On his way to Sandringham last week, Prince Philip was spotted with a book under his arm: The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome, to give the book its full title. (You've got to admit, that's catchy.) Written by Christopher Kelly, it is a work that seeks to reposition poor old Attila, so cruelly regarded as a bit of a barbarian brute, in a new light. Rather funny to see the royal consort, in his twilight years, investigating how civilisations fall. Or how powerful men can be miscast as brutes. One wonders what the attraction is?
In Alan Bennett's novella The Uncommon Reader, a chance encounter with a mobile library leads the Queen to start reading so voraciously that she gets through Jane Austen and ends up tackling Proust. It's particularly tickling as the Queen is known to favour the works of Dick Francis – a friend who worked at his publishers said the Royal Family always had to be sent the first copy of the jockey's latest horse-racing thrillers.
But what if she tackled something a bit fruitier this year? What if Prince Philip's bold excursion into dying dynasties and power shifts led the Queen into similarly unthinkable areas of thought – 21st-century feminism, for instance. Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman made the bestseller lists this year and is immensely readable, with its chatty excursions into vaginas, pubic hair and the fondlement of oneself. Indeed, Naomi Wolf wrote a biography of the vagina, should the Queen wish to go beyond the issue of personal topiary and take a more detailed look inside.
Christmas at Sandringham does sound laborious, with the Master of the Household handing out schedules and room plans, and gifts being exchanged on Christmas Eve. These gifts are not expected to be lavish – apparently Diana made a bit of a faux pas in the early days by buying everyone cashmere – so a book is an excellent plan. Someone could give Prince Harry the anti-capitalist works of Joseph Stiglitz and Naomi Klein – surely he'll soon get bored of Vegas babes and realise that the real action girls are in the Occupy movement?
Although the Cambridges won't be at Sandringham this year, they'll be getting their share of the loot. The Duchess of Cambridge could do with something a bit more interesting than What to Expect When You're Expecting – maybe Rachel Cusk's two memoirs about how having children can be dreary and weird and send you mad, then you get divorced. Prince William will also want something about fatherhood – Tom Hodgkinson's The Idle Parent is an ideal start. It encourages a hands-off approach, an attitude that is doubtless made easier when one has a valet to run the baby bath for one.
Zara Phillips needs something to get her in the mood for Rio in 2016. In a collection of stories called Family Ties by the great Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, a whole family must get together and deal with their conflicting emotions as they celebrate their 89-year-old matriarch, who is silently furious. You never know, but Zara might just find something to relate to there.
But the one thing you really mustn't buy any of the royals is a DVD of the documentary that Keith Allen made about the death of Diana. Not released in the UK, Unlawful Killing suggests that Diana was bunked off by the establishment for causing trouble, and includes an interview with psychologist Oliver James, who calls Prince Philip a "psychopath". The film was funded by Mohamed al Fayed. You might laugh, but three friends have seen it, and all are now convinced that our rulers are capable of dastardly acts. Maybe we should all be reading up on Attila the Hun after all.Reuse content