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The majority of Britons think the monarchy is not such a bad thing. The royals are good for satire and tourism, after all, and what would we put in their place? The system may not be fair, but it is part of our heritage, and it would be more trouble than it’s worth to change it. I used to share this view, but writing about history for the last few years has changed my mind.

Biography is especially fascinating when its subjects are flawed. Claire Tomalin’s recent best-selling Samuel Pepys is a fine example of this. Pepys could be petty…

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