Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II

Image of Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II: Commemorative Edition, 1926-2022
Release Date: 
December 13, 2022
Pegasus Books
Reviewed by: 

Fascination with the lives of the contemporary British royal family has remained as strong as ever as demonstrated by the enduring success of Netflix’s The Crown, which dramatizes Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Robert Hardman, a well-known royal commentator, is no stranger to the subjects of the queen or the British royal family, having written several books on the topic (such as Queen of the World, Her Majesty, and Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work). His newest, Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II, draws from new research and is intended as “an entirely fresh portrait not just of her reign but of her life.”

Elizabeth II served as Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms from 1952 until her death in 2022. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days is the longest of any British monarch. Some significant events include her 1953 coronation ceremony and the celebrations of her Silver, Golden, Diamond, and Platinum jubilees in 1977, 2002, 2012, and 2022, respectively. As a result of her historically monumental reign, she created a “steadfast presence,” ranking among the most famous figures in British and international life.

The hardcover version of Queen of Our Times was published in April 2022, several months before Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September. This commemorative paperback edition, issued in December 2022, was updated to reflect this seminal event and the ascension of her son, Charles, Prince of Wales, to the throne as King Charles III. The most significant updates are a new preface and an epilogue to address the queen’s final months and death. It is thereby one of the first new full-length biographies of Elizabeth II to address her entire life, from birth to death.

The book is divided into six parts, which correspond to seminal phases in Elizabeth II’s life. The years comprising each phase are then subdivided into four to six chapters. Part one, “Princess,” covers her life from 1926 to 1952. It is comprised of four chapters: “1926–36,” “1937-40,” “1940–47,” and “1947–52.” Elizabeth became heir to the British throne at the age of 10, when her father became king in 1936 as George VI upon the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII. She was educated privately at home and began to undertake public duties during World War II, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark.

Part two, “The ‘Unfinished Reign’” focuses on 1952 to 1969. It is made up of four chapters: “1952–5,” “1955–60,” “1960–66,” and “1966–69.” Upon George VI’s death in February 1952, the young Elizabeth—then only 25 years old—became queen of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), as well as head of the Commonwealth. Part Three, “Silver and Iron,” addresses the years 1970 to 1992, and is comprised of six chapters: “1970–73,” “1974–76,” “1977–79,” “1979–81,” “1982–85,”and “1986–92.”

Hardman perceives the queen’s reign “as a play in two acts,” the first of which was “an apprentice phase, when she was still in the shadow of her father’s generation and following his template.” This is what he alludes to as the “unfinished reign” in the book’s part two. The second act was initiated through a process of gaining her own confidence through experience, new advisors, and external events “to start shaping the institution more clearly in her own image.” He sees this transition as occurring during the 1960s and unfolding in the 1970s. However, the focus of Hardman’s book is Elizabeth II’s life from the 1990s onward, as those years comprise roughly half of its text.

Part four, “Fire and Flowers,” covers the years 1992 to 1999, with four chapters on “1992–93,” “1993–95,” “1995–97,” and “1997–99.” Subsequently, part five, “Ring the Changes,” details 2000 to 2018 in five chapters: “2000–04,” “2005–09,” “2010–11,” “2012–15,” and “2015–18.” The final part, “Platinum,” addresses 2019 to the present and includes some royal commentary. It also includes four chapters: “2019–20,” “2020–21,” “Transition,” and “The Future.” The epilogue details the queen’s death in September 2022 to conclude the book.

Elizabeth II reigned as a constitutional monarch through major political changes and upheavals in contemporary British history, including British struggles to find its place in the post-World War II, Evolving conceptions of British identity, the Cold War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, devolution in the United Kingdom, the decolonization of Africa, and the United Kingdom's accession to the European Communities and withdrawal from the European Union.

During her time as queen, Elizabeth II faced occasional republican sentiment and media criticism toward both her and her family.  Such criticism was particularly intense after the breakdowns of her children's marriages, her annus horribilis in 1992, and the death in 1997 of her former daughter-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales. Nevertheless, support for the British monarchy and her personal popularity both remained consistently high during her lifetime.

Overall, Hardman’s biography is well-detailed, with lots of compelling anecdotes. The book is relatively well-documented for a popular biography, with ample citations to document his sources, a selected bibliography, and a note on sources. The author made use of numerous printed materials, archival sources, and interviews. The front matter also contains a simplified family tree of the British royal family from Queen Victoria to King Charles III.

As the Hardman notes in his “sources” section, “much of the royal and official correspondence from this reign will remain classified for many years to come.” As a result of the unavailability of these records, perhaps a definitive biography of Elizabeth II benefiting from both these documents and a broader, retrospective, historical lens lies in the future. In the interim, however, Hardman’s biography makes an excellent reading companion.