Young Elizabeth by Kate Williams is a part biography of Queen Elizabeth II, covering her childhood, the war years, marriage and the beginning of her reign. I’ve read a lot about the Queen, but am always open to a well written biography, so when the BBC History magazine reviewed and recommended this, I decided it would be worth my while.
Born Princess Elizabeth in 1926, she was the first daughter of the then Duke and Duchess of York, and her early years were spent in a cozy and happy family home. That changed when Edward VIII abdicated, and the Duke of York became King George VI. The princess became heir presumptive, and her parents had the burden of the throne thrust upon them. Following the hard years of World War Two, Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece in 1947, and became Queen in 1952 on the death of her father.
I was surprised by what a slim book Young Elizabeth was when it arrived in paperback. Covering less than half her life, it was never going to be a huge volume, but I expected there to be a bit more to it.
Young Elizabeth covers a period which is of particular interest to me. Having read various biographies of the Queen and both her parents, this is the time when everything happened – their marriage, her birth, their happy family life, the abdication, the war and Elizabeth’s romance with Philip, culminating in the death of the king. So before I started reading I knew that the subject matter was going to interest me, the question was how well it would be presented.
Style and tone are key with biographies or historical works like this. Obviously factual accuracy is a necessity, but it is possible to be factual and dull, or to lack authority. Williams writes well, she has a style which is pleasant to read, not too heavy. However I felt she lacked the authority that is intrinsic to great royal biographies, such as those of George VI and Queen Elizabeth, by Sarah Bradford and William Shawcross respectively. This lack of authority in her writing left me feeling that this was a somewhat lightweight biography, but then perhaps that was the intention, you can never be sure.
There was no particularly in depth detail given on any subject. Although it could be argued that the abdication was not something which involved the then Princess Elizabeth directly, until it had happened and she became heir presumptive, but it was something which was fundamental to the course that her life then took. Had Edward VIII not abdicated, she might not have ascended the throne. So I had expected a bit more depth on this. That said, I did learn a few new facts, such as some information about the later life of Marion Crawford, “Crawfie”, the princesses’ nanny who sold her memoirs.
Generally, the factual content of Young Elizabeth was correct as far as I know. It was hindered by the lightweight feel of the book, but the factual accuracy was largely present. There was one point in particular which I knew to be inaccurate, but I’ve been unable to find it again and unfortunately didn’t have the foresight to write it down.
It is perhaps unfair to compare Williams’s work to Shawcross and Bradford, whose works were full-scale biographies. An alternative comparison would be to Philip Eade’s Young Prince Philip, a biography covering a similar time period of Prince Philip’s life. Williams, unfortunately, does not come out of the comparison well. Her work is not bad, the book is enjoyable to read, but Young Prince Philip contains a great deal more detail and information than Young Elizabeth, and Eade writes with more depth and authority than Williams.
Young Elizabeth is by no means a bad biography, or one to avoid. It is simply lighter than most, but there is definately a place for lighter biographies. I would have preferred more detail and depth, and more authority from the author, but nonetheless I would recommend this to those looking for a brief insight into the Queen’s early life.
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