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On 6 July 1868, when told of the birth of her seventh granddaughter, Queen Victoria remarked that the news was "a very uninteresting thing for it seems to me to go on like the rabbits in Windsor Park". Her apathy was understandable - this was her 14th grandchild, and, though she had given birth to nine children, she had never been fond of babies, viewing them as "frog-like and rather disgusting...particularly when undressed".
The early years of her marriage had, she claimed, been ruined by frequent pregnancies, and large families were unnecessary for wealthy people since the children would grow up with nothing worthwhile to do. Nevertheless, her initial reaction to the birth of Princess Victoria of Wales belied the genuine concern that Queen Victoria felt for each of her 22 granddaughters. "As a rule," she wrote, "I like girls best," and she devoted a great deal of time to their well-being and happiness, showering them with affection she had seldom shown her own children.
By 1914, through a series of dynastic marriages, the queen's granddaughters included the empress of Russia; the queens of Spain, Greece, and Norway' and the crown princesses of Rumania and Sweden. As their brothers and cousins occupied the thrones of Germany, Britain, and Denmark, Prince Albert's dream of a peaceful Europe created through bonds of kinship seemed a real possibility. Yet in little more than a decade after Queen Victoria's death, the prince consort's dream would lie shattered in the carnage of the First World War. Royal cousins and even siblings would find themselves on opposing sides; two of them would die horrifically at the hands of revolutionaries, and several others would be ousted from their thrones. They had lived through the halcyon days of the European monarchies, but their lives, like the lives of millions of their people, would be changed forever by the catastrophe.
The Audiobookworm's Review
Rating: 4.25 Stars
When I came across Christina Croft's Queen Victoria's Granddaughters, I immediately thought it was too good to be true. It felt just like hitting the jackpot. I love learning about European history, particularly European royal history. But it's difficult to find information about royals outside of the primary players, especially on audiobook. Excuse me, but one can only hear so much about Henry VIII, Queen Victoria, or Princess Diana. I've been a royal fan for so long that it's become increasingly hard to find new information about these figures, so I've begun to expand my interests into the lives of more minor royals. I find them far more interesting, possibly because the information available to me about them is so much more scarce.
Considering how many figures Croft covers in this book, the level of detail concerning each of them is astounding. What's more is how Croft managed to tie them altogether. I'll admit that (on more than one occasion) I had to pull up a family tree to maintain my orientation within the book, but that's not surprising considering the family or the tangled branches of the tree. Biographical information about Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and even a few of their children is relatively easy to come by, but information regarding the generation of grandchildren and so on becomes much tougher to find, especially beyond the direct line of the throne. Queen Victoria's Granddaughters may be the only chance I get to hear about the majority of these individuals, so I'd like to thank Christina Croft for not only writing this title, but especially for turning it into an audiobook.
Croft covers a wide variety of royals in Queen Victoria's Granddaughters and, while the depth of information on each of them isn't what it would be in singular biographies, the breadth of information is well-defined. I appreciated the way Croft listed the names of the figures to be discussed (and brief identifying factors) at the beginning of each chapter. It made it much easier to track the vertigo-inducing Who's Who of European royalty and how they were all connected to each other, if only for the next chapter. I suspect this would have been much more effective if I had been reading the physical book and could have referred back to the list throughout the chapter. Still, it was a nice gesture and I'm sure those reading the physical book appreciated it much more.
The highest compliment I can give Croft is that she actually managed to surprise me with several new facts and details, which was a delightfully refreshing experience. Too often when I am listening to biographies of those with whom I am already familiar, I begin to zone out after hearing the same details over and over again. But in Queen Victoria's Granddaughters, every chapter held details of the lives of several new (to me) historical figures and I inhaled them all. For example, I've heard (several times over) that Queen Alexandra called Edwards VII's mistress Alice Keppel to his deathbed. However, Croft asserts that Edward requested that the two women (his wife and his mistress) kiss! Queen Victoria's Granddaughters is the first place I've ever heard that and I think I would remember having heard it before!
Although it is a non-fiction work, Queen Victoria's Granddaughters is written in a way that held my attention quite easily. It did not seem like an endless barrage of names and dates, like so many other biographical titles do. Queen Victoria's Granddaughters is an audiobook I'm glad I purchased instead of renting or borrowing from a library because I fully intend on returning to it. So much information is provided on so many people that I'm not sure I was able to properly process, let alone retain, all of it. I certainly regard Queen Victoria's Granddaughters as a reference material that I will refer back to in the future.
Narration review: The only real hestitancy I have about this listening experience was that I didn't fully enjoy the narration, provided by Fleur Edwards. Edwards seems more suited to narrate fiction titles, which was initially offputting, but I must say that I rather think this eventually worked toward better holding my attention. It took some getting used to and I definitely was a little annoyed by the few production errors I noticed, such as hearing the narrator clear her voice, which I felt should have been removed in post-production. But, in fairness, these complaints soon fell away as I became more immersed in the content being read and less in how it was being read. It wasn't the best narration or production of an audiobook I've ever heard, but it certainly would not stop me from hearing this title again, nor would it prevent me from recommending it to anyone else. ♣︎