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The Quest for Queen Mary

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  563 ratings  ·  98 reviews

When James Pope-Hennessy began his work on Queen Mary's official biography, it opened the door to meetings with royalty, court members and retainers around Europe. The series of candid observations, secrets and indiscretions contained in his notes were to be kept private for 50 years. Now published in full for the first time and edited by the highly admired royal biographe

Kindle Edition, 399 pages
Published September 20th 2018 by Hodder & Stoughton (first published March 1st 2018)
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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, drin
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 ag ...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. ...more
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 outlie ...more
John Anthony
Jan 08, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and entertaining read. Interesting planning tool for setting about writing a biography. The research was enviable – entertained by the great and the good, often in great style – that must have been so hard! His observations from “behind the curtain”, as it were, are often priceless; gossipy but in the best possible taste! (an indication of how low the glossy gutter press has sunk since his day). We meet some unforgettably whacky characters and get valuable glimpses of a world which ...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
Katherine S
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is not what I was expecting. I have come to understand that very little information exists on Queen Mary's early life and I was looking forward to reading a good biography on her. I do commend the author for his research and interviews with the Queen's intimate circle. I struggled to get through this book. ...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 Germ ...more
Isa Lavinia
Jan 31, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Refreshing how he realised how crazy and out of touch the royal were/are.
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 exte
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. Pope-Henness ...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.
Helen Carolan
Not sure if it was the style of writing(this was done in interview form) or the period it was written (1950's not long after queen Mary,s death) but I really struggled with this one, so much so that it counts as one of my dnf books. Found myself having to go back to read passages again and altogether this book was way to polite, perhaps because many of those mentioned in it were still alive. A disappointment. ...more
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
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.
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 pictur ...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 th ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Shortly after Queen Mary's death (1953), James Pope- Hennessy was commissioned with writing her biography. This is NOT that book, but a collection of the many inteviews he had with those who knew her,; the (often more revealing) letters P-H wrote about those interviews to his friends...and very literate (and often hilarious) descriptions of the places, the characters and the author's reactions, the whole interpolated with explanations from editor Hugh Vickers.

Utter entertainment as P-H prowls ar
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 descript ...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 we
Carl Sagstad
Firstly I want to say that reading this book on its own is like watching a behind-the-scenes film featurette without seeing the film, if you haven’t read the actual biography then please read that first. It’s big but it’s really good.
This is a compilation of back-up notes, anecdotes from his journey in writing QM’s biography. It’s very interesting in places but only because of my having read the main act first.
Some great little stories, such as how the Duke of Gloucester tried to “help” a lady c
Bill McFarlane
May 12, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The reviews called it very funny and astute. Craig Brown of the mail on Sunday said it was "A complete delight" and Max Hastings of the Sunday Times raved "Arguably the most riotously funny volume published this year!" and Matthew Parr's called it "A journey into a weird and comically pointless world." I agree....with Matthew it was pointless.
"The Quest for Queen Mary" was with the exception of the descriptions of HM Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Windsor, a total bore. Almost every page was NO
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 t
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.
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0-roy-a-need
Droll, candid, delightful, behind the scenes notes on the original interviews that informed the author’s bio of QM (which I have not yet read).

Loved the story of QM’s war against ivy, tho I would have been furious had it been my house and grounds that the Dowager Queen re-arranged and re-organized.

But then, I was born a citizen, not a subject. Perhaps I don’t quite “get” the notion of unforgivable social conduct being “charming”, and being transmuted into great fodder for a dinner party story,
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 diffic
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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), for

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