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Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,319 ratings  ·  156 reviews
Spanning 500 years of British history, a revealing look at the secret lives of some great (and not-so-great) Britons, courtesy of one of the world's most engaging royal historians

Beleaguered by scandal, betrayed by faithless spouses, bedeviled by ambitious children, the kings and queens of Great Britain have been many things, but they have never been dull. Some sacrificed
Paperback, 307 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Random House Trade (first published January 1st 2011)
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3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,319 ratings  ·  156 reviews

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Jill Meyer
Oct 09, 2017 rated it liked it
There's nothing wrong with Michael Farquhar's new book "Behind the Palace Doors" that a tweaking of writing style might not fix. He has carefully chosen British rulers since the Tudors' reigns and presented them from a "personal" angle. The historical facts are true as are the effects of the facts on history, but somehow Farquhar's writing makes the Kings, Queens, and others highlighted in his book seem as if they sprung from the pages of the "Globe" or "The National Enquirer".

Now, as a history-
May 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
1 stars

The cover leads you believe that this will be a fun, humorous book. Another case of false advertising… IT IS NOT. It is pretty much straight history, and it reads like Cliff’s Notes.

I think this book would be rather confusing to the neophyte. It bounces around a bit, and is so very incomplete. Luckily, I have read extensively about English history, and was able to "fill in the gaps" where necessary.

I was disappointed to learn nothing new from this book.

Not recommended

Elisha Condie
Oct 14, 2011 rated it liked it
This book cracked me up, mostly because it is from my friend who is a royalty FIEND. And I don't mean loving modern royalty and their fashion sense. She loves Henry VIII and all his wives. She's loved them since childhood which I think is just so funny. What would you do if your little girl just wanted to read about British monarchs of the past?

She grew up just fine though, and gave me this book. It's pretty entertaining, I must admit. It goes through 500 years of the British monarchy and giv
Noah Goats
Feb 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a fairly mediocre tour through random pieces of the private lives of British royalty from Henry VIII to Elizabeth II. It’s a quick and easy bit of popular history.
Starts with the Tudors and ends with a quick summary of Elizabeth II. I found the first several chapters boring simply because I already knew it all and didn't learn anything new or interesting. However, once we started on the Stuarts I found it more interesting simply because I had less knowledge.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend the audiobook version of this, as the narrator a) had 1 gruff voice for every man he quoted and b) did ATROCIOUS accents - everything from Italian to French to German t
Apr 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: english-history
I've read many of Michael Farquhar's books. Generally I like them. They are fun little vignettes of history and usually amusing.

This wasn't fun or amusing.

It was a brief summary of the reigns, not vignettes. If he had taken the time to just find interesting stories about everyone, it would have been a good read. Instead, it was tedious and a waste of time.

Now I admit, part of the problem was that I know too much about these kings/ I had heard it all before. Honestly though, I know a l
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Totally enjoyable, a work of non-fiction that read like fiction. Great tantalizing gossip - but factual! One of my favorite revelations-- Charles II's six sons had produced 56 illegitimate royal heirs by the time of Charles II's death. Also of interest to me - the background of Edward VIII(?) abdication tho he had never been crowned - and delighted to see recognition of George VI rising to the occasion. A great review of the history I once may have studied and some I read fictional versions of i ...more
Katie Hutchison Irion
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be thoroughly entertaining and let's be honest, it just made me feel smarter to say I was reading a non-fiction.
This is my type of non-fiction though. It reads like a fiction novel and sometimes I had to remind myself that all this crazy stuff happened. The books talks about the royal families and all the crazy murders, riots, executions, revenge, and really, really bad parents that seem to have worn the crown or wanted to wear the crown. I was fascinated. I mean, this defin
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
What makes this book so great?'s got sex, adventure, vice, treachery and folly in the title. What's not to love?

No seriously, it's a nice reminder that what you read in the history books is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to some of these monarchs. Some of it treads upon familiar ground (e.g. the Tudor dynasty) while some were perhaps more surprising as it seemed "new" (e.g. than Hanover dynasty). Chapters on individual monarchs were brief and the sections read more like an ex
May 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
There were some chapters which were more interesting than others. If you're looking to read about the current monarch, this book won't tickle your fancy. But for what it is- 5 centuries of royal scandals- it's a really fun read. If not for the fact that these were real people, born into the public eye, you'd think it was the script for a juicy soap opera. If you're interested in the history of the monarch, this does include some family trees, which are helpful given all the repeated names (Georg ...more
Oct 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting summary of the monarchy from the more famous times to the present. I assume it's all based on facts that have been verified or it wouldn't be non-fiction. There were some things about the monarchy I really didn't want to know. The book was simplistic in some places and in others the quotes and tidbits of history were compelling. Overall, I enjoyed it, but not as much as I would have hoped.
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One of my go to history authors. Farquhar while giving you the basics of behind the various royal houses of Great Britain, also throws out some little known to the general public facts. Things you wouldn't normally know about without getting into some in-depth research. I highly recommend all of his books.
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: royalty
Very nicely written; I finally understood all this stuff.
Wonderful little history book, great humor—not too heavy-handed.
Good read. Definitely recommend.


I just read this again, and retain the very same opinion as before. Love it:
not too much, just enough.

If I could rate it again, I would.
Brenda Osborne
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was diappointing. It told me nothing new or fresh (to me anyway). I thought it would be fun, but I was wrong. I don't think you would enjoy this book unless you didn't know anything about The British Monarchy.
Sera Trevor
Sep 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
A super-fun pop history book. I enjoy history, but don't have the stamina for the more exhaustive chronicles - this was a perfect light read.
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Another fun listen on my short 10 minute commute.Something about the foibles of historical figures makes the trek over icy roads more enjoyable.
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Cleverly written and concisely put together, this book is a must-have for English Monarchy history newbies like myself.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting read to follow the English monarchs from Henry Tudor’s defeat of Richard III to end the War of the Roses and begin the Tudor dynasty as Henry VII to Queen Elizabeth II. The monarchy has survived 600+years which is remarkable. They are all related to one another; no country has invaded England, and nothing has broken apart the country. Along the way, there were good kings and bad (the queens were mostly good) and lots of illegitimate children. The sons of King George III h ...more
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Poor research and commonly believed legends over facts makes this historical fiction over history. Some chapters are better then others, but it’s unfortunate that the author didn’t do more digging for real sensations tales rather then trotting out the same old refuted legends, the George and the cherry tree of British history, like Anne boleyn sixth finger.

I listen to the overdrive audiobook which had ok voice acting but really highlighted the authors fondness for ctrl-copy rather then rewritin
Jessica Just
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The cover fooled me! When I purchased this book I imagined it would be fluff and not provide much in the way of new information. But I must say I am pleasantly surprised! The author brought the royals to life for me in a sympathetic and understanding way. The book was never boring and unlike some historical biographies, it was easy to keep track of the "characters". I would recommend this book to anyone really, from those who haven't done much research to those who have spent a fair amount of ti ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it liked it
I found the early part of this book a little difficult to get through, but that is only because I've already read quite a bit about the Tudors, so a lot of it was "old news" to me. If you're not as familiar with the Tudors, this is an enjoyable, light read. I enjoyed the later chapters more, because I haven't yet read quite as much about the Hanoverian dynasties. The bibliography gives a good list for further reading if you want more information.
BAM The Bibliomaniac
This book was fine. You know like when someone asks you "how are you?", and you're morning didn't really work out the way you had wanted it to, but it's not really anyone that you would whine to, so you just say, " oh fine"? Yeah, that's this book.
Oft repeated stories of dislike, fisticuffs, unfaithful marriages, etc. nothing new to report here.
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting summary of the Kings and Queens of England since Henry the VIII. Each monarch had their own chapter, which is all I really wanted to know about them, since they were basically all of them depraved, spoiled and repulsively lacking any morals, and more often than not, clinically insane. What a sad history of the very worst sort of people running the show in Merry England.
Andrea Johnson
The title and cover give, I think, the impression that this is more humorous or entertaining than it is. It's pretty much just straight history, although approachable and easy to digest. That said, there wasn't a whole lot I hadn't heard before...but then again, I've listened to all episodes of the Rex Factor podcast, and the "Scandal" section managed to capture most of this!
Michael Brennan
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Interesting background on UK royals from Tudors thru current times (Windsors). Really enjoyed Victoria, George VI and Elizabeth II. Get sweeping view of interrelationship of royal families throughout Europe. Little did I know that current royals originated from Germany. If you are not familiar with some of the key moments in British history, this could be a bit of a grind. I really enjoyed refreshing my memory and seeing the complete history in 1 book.
Chelsea Sawyers
May 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Reads more like a study guide I got from my high school history teacher. The cover art makes you think it will have new and even scandalous bits of history. Turns out it's the same stuff you already knew written in a different format.
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lets-listen, history
I believe this sharpened what I already knew and that which I didn’t know probably won’t stick too much.

Interesting history of the British monarchy in more of their less than flattering times.

Geri Sarfert
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Easy read that got me acquainted with some English nobility I did not know. However, really glosses quickly some monarchs while devoting pages upon pages to one story about one monarch. And it was a little lacking In the gossip-factor I thought it was.
Joan Kehlhof
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fun! And insghtful!

A description of people and incidences that have helped shape the unique character of the British people. Not only that, it's a fun read too!
God save the Queen!
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it
A People Magazine take on British Royal history.
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Michael Farquhar, a former writer and editor at The Washington Post, is the bestselling author of numerous books, including the critically acclaimed Behind the Palace Doors and Secret Lives of the Tsars, as well as the popular Penguin "Treasury" series: A Treasury of Royal Scandals, A Treasury of Great American Scandals, A Treasury of Deception, and A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans. He ...more