Personalities behind politics

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Kings and Queens series: Henry VIII. By Katrina Siliprandi. Elizabeth I. Mary Queen of Scots. By Sheila Watson. James VII. By Faye Kalloniatis. Queen Victoria. William I. By Richard Wood. Wayland Pounds 8.99 each.

Age range 9-13

It would be incorrect to assume from the titles of these books that they are straight biographies or provide an opportunity for young children to learn about the important differences between the power of sovereigns in the past and the modern monarchy which reigns but does not rule.

Each starts with a memorable event in the monarch's reign which draws readers into the story. This becomes the context for coverage of the main events of each reign, turning the books into political rather than social history. In Henry VIII, the wives are skilfully explained in the context of foreign affairs and diplomacy wherever relevant and ecclesiastical changes in a chapter called, unusually, the "destruction" of the monasteries. Mary Queen of Scots starts with her execution and moves immediately into the complexities of Scottish politics at the time of her birth, French politics into which she moved and the religious claims on which her challenge to the English throne could later be based. All this is described in just four pages, and is a difficult introduction for many children at key stage 2.

The same author weaves Mary's story into her book on Elizabeth I, and decides to extend her coverage of political intrigues to the succession issues raised in the reigns of Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor and the various plans for Elizabeth. This leaves only a little space for the Armada, which is almost certainly of more interest to the intended readership.

Richard Wood has an advantage when looking at events and the domestic life of Queen Victoria. He makes good use of comments in her journals, which give her opinions about events and personalities. As a result the book has a better balance of the personal and public areas of the Queen's life. The author is also generous with his own opinions of her character, likes and dislikes and some of these would be worth analysing and exploring further in discussion. James V11 is relevant for the national curriculum in Wales and the Environmental Studies Guidelines in Scotland, and William I would meet the needs of key stage 3 students in a middle school area. Each chapter in all the books has an "Important Dates" box, which reinforces the political history approach taken. The illustrations are lavish and plentiful with captions for less able readers who might be set "find out" tasks using the index.

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