‘Koh-I-Noor – The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond’ (Bloomsbury) Book Review

Koh-I-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Firstly it’s interesting and perhaps partly synchronistic that I have completed this book a few months shy of the first British coronation for seventy years and the imminent installation of the first British Asian PM of the United Kingdom (October 2022).
I have always found Dalrymple’s style captivating, somehow he draws you in, making you feel a part of the narrative. Whilst this book is co authored along with Anita Anand, I do not find it upto William’s usual brilliance – but even below par, it is still a great read.
I certainly had no idea that the Mughals preferred rubies to diamonds but I understand their sensibilities. And whilst the actual history of the Koh-i-Noor is not proven prior to 1739, one does suspect that it was probably one of those previously described jewels from the earlier Mughal empire.
I did find that Anand’s section was a little less interesting, yet still perfectly readable. There is a sense (conveyed to me at least) that the Mughal/Persian invasions of the subcontinent, although equally as brutal as the British and the Company’s conquests, are somehow more ‘acceptable’ because of their greater artistic and even poetic prowess. I suppose it’s broadly similar to many historians forgiving the Normans for their brutal subjection of England from 1066, with the Harrying of the North etc, purely because they built such incredible cathedrals and brought strong government. That said, I would concede that the British rule of India was far from being a simple case of a superior culture forcing itself on to an inferior one; in many ways Indian culture was more advanced than that of the so called West.
However, this aside, I do think this book adds another important element in the understanding of Anglo Indian relations and the history of the merging of these two and more cultures.

Copyright Francis 2022



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‘The Orwell Tour’ Oliver Lewis – Book Review (NetGalley)

Part travelogue, part biography, this book (Pub Date 6 Apr 2023) flits seemlessly through timelines and cultures in a profound, insightful manner, almost Dalrymplesque in its style in places, albeit minus the architectural sensibilities; it is a rainbow patchwork held together convincingly by the towering, restless mind that is George Orwell.

And I very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into producing this book, clearly a work of patience driven by fascination.

Like many, I was already familiar with Orwell’s two most famous works from school. I was not well acquainted with his biography, nor that of his native restlessness and originality, as diverse as his many dwelling places during his life.

What emerges from these pages is an enjoyable exploration, a voyage, if you will, around this literary giant. To many Orwell remains an enigma, following the opposite course of a lot of people during their lives. For example, I began with strong leftward leanings which have morphed slowly to the centre in later life; the course of Orwell’s life was somewhat opposite to that, as the author explains well, perhaps understandable considering his upper middle class origins during the latter years of the Indian Raj.

Orwell’s experiences in Spain during 1936-7, do indeed seem seminal too, correcting his own left leaning path, to the point that by the end of his life he seemed to be once again embracing a patriotism which, to be fair, he never abandoned at all. Maybe this is why he is often acclaimed and disliked by both right and left.

The author’s descriptive passages relating to India, Eton, Spain, London and Wigan in particular, are to me most enjoyable and profound, stating that England’s long term problem with itself is still as much about social hierarchy as it is poverty. And that pigeon racing in Lancashire is still popular today, hanging like those slowly decaying symbols of a once powerful cotton industry.

What does come across well is Orwell’s refutation of pigeon holes. I think he understood the futility of hanging tags around people; why shouldn’t socialists be patriotic? And why shouldn’t conservatives embrace redistribution of wealth? England? Whose England? indeed.

As Malcolm Muggeridge was to point out at Orwell’s death, to many he was an enigma, both an arch conservative in relation to England and its customs and traditions, as well as someone willing to embrace a revolution in thought, even if he was to see the error in the latter, particularly during the emergence of the Cold War.

I would point out one other error though from the text – Henry VI of England was not the first Yorkist king of England; that particular honour falls to Edward IV, brother of the future Richard III.

That said, this was a most enjoyable and enlightening read and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend to any open minded and curious person wishing to know more about one of the most important authors of the 20th century.


Copyright Francis 2022

‘A Great and Terrible King’ (Windmill Books) A Great Story of a Controversial King – Book Review

This is the most comprehensive and fluent account I have ever read of Edward I, king of England.

But firstly, the cover. We are drawn to covers, of course, although sometimes we don’t like to admit it, that it might just be a tiny bit shallow to judge a book by its cover. Yet this cover says it all, really, a ruler who lived by the sword, who was both just and ruthless, as every successful monarch of the high middle ages had to be, like a roaring lion in human form.

Morris conveys convincingly the notion that we have to judge the man by his times and not our own; Edward was a crusader and a conqueror, subjugator of Wales and ‘Hammer of the Scots’.

The appalling treatment of William Wallace in 1305, accused of treason, and then hung, drawn and quartered whilst Edward was at play elsewhere, does not seem at all righteous to modern minds. After all Wallace was probably one of the very few Scottish nobles who did not swear allegiance to the English king: he was a Scottish patriot after all, but that would be lost on the empire building approach of Edward and the expediency of his reign.

So today Edward I may not be too popular in either Scotland or indeed Wales. But he failed to fully conquer Scotland, even though he was successful in planting his ‘own man’ (John Balliol) on the Scottish throne for a time.

And then there is the Statute of Jewry of 1275 where Edward acceded to the Church’s demands to try and limit the effects of usury. Morris deals with this in a most balanced way, I feel, trying to help us understand the reasons for this and what seems to us now the eventual cruel banishment of Jews from the kingdom of England in 1290. Naturally, today such action is not viewed in the same light; we live in a very different, more secular world.

Most especially this book conveys the sheer intensity of the personality of this monarch, his energy and drive, a man whose body was exhumed in 1774, confirming his oft used moniker of the time, Longshanks – that is, he had long legs.

The subtitle of Morris’ book is ‘And the forging of Britain’. Ultimately, the king was only partially successful in this and many of his achievements were undone by his son, Edward II, who lost at Bannockburn in 1314, which in turn led to the groundbreaking Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, where noble Scots claimed their long term independence from England.

All in all, a fabulous read, albeit keeping us at a safe distance from those terrible, tumultuous times.


Copyright Francis 2021

The Passing of the Crown – A New Beginning for the United Kingdom?

We are told that the news of Queen Elizabeth’s death was conveyed to Britain’s new Prime Minister at 4:30 pm on Thursday September 8 2022.

Although we perhaps ought to presume that death occurred a little time before that, for astrological prognostication purposes, I am using that time to mark the official transition between the two monarchs, when the leading minister of state was informed of the passing of late Queen and the assumption of King Charles III.

So what does this chart reveal? I was immediately drawn to the Moon’s separating conjunction with retrograde Saturn in Aquarius in the third house, square to Uranus and the north node in the sixth house. From this I do suspect that death occurred sometime before, possibly as the Moon reached exact conjunction. Nevertheless, for official purposes this chart will still suffice.

Profound sadness, change – but also a return to tradition?

This conjunction in itself indicates the deep sadness of the nation and of people in general around the world, a profound ending, an official closure if you will, plus all the consequent sombre coverage exuded by the media.

But let’s remember too that this casts light on the new reign. Charles, it is said, or rumoured, is keen on slimming down the monarchy, making it more suitable for the 21st century (Aquarius), whatever that may mean. I certainly feel that the public will be generally in favour of such a revision of its monarchy and its role.

That said, I think this may also show an increased need amongst the people for traditional subjects and approaches, of looking back and taking the best parts forward. Great Britain has always had a strong need for continuity, which is why the monarchy has survived for over 1000 years.

The square to Uranus in Taurus from the sixth house could show that such a transition will not be easily accomplished, especially with the expenditure needed to ‘fix’ the National Health Service, for example; republicans will raise their voice in regard to this I am sure in the ensuing months and years. The north node in the same house shows that public expenditure on the services and utilities are the right focus from now on, even though such programs will be very difficult to maintain financially in the present paradigm.

Sagittarius is rising, indicating flux and change, but with Jupiter in Aries, even in retrograde, and in the fifth house of creation, there will be many opportunities for growth and enterprise in the years to come.

The Virgo Sun is fittingly in the 10th house of government, which to me symbolises the continuity of the monarchy and government, albeit in a more modest mode.

Healing the nation, its relationship to its leaders

Venus is conjunct the fixed royal star Regulus in the 10th house; I think this underlines an opportunity for healing and sealing the relationship between the people, its monarchy and even its government. There is a strong need amongst the public for a more honest approach from government ministers, for them to truly represent the people.

Mars is conjunct another royal star, Aldebaran, in a Gemini seventh house, meaning that Britain’s foreign policy in the new reign will be both forceful and varied. Mars is in good aspect to Mercury (ruler of the 7th) too from the 11th house, indicating that foreign policy and diplomacy will be crucial and, I believe, largely successful.

To end with a word of caution, undermining Pluto in the second house, combined with upsetting Uranus in Taurus in the sixth, reveal that Great Britain, economically and administratively, is going to see some fundamental changes which are going to be difficult to process – a situation which the whole world will have to face too.

However, I believe there is enough in this chart to indicate that Britain can rejuvenate and with the forthcoming coronation, probably in early 2023, there is much to look forward to with some cautious optimism.

Copyright Francis 2022