More about Monarchs – Alternatives to Prince Harry’s Spare

The release of Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, caused a publishing and media firestorm. The Duke of Sussex’s tale of strained familial relations, mental health struggles, and the battle to protect his wife and children from the British monarchy’s alleged structural racism shattered publishing records. The media firestorm that accompanied the book’s release revealed (very) intimate details about Prince Harry’s life, his strained ties with his brother and father, and the at-times chilly relations between his wife and sister-in-law.

The Sussex saga, while interesting, is certainly not the only story of a monarchy that features feuding brothers and strong women. We turned to Stonehill faculty for recommended alternatives to Spare.

Prof. Peter Mahoney – Languages Literatures and Cultures

Prof. Mahoney recommends Alfonso X The Learned: A Biography by H. Salvador Martínez.  “(Alfonso X) was the King of Castile (the largest kingdom in Spain before it was unified) in the 13th century and, unlike his predecessors, he strived to create a “common” culture to unify his subjects,” Prof. Mahoney explained. “He made Spanish the official language of government, had Eastern texts written in Arabic, Greek, etc. translated into Spanish, composed poetry and songs, and had his hand in the composition of texts ranging from the nature and rules of games and hunting to astronomy and the composition of different types of rocks. Perhaps (for me) the most interesting is that he compiled the first chronicle of the World composed in Spanish (as opposed to Latin), another one devoted to Spain in particular (in Spanish, too), and lastly, a comprehensive set of laws (Las siete partidas) that were in effect in Spain, South America, and even parts of North America until the 19th century!

And all during this, his son was scheming against him and eventually overthrew him with the support of the king’s “allies”—in the end, he was betrayed by everyone around him and died in exile. Crazy story that could be a Hollywood movie!

Prof. Mahoney also recommends Kirstin Downey’s Isabella: The Warrior Queen. A review in Time Magazine describes that work as “…Set mostly in the 1400s, a period when the best that most women could hope for was to survive their teen pregnancies, Isabella is a tale of feminist ambition that reads like a pulpy novel.”

Prof. Helga Duncan – English

According to Prof. Duncan, “Before Princess Diana, there was Elisabeth of Austria, a royal superstar also known as Sisi, who was assassinated in Geneva in 1898. Brigitte Hamann's biography, The Reluctant Empress (2000) is wide-ranging and expertly researched. “(Librarian’s note: For those interested in Sisi, The History Chicks podcast broadcast a two-part episode on her life and legacy.)

For those interested in English monarchs, there's David Starkey's Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (2000). I think it's the best biography of the Tudor queen, albeit one that focuses only on her childhood and the early years of her reign. It makes for engaging reading and ranks high on my list of Tudor bios. “

Prof. David Sander – History

‘I’d recommend The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shikoh in Mughal India, by Supriya Gandhi. This nuanced book explores the life of a Mughal prince who studied multiple faiths and advocated for interreligious community but was killed by his brother. The latter became the long-ruling Emperor Aurangzeb. A significant book at a time when India’s pluralistic history is being brought into dispute.”

Prof. Sander also suggests God's Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World, by Alan Mikhail.

Here are a few more recommendations from the MacPhaidin Library Collection: