Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman: An excellent and exhaustive biography – book review –

As the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee fast approaches, it is a strange fact of her exceedingly long reign that only those aged well over seventy can now remember another British monarch.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 12:30 pm
Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman
Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman

Seven decades of unbroken royal leadership is hard to comprehend by any standard and Elizabeth II, our determined, resilient, courteous and straightforward queen, shows no sign of throwing in the towel despite her ninety-six years.

But what is even more remarkable is that our sovereign is not just facing some of her greatest challenges but actually still relishing her ‘job,’ reveals Robert Hardman, one of Britain’s leading royal authorities, in his definitive new biography.

Harnessing fresh research, fascinating insider details, and humorous anecdotes about a monarch who is far merrier than many might have assumed, Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II paints a compelling and authoritative portrait of a woman who, like her father and grandfather, was not born to be queen but boldly took up the orb and sceptre and led the nation through some of its most tumultuous times.

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She has faced constitutional crises, confronted threats against her life, rescued the Commonwealth, seen her prime ministers come and go, charmed world leaders, been criticised as well as feted by the media, and steered her family through a lifetime in the public eye.

Through abdication, war, romance, danger, tragedy and triumph, Hardman’s piercing new biography – which includes unpublished papers from the Royal Archives – offers original insights on the highs and lows of her family life and remarkable perspectives on her dealings with ministers and world leaders.

The Queen’s face is among the most reproduced images in history but despite all the years of our familiarity with her photographs and film reels, there is still one question that remains unanswered. ‘What is she really like?’

With wit, warmth and the wisdom gained from earlier biographies of the Queen, Hardman’s new exploration ‘begins from scratch’ to assess a remarkable life and an extraordinary story, using new material to provide fresh answers.

The Queen’s accession to the throne came when she was a young mother of two in 1952 and it was an age still firmly attached to the past… her Prime Minister was Winston Churchill, wartime rationing was still biting, half the nations on earth today had yet to exist, and her early tours included holding receptions for veterans of the Boer War (1899-1902).

It was just the start of a reign that would see more seismic social change than any monarch in British history (in 1955, she sent out 395 telegrams to centenarians; in 2020, the number had risen to 16,254). From the Abdication of Edward VIII to the shenanigans with the Sussexes and the loss last year of her beloved husband Prince Philip, she has also witnessed family crises on a scale not seen since the days of George III.

Indeed, she has proved an astute and quietly determined figure… shy but with a steely self-confidence, inscrutable despite ten decades in the public eye, unflappable, devout, outwardly reserved, inwardly passionate, unsentimental, inquisitive and young at heart.

One of her most important roles has always been to ‘manage decline,’ a unique task involving ceding power and transferring sovereignty which no other new monarch had ever been expected to deal with before, but one she performed expertly ‘with a smile and a friendly handshake.’

The Queen, says Hardman, has a ‘timelessness’ that other public figures lack. ‘She may have aged, like everyone else, but, even after seven decades, she has not dated.’ Indeed, Hardman counters Netflix hit series The Crown’s narrative of a harassed world-weary Queen and monarchy in terminal decline with the simple truth that ‘the Queen genuinely likes being the Queen.’

Her joy in the job has seen her become a 21st Century global phenomenon, commanding unrivalled respect and affection. Sealed off during Covid-19, the greatest peacetime emergency of modern times, she has stuck to her own maxim: ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’

And as she prepares for her Platinum Jubilee, an event without parallel in Europe since the reign of Louis XIV, Hardman’s excellent and exhaustive biography reminds us that ‘her story informs our story. She has been a backdrop to all our lives. It is why, regardless of our views on monarchy in the modern world, she is indisputably the Queen of our times.’

(Macmillan, hardback, £20)