“Monarchy” by David Starkey ~ A Review

I think I have spent more time in charity shops over the past month than the rest of my life combined. Directing a play requiring a lot of furniture on a budget (which I may have gone over, shhh) meant Charity shops became my dramatic lifeline. They’ve subsequently become somewhat of a hobby to search through avidly; conveniently they also match quite nicely with my addiction to the BBC’s Antiques Roadtrip. Charity shops have also become the only way I can feasibly afford to buy books. If you have a voracious appetite for books, soaring prices can quickly amount to hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

It was in a little Oxfam bookshop that I stumbled across David Starkey’s Monarchy. I was familiar with his work by reputation, but I hadn’t ever seen any of his TV shows, or indeed read any of his other books. Shamefully, the history of the British Monarchy has been something that always eluded me. Having dropped history at school before GCSE in favour of the easy A* Geography provided (I was a very lazy teenager), my knowledge essentially consisted of the Tudors,  and what I had picked up watching The Crown. Needless to say I was expecting to have the book more as a reference text to dip into when a pub quiz question left us baffled.

I was wrong.  Starkey has such a light, engaging tone of writing that you’re hooked from the moment you start reading! Beginning at the War of the Roses, Starkey takes you on a journey of intrigue; brotherly envy leading to execution by cask of wine, babies concealed in warming pans, treasonous plots, and deadly battle between Parliament and Head of State.

Starkey’s writing is definitely acessible to those for whom  Monarchy is their first dabble into the history of the Royal Family, but equally I’m sure an avid history fan who’s watched every episode of The Tudors, and has every history documentary on Netflix preemptively added to their To Watch List for rainy days, would also find it very engaging.

What I loved about the book was, although I was constantly learning, Starkey never came across as preachy. At no point did I feel patronised, the style was more conversational, albeit one of the most eloquent exchanges you’ll ever have, than teacher and student. Factoids were gently worked in, which unfortunately is not a given in the world of history. I attended a lecture on Jewish history at Senate House a couple of weeks ago, during which dates were simply barked at us whenever a new historical figure was mentioned. On average 3 times a sentence, killing the pace and giving the impression we were simply listening to an essay with superlative parentheses being needlessly read out. Not on Starkey’s watch!
So, in essence, charity shops are fantastic, the history of the British Monarchy is fascinating, and everyone could enjoy Starkey’s delightful book! Easily 5🌟s!


Eltham Palace ~ An Art Deco Day 

Just south of London lies a modest country house, once the childhood home of King Henry VIII.


Virginia Courtauld’s Bathroom

Eltham Palace has recently become renowned for its beautiful Art Deco interiors, it’s halls still ringing with ghosts of extravagant dinner parties hosted throughout the 1930s. It’s history however, has not always been so glamorous.

The first recorded sign of Eltham Palace is found in the Doomsday Book of 1086, listing it as Eltham Manor, belonging to William the Conquerors half brother, Odo. The house changed hands many times over the next few centuries, with owners gradually adding to the architecture of the estate. By the 14th Century, Eltham Palace was one of King Edward III’s royal palaces. The palace was surrounded by a moat, complete with drawbridge and high walls.


Stained Glass Windows in the Great Hall; a Throwback to Tudor times.

The children of Henry VII were brought up at Eltham, which served as a Royal Nursery for future monarchs and royals, including Henry VIII. Henry VIII however preferred  Hampton Court, and started building and decorating there instead of Eltham, whilst Greenwich Palace served as his London Palace, being closer to Westminster and more easily accessible.

Throughout the Civil War (1648) Eltham was used as a base for Cromwell’s troops, and subsequently fell into disrepair. By the turn of the 19th century the once regal palace was reduced to a farmstead, the Great Hall now a barn, the palace in ruins.

Stephen and Virginia Courtauld discovered the dilapidated Eltham Palace in 1933, and set about restoring it to glory. Having hired architects Seely and Paget to rebuild the estate they looked to Christopher Wren’s work for inspiration and decided on a brick and Clipsham stone exterior. The development was haulted by a battle with the Society of Antiquaries who were concerned with the loss of areas of historical interest. Once this had been pacified, and reassurances had been sought that several features, including the 15th century timber gables in the great Hall would be preserved, building work began.


The exterior of the Palace

Eltham Palace was a haven of modern technology; electricity powered many internal systems including the clocks, servants bells, lighting, they even had their own internal telephone exchange. Eltham also boasted a centralised vacuum cleaning system, only seen to this day in larger houses. It’s mechanism can be seen in the basement.

During the Second World War Eltham suffered badly; in 1940, during the Battle of Britain 4 bombs landed on the great Hall causing extensive damage, a further 100 bombs fell within the grounds. A year later a parachute mine damaged the great Hall again, and in 1944 a flying bomb severely damaged the greenhouses. Stephen  Courtauld, an avid orchid collector, had thankfully evacuated his previous plants in 1939. Throughout the war the basement was turned into a dormitory, and the family welcomed anyone who needed shelter, having invited her relatives initially Ginie opened her house to those in need.

The war however left the Courtaulds scarred, and they eventually decided to move to their Scotland estate on Loch Etive in Argyll.


The Art Deco Drawing Room where Ginie hosted Lavish Dinner Parties

In its time, before the devastating effects of the War, Eltham was seen as the Gatsby mansion of London. Ginie enjoyed throwing lavish parties, as well as small dinner parties for  selected few. Stephen designed cocktails for every occasion and they flourished as the elegant, affluent hosts. The great Hall frequently housed chamber orchestras, bands and singers whilst guests danced the night away in perfect luxury.

Upon arriving at Eltham you’re provided with an audio guide that takes you on a guided tour of the house and gardens, complete with interactive multimedia it gives you a sense of what the house would have been like in the 1930s. You can meet the family, and the beautiful lemur, experience the parties, even listen to some of the guests accounts!


Park of the Beautiful grounds of the Palace

There are special tours for children to enjoy,  as well as activity packs for them to work through and a play area too. On site there’s a lovely cafe and beautiful gardens for everyone to enjoy, and just a short bus ride from Greenwich it’s easy to get to from central London too! Bristling with Tudor history and Art Deco architecture it’s the perfect day out for everyone!