Leonie Frieda’s top 10 biographies of historical figures

Leonie Frieda was born in Sweden and grew up in Britain, France and Germany. Her long-term interest in Catherine de Medici took her to archives in Paris and Florence as well as the chateaux of the Loire, and finally led her to write a revisionist biography of Catherine published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2004. She is currently tackling her second book, a biography of first world war soldier and letter-writer Edward Horner. She chooses her top 10 biographies of historical figures.

1. Queen Victoria by Elizabeth Longford

It’s fabulously readable and never gets stale. Longford’s book is one of the first English biographies that I ever read.

2. Elizabeth I by Anne Somerset

A brilliant study – again the author is undaunted by the fact that her subject has been covered countless times – and rightly so. She brings wit, insight and vigour to the telling of ‘Gloriana’s’ remarkable life and the weltpolitik that dictated so much of her policymaking.

3. Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser

The author’s lyrical life of the Scots queen, the compelling narrative that drives the story headlong to its sorry conclusion, much in the manner of this tragic and stubborn monarch’s life, is one of English biography’s greats. The book was also my introduction to Catherine de Medici and piqued my interest in the Florentine Queen of France.

4. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

An unconventional, often witty and piercing analysis of the first world war’s effects on society, its mores, language and psyche. A fresh look at what WB Yeats described as the birth of a terrible beauty – the post-war world.

5. Elizabeth by David Starkey

All of Starkey’s books on the Tudors are excellent; this just happens to be my favourite.

6. Renaissance Warrior and Patron: The Reign of Francois I by Professor Robert Knecht

The definitive study of the fabulous French monarch. Francois was a contemporary and sometime friend, sometime foe of Henry VIII of England. He understood how to project majesty, how to glorify France, himself and the throne. Despite his flaws as a statesman, Francois I is arguably the most splendid monarch in French history; certainly of the early Renaissance.

7. Stalin: The Court of The Red Tsar By Simon Sebag Montefiore

A fantastically chilling study of power bought with cunning, brutal cruelty and retained by evil.

8. Catherine de Medici, by Ivan Cloulas

The most comprehensive modern biography of the queen whose reputation for evil was on a par with that of Lucrezia Borgia and Messalina. This book is a must-read for anyone wishing to take their studies on Catherine further.

9. Henri II By Frederick Baumgartner

A splendid life of this little-known king, husband to Catherine de Medici. He had many good qualities, but tragically for France his reign was cut short when he died in a tournament accident in 1559 – had he lived it is likely that he would have used the force of a united France to stamp out Protestantism and avoid the civil wars that plagued the country for nearly 40 years following his death.

10.Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Dr Foreman’s life of Georgiana (nee Georgiana Spencer), a society beauty, married to the foremost Whig aristocrat of her day. Her life of chaotic adventures, tragedy and triumphs is splendidly retold.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/feb/15/bestbooks.history