readable case for their importance in the Tudor world.


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Young, Charles R. The Making of the Neville Family in England, 1166–1400. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 1996. xiii, 172p.

Though they liked to claim in later centuries that the first Neville in England had been steward to William the Conqueror and had fought at Hastings, Domesday Book shows that Gilbert de Neville was actually a very small landholder in Lincolnshire in 1086. The family began its climb with the career of Alan de Neville, appointed justice of the forest by Henry II, a position in which he became somewhat notorious for his money-raising efforts on behalf of his king. He also sided with Henry against Thomas Beckett. Hugh Neville became chief forester under King John, to whom he was likewise loyal (most of the time) and for whom he likewise raised vast sums of money. Hugh was listed among those supporting the king in the preamble to Magna Carta. By this time, the Nevilles had established themselves in a number of counties and its members weren’t always united as a family, but as a group their influence continued to grow. By the 14th century, the Nevilles were second only to the Percys in ruling the north of England, their power and influence culminating in Ralph de Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as "the Kingmaker" for his shifting allegiance of one side or the other during the Wars of the Roses. This Ralph was the grandson of Ralph, Lord of Raby and Earl of Westmoreland, and Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, which gave him a connection to the throne himself. It all came to an end, though, at the Battle of Barnet in 1471, in which both the overmighty earl and his brother were killed and Edward IV was relieved of the Neville influence. Still, Ralph’s aunt, Cicely Neville, was even Queen of England a decade later as the wife of Richard III. Young is more interested in the family’s collective rise through royal service than in tracing exact lineages, which may frustrate genealogists, but this is a first-rate dynastic study and it includes an excellent bibliography.


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Dynastic Studies: The Continent


Alen, Rupert & Anna Marie Dahlquist. Royal Families of Medieval Scandinavia, Flanders, and Kiev. Kingsburg, CA: Kings River Publications, 1997. 244p.

Not enough attention has been paid by lineage compilers to the kingdoms of northern Europe, though the Scandinavian countries have some of the most ancient monarchies still in existence — even when the putative descents from Odin are discounted. The early monarchs of Denmark, for instance, appear in 9th century Frankish records, and Rurik, traditional founder of Kiev, was almost certainly Swedish. The counts of Flanders descend from a daughter of Charles the Bald. Flanders, in fact, is the link between the Carolingian dynasty and the ruling houses of Denmark and Sweden. Alen and Dahlquist (who are married) are amateur genealogists, and there’s a certain amount of "fluff" in this volume, but the level of the research and writing is generally quite high and there are numerous lineage charts throughout.


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Aronson, Theo. The Kaisers. London: Cassell, 1971. xii, 276p.

In the not-quite-fifty years between the Franco-Prussian War and the end of the Great War, the German House of Hohenzollern resembled a soap opera in its familial intrigue. Emperor William I of Germany was a reactionary autocrat willing to place himself under the thumb of Otto von Bismarck, though his empress, Augusta, loathed the chancellor. Their son, Frederick III, comparatively liberal in his ideas and ignored for most of his life, ascended the throne in 1888 and died three months later — unfortunately for Germany. His wife, Victoria, the daughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, was shrewd and idealistic and Bismarck hounded her to her death. And their son, William II, was a flamboyant, power-mad megalomaniac who presided over the destruction of the dynasty. Aronson is less interested in the history of Germany, however, than in the interplay of personalities and hatreds within the family and between them and Bismarck, concentrating on such unofficial sources as court gossip of the era. If ever there was a ruling dynasty that deserved to fail, probably it was this one.


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Aronson, Theo. Royal Vendetta: the Crown of Spain, 1829–1965. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966. 246p.

The royal house (or "houses") of Spain has long been one of the most pathetic on the Continent, even for the Bourbons — despotic by nature and habit, riddled with inbreeding, divided by factional in-fighting, and seldom enjoying the support of more than a small fraction of the public. Ferdinand VII was appalling inept (and cruel and religiously intolerant) and in 1829, when he found himself still without a surviving heir, his attempt to fix things led to two major wars and a number of smaller ones. The next in line for the throne of Spain was Ferdinand’s younger brother, Don Carlos, who was, if anything, even more narrow-minded, bigoted, and fanatical than the king. He was also dwarfish and excessively ugly, in a family renowned for its ugliness. The Liberals, who strongly opposed Ferdinand’s policies, were nevertheless appalled at the thought of Carlos taking over the country. Finally, having buried two previous wives, the king married his niece, half his age, who produced for him two daughters -- not an ideal solution, but at least they survived infancy. In 1833, he arranged for the Cortes to swear allegiance to the eldest daughter, Isabella, as heiress apparent, which was the last straw for Carlos, and the first in a long series of Carlist uprisings ensued. The present king, Juan Carlos, is only the most recent compromise, and that only because of the dictatorial wishes of Franco. (Though he has turned out better than most.) Aronson is expert at this sort of book, weaving anecdotes and word-pictures in among the semi-academic social and political narrative; an amusing example is the discovery by the startled palace staff, after they had already announced the king’s death, that the old man actually was still alive — a great disappointment to his brother, one imagines. The author details the ups and downs of the feud on both parties and the deleterious effects on both the Spanish Bourbons and on the people of Spain, and he includes a number of illustrations and a very good bibliography.

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Bachrach, Bernard S. Fulk Nerra, the Neo-Roman Consul, 987–1040: a Political Biography of the Angevin Count. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. xvi, 392p.

The conquest of England by William of Normandy changed the island’s political nature for all and good, but his dynasty didn’t last very long. The Angevins, beginning with Henry II, had an almost equally great impact and their control continued more or less strongly for several centuries. In the earlier period, a century before the Conquest, the counts of Anjou were every bit the equals of the dukes of Normandy, eventually establishing an empire that stretched from Scotland to the Pyrenees, and which encompassed both England and Aquitaine in addition to Anjou itself. The story really begins with Fulk Nerra, who built the Angevin state, both physically and politically, and laid the essential groundwork for Henry’s later conquests. Of course, Fulk’s efforts were based on those of his own predecessors, back into the early 9th century, and Bachrach spends a fair amount of time discussing this ancestral power and its roots in the old Roman civitates. Bachrach is perhaps the leading present authority on the Angevins and his theories are worth paying attention to. There’s also an excellent, lengthy bibliography.


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Bergamini, John D. The Spanish Bourbons: The History of a Tenacious Dynasty. NY: Putnam, 1974. 442p.

The Spanish Bourbons are back on the throne now in the person of King Juan Carlos, who seems to be doing a much better job than some of his idiosyncratic ancestors. The first was Philip V, who reluctantly left the magnificent court of his grandfather, Louis XIV of France; he built his new palace far from Madrid so he could effectively avoid involvement in the affairs of state. His grandson, Charles IV, spent six hours every day hunting; the country was administered in his absence by his wife and her lover — much to his relief. And after Napoleon, the restored monarchy in Spain was really incompetent. A thoroughly documented volume that nevertheless avoids overacademization.


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Bergamini, John D. The Tragic Dynasty: A History of the Romanovs. NY: Putnam, 1969. 512p.

To the descendants of Rurik, the Romanovs were social-climbing parvenus when the first of them, Michael, a nephew-by-marriage of Ivan IV "the Terrible," came to the throne in 1613. But for the next three centuries, the family ruled the largest nation on earth. Among their number were weaklings and ironhanded autocrats, murderers and religious mystics, certifiable idiots and world-class leaders of great vision. Even the ablest, though, such as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, were victims of the Russian national irony: All their accomplishments were undone within a generation. This saga of mysterious and violent death, insatiable appetites of all kinds, and intrafamilial scheming rivals TV soap operas for plot twists. A well-documented "life and times" narrative.


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Bouchard, Constance Brittain. "Those of My Blood": Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. ix, 248p.

The jigsaw puzzle of fitting together individuals into family groups and demonstrable lines of descent is, for most people, the essence of genealogy. But when one begins working with lineages as early as the 10th century, one must reconsider what "family" means — because a blood relationship didn’t always meet the test for a titled landowner more concerned with inheritance and maintaining a power base than with warm feelings based on DNA. Bouchard is an expert in the subject of family in medieval Europe, the understanding of politics in the context of family-based marital strategies, and the transformations which the Continental aristocracy underwent around A.D. 1000. She deals with the temptation among non-genealogically trained historians to make unfounded assumptions based on name similarities, and describes how an otherwise patrilineally inclined nobleman might indeed pay more attention to his mother’s lineage if hers was the more powerful family, and how best to make use of the Church’s definition of incest (marriage within seven degrees of kinship) and the legal documents such an issue might create. Besides the establishment of the Rudolphian dynasty in Burgundy and the Berengarians in Italy, and family power structures among the counts of Autun, she gives special attention to the Bosonids in Provence, about whom I have not seen much other analytical work published. There is also an intriguing appendix on the "problem of the three Bernards" in relation to the dukes of Aquitaine in the 9th century. And the author provides not only a very thorough bibliography but more than a dozen detailed charts of the families under discussion.


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Brewer-Ward, Daniel A. The House of Habsburg: A Genealogy of the Descendants of Empress Maria Theresia. Baltimore: Clearfield, 1996. 460p.

The House of Habsburg is one of the oldest and geographically broadest in Europe, having had a part in the reigning dynasties of nearly every on the Continent. But the family nearly became extinct in the male line until Emperor Charles VI promulgated the Pragmatic Sanction, enabling his daughter, Maria Theresia, to succeed him in all his estates and titles. Bavaria contested this maneuver but lost the War of the Austrian Succession, and Maria Theresia’s demonstrated abilities in diplomatic and military affairs — and the election of her husband, Franz I, to be Holy Roman Emperor — cemented her position. Moreover, she produced sixteen children, most of whom married well and three of whom have present-day descendants. This volume is a straightforward outline of those descents, one major line per chapter, with no narrative text at all. The compiler cites fewer than twenty secondary sources, so there’s no original research here, either (and there are no specific footnotes). It’s primary use, therefore, is as a ready reference source for the families covered, but even that utility is somewhat limited by the lack of an index.


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Calmette, Joseph. The Golden Age of Burgundy. NY: Norton, 1962. viii, 371p.

The duchy of Burgundy in the 14th and 15th centuries was remarkable — and very fortunate — in having a dynasty of four Valois dukes, one after another, who were superior to most of their peers in intelligence, charisma, political perspicacity, and sheer magnificence. Philip "the Bold" was shrewd and a patron of the arts, John "the Fearless" was almost too ambitious for his own good, Philip "the Good" almost took the throne of France, and Charles "the Rash" went toe-to-toe with Louis XI, the first modern ruler in terms of cold-blooded nationalism. Calmette was a leading authority on this period and here he spends some time specifically on the evolution of Burgundy from a weak kingdom to a more powerful duchy and on the problems of dynastic succession. This is arguably the best general study of ducal Burgundy available in English. Be aware, though, that several egregious errors were made in drawing the genealogical charts.


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Cassavetti, Eileen. The Lion & the Lilies: The Stuarts and France. London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1977. xiii, 332p.

The Stuart saga began in Brittany, moved to Norfolk following the Norman conquest, and then to Scotland via that country’s hereditary stewardship, but the consequential connection of the Stuarts with France starts with Sir John Stuart of Darnley. King Charles VII made him Constable of the Scottish Army in France and later created him Seigneur d’Aubigny in gratitude for his military successes against the English; he also was allowed to quarter his personal arms with those of France. Sir John’s descendants became, at various times, the earls of Lennox and Richmond. And when the Stuart kings of Great Britain began their exile in 1688, where else had they to go but to their cousins in France? A well-written, well-documented history of a little-studied branch of an ancient family.


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Cox, Eugene L. The Eagles of Savoy: The House of Savoy in Thirteenth-Century Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974. xiii, 492p.

Thomas, Count of Savoy, died in 1233 a relatively obscure nobleman — but his seven sons and two daughters rose to fame, fortune, and involvement in almost every international conflict in western Europe during the next fifty years. From Scotland to Sicily, they gained access to and marriage within every important royal house in Europe. Observed Joseph Bedier, "They did not pride themselves upon their own prowess, but upon their lineage, and each of them rejoiced to contemplate in the others, as in so many mirrors, his own image multiplied."


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Denieul-Cormier, Anne. Wise and Foolish Kings: The First House of Valois, 1328–1498. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. viii, 398p.

They were brilliant, violent, and dissolute, and it seems appropriate that they reigned over France’s Hundred Years War with England. They witnessed the disaster at Crécy and the triumph of the Maid of Orleans. But all seven of the Valois kings were complex and fascinating men and their story is presented here in an able translation of the work of a prize-winning popular French historian.


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Doubleday, Simon R. The Lara Family: Crown and Nobility in Medieval Spain. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. 198p.

In northern Castile, in the coastal mountains fronting the Bay of Biscay, are a number of small farming villages now bound in pastoral poverty but which a thousand years ago were the original domain of the Lara family who supplied the earliest counts of Castile, beginning with the successes of Gonzalo Fernandez de Lara in the Reconquista, and who remained influential in neighboring León until late in the 14th century, when they lost a serious confrontation with the crown. This monograph provides a straightforward survey of the national political aspects of the family’s history, especially their role as favorites during the long reigns of Alfonso VII and Alfonso VIII in the 12th century. The author omits both the web of client relationships they established (a complex subject all on its on) and the branch of the family that established itself in Narbonne.


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Edwards, Anne. The Grimaldis of Monaco. NY: William Morrow, 1992. 368p.

The author has previously published works on Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Countess Tolstoy — but also on Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, Ronald Reagan, and P.T. Barnum, so the reader may be forgiven for unfounded suspicions of tabloidism. The second half of this workmanlike narrative does, in fact, concern itself mostly with the lively affairs of the current younger generation but the reader may ignore all that (or the reader may try). For the first half details in sweeping prose the adventurous history of the Grimaldis, "an ambitious, hot-blooded, unscrupulous race, keen to plunder, swift to revenge, and furious in battle." The harbor at Monte Carlo has been strategically important since the Carthaginian fleet anchored there. The Lombards, Arabs, Guelfs, and Genoese all had their strongholds and the Grimaldi family arrived in 1162 as Genoese consuls. One night in 1297, Francesco Grimaldi (known as "the Spiteful") climbed the cliffs with his followers, disguised as monks, and overpowered the small garrison, and the family has ruled the Rock ever since. Edwards makes clear the necessary nerve and tenacity and the willingness to fight, as well as the diplomatic balancing act the princes of Monaco have had to perform in order to survive as a more or less independent state.


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Evans, Robert J. W. The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550–1700: An Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979. xxiii, 531p.

Curiously, many historians have tried to explain the decline and expiration of the Habsburgs, but the family’s rise to power seems not to have been similarly examined. Evans bases his work solidly on primary sources in the period of the Central European Counter-Reformation. He also presents a balanced view of 16th century monarchy, since the consolidation of the Habsburg state was essentially the result of a skillful series of bilateral agreements between greater and lesser rulers. This highly regarded work received several major awards and has established itself as mandatory reading for any serious student of early modern history.


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Fawtier, Robert. The Capetian Kings of France: Monarchy & Nation (987–1328). London: Macmillan, 1960. 242p. [translated from the French edition of 1941.]

The fourteen Capetian kings produced the founders of or heirs to most of the duchies and counties of France, so this well-written but nontechnical work in fact covers a lot of territory. Royal and noble marriages being political events, a fair amount of meaty genealogy appears throughout (and with the advantage of context). A good introduction for anyone considering the serious study of medieval France.


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Genty, Roger. Les Comtes de Toulouse: Histoire et Traditions. Ferrières: Editions de Poliphile, 1987. 250p.

The first identifiable rulers of Toulouse and the surrounding countryside on the Frankish marches were Visigoths in the early 5th century. A hundred years later, Clovis conquered the region for the Franks. Then came the armies of Islam, and the hereditary counts of Toulouse became a bulwark of Christian Europe, with all the international political leverage that entailed. By the beginning of the 13th century, Toulouse, now virtually independent, also controlled Armagnac, Foix, Carcassonne, Narbonne, and much of Provence, and its rulers had become ancestors of both the kings of France and the Angevin kings of England. Strongly chronological in organization, this well-written volume outlines the successive rulers of Toulouse down to 1271, when Raymond VII's lack of male progeny and the death of his only daughter allowed Philip III to annex the wealthy county to the French crown. Genty provides numerous details for each individual profiled, which is especially useful in the early medieval period. It helps to read some French, but basic data can be extracted without that facility. Descent charts are peculiarly French in style but are easy enough to use, and a brief bibliography will lead the reader to more in-depth histories and biographies — in French, of course.


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Hibbert, Christopher. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall. NY: Morrow, 1975. 364p.

This talented author of a long list of popular histories does an excellent job of telling the story of one of the most fascinating families in European history. Founded by the wily oligarch Cosimo (called Pater Patriae), the enormously wealthy Medici became Grand Dukes of Tuscany and provided some of Europe’s most colorful statesmen, popes, soldiers, scholars, and patrons of the arts. They were the embodiment of the Renaissance in Italy and they ruled Florence, frequently controlled the papacy, and influenced the policies of the entire Continent for 300 years. Princesses married them, kings borrowed money from them, other city states feared them, and Michelangelo and Botticelli worked for them. To understand the origins of both modern Europe and the self-made aristocrat, you must read about them.


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Hingley, Ronald. The Tsars, 1533–1917. NY: Macmillan, 1968. 320p.

This is a history not of Russia but of the men and women who ruled that ever-medieval country from the accession of Ivan IV ("the Terrible") through the deaths of Nicholas II and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks. No general review of this kind has been produced before this — in any language — and the author does a very competent job of explaining the complex and ruthless personalities and often puzzling actions of the autocrats who created the largest, yet one of the poorest countries in the world. The tsars and empresses tended to be excessively active or passive; Ivan IV went everywhere and did everything while his son Theodore was entirely lacking in initiative. Again, Peter I ("the Great") was extraordinarily creative while Nicholas I devoted his considerable energies to crushing the enterprise of others. The idiosyncrasies and scandals (a word which derives from the Russian: skandaly) were also writ large, rivaling the fictional families of Dostoevsky. Hingley manages to maintain a proper balance between anecdote and solid historical writing. The result is highly informative and very entertaining.


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Le Melletier, Jean. Les Seigneurs de Bohon: Illustre Famille Anglo-Normande Originaire du Contentin. Coutances: Imprint Arnaud-Belée, 1978. 155p.

Humphrey (or Onfroi) de Bohon, the first to use the name, flourished in the 11th century and was the son who migrated to newly-conquered England (his father and older brother being successive sieurs de Mary in Normandy). His children and grandchildren married into the powerful families who controlled Salisbury, Gloucester, and Warwick. His later descendants, in the 14th century, became close kin and allies of the Plantagenets and the earls of Arundel, as well, until finally Marie de Bohun (as the name was now generally spelled) married Henry of Lancaster — shortly to become King Henry IV. In less than 130 pages, the author succinctly outlines each important member of the family, providing full dates (or good guesses), information on spouses, and details on each subject’s principal activities and accomplishments. The bibliography of sources consulted is quite thorough for a lesser known lineage and the index is excellent. High school French will get you through most of the text but essential data can be lifted out with only occasional recourse to a dictionary. Charts and illustrations are scattered thickly throughout. A very workmanlike source on what was once a very powerfully connected family.


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Lewis, Andrew W. Royal Succession in Capetian France: Studies on Familial Order and the State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981. x, 356p.

Emphasis on the kingdom as family business, with ambitious cadet lines and com-petition for the succession. Excellent for sorting out the Capet, Burgundian, Valois, Vermandois, Blois, Champagne, Artois, and Navarre claims. A much more academic work than Fawtier and heavily footnoted.


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McGuigan, Dorothy Gies. The Habsburgs. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966. xiv, 462p.

To produce an aristocratic dynasty able to maintain power in an array of European courts for 600 years, the prolific Habsburgs remained always a close family, bound together by respect, tradition, and affection as strong as their blood lines. The first to hit the big time, Count Rudolf von Habsburg, was a relative nonentity — and therefore the perfect compromise choice as Holy Roman Emperor in 1273. But the Electors badly underestimated him: Rudolf was a superb politician, a master of connivery, a gambler and driver of hard bargains, and a practiced psychologist. (When Vienna locked its gates against him, Rudolf threatened destruction not of the city but of the miles of vineyards outside the walls — and the Viennese quickly capitulated.) Emperor Rudolf IV later "discovered" documents exalting his above all other princely families; all Habsburgs, he declared, were archdukes and archduchesses from birth. Pure chutzpah, but it stuck — and from that time on, the family clung to the imperial crown, wearing it almost continuously until the empire itself guttered out in World War I. Tracing the fortunes of the Habsburgs from the Danube to Spain (and the New World) to the Low Countries, McGuigan does a praiseworthy job of explaining the family and relating its multitude of influences to the course of Western history . . . and manages to entertain at the same time.


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Miller, John. Bourbon and Stuart: Kings and Kingship in France and England in the Seventeenth Century. NY: Franklin Watts, 1987. 272p.

In 17th century Europe monarchy was the norm, from the western kings of England and France to the tsars of all the Russias. They were the natural order of things — and yet the English executed Charles I and abolished the monarchy and the Valois-Bourbon civil war threatened to overturn the monarchy in France. Miller examines and compares the monarchical institutions in both countries, concluding that their governmental crises led to ephemeral superficiality under France’s Louis XIV but strengthened the government of William and Mary in England. A scholarly but not difficult work and quite rewarding to the student of monarchical history.


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Petrie, Sir Charles. The Spanish Royal House. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1958. ix, 276p.

This is a narrative history not of the Spanish monarchy generally, but of the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon, which came to power with Philip V in 1701, whose accession was leveraged by his grandfather, Louis XIV of France. The kings and queens reigning in Madrid for the past couple of centuries has included some notable losers, especially in the 19th century. Petrie gamely does his best to make them sound regal, but he’s not very successful, frankly — and he seems positively laudatory in regard to Generalissimo Franco, who was still firmly in power when the book was published. I have to prefer Bergamini’s more recent work, The Spanish Bourbons.


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Seward, Desmond. The Bourbon Kings of France. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1976. xiv, 331p.

"Licentious or bigoted, noble or ignoble, there has seldom been a dull Bourbon," wrote Nancy Mitford. The Bourbon kings of France and Navarre ruled for more than two centuries and made France the greatest power in Europe — but they also ended the monarchy in France, first by being one of the major causes of the Revolution and then by refusing to rule by constitution after their post-Napoleonic restoration. Seward is a Paris-born, Cambridge-trained historian who succeeds in combining scholarship with lively readability.


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Shideler, John C. A Medieval Catalan Noble Family: the Montcadas, 1000–1230. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. xxi, 252p.

The Montcada (or Moncada) family held a notable place in the history of Barcelona and southwest France, and then of Spain generally, for seven hundred years. From post-Carolingian aristocrats (viscounts and what were called "vicars," though the meaning of the term was different from today), they became circa 1020 a castle-holding family and Great Seneschals to the counts of Barcelona. Soon, they were important advisors to the count-kings of Aragon-Barcelona, married into the ruling families of Béarn, Foix, and Aragon itself. At the same time, the family produced a series of archdeacons serving the bishops of Barcelona and filled other high ecclesiastical offices. In later generations (beyond the scope of this book), Montcadas were noted scholarly and literary figures. Shideler delved deeply into the Catalonian and other archives in order to redress the genealogical mythology perpetrated by earlier historians and has produced a new, well-documented lineage, combined with an astute study of the development and maintenance of lordship in medieval Spain.


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Van der Kiste, John. The Romanovs, 1818–1959: Alexander II of Russia and His Family. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998. xi, 228p.

Van der Kiste is a prolific author on the subject of modern British and Continental royalty, and this is one of his better efforts. While the Romanovs had ruled imperial Russia since 1613, the male line died out in the mid-18th century. The succeeding Holstein-Gottorp dynasty (a branch of the Oldenburgs), in the person of Peter III, took the Romanov name and produced five more tsars before the Russian monarchy came to an end in 1918. Tsar Paul was idealistic and generous but also vindictive and paranoid, and ultimately was assassinated. Alexander I, a complex and contradictory figure with mystical leanings, was also the most powerful ruler on the Continent after the fall of Napoleon. Nicholas I was a repressive autocrat of limited intellectual ability and was succeeded by Alexander II, a despotic but soft-hearted reactionary, nevertheless emancipated Russia’s serfs. He, too, was assassinated, which led his son, Alexander III, to tighten his control of the Russian state. And his son, Nicholas II, was totally incapable of meeting the demands of the job in an age of world war mixed with long-simmering revolution. Moreover, all the tsars in this period married German princesses, which did nothing to endear the ruling family to the Russian people during the Great War. The author does a good job of tracing the psychological threads and social and political environments that formed this disastrous family.


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Wandruszka, Adam. The House of Habsburg: Six Hundred Years of a European Dynasty. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975). xxiii, 212p.

In less than 200 pages, the author provides an admirable overview of the origins, dynastic career, and place in history of one of Europe’s most powerful families. Maps, lineage charts, and a lengthy bibliography are included.


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Warnes, David. Chronicle of the Russian Tsars: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Russia. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999. 224p.

The first Russian state emerged in the late 9th century as a federation of Slavic kingdoms and tribes around Kiev, under the leadership of Rurik, who almost certainly was of Scandinavian origin. Later rulers included such major figures as Alexander Nevsky (who defeated the Teutonic Knights) and Vasily II (who made the Orthodox Church independent), but the author begins his survey with Ivan III "the Great" in 1462. Each tsar or tsarina gets a boxed summary of personal data, an historical survey of their reign, a variety of illustrations and relevant maps, and often a basic genealogical drop-chart. Warnes is a well-known scholar of Russian history and culture and his interpretations of five centuries of Russia’s past are astute and well-written. Specialists in Western Europe often know very little about Russian history and the several dynasties that made it. This volume makes a good ready-reference resource.


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Dynastic Studies: Byzantine & the Latin Kingdom


Andressohn, John Carl. The Ancestry and Life of Godfrey of Bouillon. (Social Science series, no. 5) Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1947 (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972). 135p.

Godfrey came from an illustrious family, the counts of Boulogne, a small but key state on the English Channel. As the second son, he presumably did not expect to inherit anything worth mentioning. His mother, however, descended from the dukes of Lorraine, who descended from Charles the Great, and that gave him status and a place in the scheme of things. Eventually, he became one of the princely leaders of the First Crusade and, through a series of unpredictable factors, rose to be ruler of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (though he never took the title "king"). Andressohn follows Godfrey’s career through the Holy Land, the campaigns he fought, the political machinations in which he engaged, and does it with a certain amount of style. The author’s genealogical tables and his discussion of Godfrey’s lineage on both sides is quite thorough. Almost every statement cites a source and the five-page bibliography is the most complete I’ve seen for this narrow subject, at least up to the date of original publication.


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Gauci, Charles A. & Peter Mallat. The Paleologos Family: A Genealogical Review. Hamrun, Malta: Publishers Enterprises Group, 1985. v, 125p.

Byzantine genealogy is rather different from Western Europe. Constantinople in its "Roman" character was founded in the 1st Century A.D., and after the fall of Rome, the East became ever more Greek. Michael Paleologos managed to wrest power from the Latin kingdom of the interloping Crusaders in 1261 and the family continued to rule (with occasional interruptions) until the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The last emperor, Constantine XI Paleologos, fell, sword in hand, at the city gate, but many of the family escaped to Greece and then fled farther west, where they eventually married into the ruling houses of Georgia, Hungary, Serbia, Malta, Montferrat, Cyprus, Italy, France, Russia, Spain, and Poland. Other branches of the family ended up in Cornwall, Barbados, and Brazil. Most of this slender volume consists of lineage charts and tables, accompanied by brief biographies, mostly of contemporary descendants. The data presented on these charts tends to be skimpy, often lacking even dates and names of locales, and source citations are also infrequent. As a starting point for research in the diaspora of the later Byzantine dynasties, this is probably a useful compilation, but it should be approached with care.


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Nicol, Donald M. The Byzantine Family of Kantakouzenos (Cantacuzenus) ca. 1100–1460: A Genealogical and Prosopographical Study. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library & Collection, 1968. xliii, 265p.

Among the nobility of the later Byzantine empire, the Dukas, Paleologos, Comnenos, and Kantakouzenos families were especially prominent. The documentable history of the latter begins with the turn of the 12th century, but family legends go back much farther — including a claimed link to one of the Twelve Peers of Charlemagne. They moved up in power over a number of generations, reaching the stations of Grand Constable and Grand Domestic, until John Kantakouzenos became emperor as John VI in 1347. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the family’s history becomes much more obscure for a century or more. Although large numbers of Kantakuzenes appeared later in Greece, Romania, and Italy, their connections to the imperial branch are not at all clear, so Nicol chooses to ignore them entirely. However, he discusses in greater or lesser detail more than 100 individuals over three and a half centuries, plus all their dynastic relations, and includes many descent charts. He also provides a great many source notes and a lengthy bibliography, so this volume has a claim to being the standard scholarly reference on the Kantakouzenos family in English.


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Nicol, Donald M. The Immortal Emperor: The Life and Legend of Constantine Palaiologos, Last Emperor of the Romans. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Constantine XI was the last Byzantine emperor, the last Christian ruler of what had been the Eastern Roman Empire, killed trying to defend his city against the final, successful Ottoman attack in May 1453. (Sultan Mehmed II subsequently had his head cut off, peeled off the skin, and stuffed it with straw as a trophy.) He had succeeded his childless brother to the throne less than five years before, after a career as a provincial governor — the eighth member of his family to hold the title of emperor since Michael Palaiologos in 1253. Like Arthur in Britain and other rulers in trying times, his hero’s death led inevitably to legends that he wasn’t really dead, that he had escaped the fall of Constantinople, that he would be resurrected to restore the empire. It seems strange that no book has been published about Constantine XI since 1892, but Nicol, who is director of the Gennadius Library in Athens, goes far in rectifying that lack. Because the last emperor was very much a product of his family’s inheritance as well as of his Graeco-Roman culture, the first half of this slender volume provides considerable information on the operation of the empire as a family business, as well as on the administrative differences between East and West in the medieval period. The later chapters relate the spread of the Palaiologi as far as Cornwall and Barbados, though these may or may not be descendants of the imperial branch of the family.


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Polemis, Demetrios I. The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography. London: Athalone Press, 1968. xv, 228p.

Together with the Paleologos and Comnenos families, the Dukas family supplied one of the major threads in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire — including several emperors — although the author makes the point that the name was also a title and that not all those who bore it were blood relations to each other. Nevertheless, this volume attempts to provide sketches of all known Doukai, with detailed citations to the sources where they are mentioned and with familial relationships noted where they can be determined. Polemis invented many of the techniques later followed by later scholars and his work has held up well.


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Psellus, Michael. Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia. (trans., E. R. A. Sewter) NY: Penguin Classics, 1979. 397p.

Though he spoke and wrote Greek, Michael Psellus had little in common with the classical age in Athens. He was a Christian, for one thing, a scholarly academic monk from a noble family, Professor of Rhetoric at the newly-opened University of Constantinople (and a contemporary of William the Conqueror) who had the ear of the powerful. He was humane in his opinions and generous to impoverished students, a man of high ideals and good intentions. And he was patriotic, supporting whatever claimant to the throne was more likely, in his informed opinion, to be best for the empire. In fact, in many ways his world probably had more in common with our own than with the Greece of Plato. He studied medicine, and military science, and theology, and astrology, and he wrote poetry in addition to history and biography. In short, he was deeply educated and widely knowledgeable and it’s a puzzle that his Chronographia is not better known as a source document for his era. He begins his dynastic study with Basil II, two generations before his own lifetime, a monomaniacal ruler who concentrated fiercely for fifty years on the job of ruling the empire and left it extraordinarily wealthy, a military powerhouse in complete control of its borders. The people of the city probably thought Constantinople was at its peak. Basil’s successors let things slide, however; the coinage was devalued (more than once), the enemy (Seljuks as well as Balkan Slavs) began violating the borders, provinces were abandoned, the military became politicized and weak, and the bureaucrats took over. Not many realized at the time how much of a turning point this was in the history of the empire — but Psellus did. In this collection of rather brief biographies -- he says himself that he intends to provide only a summary or survey — he concentrates on internal governmental and domestic matters to the detriment of foreign and military affairs. He’s a bit vague on geography and, most annoyingly, he often doesn’t bother to identify the actors in his narrative. But for all that, his portraits of these fourteen emperors who ruled for only a century all told are first-rate. He tells the reader up front that his own opinions and philosophy — his personal biases — will inform what he has to say, and he always identifies them as such. Even when he’s indignant over an individual’s failings, he’s sympathetic to the strain of trying to rule an empire. Sewter is obviously delighted with his subject and his translation is colloquial and easy to read.