The British Royal Family has rarely been out of the news in the last few decades from the sad story of Diana and Charles to the Queen’s astonishingly long reign and this year’s ascension of King Charles lll. Along the way, there have been countless secrets, scandals, and sensations. The more you learn about the Royal Family you realise it was ever thus, we just didn’t always know about it in the past. Many of the exploits of their forebears make the antics of the current Royal Family seem very tame indeed!

Stephen Bates’ excellent book THE SHORTEST HISTORY OF THE CROWN puts all this into perspective, from the very earliest rulers, the Saxons and the Vikings, through to the present day. As he says in the introduction ‘For at least 1500 years, since the mists swirling around the Dark Ages began to clear, the British Isles have had monarchical rulers.’

It’s no easy task to condense so much history into one small volume, but Bates does a remarkably good job. The book is arranged chronologically, with key facts highlighted throughout for ease of reference. But still, at almost 300 tightly-typed pages it is not exactly a quick read. The premise of the excellent Shortest History series is that the books offer ‘clear and concise accounts of broad-ranging topics from the world’s leading subject matter experts. Every book in our Shortest History series can be read in an afternoon and will transform your perspective for a lifetime.’ I’m sure that even the keenest monarchist would find it difficult to read this in an afternoon, but that just means you get greater enjoyment from the book. And it does seem a little remiss that such a comprehensive and detailed book comes without an index.

Stephen Bates is an award-winning author and journalist, and former Royal Correspondent for The Guardian in the UK. He clearly knows the history and traditions of royalty and understands the crucial relationships between the monarchy, the Church, and Parliament.

Amidst the turbulence and invasions, upheavals and dissent, that have characterised British history, the monarchy has largely remained a unifying force, a symbol of tradition and stability. And yes, some of the individuals have been mad or bad but the institution has survived regardless.

In recent years there has been much focus on the Commonwealth and the nations seeking independence from the Crown. The new King Charles is head of state to 14 countries beyond the United Kingdom, including Australia and New Zealand. Bates is very good at explaining the changing role of the monarchy over the centuries, at home and abroad. He says Britain’s Crown stands alone for the continuity of its traditions and its ability to adapt as times change. 

This is a wonderful book for anyone with an interest in constitutional history and the Royal Family. It explains the historical power struggles and concessions that have shaped the monarchy we know today. As Britain, Australia, and the other Commonwealth nations adapt to the new reign of Charles and Camilla, and look forward to that of William and Catherine, it’s timely to wonder what the future might bring for the world’s best-known and most popular monarchy. Highly recommended.

The Shortest History of the Crown by Stephen Bates

ISBN 978176064461

Black Inc books Paperback 2023

RRP $27.99