2021 Royal Reading List

Some book links below may be Amazon affiliate links. If you choose to buy through that link, it doesn’t change your price at all, but Amazon will give me a few extra cents for the tiara research fund.

Do you love reading about royals as much as I do? If so, check out my 2021 royal reading list - all the research books I bought, borrowed, and re-read are listed here. I’m adding books as I read them, so check back to see if your picks made the list.

Just scroll down to get the info for each book, including my comments. Or use the table of contents below to jump straight to a book you’re already interested in.

Want to suggest a book for me this year? I’d love to know what titles you recommend. Click here to drop me a line.

Last updated: September 3

At the Court of Napoleon

At the Court of Napoleon: Memoirs of the Duchesse d'Abrantes

Subtitle: Memoirs of the Duchesse d’Abrantès
Contributors: Olivier Bernier, Katell le Bourhis
Publisher: Doubleday
Year: 1989
Available at: Amazon

I picked this up at the library because I’d never read any of Laure Junot’s memoirs. I knew there were multiple volumes, and that this must be an abridged version, but I figured what the heck. Turns out, I might have figured wrong – I have trust issues, and kept feeling like I was missing important parts of the story. Is that Laure’s fault...or the editors of this volume?

The Betrayal of the Duchess

The Betrayal of the Duchess by Maurice Samuels

Author: Maurice Samuels
Subtitle: The Scandal that Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern
Publisher: Basic Books
Year: 2020
Available at: Amazon

I had this book on my wishlist since it came out, and used my last stimulus check to buy a copy. Going in, I didn’t know anything about this story – all I knew about the Duchesse de Berry was that her daughter, Louise, married into the Bourbon-Parma family, and that’s how the Bourbon-Parma descendants inherited some of Marie Antoinette’s jewels. As it turns out, the duchess herself is fascinating, and now I’m intrigued enough to put her on my “someday” list for further research.

Also, let’s be real…this cover design is freakin’ gorgeous. Who *wouldn’t* want a copy of this on their shelf?


Blood & Banquets

Blood & Banquets by Bella Fromm

Author: Bella Fromm
Publisher: Birch Lane / Carol Publishing Group
Year: 1990 (orig. 1944)
Available at: Amazon

I read this book as background on Berlin society during the Nazi rise to power. It was way more fun to read than I expected. Not because of the content, which is downright horrifying at times – we see robbery, murder, suicide, despair, and the near-total eclipse of human compassion by the Nazis. But as hard as those parts are to process, Bella’s fighting spirit – and the courage of those who helped her – make this story about the triumph of humanity in the end.

A Castle in Wartime

A Castle in Wartime by Catherine Bailey

Subtitle: One Family, Their Missing Sons, and the Fight to Defeat the Nazis
Author: Catherine Bailey
Year: 2019
Available at: Amazon

I read this book because its subject matter dovetails with a post that’s been on my backburner forever. This book is the story of Fey von Hassell, the daughter of Hitler’s ambassador to Italy. Before World War II broke out, she married an Italian aristocrat and took up residence in his family’s villa in northern Italy. At first, when war came, their isolated location left them largely undisturbed. But when Italy surrendered in 1943 and Germany invaded, all bets were off. To make matters worse, her father was identified as being part of the 1944 plot to kill Hitler. As a relative of his, Fey was immediately identified as an enemy of Hitler and arrested. Suddenly, Fey and her two sons were at the mercy of the Nazis, which would lead to separation, imprisonment, and a daily struggle for survival.

Correspondence of the Russian Grand Duchesses

Correspondence of the Russian Grand Duchesses

Subtitle: Letters of the Daughters of the Last Tsar
Author: George Hawkins
Year: 2020
Available at: Amazon

I borrowed this book through Kindle Unlimited, but it’s worth buying if you’re a fan of the Romanovs. It includes letters to and from the four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, all of whom were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The author visited the Russian State Archives in Moscow to source the letters and images included in this book. In the introduction, he says he wants to do a future volume with letters to and from Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna (“Ella”). I can’t wait.

The Countess from Iowa

The Countess from Iowa by Countess Nostitz

Author: Countess Nostitz (Lilie de Fernandez-Azabal)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Year: 1936
Available at: Archive.org (free!)

I stumbled on this book in Archive.org. Sometimes it really pays to search random words – this one popped up when I searched for “countess.” Turns out, it was a gem: fun to read, and filled with interesting people and tidbits.

Crime at Mayerling

Crime at Mayerling by Georg Markus

Author: Georg Markus
Publisher: Ariadne Press
Year: 1995
Available at: Amazon

I went down a serious Mayerling rabbit hole, you guys. This book was written by the journalist who first published the story of Mary Vetsera’s grave robbery in the early 1990s. That grave robber shopped his story around a handful of Austrian newspapers, and Markus’s paper took the bait. The sensational story led to an official investigation that generated lots of new attention for the Mayerling incident. So what does Markus’s book have to offer?

Dearest Missy

Dearest Missy by Diana Mandache

Author: Diana Mandache
Subtitle: The Letters of Marie Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, Duchess of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and of her daughter, Marie Crown Princess of Romania 1879-1900
Publisher: Rosvall Royal Books
Year: 2011
Available at: Rosvall Royal Books (ships from Sweden)

If you follow my Royal Reading Lists, you know how nosy I am and how much I love reading royal letters. There’s a sense of immediacy you get from letters that were once private, where the correspondents gossip, share fears, and report small annoyances like mosquito bites. You know, the little things that you know happened to them because they happen to almost everyone. I would not have made a good academic historian because I don’t give a crap about grassroots political movements or cabinet members’ speeches. Blech. But I am SO HERE for the frank, relatable discussion about birth control in these letters, for example. And for Marie Alexandrovna’s Mama Bear moment, when she threatens to practically kidnap her daughter from Romania if King Carol doesn’t get with the program and start treating Missy better.

If any of that sounds entertaining, you’ll love this collection of letters.


Go-Betweens for Hitler

Go-Betweens for Hitler by Karina Urbach

Author: Karina Urbach
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2015
Available at: Amazon

This book is a brief history of aristocratic go-betweens from the period just before World War I to the early years of World War II. There are a lot of fascinating tidbits here and Urbach clearly did a ton of research, but as an entire package, this book felt scattered and left me wanting more. But I give her tons of bonus points for using Michael Frayn’s play Noises Off as a comparison point for go-between work. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the play (or even the movie), make the time.

A Habsburg Tragedy

A Habsburg Tragedy by Judith Listowel

Author: Judith Listowel
Publisher: Dorset Press
Year: 1978
Available at: Amazon

I ordered this book a few months after I fell down the Mayerling rabbit hole. The author’s maternal grandfather was a member of the Hungarian Upper House and knew members of Crown Prince Rudolf’s entourage in Austria and Hungary. Was there any insider information here that might help round out the story? Let’s find out.

Hitler and the Habsburgs

Hitler and the Habsburgs by James Longo

Subtitle: The Führer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals
Author: James Longo
Publisher: Diversion Books
Year: 2018
Available at: Amazon

I’d had this book on my wishlist for awhile – and one day while browsing Amazon, I saw a $2.99 price tag and scooped up the eBook. Total score! It’s the story of Franz Ferdinand’s children and grandchildren, played out against Hitler’s rise to power, the Anschluss, and World War II. Hitler, an Austrian, had a strange hatred for the Habsburgs, and specifically, for Franz Ferdinand’s children. That hatred, argues Longo, was based on the way Hitler saw Franz Ferdinand: as willing to embrace and protect the multi-national character of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hitler wanted the opposite - in short, to remove all but ethnic Germans from the empire and join it with Germany. Once Franz Ferdinand was gone, Hitler transferred that hatred to his children, who were respected members of society. Respected, but not powerful enough to escape Hitler’s reach.

I won’t give too many more details because I don’t want to spoil the story for you. Let’s just say that the women in this story – Sophie Hohenberg (mother and daughter), Archduchess Maria Theresa, Countess Rosa von Lonyay Wood, Maisie Hohenberg, and Elisabeth Hohenberg – all kick ass.


Kaiulani

Kaiulani Crown Princess of Hawai'i by Nancy Webb & Jean Francis Webb

Subtitle: Crown Princess of Hawai'i
Authors: Nancy Webb & Jean Francis Webb
Publisher: Mutual Publishing
Year: 1998 (originally published in 1962)
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book to kick off my research on Ka’iulani, the last Hawaiian heir to the throne. Although originally published in 1962, the edition I read was a reprinted mass market paperback. It was a fast, easy read with lots of quotations from primary sources. The one thing I didn’t like? The authors indulged in some dialogue and imagined mini-scenes to flesh out Ka’iulani’s story. I get why they did it, but I’m not a fan of this particular choice. YMMV.

Kaiulani of Hawaii

And the Fall Of Her Kingdom

Kaiulani of Hawaii by Peter W. Noonan

Author: Peter W. Noonan
Publisher: Magistralis
Year: 2021
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book because it’s the most recent biography of Princess Ka’iulani of Hawaii. Had any new information emerged since Webb, Mrantz, Zambucka, and Stassen-McLaughlin wrote their versions? When I saw that it was 496 pages long, I guessed the answer was yes. In the end, it’s not so much that new info about Ka’iulani has been discovered; it’s that Noonan juxtaposed her story alongside a full picture of 19th century Hawaiian history.

I Live Again

I Live Again by Princess Ileana of Romania

Author: Princess Ileana of Romania
Publisher: Rinehart & Co.
Year: 1951
Available at: Amazon

Ever since reading The Last Romantic by Hannah Pakula as a teenager, about Queen Marie of Romania, I’ve been interested in the Romanian royal family. This is the memoir of Queen Marie’s youngest daughter, Ileana. It doesn’t cover her entire life – just from 1934 to 1948. It’s a fascinating look at Austria and then Romania during World War II and the ensuing Communist takeover. When you read how hard Ileana worked as a nurse, you’ll be exhausted. She loved her country and its people so much – you can feel how hard it was for her to leave them when she was exiled. This book is a poignant reminder of how well off we are here, today, in America. It made me feel the same way I did after reading Missie Vassiltchikov’s Berlin Diaries – profoundly grateful that I have not lived through a war on my home turf.

The King in Love

The King in Love by Theo Aronson

Subtitle: Edward VII’s Mistresses
Author: Theo Aronson
Publisher: Lume Books
Year: 2020
Available at: Amazon

I picked this up because its focus on Edward’s mistresses seemed interesting – and I knew next to nothing about the three ladies covered: Lillie Langtry, Daisy Warwick, and Alice Keppel. It doesn’t relate to anything I’m working on, but it was a fun romp through late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Marie Walewska

Marie Walewska by Christine Sutherland

Subtitle: Napoleon’s Great Love
Author: Christine Sutherland
Publisher: The Vendome Press
Year: 1979
Available at: Amazon

I read this book because I enjoyed a previous book by Christine Sutherland (Enchantress, about Princess Marthe Bibesco). Sutherland has a smooth writing style that really sweeps you along with the story. The problem here is that we don’t have much firsthand communication between Napoleon and Marie, so most of the story had to be pieced together from other sources. The result is that we know what happened, but it’s hard to get a real feel for the emotions of these two. As long as you keep that in mind, you can still get a lot of useful background information on Napoleon, Marie, and Poland.

Mayerling

Mayerling by Fritz Judtmann

Subtitle: The Facts behind the Legend
Author: Fritz Judtmann
Publisher: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd
Year: 1971
Available at: Amazon

Fritz Judtmann is the professor you always wanted in college, but never got. At least that’s how I feel about him after reading this book. It’s amazing – his thoroughness and his clear explanations, his transparency – this book was a delight to read, despite the subject matter. The kicker? He was never even a professor! Trained in engineering, he was the chief scenery and stage designer at the Burgtheatre in Vienna. But based on this book, I’m guessing he would have made a hell of a teacher.

Memoirs of the Crown Princess Cecilie

The Memoirs of the Crown Princess Cecilie

Translator: Emile Burns
Publisher: V. Gollancz
Year: 1931
Available at: Archive.org

I borrowed this book from Archive.org because I was interested in Cecilie’s early years, growing up as a duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Turns out, this is one of those memoirs that’s so heavily sanitized it feels like a Disney movie. It’s still interesting – there are always tidbits to glean – but you have to realize that this is the Pleasantville or Truman Show version of Cecilie’s life.

Napoleon and Marie Louise

Napoleon and Marie Louise by Alan Palmer

Subtitle: The Second Empress
Author: Alan Palmer
Publisher: Lume Books
Year: 2018 (digital edition)
Available at: Amazon

I picked up this book through Kindle Unlimited. I’d read a few of Palmer’s other books and enjoyed them…plus, I was interested in his take on Marie Louise. I feel like most Napoleonic sources portray her as a silly girl or a disloyal one. I’ve read one other book that argues otherwise. What would Palmer’s take be?

Not All Vanity

Not All Vanity by Agnes de Stoeckl

Author: Agnes de Stoeckl
Publisher: John Murray
Year: 1951
Available at: Abe Books

Born in Paris in 1874, Baroness Agnes de Stoeckl lived her life surrounded by royalty. Her memoir begins with her childhood in Paris, and takes you through her life as a diplomat’s wife, then as a companion to Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia and his morganatic wife, Countess Torby. Later, after a rift with Countess Torby, her husband became an equerry to Grand Duchess Maria Georgievna of Russia. Agnes and Sasha (her husband) traveled with Maria to England, where they sat out World War I. After the war and Maria’s remarriage, they split time between England, France, and Poland (where her son-in-law had family). Her memoir crops up frequently in the footnotes of other sources about these Russian royals, so I decided to go straight to the source. I’m glad I did - there are SO MANY interesting tidbits in this book, you guys.

Princess Auguste

Princess Auguste: On a Tightrope between Love and Abuse by Riëtha Kühle

Subtitle: On a Tightrope between Love and Abuse
Author: Riëtha Kühle
Year: 2021
Available at: Amazon (digital only)

I started researching Augusta by accident. She was the great-grandmother of my research subject’s father’s first wife (whaaaa?). Her brief, tragic life doesn’t get much coverage in English – her Wikipedia page was one of the most extensive pieces of coverage available. So I started digging, and ended up with hundreds of pages of notes and sources to track down. I still intend to turn it all into a book. But Riëtha Kühle has produced what is likely the be-all end-all book on Augusta’s life in terms of completeness and depth of sourcing. She visited archives in Windsor, Brunswick, Stuttgart, Berlin, Tallinn, and Moscow, among others. She spoke to the owners of Castle Lohde in Estonia, where Augusta died. You just don’t get any more determined or detailed than that. And for that reason, if you’re at all interested in Augusta, this book is your new go-to source.

Princess Mary

Princess Mary by Elisabeth Basford

Subtitle: The First Modern Princess
Author: Elisabeth Basford
Year: 2021
Available at: Amazon

I first came across Princess Mary in a coffee-table book called Famous Jewel Collectors that I bought at Borders, oh, two decades ago. So I was happy to see she’d gotten a full biography, and even happier when I found it for $1.99 on Kindle. I feel guilty saying that, but I’m such a cheapskate. It’s innate. I can’t help it.

Queen Victoria’s Grandsons

Queen Victoria's Grandsons by Christina Croft

Subtitle: 1859-1918
Author: Christina Croft
Year: 2014
Available at: Amazon

I picked up this book through Kindle Unlimited because I enjoyed this author’s book on Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. This one was enjoyable, too, although it mostly covers material you can get elsewhere with relatively light coverage of the lesser-known grandsons I was looking for.

Rasputin in Hollywood

Rasputin in Hollywood by Sir David Napley

Author: Sir David Napley
Year: 1989
Available at: Amazon

I found this book on Archive.org – you can rent it for free on an hour-by-hour basis. The link I provided above is to pick up a cheap used copy on Amazon so you don’t have to go through the renewal hassle if you’re not the best speed-reader of all time. (I’m not, either.)

Despite the title, this book isn’t a history of all the ways Rasputin has been portrayed in Hollywood. It’s the history of one specific instance: his portrayal in the 1932 MGM film “Rasputin and the Empress.” This book was one of the key sources for my post on the court case that followed, since it contains a detailed summary of the proceedings, down to exact quotes from the witnesses and barristers.


Red Princess

Red Princess by Sofka Zinovieff

Author: Sofka Zinovieff
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Year: 2008
Available at: Amazon

I picked up this book from my local library when I saw it listed in the bibliography for The Russian Court at Sea. I knew nothing about Sofka Dolgorouky other than, as Welch’s book told me, she was also a passenger on the HMS Marlborough as it carried Empress Maria Feodorovna out of Crimea in 1919. Turns out, her life was incredibly interesting - Sofka was a complex woman who’s not always easy to like or admire.

The Romanovs

The Romanovs: The Way It Was by Zoia Belyakova

Subtitle: The Way It Was
Author: Zoia Belyakova
Publisher: Ego Publishers
Year: 2000
Available at: Amazon

I bought a used copy of this book because…well, because it’s about the Romanovs. It contains three essays, all on topics that interested me. This isn’t a general history, though. The author expects you to have a little bit of knowledge about the family and the Russian Revolution. If you’re a Romanov aficionado, you’ll probably want this in your collection. There are new tidbits here, although – to be fair – the bulk of the information in this book can be found elsewhere. It’s probably best suited for raving fans or obsessive researchers.

Rudolf

Rudolf: The Tragedy of Mayerling by Carl Lonyay

Subtitle: The Tragedy of Mayerling
Author: Carl Lonyay
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Year: 1950
Available at: Amazon

If you’re going down the Mayerling rabbit hole, the author’s name alone is reason enough to get this book. Why? Because Archduke Rudolf’s wife, Stephanie, married as her second husband Count Elmer Lonyay. The author is his nephew. The book (and, let’s face it, the author) is incredibly flawed, but there are still some reasonable conclusions here.

The Russian Court at Sea

The Russian Court at Sea by Frances Welch

Subtitle: The Last Days of a Great Dynasty: The Romanovs’ Voyage into Exile
Author: Frances Welch
Publisher: Short Books
Year: 2011
Available at: Amazon

I stumbled on this book by accident – I had no idea it existed, although I’d read a previous book by this author. I ordered a used copy and read it in a weekend. While that sounds like a ringing endorsement, I wasn’t glued to the book. It actually fell flat for me. There were a few interesting sources used, but I didn’t feel like I learned much that was new, and the book seemed to lack depth. Most (non-Goodreads) reviews of this book are glowing, so maybe I was just off that day. YMMV.

Tatiana

The Russian Court at Sea by Frances Welch

Subtitle: Five Passports in a Shifting Europe
Author: Tatiana Metternich
Publisher: Heinemann
Year: 1977
Available at: Alibris (but try a library - copies are not cheap at the moment)

I bought this book because I loved her sister’s book so much (Missie Vassiltchikov’s Berlin Diaries). Tatiana’s memoir takes us from Russia during World War I through the revolution all the way to the bitter end of World War II. She knew less about the 1944 plot against Hitler than Missie, but we get more information about what it was like to try and protect historic estates from the SS, Americans, and Soviets in succession. She also describes her terrifying flight across Europe – on foot – to get from Königswart in Czechoslovakia to Johannisberg in the Rheingau.

Women of the Baden Court

Women of the Baden Court by Annette Borchardt-Wenzel

Author: Annette Borchardt-Wenzel
Publisher: Piper
Year: 2005
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book because there is next to no information on Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden in English, so I figured I’d start with the easy options in German. Turns out, this author didn’t have much information on Hilda, either – hers was the second shortest chapter in the book. Still, there were a few tidbits to glean, and several of the other chapters really piqued my interest.

What royal history books have you read in 2021? Send me a message to recommend your favorites!

Here’s to another great year of royal reading & research in 2021!


Affiliate Disclaimer

I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This content may contain affiliate links, particularly in the Sources section. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you choose to buy using my affiliate link, the seller will pay me a small additional amount at absolutely no cost to you. Thank you for supporting The Girl in the Tiara!


What’s Next?

Check out the blog for fascinating stories about royal women and their tiaras. And don’t forget to join my mailing list to get Grand Duchess Louise of Baden’s meatloaf recipe! It’s finger-lickin’ good.

Tiara

Blog

Who stole Grand Duchess Hilda’s diamond kokoshnik tiara? And what’s a kokoshnik tiara, anyway? Find out on the blog!

Let’s Go

Mailing List

Get a free PDF with four tiara stories - plus news from me, more royal history, and Grand Duchess Louise’s meatloaf recipe.

Sign Up