Jane Ridley and William Shawcross on writing about royalty

Filed under: Biography

‘You can’t treat royalty like people with normal perverted desires,’ Rosencrantz insists in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. So do different rules apply when writing about royals? Jane Ridley’s Bertie: A Life of Edward VII (2012) was praised as ‘a model of how royal biographies should be written … impeccably researched, balanced, sensible, disrespectful without being offensive’. William Shawcross wrote the official biography of the Queen Mother, described as ‘a magisterial work’. He also edited the Queen Mother’s letters, published last year. In a conversation chaired by Anne Chisholm, they discuss whether royal biography is changing; the joys and drawbacks of working in the royal archives; the extent to which they were given a free hand to write what they wanted; how much time needs to elapse before it is possible to explore sensitive subjects, such as the madness of George III; and whether they feel tempted to tackle further royal subjects, or plan to stick firmly to commoners from now on.

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Jane Ridley photo by  Colin Edwards.

Related RSL Fellows

Anne Chisholm 1989
Jane Ridley 2007