David Cannadine is the Dodge Professor of History at Princeton.

The Once and Future Princess

Most of the discussion of the recent televised interview given by the Princess of Wales, and of the royal separation to which it deliberately drew renewed attention, has been, as one might expect, superficial and partisan: for or against Diana, for or against Charles, for or against divorce, for or …

Cutting Classes

When John Major unexpectedly became Britain’s prime minister in November 1990, he announced that his chief political ambition was to make the country a “classless society,” a commitment which he repeated even more vigorously after the recent general election. That Mr. Major seemed to be turning his back on such …

Through the Keyhole

“I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives.” These frivolous, dispiriting words, spoken by Amanda to her new husband, Victor, early in Noel Coward’s Private Lives might also serve as the damning epigraph for the book under review. It is the latest installment …

Three Who Made a Revolution

Gilbert and Sullivan were self-made products of the Victorian era who, for all their lightheartedness, might have stepped straight from the pious pages of Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help. They were both born in unpromising circumstances, but their ascent to the high peaks of fame and fortune was even more successful than …

Never-Never Land

To an exceptional degree, Britain’s twentieth-century history is still haunted by its nineteenth-century past. The physical products of the Victorian world are everywhere in evidence, not just as cosy period pieces, like Liberty fabrics or Doulton vases or William Morris wallpapers, but as a functioning part of contemporary civilization. Take …

Winston Agonistes

When Sir Winston Churchill died at the age of ninety in January 1965, he was accorded the most magnificent state funeral that a grateful and grieving Britain could give him. In life he had received, or refused, every available honor, and his death occasioned a final display of national thanksgiving …

The Unhappy Winner

Harold Macmillan was prime minister of England from 1957 to 1963, and died in 1986 at the age of ninety-two. But his British contemporaries were never exactly sure who he was. To his critics, he was little more than a second-rate actor, implausibly and cynically posturing in a variety of …

The Secret House of Death

Only during the twentieth century have most people in the West (but not, alas, elsewhere) begun to die in old age and from natural causes, with the result that any death that does not conform to this comforting and conventional image now seems more than usually shocking. Since 1945, those …

Too Proud to Fight?

It is a cliché of American history that the inscription on Thomas Jefferson’s tomb at Monticello carries understatement almost to the point of self-indulgence. There is no mention of the great offices of state that he held: instead he is remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and …

The Next Best Man

On April 4, 1955, Sir Winston Churchill gave a dinner at 10 Downing Street on the eve of his retirement as prime minister. For him, it was the definitive end to an Olympian career. For Sir Anthony Eden, his heir apparent, his long-awaited promised land was now finally in sight.

The Brass-Tacks Queen

The last British monarchs who gave their names to their times were Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. But whereas the word “Edwardian” merely defined a decade, the adjective “Victorian” conjured up an age—when God was an Englishman, when Britannia ruled the waves, and when the pound was indeed a …

The Merry Wives of Windsor

On July 29, 1981, a wedding took place in a large and well-known London church between two members of the English upper classes. He was a well-meaning man in his early thirties who came from a good family with unusually extensive Continental connections, had been educated at Cambridge University and …

Spooky Business

The best-known department of the British government is Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But it is better known in fiction than in fact, thanks to the popular stories that have established a particular image of it in the public mind, many of them written by former agents. Some, like William Le …

Brideshead Re-Revisited

The stately homes of England seem about to reconquer the United States for Squire Western, the Duke of Omnium, and Lord Marchmain. That, at least, is the impression conveyed by the splendid exhibition, “The Treasure Houses of Britain,” in Washington. Thirty-five thousand square feet of gallery space have been given …

Masterpiece Theatre

Admiral of the Fleet the Earl Mountbatten of Burma was the most honored Englishman of his generation. By the time the IRA assassinated him in August 1979, he had amassed a collection of titles and decorations, orders and medals, so extensive that when he wore them on full-dress, ceremonial occasions, …

Munich Man

On Neville Chamberlain’s death in November 1940, Winston Churchill delivered one of his most moving, majestic, and magnanimous orations. It showed a rare sympathy for disappointed hopes and upset calculations; it appealed to conscience and to history as the only sure judges of men’s deeds; and it took the broadest …

No Entrance

One reason why most historians don’t write very much is that they have a fulltime job keeping up with the vast output of the few who do. Among these prodigy producers, whom it would be more impolitely accurate to call Cliomaniacs, Lawrence Stone can be particularly distinguished partly by the …

The Ideal Husband

Western monarchy is not merely, as Max Weber observed, institutionalized charisma: it is institutionalized male chauvinism as well. Whether priest or magician, philosopher or warrior, sovereigns are expected to be men, and in most cases they are. The Kingdom of Heaven is ruled by a God not a Goddess, and …

The Victorian Sex Wars

“Historically,” Karl Marx once wrote, “the bourgeoisie has played a most important part.” Indeed, there was a period in historical writing, roughly coincidental with the first half of the twentieth century, when it seemed to play virtually the only part, credited as it often was with most of the major …