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Having just reviewed Winders great book on Germany it suddenly made me realize I had not put up this book onto my shelves. If you are interested in the Royal and Imperial past of Europe, if you are fascinated by gazing at photographs of a long gone social order, if you gain a frisson of sadness or horror at seeing the images of people who you know are to be swept away into exile or even worse brutally murdered, and it has to be said there was quite a lot of blue blood-letting in the years after the carnage of the Great War, then this is definitely the book for you.Robert Massie, whose own book on the fall of the Romanovs is incredible, writes a fascinating introduction covering the years which, in his own words, were the golden afternoon of royal majesty; the monarchs of Europe revolved in stately orbit around the indomitable figure of a woman not five feet tall ....that is Queen Victoria if you are interested and not Lady Munchkin. He extends the essay to a defence of monarchical rule making the interesting observation that monarchy flourishes most healthily today in those European states which are most strongly democratic . I am not 100% convinced that the good people of France or Germany would wholeheartedly concur but I can see a litle of what he is saying. The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are all renowned for their democratic credentials and yet all have seemingly very popular constitutional monarchies.The book is concerned not so much with the surviving ten monarchies of Europe however as with the oodles that were swept aside by first the republican and egalitarian zeal of post 1918 and then the final hravesting with the cutting down of the remainder by referenda largely organized by the Soviet Union in post 1945. The photographs are astounding and as a record of a long gone age they are unbeatable. There are a number which are magnificent Cecil be de Mille like expressions of grandeur, totally epic in their proportions; there are others which are poignant and tragic knowing what lies ahead; there are some which scream out history and are wonderfully evocative; then there are the ridiculous and high camp which make the most OTT Ruritanian scenes from Hollywood seem bland and mundane; there are the cute and human scenes of love and familial care and then finally there are some hilarious ones purely because of their unlikely credibility. One of my favourites of this latter strain is number 272. It is listed as beingPrincess Elena of Savoy, Duchess of Aosta serving soup to victims of the Naples earthquake, 1909 This woman has never more held a ladle of soup than I have given birth to the crown prince of Schleswig-Holstein, (I love that name) and the supposed victims of the earthquake are in top hats for the love of God. It is the most ridiculously posed photo but I suppose no more than so many put out nowadays by politicians or Sepp Blatter. Number 273 is also a corker and featuring the same Princess Elena. She really ought to have fired her publicist. This one has her on a visit to Africa in 1910. She is standing in an enormous canoe in a line of 9 variously head geared black men who stare back at the camera some in a state of boredom, some in confusion but it is the Princess I find funny. She is standing in profile gazing at the three men to her left and you cannot but help imagine that she is eyeing up her neighbours headress as the very thing for Cannes 1911 as looking at the photos from the surrounding pages many of these soon to be gone woman wore hats far more weird and wonderful than anything ever dreamed up by the milliners of deepest Africa.

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