In light of the increasing number of spurious "royal experts" infiltrating the media, Princess Palace has created this online testing and training center/centre (a.k.a. trivia quizzes) to facilitate the recognition and certification of actual royal experts. Anyone receiving certification may add C.R.E. (certified royal expert) after one's name. This site is created and maintained entirely for fun. Its creator asserts no authority for certifying anyone's qualifications for anything. ;)

29 January 2011

Interview with an Expert: Marlene Eilers Koenig

Marlene Eilers Koenig had a life-changing experience at the tender age of 12. While exploring a biography of Queen Victoria, she encountered the queen’s family tree and became immediately and permanently fascinated. From that moment, she began her own investigation into the queen’s vast progeny, trawling books and articles, eventually writing to and even phoning descendants. Over many years, she earned the trust and respect of the people she was researching, many of whom actively assisted her in her quest.

Eventually the research project morphed into a book project and Koenig found herself knee-deep in the kind of struggles faced by many first-time writers. “At first, it was very hard,” she recalls. When her first publisher went out of business, she was left was with unpublished manuscript. That’s when she met George Tantzos who connected her with Atlantic International Publications. Koenig’s first book, Queen Victoria’s Descendants, was published in 1987 as a comprehensive guide that sought not only to include all of the descendants in a genealogical volume but also to tell their real stories.

In the mean time, Koenig had launched another major project also borne from her consuming interest in royal history: Royal Book News, a subscription newsletter in which she reviews as many royal books as she can get her eyes on. In the last two and half decades, she has read and reviewed nearly every royal tome produced in English. In January 2011, she transitioned the labor-intensive and budget-busting printed publication to a more cost-effective blog, having first tested the effectiveness of the blogosphere for a couple of years with Royal Musings, a daily compendium of royal news stories from that date in history mixed with other commentary and observations.

In all of her writings and interviews, Koenig is ruthlessly honest in expressing her opinions about poorly researched books and articles about royalty. She is still ticked off that Kitty Kelley cited her in the ‘tell-all’ book, The Royals. Kelly attended a lecture Koenig had presented at the Smithsonian, but Koenig insists, “she learned nothing.” Koenig has also been loudly critical of the deluge of publications following the death of Diana Princess of Wales and the more recent announcement of Prince William’s engagement by authors she calls “hack writers” who rely on unsubstantiated claims, rumors, and speculation. She includes people like Lady Colin Campbell in this group, but asserts that others, like Andrew Morton, clearly use meticulous research.

And, Koenig is one who knows about meticulous research. She has amassed an extensive list of contacts among royal insiders and royals themselves as well as a personal library that includes more than a thousand royal books. She also maintains news clippings about European royals that date back to the turn of the last century. In fact, when European History Journal recently contacted her to write about the 2011 engagement of Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, she was able to begin her research by thumbing through her files at home, where she found original articles about the prince’s birth and the weddings of both his parents and grandparents, among other useful items.

She believes a personal library is critical for a royal expert. “I can pull from personal resources,” she says. “I can easily discover what Queen Victoria had to say about a particular event. You need to have access to material.”

Koenig is frustrated about the lack of English translations of excellent biographies and histories written in other languages, but she says the most difficult thing about her royal avocation is finding time for it outside of her full-time job as a librarian and her other obligations. Nevertheless, she has had a prolific career as a royal expert. In addition to writing, editing or contributing to several books—including last year’s The Grand Dukes, Sons and Grandsons of Russia’s Tsars—she has composed numerous articles for Atlantis, European History Journal, Majesty, Royalty Digest and Royalty. She’s been interviewed as a royal expert by ABC, BBC, CBC, CNN, and NBC as well as the Washington Post, New York Times, and London Daily Telegraph. All of this while still maintaining Royal Book News and adding daily postings on Royal Musings.

Her outspokenness has earned her some vociferous criticism, especially on the message boards. She was one of the first people to point out some of Diana’s less charming characteristics and to criticize Sarah Duchess of York. Since both formerly royal women have a broad base of extremely loyal supporters, Koenig has taken many hits for not being in love with them, too. Nevertheless, she says this has never hindered her ability to find publishers.

Koenig has also had run-ins with people asserting spurious descent from Queen Victoria. Decades of in-depth research on the topic has provided her with more than sufficient credentials to support or denounce such claimants.

In fact, she has continued to maintain such excellent relationships with undoubted descendants of the late queen that she is often invited to royal events and she is on several royal Christmas card lists. Just this week, she posted a copy of the Christmas card she received from the Prince and Princess of Venice on Royal Musings.

As for the changing atmosphere surrounding royalty over the course of her observations, Koenig doesn’t really see a difference in tone from today’s royal coverage. “If you look at the sons of King George III, there was certainly a lot of gossip and speculation about them, although they obviously didn’t have photographers following them around.” She is more concerned about the media outlets that are no longer covering royal news. For instance, “The New York Times doesn’t cover royalty the way it used to; royalty used to be front-page news, but it isn’t any more.”

One reason for her concern is that Koenig believes there is more than just romantic mystique behind royal traditions. “In Europe, among the most stable and wealthiest nations are the ones with monarchies. There seems to be something positive about having a head of state who is tied to history and tradition over one who is elected.”

So, Koenig will continue to share her royal fascination through meticulous research and forthright commentary. In addition to the Arts Journal assignment, she is currently working with publisher Ted Rosvall on a book about the descendants of Danish King Christian IX, who happens to share many descendants with the woman who launched Koenig’s royal career, Queen Victoria. Having published a new edition of Queen Victoria’s Descendants in 1997 and a companion book of updates in 2004, Koenig has continued to maintain her interest in the topic, periodically updating her information although she admits that some of the younger descendants are less interested in her project than their forebears.

Now well beyond her girlhood, Marlene Eilers Koenig has built a solid career as a royal expert by surrounding herself quite literally with Queen Victoria’s descendants. Few people have changed their own lives so completely by turning a page in a book.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great overview of Marlene Eilers Koenig's work. After years of hearing about her book, I finally found a copy of my own at a local used bookshop! It's fascinating and I look forward to finding more of her work.