2023 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 2023 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 17, 2023

Becoming Queen Victoria

Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams

Subtitle: The Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch
Author: Kate Williams
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year: 2008
Available at: Amazon

So, I did a deep dive into my Kindle library the other day to see what I’ve had on there forever but still haven’t read. This book came up a winner, and it wasn’t until after I’d finished that I even realized it’s by the same woman who wrote Ambition and Desire (Josephine Bonaparte), which I really liked. This book had the same quick pacing and enjoyable style – not academic, but not a slouch in the research department, either.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great by Simon Dixon

Author: Simon Dixon
Publisher: Ecco
Year: 2009
Available at: Amazon

I bought a used copy of this book several years ago, while researching Princess Augusta of Brunswick (who moved to Russia with her husband, Duke Friedrich of Württemberg). Because Augusta spent the last years of her life at Catherine’s court, I wanted as much information about it as possible and ordered a handful of Catherine books. I’m just now getting to some of them, and this one didn’t disappoint.

Chère Annette

Chere Annette edited by SW Jackman

Subtitle: Letters from Russia 1820-1828 The Correspondence of the Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia to her daughter the Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna, the Princess of Orange
Editor: S.W. Jackman
Publisher: Alan Sutton
Year: 1994
Available at: Amazon

I’ve had a copy of this book for years and re-read it recently because I was interested in Anna Pavlovna, one of Tsar Paul I’s daughters. She married the Prince of Orange, the future Willem II of the Netherlands. After her marriage in 1816, Anna and her mom, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, kept up a steady stream of letters between Brussels (where Anna spent most of her time) and St. Petersburg. But what do those letters tell us about them?

Also: Every time I cite this book or Romanov Relations, I type Hugh Jackman as the editor. Every. Damn. Time.

City of Lights, City of Poison

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker

Subtitle: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris
Author: Holly Tucker
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Year: 2017
Available at: Amazon

I picked this up via a BookBub deal because it looked too good to resist. The Affair of the Poisons, as it’s known, shook the court of Louis XIV to its core. Murder, poison, and witchcraft: how can I not read this book?

Clash of Generations

Clash of Generations by Lavender Cassels

Subtitle: A Habsburg Family Drama in the Nineteenth Century
Author: Lavender Cassels
Publisher: John Murray
Year: 1973
Available at: Archive.org

I borrowed this book from Archive.org because it shows up frequently in the citations and bibliographies of other Habsburg books. It’s a good read, focused on the conflict between two older Habsburgs (Emperor Franz Josef and Archduke Albrecht) and two younger Habsburgs (Crown Prince Rudolf and Archduke Johann Salvator). The information on Rudolf wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, but I didn’t know anything about Johann Salvator.

Daughter of Prussia

Daughter of Prussia by John Van der Kiste

Subtitle: Louise, Grand Duchess of Baden and Her Family
Author: John Van der Kiste
Publisher: A&F
Year: 2021
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book because Louise is the mother-in-law of one of my long-term research subjects, Princess Hilda of Nassau (later Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden). I’m pretty used to Hilda barely appearing in books that touch on the people in her life, but hope springs eternal!

The Diary of Frances, Lady Shelley

The Diary of Frances, Lady Shelley, vol 1

Author: Frances, Lady Shelley
Publisher: Charles Scribner’s Sons
Year: 1912
Available at: Google Books

You can read this for free via Google Books, and I’m so glad I did. I’d been looking for tidbits on the Orange family, and this book came up in search results. It’s a fascinating slice of life of a British aristocrat during the Napoleonic era. She traveled, she met important people, and she wrote it all down in a way that’s fun to read and still accessible to a modern reader.

Divine Lola

Divine Lola by Cristina Morato

Subtitle: A True Story of Scandal and Celebrity
Author: Cristina Morató
Translator: Andrea Rosenberg
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Year: 2021
Available at: Amazon

This eBook showed up in an Amazon promotional email in 2021 – and I’m just now getting to it. I’ve never had a particular interest in Lola herself, but I knew she had a disastrous relationship with King Ludwig I of Bavaria. And after reading Die Herzen der Leuchtenberg, where you get a front-row seat to the debacle via Ludwig’s sister, Augusta, I figured I’d take a quick look.

The Eagles Die

The Eagles Die by George R. Marek

Subtitle: Franz Joseph, Elisabeth, and Their Austria
Author: George R. Marek
Publisher: Harper & Row
Year: 1974
Available at: Amazon

I ordered a used copy of this book because I saw it in the bibliographies of a couple other books (a familiar story, by this point). The author was born and educated in Vienna, so I figured he might have some useful contacts or memories that might add something to his telling of the Franz Joseph/Elisabeth story. One Austrian count he spoke to, upon being asked an undisclosed question, “I don’t know, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you. Such things don’t belong in a biography.” (xv) I hoped Marek would pursue such questions and give us the answers.

The Fortress

The Fortress by Alexander Watson

Subtitle: The Siege of Przemyśl and the Making of Europe’s Bloodlands
Author: Alexander Watson
Publisher: Basic Books
Year: 2020
Available at: Amazon

I bought a used copy of this book to get a better feel for the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s capabilities (or lack thereof) in World War I. The father of my Austrian archduchesses, Friedrich, was the nominal commander-in-chief, so I’m always on the lookout for tidbits about him and the family.

Grand Dukes and Diamonds

Grand Dukes and Diamonds by Raleigh Trevelyan

Subtitle: The Wernhers of Luton Hoo
Author: Raleigh Trevelyan
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Year: 2012 (1st ed. 1991)
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book because I’m interested in the Mikhailovichi – the children of Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich (himself a son of Tsar Nicholas I). Those children include Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna, mother of past research subject Princess Alexandra of Hanover (later Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin). Anastasia’s niece, Zia, married into the Wernher family, so I wanted to see how much information this book had about her and her Romanov family.

The Husband Hunters

The Husband Hunters by Anne de Courcy

Subtitle: Social Climbing in London and New York
Author: Anne de Courcy
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Year: 2017
Available at: Amazon

This book highlights some of the famous stories of “Dollar Princesses” who traded large dowries for aristocratic titles during the Gilded Age. If you liked Downton Abbey, the stories in this book will interest you (and remind you of Cora and her mother).

The Illustrious Dead

The Illustrious Dead by Stephan Talty

Subtitle: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon’s Greatest Army
Author: Stephan Talty
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Year: 2009
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book because it sounded fascinating – it doesn’t really dovetail with anyone I’m researching, but I couldn’t resist that subtitle.

Je devais être impératrice

Je devais être impératrice by Princess Stéphanie of Belgium

Subtitle: Mémoires de la dernière princesse héritière d'Autriche-Hongrie
Author: Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, Countess of Lonyay
Publisher: Editions Frédérique Patat
Year: 2019
Available at: Google Play Books

The first time I looked this book up online (circa 2018), there were only very expensive used copies in English available for purchase ($75+). As of this writing in early 2023, there are 2 used copies on AbeBooks – for $190+. Nope – not happening. So when, in 2020, I found this version in French on Google Play Books for under $5, I jumped. I can read French well enough to get the gist of things, and use a translator to help with tricky spots. Apparently, in 2021, someone added an English-language version you can read for free on Archive.org. The trick? The text isn’t quite the same as the French edition I read via eBook. I’m still parsing what’s different about the two, but if you’re obsessed like me, you don’t want to miss a damn word. Now you know – and knowing is half the battle.

July 1914

July 1914 by Sean McMeekin

Subtitle: Countdown to War
Author: Sean McMeekin
Publisher: Basic Books
Year: 2014
Available at: Amazon

This book is an in-depth look at how World War I began. I’ve read a few books by now on the start of the war, but I was interested in this one because the author has a specific argument about who’s to blame. If you had to assign blame, who would you choose? Now click open the box below and see if you agree with McMeekin.

Katharina Pawlowna

Katharina Pawlowna by Detlef Jena

Author: Detlef Jena
Publisher: Verlag Friedrich Pustet
Year: 2003
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book because I’m interested in all the daughters of Tsar Paul I and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna...but I also had an ulterior motive. I’m researching Anna Pavlovna, and I’ve seen references to the less-than-stellar relationship she had with big sister Ekaterina Pavlovna (or Katharina Pawlowna as she’s known in German, like in this book’s title…for the sake of consistency, I’ll use the German version of her name in the rest of this review). Could this book confirm that they didn’t get along? And if, so offer any reasons why? Let’s find out.

King Leopold’s Ghost

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild

Subtitle: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Author: Adam Hochschild
Publisher: Mariner Books
Year: 2020 (first edition, 1998)
Available at: Amazon

I bought this eBook because, well, I’d always meant to read this book and never quite gotten around to it in the million (okay, twenty-plus) years since it was published. I knew Leopold II, King of the Belgians was a bad dude – but I didn’t know how bad. I was more familiar with the details of his effort to disinherit his daughters, and his penchant for underage girls. This book filled in the details on the biggest reason why he’s an asshole: his all-encompassing greed and utter lack of humanity when it came to exploiting the people and resources of the Congo.

Kings over the Water

Kings over the Water by Theo Aronson

Subtitle: The Saga of the Stuart Pretenders
Author: Theo Aronson
Publisher: Lume Books
Year: 2020 (digital edition)
Available at: Amazon

I picked this up through Kindle Unlimited because I always enjoy Theo Aronson’s books and I didn’t know much about the Stuarts post-1688. Aside from Bonnie Prince Charlie in Season 2 of Outlander, that is. I’d seen references to James II’s wife, Mary of Modena, as a model queen and wondered what Aronson would have to say about her. Turns out, what I’d heard was right.

Koningin Sophie
1818-1877

Kings over the Water by Theo Aronson

Editor: C.A. Tamse
Publisher: De Walburg Press
Year: 1984
Available at: AbeBooks

This is a memoir written by Queen Sophie herself, with editing, footnotes, and commentary by Professor C.A. Tamse. Oh man, I wish I had known this book existed earlier. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize it existed, but here we are. Even reading this in automated translation from Dutch, you can tell that Sophie’s a good writer. Like, really good. Her characterizations are sharp and her critiques are biting.

The Last Days of Imperial Vienna

The Last Days of Imperial Vienna by Robert Pick

Author: Robert Pick
Publisher: Dial Press
Year: 1976
Available at: Amazon

I picked up a used copy of this book because I’m interested in what happened in Vienna when the Habsburg monarchy fell in 1918. What did the people in the streets experience? How does a monarchy actually fall? Let’s see if this book can shed some light on these questions.

A Mad Catastrophe

A Mad Catastrophe by Geoffrey Wawro

Subtitle: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire
Author: Geoffrey Wawro
Publisher: Basic Books
Year: 2014
Available at: Amazon

I bought a used copy of this book because I wanted more information on the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I. The titular commander-in-chief of that army? Archduke Friedrich of Austria-Teschen, the father of Archduchess Maria Anna, whom I wrote about here. While I only need a “big picture” view of the war effort, I’m also on the hunt for specific details about Friedrich’s movements during the war.

Maria Dorothea von Württemberg

Maria Dorothea von Württemberg by K. Eberhard Oehler

Subtitle: Ein Leben für Ungarn
Author: K. Eberhard Oehler
Publisher: Ernst Franz Verlag
Year: 2003
Available at: Abe Books

I bought a used copy of this German-language book because I wanted to know more about Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria – she’s the grandmother of a past research subject, Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria. Maria Dorothea von Württemberg was Elisabeth’s mom, and when I realized there was a short German-language biography of her, I had to have it.

Maria Féodorovna en Son Temps

Maria Féodorovna en Son Temps by Marie Martin

Subtitle: Contribution à l’histoire de la Russie et de l’Europe
Author: Marie Martin
Publisher: L’Harmattan
Year: 2003

I’d seen this book in the bibliographies of several other Romanov books, so I knew I’d have to buy it eventually. The problem? It’s not cheap. I tried to buy the eBook from a French site, but people with a U.S. address are not allowed to buy the affordable (“affordable”) $30 digital version. So I cashed in some credit card points to get an Amazon gift card and paid $93 for the one copy available on Amazon. Was it worth it? Yes and no…

Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror

Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror by Susan Nagel

Subtitle: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter
Author: Susan Nagel
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year: 2008
Available at: Amazon

This book has been on my shelf forever. I finally picked it up because I’m looking for details on Archduke Karl of Austria, and I remembered that he was mooted as a potential groom for Marie-Thérèse. I didn’t pick up on this right away, but it’s by the same author who wrote Mistress of the Elgin Marbles, which I read back in March. Nifty!

Mistress of the Elgin Marbles

Mistress of the Elgin Marbles by Susan Nagel

Subtitle: A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin
Author: Susan Nagel
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year: 2004
Available at: Amazon

Before I read this, I didn’t know anything about Mary Nisbet of Dirleton, who became Lady Elgin – like, didn’t even know she existed. The so-called Elgin marbles from the Parthenon are always mentioned in articles about artifacts that could or should be repatriated, so why not learn a little more about how they ended up in England in the first place? Turns out, Mary didn’t play a huge role in Elgin’s collecting – but the rest of her life was much more fascinating that I’d realized.

Napoleon: A Life

Mistress of the Elgin Marbles by Susan Nagel

Author: Andrew Roberts
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year: 2014
Available at: Amazon

I bought this in eBook form a long time ago – probably from a BookBub deal. It’s 898 pages, according to the footer on my Kindle, so…yikes! But it was a surprisingly fast read, both because it’s extremely well-written and because it’s insanely interesting. I have a sneaking sympathy for Napoleon because I saw the ABC miniseries Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story in sixth grade (the dude who played Norman Bates in Psycho is Talleyrand). I cannot – repeat CANNOT – picture Napoleon as anyone other than Armand Assante. However, later in life, I realized that Napoleon would never have had a sneaking sympathy for me because, well, I’m a woman with literary pretensions who is happily child-free. He would have despised me. Still, I can’t deny he’s one of the most interesting people in history, so he’s got me there.

The Princess Spy

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

Subtitle: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones
Author: Larry Loftis
Publisher: Atria Books
Year: 2022
Available at: Amazon

I bought this eBook when it showed up in a BookBub email. I’d been dying to read it because I was already familiar with Aline Griffith based on her books The Spy Wore Red, The Spy Wore Silk, and The Spy Went Dancing. How much of Aline’s past work as a WWII spy was true? The Princess Spy has all the answers. Well, as many as can be currently uncovered.

Queen Victoria and the Bonapartes

Queen Victoria and the Bonapartes by Theo Aronson

Author: Theo Aronson
Publisher: Lume Books
Year: 2020 (first published 1972)
Available at: Amazon

I picked this up via Kindle Unlimited because I always enjoy Aronson’s books. The story is divided into five distinct sections: the beginning of the friendship between Victoria, Albert, Napoleon III, and Eugenie; the crumbling of that friendship (at least politically, as opposed to personally); the French royal couple’s exile in England; Eugenie’s life up to the death of her son; and Eugenie’s life after his death. What impressed me most is the rock-solid friendship of the two widows. I knew they were friends, but seeing how they supported and respected each other made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Queens of the Age of Chivalry

Queens of the Age of Chivalry by Alison Weir

Subtitle: England’s Medieval Queens: 1299-1409
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year: 2022
Available at: Amazon

I picked this eBook up for a couple bucks in a BookBub deal – just like I did the previous book in this series on England’s medieval queens (Queens of the Crusades). Now, I’m only missing the first book, so if I’m lucky, there will be a deal on that one someday soon. This book covered Marguerite of France (Edward I’s second wife), Isabella of France (Edward II’s wife), Philippa of Hainault (Edward III’s wife), Anne of Bohemia (Richard II’s first wife) and Isabella of Valois (Richard II’s second wife). As always, it was an enjoyable read with Weir’s typical depth of research.

The Queen’s Necklace

The Queen's Necklace by Frances Mossiker

Author: Frances Mossiker
Publisher: Phoenix
Year: 2004 (first published 1961)
Available at: Amazon

This book has been on my shelf since about 2015, when I thought I was going to write a thriller that involved France’s infamous diamond necklace scandal. I never wrote that book (long story), and I never read this book I had bought for research. Turns out, it isn’t exactly what I thought it was, but it turned out to be just as entertaining.

Romanov Relations

Romanov Relations edited by S.W. Jackman

Subtitle: The Private Correspondence of Tsars Alexander I, Nicholas I and the Grand Dukes Constantine and Michael with Their Sister Queen Anna Pavlovna 1817-1855
Editor: S.W. Jackman
Publisher: Macmillan
Year: 1969
Available at: Amazon

I’ve had this book for years, and this is my second time reading it. The first time was in about 2017, when I was just starting to really dig into the story of the six Russian grand duchesses, daughters of Tsar Nicholas I and Grand Duke Michael. Of course, the more you learn, the more can intuit from source material. So it pays off to re-read stuff every once in awhile to see what more you can glean from it.

Rusland en Oranje

Romanov Relations edited by S.W. Jackman

Subtitle: Tragiek en Glorie van Overgrootmoeder Anna Paulowna
Language: Dutchn
Author: Jacqueline Doorn
Publisher: Europese Bibliotheek
Year: 1974
Available at: Boekwinkeltjes.nl

I bought this book because I wanted more information on Anna Pavlovna, born a Grand Duchess of Russia and later Princess of Orange and Queen of the Netherlands. This book is pretty much the only full-length biography of her that exists – there’s one much shorter book in Russian, but I couldn’t find a copy for sale in the U.S. Also, I haven’t tested my scanner/OCR software on Russian yet, so who knows if that would even work. So, for many reasons, I was super grateful when a bookseller in the Netherlands agreed to ship a copy of Doorn’s book to me in Georgia. Nelly Witte, thank you very much!

The Russian Dagger

The Russian Dagger by Virginia Cowles

Subtitle: Cold War in the Days of the Tsars
Author: Virginia Cowles
Publisher: Sharpe Books (digital edition)
Year: 2018 (first published in 1969)
Available at: Amazon

I read this book via Kindle Unlimited. I enjoyed Virginia Cowles’s The Kaiser and The Romanovs, and a search for one of my research subjects popped up a few times in this book, so I grabbed it.

Scottish Queens 1034-1714

Scottish Queens by Rosalind Marshall

Subtitle: The Queens and Consorts Who Shaped the Nation
Author: Rosalind K. Marshall
Publisher: Birlinn (digital edition)
Year: 2019 (first published in 2003)
Available at: Amazon

I picked this eBook up on sale somewhere, probably via BookBub. As the description rightly notes, Scottish queens – regnant and consort – get overlooked in most history books, with the notable exception of Mary, Queen of Scots. I was curious about everyone else. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know…which in my case is pretty much everything.

The Traitor King

Traitor King by Andrew Lownie

Subtitle: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor
Editor: Andrew Lownie
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Year: 2022
Available at: Amazon

I picked up this eBook for a couple bucks via a BookBub deal. I’m not super interested in the Abdication or the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but when you give me a BookBub deal, I’m game.

Vienna 1814

Vienna 1814 by David King

Subtitle: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna
Author: David King
Publisher: Harmony Books
Year: 2008
Available at: Amazon

I picked up this book because I wanted more information about the Congress of Vienna – specifically, about the decision to graft the former Southern/Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) onto the Northern Netherlands (Holland) and create one country. And I wanted details about the parties and spies, too – you know, the fun stuff. Turns out, this was a great choice. It was a great read, really entertaining, and the notes and sources are freaking extensive.

A Visit to St. Petersburg 1824-1825

A Visit to St. Petersburg 1824-1825 by Marie Cornélie de Wassenaer

Author: Cornélie de Wassenaer
Translator: Igor Vinogradoff
Publisher: Michael Russell
Year: 1994
Available at: Amazon

I bought this book because it offers an outsider’s look at the imperial Russian court in the early 19th century. It was written by a wealthy Dutch noblewoman, Countess Marie Cornélie de Wassenaer, who traveled as a lady-in-waiting with the Princess of Orange (born Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia) on a long trip back home, the first since her 1816 marriage to Prince Willem of Orange. Anna’s trip lasted for months, over the long winter, and Cornélie experienced months on end with Russian courtiers, seeing the sights, sounds, and ceremonies of the St. Petersburg court in the last year of Tsar Alexander I’s reign.

Waterloo

Waterloo by Andrew Roberts

Subtitle: June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe
Author: Andrew Roberts
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 2005
Available at: Amazon

This short book (about 120 pages plus appendices) is one of a series that looks at decisive events in European history. I’ve had it on my Kindle forever, but finally decided to read it. I’ve been researching Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna, whose husband (Prince Willem of Orange) fought there. I knew next to nothing about the battle itself, and although nothing but the victor mattered in Anna’s life, I figured a little background info couldn’t hurt.

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

Here’s to another great year of royal reading & research in 2023!

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