Suzannah's Reviews > Queen Victoria's Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe

Queen Victoria's Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury
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it was amazing
bookshelves: history

I can't remember the last time I had so much fun reading a nonfiction book (most of the history I read these days is at a more academic level than this book).

This book was absolutely gripping. Though written for a popular audience, the author shows impressive research on her subject, drawing from unpublished royal archives. And it's extremely well written. Cadbury understands the art of telling history with the verve and craft of a good novelist. Knowing that half these people will come to sticky ends but constantly kept guessing as to how, you'll find it hard to put down.

Basically, this is the story of the planned, unplanned, or abortive matrimonial alliances made by Queen Victoria's grandchildren between the 1870s and 1890s among the royal houses of Europe. As young newlyweds, Victoria and Albert had formed a vision to bring peace and representative parliamentarian government to Europe. Albert himself prepared his smart and dutiful eldest daughter Vicky for this task, only to die before seeing the fruits of his labour. I knew that Vicky's son would become the infamous Kaiser Wilhelm II of the first World War. I didn't know that after Albert's death, Victoria exerted all her considerable power and influence over her children, grandchildren, and in-laws to bring about his dream of a peaceful Europe. I knew that the plan failed, but I didn't know how.

This book is the story of what happened, and it's marvellous. Forbidden love, rumours, deaths, scandals, shocking revelations - admittedly, this book treads the fine line that divides history from soap opera. Nevertheless, it's impossible not to conclude that the marriages of Victoria's children and grandchildren had a profound effect on European politics in the lead up to WWI.

The book ends with an account of how the gilded edifice of European empire came tumbling down in war. Victoria and Albert dreamed of spreading constitutional monarchy across Europe in order to achieve world peace, yet when Charles of Denmark and his wife Maud (one of Victoria's granddaughters) were invited to become the first monarchs of independent Norway in 1905, and refused their family's urging to pounce on the throne long enough to hold a plebiscite to ensure they were actually wanted, English nobles scoffed that it was "too horrible for an English princess to sit upon a Revolutionary Throne." In the end, the lust for total power proved too strong, even for the gentle Tsar Nicholas II who had witnessed the violent despair of his people under Romanov autocracy. Judgement could not be escaped. But why was it that people like Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsarina Alexandra became blinded to the point of insanity?

Recommended for anyone who likes reading about doomed love affairs, fancy weddings, and bloodshed.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 10, 2018 – Shelved
June 10, 2018 – Shelved as: history
June 10, 2018 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Emily (new) - added it

Emily It does sound like my kind of book!

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