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Princes at War

The British Royal Family's Private Battle in the Second World War
Narrated by: Cameron Stewart
Length: 13 hrs and 58 mins
4.8 out of 5 stars (16 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

King George V predicted that his son, Edward VIII, would destroy himself within a year of succeeding to the throne. In December 1936 he was proved right, and the world’s press revealed the king was abandoning his throne to marry Wallis Simpson.

A life spent in the shadow of his charismatic elder brother left the new king, George VI, magnificently unprepared for the demands of ruling the kingdom and empire.

Drawing on personal accounts from the royal archives, Deborah Cadbury uncovers the very private conflict between George VI and his older brother.

©2015 Deborah Cadbury (P)2015 Oakhill Publishing

Critic Reviews

"Gripping.... One of the most riveting tales of the nonfiction season, rendered with novelistic drama but deliberate detachment. The inner tensions of the palace during wartime and the inner tensions of a remarkable family make for one of the best, and ultimately most uplifting, stories of the war years." ( The Boston Globe)
"A moving and deeply researched account.... Her story is gripping, illuminating and generous in its recognition of the central, dramatic role of the monarchy in Britain’s finest years, and particularly the quiet heroism of King George VI." (William Shawcross, author of The Queen Mother)
"Impeccably researched, and written with all the brio and understanding of a major historical novel, Princes at War takes us intimately and even shockingly into the human dynamics of a barely functional family at the time of our greatest peril." (David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain)
"Meticulous and measured analysis of the Windsor saga.... Hovering over the drama is the question of whether the Windsors endangered the monarchy itself at a perilous time in history. The strenuous attempts to suppress sensitive files touching on the collaboration between the Windsors and the Nazis reveal the anxieties at the heart of the British establishment.... Cadbury deftly weaves the stories of the royal dukes into the unfolding national crisis as appeasement gives way to war.... [She] covers the war years - Dunkirk, the Blitz, the Normandy invasion - in moving detail." ( Wall Street Journal)
"Does the author provide a fresh and original view of the Duke of Windsor? Slightly to my surprise, my answer to this question must be 'Yes'.... Princes at War is a well-researched and entertaining account of a particularly poignant period in history .... Cadbury writes uncommonly well and her book is definitely worth reading." (Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph.)
"The contrast between the two brothers - one dutiful and earnest struggling to deal with the responsibilities that had been forced upon him, the other blithe and solipsistic - is drawn with great dramatic effect in Princes at War.... Deborah Cadbury combines the family drama against the backdrop of the war with terrific narrative verve." (Daisy Goodwin, The Times)
"Cadbury has given it all a fresh analysis, cleverly unveiling in much detail the deep anguish of the brothers. This is a highly readable and finely written account of the drama which threatened to bring king and country crashing down. Only stammering Bertie emerges as a hero." ( Daily Express)

What listeners say about Princes at War

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this to a friend who is interested in pre WW2 and WW2 history and politics. The attempts by Britain to 'make nice' with the Nazis and the failure of regular diplomacy is especially relevant today as is the steadfast loyalty and duty to his country displayed by George VI and seen in in his daughter Elizabeth II.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I enjoyed learning more about the Duke of Windsor's political machinations, but George VI was the most interesting person in the book. I enjoyed the way the author demonstrated that the people and political leaders of Britain seemed dazzled by Edward VIII, but that George VI was really the right man for the job. The best part of the book is the undercurrent that runs underneath: Edward VIII would have been a disastrous King and Mrs Simpson would have been a woeful Queen and Cadbury demonstrates that through a thorough analysis of the actions of Wallis and Edward after his abdication.

What about Cameron Stewart’s performance did you like?

Cameron Stewart is a great reader whose pronunciation was always perfect and who struck the right sombre tone for a serious non fiction book.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I would not say I would want to listen to it all in one sitting. After all, there is little suspense involved in a non fiction book. However, I will listen to it again because it whizzes by so quickly in some parts and it is action packed during the war years.

2 people found this helpful

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So good ~ worth listening many times over.

Really well written and narrated expertly ~ great insight into WW2 royal family intrigues ~ thoroughly enjoyed.

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Thoroughly enjoyed

This audio book was a delight from start to finish. Enhanced by a svelte Narrator. Certainly gave me an insight into times becoming remote to our times. This book did not preach nor make easy judgements but informed and enlightened. Highly recommended both in print format and especially with the first class Narration.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Princes at War.

The historical research from personal archives about the royal brothers, their immediate and extended family, the friendship with Winston Churchill was so insightful and revealing. The narrator, Cameron Stewart was skilful with an evocative voice, made this book fascinating and enjoyable to listen to. Historical Buff.

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Great new insight into a story that we think we already know.

Well researched and clearly written in a manner the unravels complex threads. Beautifully read . A rich addition to my knowledge and understanding of the period.

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  • Simone
  • 04-04-2016

Good, but too political for me.

I love Royal Family Biographies and was looking forward to this one since it included the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester, but I was disappointed by the heavy “politics of WW2” content and so I was left pretty disappointed overall.

If it just so happens that you are interested in the details of The Second World War AND the Royal Family, then without a doubt this is the book for you!!! I do find some aspects of WW2 interesting to learn about, but it’s not why I picked up this book. I wanted a more personal look at the lives of the Royal Brothers during the war and I felt that the book went off on too many tangents about war strategies and battle planning… I zoned out on many occasions.

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  • Kl Love
  • 12-01-2016

Real people with public lives

Where does Princes at War rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is one of the best books I have listened to.

What other book might you compare Princes at War to, and why?

Like many of the biographies of early 20th century political figures (Margot at War, about Margaret Asquith; or the story of the Mitford sisters) in dealing with people of whom we have all heard, but who are now fading into the pages of history. However, this one is exceptionally good at combining the public and private aspects of their lives. Whilst the author is humane in her approach to the individuals, she is also clear-sighted about the obsession of Edward VIII for Mrs Simpson, and Mrs Simpson's insatiable hunger for wealth, position and most of all a royal title.

Have you listened to any of Cameron Stewart’s other performances? How does this one compare?

This is the first time I have listened to Cameron Stewart, but he was an excellent narrator: clear, well-paced, a pleasant voice, that brought the book through clearly without any of the mannerisms that can sometimes distract. I liked the fact that he did NOT try to adopt a different voice for every person who was quoted, which is current fashionable. I will look forward to listening to him again.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Not a single moment, but rather the theme of how heavily his role as king weighed on George VI is always impressive and moving.

Any additional comments?

This book was a well-balanced combination of political history (the events leading up to the abdication, to the war, and the way the war played out) and personal history (the effects of these various events on the people involved, and the human and family interactions between them). Without ever being salacious or prying, it gave me an enhanced sense of how the public events fitted into the private lives of these individual, and how their individual gifts and personalities affected those events.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Alison St Pierre
  • 17-05-2017

Fascinating must read for anyone interested in modern history!

I remained gripped, throughout this book, at the honest insights into the personalities that influenced the Second World War. Highly recommended read for anyone interested in people, personal experiences and the royalty as people. Charmingly read.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Dee Watcher
  • 21-06-2017

Interesting angle on a well known story

Have you listened to any of Cameron Stewart’s other performances? How does this one compare?

At the start of the book I found the narrators style rather old fashioned. But as I got used to it I found it suited the story. So much of this is set in the 1930's and 1940's and people did speak a bit differently then.
This is the only book I have listened to read by this narrator, so I don't know if his style would be different for a different book.

Any additional comments?

I have read other books covering the abdication, but I found this interesting in the way this book compared and contrasted the behaviour of the the 4 brothers during WWII. It was good to find out more about the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester. I felt the author was even-handed as he told the story and let the actions of the brothers reveal their characters. George VI, Gloucester and Kent all rose to the challenge and worked for the good of the country, accepting the sacrifices they had to make. All spent less time with their families then they would have liked. The Duke of Windsor, on the other hand put his wife first, himself second, and didn't seem to worry about anyone or anything else. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the Royal Family and especially the Duke of Windsor.

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  • Andrew
  • 21-04-2017

Good read.

Very interesting stuff for anyone interested in the period and the people. Certainly things revealed in this book I had no idea about.

2 people found this helpful

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  • iris
  • 09-05-2016

Stunning Account

This book is more than just an appraisal of the personal lives of two brothers it is an excellent account of the events leading up to and during the Second World War. The author manages to combine painstaking and thorough research with a highly accessible and readable narrative. The narrator does an excellent job reading in an unobtrusive way without thank goodness trying to imitate the voices of Churchill or other leading protagonists of the time. The historical events are so dramatic in themselves that they do not need histrionic flourishes on the part of the narrator.

The description of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk when France fell into the hands of the Germans was one of the best I have ever read. The Battle of Britain was wonderfully described too. What the author really managed to convey was the sense of isolation when Britain found herself alone facing the seemingly overwhelming might of the Nazis.

I loved the excerpts from the war diary of “Bertie” and his self effacing bravery and courage were remarkable compared with the selfish and egotistical behaviour of his brother David.

It was no doubt in my mind a good thing for England that King Edward abdicated his throne. He never seemed to attain adult maturity and there is a limit to the power of childish charm especially in times of real crisis. The bone of contention dividing the brothers remained the status of Wallis Simpson whom the new King refused to grant the title of Royal Highness. This dispute seems so childish when considered in the light of the terrible events facing the British people at the time. The author maintains a healthy distance and neutrality in describing the relationship of the tandem Edward and Mrs Simpson. It is up to the listener to forge his own opinion from the facts presented.

A splendid book and I can highly recommend it.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Pamela
  • 25-02-2017

The Inside Story

This is a gripping account, well told, of the roles played by the four royal brothers before and during WW2. I have read many books about the abdication, but never in such enthralling detail. Excerpts from the King's diary during the conflict are especially illuminating as he agonises over the heavy losses incurred by the Armed Forces in those first harrowing years. The treasonous path chosen by his brother, the ex-king, is discussed at length. This book is an eye-opener, with heroes and villains popping up everywhere.

2 people found this helpful

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  • T
  • 11-09-2020

Highly recommended

Wonderful book. Couldn’t stop listening. A really absorbing account of the brothers and the impact of the abduction but also of WWII and it’s main timeline. Excellent excellent book, vastly exceeded my expectations. I can’t stop listening but also am dreading it ending. Favourite book in quite a long time.

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  • Mary Carnegie
  • 27-08-2020

Historical fiction?

The author cannot be regarded even as a popular historian. She takes not every basic attention to historical accuracy, constantly describing 20th century monarchs as “kings of England “ rather than kings of UK. She imagines England is an island! The story is entertaining but relies heavily on speculation, gossip and conspiracy theory. It’s OK (because of the narrator) but I wouldn’t take such a sloppy author too seriously.

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  • Nick Pedley
  • 17-06-2020

Well researched and excellently written.

Fascinating book, well researched and extremely detailed. Gives quite a different slant on the relationship of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, postulating a detailed view as to why neither was ever welcomed back into the Royal Family or the UK. All encompassing in its approach to the 1930’s build up to the 2nd World War, the Abdication and King George VI. Also the dynamics in the relationships between politicians, the King and Winston Churchill becoming the wartime leader. On my 3rd reading!

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  • Amazonian
  • 02-06-2020

An absolutely riveting listen

Narrated wonderfully with understanding and a voice that is a pleasure to listen to, the unfolding of the war years through the differing perspectives of the Princes has been a surprise and a joy. Deborah Cadbury has written of a period I knew of pretty well with such immediacy and new detail that the joys, sorrows, high tension and machinations in the lives of the Princes, their royal relations, politicians and the nazis are a source of absorbing fascination and I couldn't wait for each opportunity to hear more. Highly recommended.