*A full page of the original covers can be seen by clicking on the link above called Gallery
In recent times publishers have given a great deal of thought into the physicality of a book, how it presents and looks, and in some cases how tactile it can be with raised edges or embossed text - all of which is to persuade a customer in a store to make a purchase. Some of these covers win awards for their imagination; the Academy of British Cover Design has a whole website devoted to book covers of note and excellence.
A history book series, though, has some considerations to ponder when compared with a single-book issue or a popular fiction title: Does a highly imaginative design detract from the weight and seriousness of an academic text? Should there be any attempt at conformity in the titles of a series? What source material exists for a subject living many centuries ago? How can an image of a pervious century be adapted to the requirements of a cover which has to include identifying text?
Yale has to contend with all these issues, but their predecessor Eyre & Spottiswoode seemed to be unburdened by the problems of cover design at the commencement of the series in 1964. The first book in the series, William the Conqueror, side-stepped the issue by ustilising an image from the Bayeux Tapestry. This was a obvious choice and told purchasers all they needed to know about the content of the book. Where they diverted from an easy choice was to embellish a red-tinted image with a a simple design feature of some black vertical bars behind the seated figure of William. This was dropped from the simultaneous release in North America by the University of California, which in retrospect provides a simpler and still reasonably attractive cover of a black and white image on a soft coloured background. (Curiously, this is a design to which Yale returned with the recent Henry III covers in 2020/2023) The Eyre & Spottiswoode (British) version does tend to scream 1964 at the viewer.
Three years later a similar cover was presented for James I, which was a simple tinting of a portrait of James, but suggesting a slightly psychedelic feel, not out of tune with the year it was published, 1967. It is another cover very much of its time.
By the time of the third English Monarchs title, Henry VIII, a design style is starting to emerge. This cover, the first of many for the title, was a presentation of a portrait of the king, embellished with what might be a picture frame, and with a white border at the top and one side. Clearly much more thought has gone into this 1968 title, which is altogether simpler than the previous release - which has echoes of The Beatles While Album of the same year.
WHITE DESIGN STYLE 1970 - 1975
After these halting efforts to judge a history book series by its cover, Methuen, the newly evolved series publisher, decided to adopt something of a format. This new approach would be based on the white motif of Henry VIII, but more controlled and with a predominately white surface into which would be dropped an image of the subject monarch. This posed a problem however because Edward the Confessor, unfortunately, had few photographs taken in his lifetime so the publisher once again fell back on the resources of Bayeux and a scene depicting the death of the king, his starring role in the opening moments of the proceedings.
This format was observed for the next three books in the series, Henry VII (1972), Henry II (1973), and Edward IV (1974) which was published in North America in 1975, the last book to be printed with the white style.
WOOD PANEL STYLE 1976 - 1992
In 1976 the first book told the public that a new style had arrived. This was designed to be a more serious, studious look with the image of the monarch in a wood panel, suggesting perhaps a library of books on wooden shelves; the sort of dark musty library of old. The first few books to use this style were Methuen paperback reprints of the earlier hardback releases. The first was Henry VIII in 1976 and William the Conqueror, Henry VII and Henry II all in 1977, but the first new hardback title with this cover style was Henry VI in 1981. Four more new titles were added to the series over the next decade: Richard III (1981), William Rufus (1983), Edward I (1988) and Henry V (1992). It was at this point that Methuen decided to cease publishing the series and sought another publisher to continue with the series and the existing titles.
BACK TO WHITE AND FRONT TO BACK 1997 - 2001
The interregnum between Methuen and Yale lasted five years during which time no books were issued or reprinted before the first batch of Yale-issues titles in the series in 1997. In that year no fewer than seven English Monarchs books were released by Yale, the first new title was Richard II. King John was brought into the series with a new Yale cover, along with Yale reprints in paperback of old Methuen titles Edward I, Henry V, Edward IV, Henry VIII, and Edward the Confessor. Most of these were issued both as hardbacks and paperbacks.
The covers of all these titles bore the fruit of Yale’s rebranding of the series. The covers were predominately white with a portrait of the monarch, and dressed with a blue band in the lower portion of the book, wrapping around the entirety of both back and front. It was a nice, crisp, clean look and far away from the more musty old library look of the sixteen years of the Methuen wood panel look. It represented a refashioning of the series and Yale’s intent to revitalise a good idea than had shown signs of becoming stale. The first new book was, and remains, one of the best in the series - the sorry tale of the decline of a king and a kingdom under one of Englands worst monarchs, Richard II.
However, after this initial flurry of publishing Yale decided to adopt different covers for the hardback and the paperback ranges. The new white covers/blue band style continued with the paperbacks, but from the first new hardback thereafter, George IV (1999), a new type of cover was adopted. George IV was a handsome portrait of the monarch taking up the whole of the cover over which was printed the title, author’s name and series attribution. Two years later the paperback printing was released with the white cover style. This bifurcation of the two ranges continued with Edward VI and Richard I (both 1999/2002). In 2000 Yale introduced into the series the very fine 1978 biography of James II, but only in paperback and with the white cover.
Henry I followed in 2001/2003 in the same two-cover format. 2001 saw the introduction into the series of George I in the paperback white cover (first published by Harvard in 1978). In the same year Yale published a revised - or second edition - of Queen Anne, but only in paperback and again with the white cover.
FULL COVER PORTRAITS 1999 -
By 1999 Yale had tired of the white cover style, even for the paperback releases, and made the decision to issue the English Monarchs paperbacks with the same cover as the hardbacks. George III was the first of these in 2006, although this change was only revealled with the paperback release of this title two years later in 2008. Edward II and King Stephen followed this same pattern both with the releases in 2010 and 2012, George II in 2011 and 2013, Æthelstan in 2011 and 2012, and Mary I and Edward III both in 2011 and 2013.
The first break in this regime was Henry IV in 2016 and 2017. The paperback was an adaptation of the hardback cover with a repositioning of the tomb effigy of Henry and a relocation of the cover text from the foot of the cover to the top. The David Bates William the Conqueror of 2016 and 2018 was less changed, except that the cover text of the paperback returned white to the head of the book where in the hardback a grey background colour, sympathetic to the Bayeux Tapestry image, was overlaid with a font resembling a stitched title of the book.
Cnut the Great, 2017 and 2019, was less altered, although a new style for the paperbacks was emerging. For this book the same image was used to fill the cover, but while the hardback had a stylised font possibly representing a subject from the past, the paperback had a modern crisp font. Interestingly, a first pass at the paperback cover exists (see the page on this site for the image) with the paperback cover with the white background at the top, which would have continued the format from the previous paperback release of 2018.
The last few books added to the series suggest another experiment with the cover art. Henry III was always going to be problem; very few images of Henry have been past down to us from the 13th Century and Yale wisely chose to use his tomb effigy, but with a twist. Instead of a realistic representation of the tomb - a sharp colour image - the image of the effigy has been tinted with a strong colour used as a background. It is a striking pair of covers. The two volumes comprising this work have reversed colours, again using inspiration in the place of choice. The paperback of volume one breaks ranks from the existing habit and is completely different to the hardback. It resembles a brass rubbing of the tomb in a black line drawing with matching black text over a pale colour background.
The final book to date, Edward the Confessor returns to the format of identical hardback and paperback releases, from 2020 and 2021. However, this cover is the most unconventional of all the English Monarchs titles. Again faced with little imagery of the king, and no doubt not wishing to revisit the source material provided by our friends in Bayeux, an illustrative cover was used with a small representation of Edward (from the Tapestry, but not recognisably so). A slight whimsical quality exists for those who might interpret is as such. Edward might be seen leaning into the frame quietly waving to an audience, as if a puppet guided by an unseen hand.
SOURCE OF ART
It is worth noting that five of the books in the series used as their cover image a picture of a tomb of the king. This was the original cover of Eyre & Spottiswoode’s King John in 1961, and reused in Yale’s printings of 1997 and 1998, Edward II, Edward III, Henry IV, and Henry III.
Royal portraits were used for James I, Henry VIII, Henry VII, Henry II, Edward IV, Henry VI, Richard III, William Rufus, Edward I, Henry V, Richard II, George IV, Edward VI, Richard I, James II, Henry I, George I, Anne, George III (with an interesting collage underneath his portrait), Stephen, George II, Æthelstan, Mary, and Cnut the Great.
Bayeux Tapestry images were used for William the Conqueror (both Douglas and Bates), and Edward the Confessor (Barlow).
THE COMPANION BOOKS
The Companion Books, as we are calling them on this website, deserve a few moments to examine: Eleanor of Aquitaine (2009 and 2011), Philip of Spain (2014 and 2015) are the same in hardback and paperback. Louis (2016) was published only in hardback while Henry, the Young King (2016 and 2018) are the same in both formats. Æthelred the Unready (2016 and 2017) was fundamentally the same with a few different embellishments for the paperbacks and ebook.
Matilda was quite a change, the 2019 hardback and the 2020 paperback share the same image of Matilda in a battle scene, the colours are a dark brown and yellow, respectively. Additionally the hardback is overlaid with a set of lines similar to ironwork.
Richard III (2019 and 2021) are much the same but with different fonts in the cover text. Cromwell from 2021 and 2022 have the same image but with different backgrounds and layout.
Thanks to max.icons for the book icon.
The simple and yet timeless cover of the US version of first series book.
A white rose and a white cover design for Edward VI.
Anne with an E in the classic early Yale style
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A classic wood panel style of cover with a monarch to behold the swelling scene.
The handsome full-cover portrail style.
The striking new style for the paperback Cromwell.