Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Quest for Queen Mary” as Want to Read:
The Quest for Queen Mary
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Quest for Queen Mary

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  390 ratings  ·  69 reviews

* *

'Very funny and astute, it provides a loathly feast for royal-watchers'
Hilary Mantel, New Statesman Books of the Year 2018

'Almost every page is a gem'
A. N. Wilson, Spectator Christmas Books

'I wonder if this will be the year's surprise Christmas bestseller? ... Wonderful'
Robert Harris

* * *

When James Pope-Hennessy began his work on Queen Mary's official biography, it

Kindle Edition, 399 pages
Published September 20th 2018 by Hodder & Stoughton (first published March 1st 2018)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  390 ratings  ·  69 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Quest for Queen Mary
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, funny and access all areas with the Royal families of Europe in the mid-late 1950s.

Hugo Vickers has brought to life James Pope-Hennesey's (JPH) notes and records he made for his book on Queen Mary.

These notes and records of the conversations he held with European royalty, courtiers and a spattering of others are a window into a world now past.

With the Her Majesty The Queen's (Elizabeth) approval doors are opened and JPH is given free reign to meet, talk and often dine, smoke,
Shawn Thrasher
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you gave me a moment, I could name all of Queen Victoria's children (there were nine of them) and if you gave me another moment, I could probably name their spouses. I think Queen Elizabeth I is a badbass; whenever I hear the name "Maud" I think Norway, not Norman Lear. I've imagined myself meeting QEII; I loved The Queen and The Crown. So when this book popped up in a search for even more books about royalty, I was intrigued. I read Pope-Hennessy's biography of Queen Mary years and years ...more
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dishy, witty, incisive and subversive, there's fodder here for royalist and republican. In the latter camp, I admit to being appalled at how deep-rooted and persistent is the aristocracy of birth.
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For serious history addicts of this time period this book is an absolute 5 star. For me it nearly was, as well. I'm not a super fan of the period and the density of manners- but it still is an EXCELLENT window. Very, very rarely do you feel, see, experience through word of mouth the real day to day traveling, interviewing for of research to a biography for a long life. Especially when one is only 38 years old when honored by the appointed task. Despite his accepted "brilliance" he is also ...more
Carolyn Harris
One of my favourite royal history books of the year!
James Pope-Hennessy was commissioned to write the official biography of Queen Mary after her death in 1953 and interviewed dozens of European royalty and courtiers to gather their impressions of the Queen and her family. He took extensive notes about his interviewees and their insights and left instructions that they were not to be published for another 50 years as many comments were provided off the record. Hugo Vickers, author of biographies
Elisabeth Basford
Without a doubt, this has to be the best book that I have read in a long while. In the 1950s, James Pope-Hennessy was charged with the task of writing a biography of Queen Mary. This was in the days when there was still a certain mystique surrounding the Royal family and before the realisation that the monarchy had to evolve in order to survive. Much of what Pope-Hennessy discovered in his research had to remain a secret. Thus it was that for fifty years some of his research had to remain hidden ...more
Richard Thomas
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is a delight. It’s well written, fascinating, gossipy and of historical interest all in one book. The book gives a fair impression of the work of a biographer combining immense research with an inordinate number of interviews with those who knew the subject. The anecdotes about Queen Mary are revealing in that they show how she subordinated her lightness of personality to her husband’s nature, being a martinet by instinct and preference. There’s much to learn about the monarchy and its ...more
Karen Witzler
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Probably for dedicated Royal-watchers only. Even with the informative end notes it helps to have some idea who all of these interviewees are and how they are interrelated. I enjoyed it.

Not as daring as _ Ma'am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret_ but still has its moments. I will look for Pope-Hennessy's official biography of Queen Mary , for which these interviews were undertaken, now.

The interviews were under a 50 year embargo, but other than mentioning the homosexual members of the
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Quest for Queen Mary is an splendid little tome! I was tipped off by a squib in the TLS to this collection of the late Mr. Pope-Hennessy's private papers relating to his 1959 biography of Queen Mary. Dexterously edited and given context by Mr. Vickers, Mr. Pope-Hennessy's detailed notes and interview transcripts contain material that was considered unsuited for inclusion in the queen's authorized biography. In other words, all the good bits! The picture that emerges--both of Mr. ...more
Saturday's Child
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having just read a novel that had Queen Mary as a character, I decided what better way to follow that up than to read a work of non-fiction about her life. This turned out to be a really interesting read as it is a story behind a story and I learnt more about a Queen that until now I had not know all that much about.
Michelle Wood
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, 2019
I think my head exploded from trying to keep all the relationships straight in my head and too many doubled up names but *~fascinating~*
Keith Johnstone
Jul 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very enjoyable book that cleverly provides information of the time and of the life of royals and the nobility that is quite closeted and frankly concerning but at the same time humorous.

Some interviews were more interesting than others, but that is only logic given the amount of people he approached on QM's life, and it is also really fun when J P-H shared my views on the person he was interviewing. Some of them were really tiresome and a bore, and yet, one can feel that this was the «Indian Summer» of deference to the British Royals, most of them "please, don't quote me...". Overall, he managed to pull that book from the ashes and wrote something that is still a treasure to
Jo Chambers
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, royalty
This is a strange book as it is a book about a book! In the 1950s, James Pope-Hennessy published his acclaimed biography of Queen Mary, the wife of of King George VI and grandmother of the present Queen. In writing it, P-H interviewed many people - aristocratic relatives, previous servants etc. These documents have recently been released and Hugo Vickers has edited them to make a fascinating portrait not only of Queen Mary but of all the eccentric people who were interviewed. They paint a ...more
Joseph Pfeffer
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Quest for Queen Mary is a slow book to read. Not because it is difficult, abstruse, or poorly written. It takes a long time for two reasons. The first is that the editor, Hugo Vickers, is an old-fashioned traditional British Royal Family aficionado who cannot stop giving detailed footnotes on the most obscure adjuncts of royalty, not only in Britain, but their manifold connections in Germany, Denmark and other places. As a compulsive reader of footnotes, I read the ones on every page, and ...more
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the age of 38 there were those who thought that James Pope-Hennessey was too young to be commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II to write the official biography of her grand-mother Queen Mary. Anyone who has read the biography (I’ve read it twice) knows that not only did he do a masterful job of his research and writing, he made it an enjoyable and enlightening reading experience despite its 654-page length. This new book presents the notes he took while pursuing his research replete with personal ...more
Ruth Dipple
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have not read Pope-Hennessy's biography of Queen Mary (must do so soon) but imagine that this makes an entertaining and informative companion piece. The book is based on the interviews that the author undertook with family and acquaintances of Queen Mary as part of the groundwork for his book, and what an interesting, and often eccentric, group of people they turned out to be. P-H not only transcribed the interviews but gave character sketches of the interviewees, and often a detailed ...more
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The reader is following notes recorded following visits, not meant for publication during lifetimes, by the official royal biographer of Mary, an insider to the upper tiers of 1950s English ton about the Windsors and their extended families in Europe, as well as various employees. Pope-Hennessy was recording relaxed and seemingly unguarded chats with these witnesses, many were present during Victorian era, in their milieu, and often making remarks on their aesthetic choices for furnishings and ...more
May 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was fascinated by the 4 and 5 star reviews on this book. Perhaps they are very familiar with the names in this book, and thus it made it more readable. I would much rather have gotten the actual book he wrote about Queen Mary.

This is rather a compilation of his notes on his visits and interviews with people who knew her. Much time is spend on who this is and why he needs to go see them and how easy or difficult it was to speak to them and who was the gatekeeper blocking his path... and then
Leanne Hunt
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am sure one's enjoyment of this book must be directly in proportion to how much one knows about the royal family. I thought I knew a fair amount but I soon found out how much more there was to learn.
The book is essentially a series of interviews conducted in the 1950's by James Pope-Hennessy, official biographer of Queen Mary. It has been edited to make it more accessible to the average reader, with introductory notes to each interview about who the person was and what his or her relation to
This is a different approach to a biography of a royal since it is based on the notes James Pope-Hennessy drafted when interviewing people for the biography of the queen he published in the 50s.
As such, it is a collection of reminiscences rather than a chronological account of her life and it is interesting to see the different attitudes to the queen. There does seem to be a consensus that she was generally a rather cold woman, imbued with a very strong sense of duty and responsibility, as well
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
« The Quest for Queen Mary » is a fascinating book. It consists of notes of James Pope-Hennessy when he was preparing his biography about Queen Mary. The notes are edited by Hugo Vickers. The books gives an insight of the life of the English upper classes. They all seem to know each other and marry each other. They seem completely detached from ordinary life. Most observers seem to thinks that Queen Mary was a heartless person, the Duke of Windsor even calls her a moral coward.
The book is
Shannon Vincent Nelson
The Quest for Queen Mary contains interviews James Pope-Hennessy conducted for his biography of Queen Mary. These were embargoed for 50 years, and to be honest, I possibly expected something a little more scandalous. However, I found a lot of these interviews and especially the author's observations really interesting. It was fascinating to me to read descriptions of royal palaces and the behavior of the BRF "behind the scenes." I also really enjoyed getting to read the Duke and Duchess of ...more
Jan 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written from the notes taken by the author in his research to write his biography of Queen Mary, some of the information was not meant to be published and the notes were not included in the biography. After the author's murder, they were compiled here. Not very tantalizing, but a little revealing of the Queen's family and connections that add to the understanding of the real person - a person whose character was shown differently to different persons. Better read after reading the biography, but ...more
Grace Hoffmann
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one for hard core royal enthusiasts. It's not really a book, but the edited notes of interviews for the Pope-Hennessy biography of Queen Mary, which he wrote in the 1950s. Parts are so funny, but it's also full of names and family tree stuff that you really have to be all in to appreciate. I do think you emerge with a picture of Queen Mary though, and what a different time she lived in. The abdication was the worst event of her life, probably, but she was famously disconnected from her ...more
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A trip to Harewood House and an old video of Queen Mary clearing branches on the estate led me to this book. Who was this woman? The images I had seen on photographs did not show me the person. This volume is well written by James Pope Hennessy to give us a 360 degree view of the people who knew her. Along the way we discover eccentric and crazy characters that come alive with his description. Now I will be buying the biography that his research led to. Oh and Hugo Vickers has a book about the ...more
John Kaye
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Probably the best book I've read all year! And there's been some stiff competition. Best because although I'd read great reviews, the topic seemed unlikely. But a combination of James Pope-Hennessy's prose, the subjects he interviews, the high level of not-exactly-gossip, and the wonderment at the lives of this strange group of people, all related, makes for a hugely entertaining book.

Highly recommended.
Michael E. LaBuhn
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Queen Mary 2018

How many people know the Queen's grandmother she do closely resembles? Not as I thought it would be but interesting in the process of writing a biography. This seemed to me another example of a woman at the mercy of men and really not set free until the king died. Both she and her granddaughter princess Margaret were intelligent curious women but it seems that Queen Mary was able to beterr able to make a happy life. This was a fun read.q
Aug 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had some good reviews so I looked forward to reading it as I knew relarively little about Queen Mary. My mistake was expecting it to be a straight biography when in fact it was the notes James Pope-Hennessy took when writing his biography of QM, edited by the respected author Hugo Vickers. As a consequence it was rather unsatisfying because it felt very bitty although it gave an amusing - and rather ghastly - insight into how the 'upper' (?) classes behaved.
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Grit in the Pearl: The Scandalous Life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll
  • Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow
  • Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of The Original People's Princess
  • The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe
  • Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown
  • The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves
  • Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece
  • Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor
  • Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret
  • George and Marina: Duke and Duchess of Kent
  • Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the British Royal Household
  • Queen Victoria's Youngest Son: The Untold Story of Prince Leopold
  • Queen of the World
  • My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage
  • A Life Worth Living
  • Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots
  • The Windsor Knot: Charles, Camilla, and the Legacy of Diana
  • The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York
See similar books…
James Pope-Hennessy CVO was an Anglo-Irish biographer and travel writer.

Largely owing to his mother's influence, he decided to become a writer and left Oxford in 1937 without taking a degree. He went to work for the Catholic publishers Sheed & Ward as an editorial assistant. While working at the company's offices, in Paternoster Row in London, he worked on his first book, London Fabric (1939),
“I had forgotten the number one truth I had discovered last year in Stockholm, and which should be axiomatic for anyone having to interview or get tangled up with royal persons: it is courtiers who make royalty frightened and frightening; taken neat like whiskey they are perfectly all right. This does not mean that they are as others, but you can get on to plain terms with the species, like an ornithologist making friends with some rare wild duck.” 0 likes
“Did you never keep a diary yourself, Sir?’ ‘Oh I tried it once, but God I wrote such bloody rubbish I gave it up.” 0 likes
More quotes…