First of Penguin Monarchs editions released

Cover art by Vania Zouravliov

Penguin Monarchs is a new 45-book series that looks at the individual reigns of Britain’s kings and queens over the last 1,000 years. For each biography, a new portrait has been commissioned by a range of artists and illustrators…

Penguin art director Jim Stoddart worked on the series for the Allen Lane imprint with Pentagram‘s Angus Hyland, who oversaw the design of each of the covers (Hyland is interviewed about the project on Design Week, here). The series of 45 books will be released over the next four years.

Cover art by Iker Spozio


“Looking back at existing images of royalty through the ages there is a huge discrepancy in styles and quality,” says Stoddart. “Many medieval monarchs aren’t represented visually at all, or perhaps only in a rough etching or tapestry.

“Where there are royal portraits there is often a reserved stiffness or overly-reverential composition which usually lack charisma and appeal – many of those artists are likely to have worked with extreme caution and feared for their lives if their work did not please.”

Henry VIII cover art by Peter Blake


From Athelstan (894 – 939) and Aethelred the Unready to George VI and Elizabeth II, the Monarchs series includes the dynastic houses of Wessex, Normandy and Plantagenet, through to Lancaster and York, Tudor, Stuart, Hanover and Windsor. Oliver Cromwell is also tackled by David Horspool.

Cover art by Riikka Sormunen


Stoddart says that the brief for the artists was to approach each of the the kings and queens in the series with a fresh eye and that conveying an idea of the ‘spirit of the age’ was more important than accurate representation.

This approach enabled the artists to show the monarchs as “eccentric, interesting individuals rather than just as the focus of leadership,” Stoddart says. “The outcome is that we have a series of impassioned characterisations, which appeal to the modern eye, as well as those already familiar with history.”

Cover art by David Downton


“We have also included each monarch’s signatures on the covers [see below] which reminds us of the authenticity of these very real people,” Stoddart adds. “But there is a further significance to this – these signatures, unlike yours or mine, carried a huge amount of power, including the capacity to send enemies to their graves at will.”

For more on the Penguin Monarchs series at Each book is £10.99. Angus Hyland is interviewed about the project on Design Week here.