Yale English Monarchs Series Overview
THE SERIES MISSION STATEMENT FROM YALE, 1999
“For thirty years the English Monarchs series has brought the highest standards of historical scholarship to the widest possible readership. Harnessing the latest research, leading historians scrutinise the lives of the kings and queens of England and explore the cumulative impact of the longest permanent governing institution in Europe”.
In the paragraphs below we will look at the development of the series, how it commenced and evolved over the thirty-one books in its fifty-five year life (and counting).
The sections below are:
It says something about the growth of recent historical writing that no biographies or histories of this type could be found in the Eyre & Spottiswoode or (Eyre) Methuen catalogues from the 1960s to the 1990s. While these publishers were the custodians of the English Monarchs series they did not seem to venture further afield into to investigate personalities other than the kings - no biographies of queen consorts were published at all. Indeed, it seems that it was rare for any publisher to print a biography even of a sibling to a king. A rare example was ‘’ by T.W.E. Roche (John Murray, 1966), a study of , younger brother of king Henry III and just as interesting a subject for biography. If it were a Methuen title it may have been an early entry in the companions canon. The same author wrote ‘’ (Phillimore & Co, 1971), a biography of , also worth a read. A new Yale title, ‘’, (Yale, 2017) is an example of a more thorough modern study by a Professor of Medieval history. was a granddaughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (not an insignificant heritage), but as she was queen of France her biography falls beyond the scope of this survey.
History publishers have found that there is a growing market for biographies of consorts, women in history, siblings to monarchs and other formerly ignored categories of study. The danger here is that because these people were not at the heart of government or monarchical rule they barely featured in the primary sources and a scholarly study is all the more difficult, as often as not leaving the field to, shall we say, to imaginative biographers to produce a speculative version of a life, or a rewrite and condensation of earlier texts.
In addition to the “Companion” books, pages have been added for the earliest times such as the Yale book on the . This might suffice for reading material for those kings after Alfred the Great and before Edward the Confessor (and indeed earlier than this span) for whom there is less chance that a series volume will be written. While these books are not by any measure in the companion category they are a valuable assistant to the English Monarchs reader and earn an entry in these pages.
TIMELINE OF BOOKS
A of the publicaiton dates of the books in the series serves as a quick checklist and a visual guide to the growth of the series with the relative publication dates of each book. Series books and companion books are included. The latter are noted by their different colour indicator.
During the first few years of the series Eyre & Spottiswoode also published some titles which were excluded because they did not meet scholarly standards. For amusement a page is provided to note these titles. Without seeing them it’s hard to assess them and because they were not in the series they have become obscure and hard to find. Some contemporary reviews of them generally label them as popular history. The page is at the end of the sequence of books or you can jump to it .
There was some attempt at uniformity in the covers of the Methuen and California releases. These 1970s and 1980s publications had the ‘wood grain’ background on the dust jackets or paperback covers, with an image of the subject monarch in a frame on the cover.
This style was dropped when Yale acquired the series. Yale initially preferred a mostly white cover with a dark blue band across the covers and spine with a small portrait of the monarch on the cover. In the new century they changed this to be more stylistic than formatted. For a while following this each new book since then has a pleasing portrait on the cover to represent the reign of the monarch described in the book. In the last few years a fashion has developed of taking an image of a king from a tomb effigy which is not as lively, in any sense of the word, as a portrait but with little illustrative material available for the earliest monarchs the choices are few. The best example of this has to be the most recent - for Henry III where only a few contemporary portraits exist. This book has a two-tone cover; the effigy has been coloured red and set against a contrasting green background. For the new kindle releases, and some paperback reissues, the format has adopted a crown, the series name and the title of the book, all in gold for royalty. See the collection of first edition covers in the linked also at the top of each page. Each book’s page endeavours to chronicle the history of the covers through the various editions and reissues. See especially the covers for . Quite a variety.
From the publication in 1999 of George IV some of the new additions to the series are of monarchs of the United Kingdom rather than England. Many readers, especially from the UK and Commonwealth countries, would know that in 1603 James I and his successors were kings not only of England and Wales, but Scotland and Ireland also.
The Union Acts of 1707 merged the two kingdoms into one realm with one national parliament. From James VI/I to Anne, therefore, the series can still claim to be examining English monarchs, although tenuous as this may be, but more elastic definition is required with books on monarchs from 1707 during and after the reign of Queen Anne. These kings and queens are not monarchs of “England” as they are so often called by Americans. Rather, they are monarchs of “Great Britain” and other territories such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand to name only three. Still, changing the title of the series is not an option and it is understood by readers that for the purposes of the series English is synonomous with British.
The academic credentials of the authors at the time of the publication of their book has been added where known. Many seem to have spent their career at one post.
A section on the has been appended. This can be accessed from the entry for James II. There exists a small number of titles available for Stuart specialists to explore this area. There are of course no books in the English Monarchs series on these three exiles, nor any at all published by Yale.
Lastly, the site has an ‘Easter egg’ section of slightly off-topic books to please and reward those who have enjoyed a deep read of this website. There are links at strategic points for this optional detour.
For a splash of colour the banners at the head of each book page represent one of three possibilities.
BLUE banners identify the English Monarchs Series books.
GREEN banners identify the “Companion” books.
MAUVE banners identify those monarchs without a book, including those we know are on the way: Elizabeth I and James VI/I.
Throughout this site the quickest way to a book page is by using the footer links to the main book page. You can also use the links to short-cuts to each dynasty.
Use the link at the foot of each page to comments or corrections.
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If you were to scour the early releases of this series issued by Methuen for something resembling a “mission statement” for English Monarchs you would fail to find one. Methuen must have had at least a business plan for it, but nothing was written into the books themselves. Yale, however, made it quite clear how they viewed these titles. The statement reproduced above is printed on the rear of several of the late 1990s issued books - those that have the blue band across the covers and spine - and it is repeated above in full because it is important to understand why these books are regarded highly, why Yale keeps publishing them, and the world into which new books are commissioned and written.
The key statement there is the highest standards of historical scholarship to the widest possible readership. This was reiterated in a thirty-minute with Robert Baldock in 2010 for the Biblio File podcast (15 October 2010) in which he said Yale wished to produce high quality books at the lowest possible price. Understanding this makes the reader appreciate the work and care that has gone into each of the English Monarchs titles. Jeremy Black, a prolific British historian and the author of the series' George III, is quoted on many of the books as saying, "A classic series, arguably the classic series in historical biography". It's a view shared by many if not all the authors contributing books to the series. Timothy Bolton for example was persuaded to write 'Cnut the Great' for the series because of the series' importance in historical biography.
Since the beginning the books have been, with four exceptions, especially commissioned for inclusion in the series and most had a very long gestation period before they were published. The exceptions occurred after Yale took over the series in the late 1990s when four already published titles which were not part of the series were "promoted" into the Yale catalogue in a new printing or new edition. For these titles the date observed in this list is that of the first publication of the title.
Eyre and Spottiswoode commenced the series with ‘William the Conqueror’ in 1964. The author, David Douglas, was also the first Series Editor. This was a role which involved appointing authors, defining a house style and commissioning the books to be written. From the little revealled in the books themselves it appears that Yale has changed role of Series Editor, formerly an appointee outside the publishing house. In the last decade or longer Yale has transitioned from having a commissioning editor with an appointed house editor - one rough-hews them, the other shapes their end - to the Managing Director being the team leader of expert staff. Under Douglas’ guidance and the succeeding Series Editor J.J. Scarisbrick, Eyre and Spottiswoode (with the name evolving to Methuen) published twelve titles between 1964 and 1992 before Yale acquired the series. All these biographies were of early kings ranging from Edward the Confessor to James I.
Yale’s first books in the series were the 1997 reprints of the paperback and hardback editions of Henry VIII, Edward the Confessor, Edward I and Henry V, plus one new title - Richard II. In his preface to Richard II Nigel Saul comments that the book had taken ten years to get to print, which is a good indication of the time to prepare a book of this type. Compared to some titles this book was rush-released. Clearly Richard II, and the next few years of new Yale English Monarchs titles, was commissioned and commenced under Methuen’s oversight of the series. An exact date at which Yale stated to commission books for the series is not known, but it cannot be prior to the early years of the new century. Edward III (2011), for example, was promised as far back as the late 1980s and commissioned by series editor J.J. Scarisbrick. That is an exceptionally long lead-time but understandable given the huge length and scope of both the book and the reign of that particular king. Most of the other 2011-2017 titles must also have been allocated to authors if not actually commissioned in the last decade of Methuen’s ownership. The first entirely Yale book was 'King Stephen' (2010) and the author merely states that it had been in preparation for "a few years", and commissioned by Robert Baldock on behalf of Yale.
Between 1997 and 2001 four existing books were brought into the series by Yale. These were King John in 1997, James II in 2000, Queen Anne in 2001, and George I, also in 2001. The first of these was first published as far back as 1961.
In this period Yale published three new titles Richard I, Edward VI, George IV in 1999, and Henry I in 2001 - all hardbacks. It was another five years before Yale issued the next new book, George III in 2006, and another four years passed before a swag of titles was released. Edward II was the first in 2010 before eight more books between 2011 and 2017. The last of these was Cnut in 2017. 2020 will see the start of a new batch of at least three releases over the next two years: Henry III (part 1); Edward the Cofessor; and Elizabeth I.
Notable among these titles are the first books of monarchs of Great Britain [etc.]. Hitherto all titles were of English kings (see General Notes below). Subsequently, Yale has published books on five British monarchs (Anne to George IV) and with regard to the post-union but pre-British monarchs elevated the James II biography to series status. Additionally, a new James VI/I biography is being prepared. Methuen planned to publish books for at least two Georgian kings - Georges II and IV. These two titles were announced in the forthcoming list in the paperback release of Richard III in 1988, but these works were not completed and ultimately were written by different authors. On that basis Methuen is recognised as the instigator of this new direction later realised by Yale.
The last decade has born the fruit of Yale’s work in cultivating and renovating the series which, after more than fifty years, seems to be reaching the end. Except...Yale has embarked on a program of refreshing the line by replacing the oldest books. Already the book on the Conqueror has been updated and likewise James VI/I will eventually have a new book - not only an update but also a vast improvement on the now very inadequate 1967 release. Furthermore, a splendid new Richard III book was published by Yale in 2019 but as yet has not replaced the 1981 Charles Ross book, and a new Edward the Confessor is due in 2020. Only three reigns, therefore, remain unwritten and absent from the canon: the two kings Charles plus the often overlooked joint reign of William III and Mary II.
linked on the Series History page has more detail on how each of the two publishing houses, Methuen and Yale, developed the series. For a history of Yale University Press see their own account at of their website.
In the last decade Yale has released a number of English biographical histories. Some of these titles which, on face value, might have been included in the English Monarchs series are omitted for one of several reasons. For want of a better term they have been described as “Companion” books. This is an obvious invention for this website but this label provides a format to include these important Yale books in this catalogue rather than ignore them entirely. These books are defined as substantial Yale biographies of those who were regents, in line of succession, contested or shared the throne - or monarchs. Note that no Methuen books with these qualifications were found. So far eight such titles have been identified which are, listed in order of publication: Eleanor of Aquitaine (2009); Philip II of Spain (2014); Æthelred (2016); Henry, the Young King (2016); Louis the Lion (2016); Matilda (2019); Richard III (2019); and Cromwell (2021). Together these books are gathered here as a wonderful sub-set of serious biographies of quality equal to the series books. To observe their separation from the series Companion Books pages will have a green banner compared with the books in the series which have a blue banner.