Saturday, July 4, 2015

Great Britain's Royal Tombs: A Guide to the Lives & Burial Places of British Monarchs


Rating: 3 Stars


I must admit I have a fascination with tombs, particularly the effigies and ornate designs dating back from the time of the Tudors and earlier. I was intrigues by this book and was certainly not disappointed by the photographs of these splendid monuments to the kings and queens I have read so much about. While revolutions can be a good thing, I curse those who destroyed the tombs and scattered the remains of so many! (I mean, I get it, freedom, but was disturbing the dead necessary? I even get dismantling some of the most elaborate ones as symbol of power of the monarchy, they could be rebuilt I guess ((still not cool though, jerks)), but scattering the bones of Eleanor of Aquitaine?! Seriously, it pisses me off, for lack of wanting to be more polite about it. Although, I did find the fact interesting when the author mentioned it is a widely held belief that the location of Eleanor's, Richard's, and Henry's remains are actually known. He cited fear in a drop in tourism as the reason for excavations not being carried out. Yet, if the excavations were done, couldn't the remains be placed properly back at Fontevraud? This is Eleanor we are talking about! (Warning, the website is in French and the translation is awful. Just look at the pretty pictures). You'd think tourism would INCREASE if the remains were restored to their proper burial place (regardless, Eleanor and I will be visiting some day when she is old enough to understand and appreciate the history behind her name. Hopefully by that time France will have righted this grievous wrong).

While the tombs and effigies displayed in the photographs are themselves beautiful, the text leaves something to be desired. I understand this is more about the pictures than the text, but for someone who is new to this history, they would not be able to recognize incorrect information, spelling (Marshall instead of Marshal, as in William Marshal, the greatest knight in the history of England. Seriously, come on), dates (citing something happening in a later year for the queen's 'demise' two years prior - um, what), and so on. They would, however, likely also be distracted by the assortment of things the editor missed - a comma in the middle of a year instead of after, awkward wording in many places (stating how it took three days for Queen Elizabeth to order the flag at Windsor be 'raised to half staff'. Either the author meant 'lowered', or flags in England fly at the bottom of the flagpole. I looked back my photos from when Mom and I visited Windsor and there is no flag at all on the flagpole that day.

(Taken by me at Windsor Castle; November, 2009)

(Taken by me at Windsor Castle; November, 2009)

I am not sure why, as large portions of the castle were closed to tourist, since Queen Elizabeth was busy knighting people that day. I'd think the flag would be flying with her there, but am not sure why it was not. Now, any Google of Windsor will show a flag flying normally as one would expect, so...?)

Anyway. There are still interesting tidbits to be learned, and of course the main focus of the book is the tombs themselves, though the author does give an introduction to each House, beginning with the House of Normandy, right up to the House of Windsor. I was curious that there was no photo of Edward VI's tomb, perhaps he was not afford an elaborate one due to his age and shortened rule? I just thought that as the long-sought male heir of Henry VIII, there would be something. I also learned that, while it has long been assumed that the bones discovered in the 1600s buried under a staircase in the Tower were those of Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, coffins of two unidentified children were discovered in a previously unknown crypt that was connected to the vault where Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were interred. Much like the French in regards to Eleanor, Henry, and Richard, nothing had been done, there was no inspection, and the tomb was simply resealed. If those coffins, in fact, hold the bodies of the princes, then who the heck were the other two children buried under the stairs?

Overall, the photographs were the best part, and the focus. It is worth it to brave the distractions of the spelling/editing/factual errors presented in the text to see some of the most magnificent burial places of these great kings and queens. And for history nerds like myself, I can not wait to some day see them in person.

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