Monarchy: The Complete Series is perhaps a misnomer for the newly released 2004 British documentary. While it is complete in the sense that it includes an additional three and a half hours of material originally broadcast in the UK which had not previously been available in the two sets of DVDs released in North America in 2006 and 2007, it is much more a historical account of a specific monarchy, that of Great Britain, than it is an attempt to deal with the general concept or its manifestations beyond the British Isles. No doubt the general concept can be defined and analyzed through the specific example; still the emphasis in this series is less the idea of monarchy than it is the historical account of the British brand.
The series is presented and presumably written by David Starkey (although no writer is credited in the promotional material), noted historian who has taught at the London School of Economics, written more than a dozen books, and become a regular presenter on televised documentaries. A biography of Professor Starkey, perhaps best known for The Wives of Henry VIII, is included as a bonus feature with this set.
To give him his due, Starkey does begin the series with an attempt to broaden the concept of monarchy to include all systems of government where a single person, call that person what you will, is in control. Later on, he also distinguishes between "limited monarchy" where the monarch rules with the consent and approval of the governed as in England after the Magna Carta and "absolute monarchy" where the monarch has no need to get consent for his actions as ruler, as in France. He talks about Louis XIV in France as developing a model of the modern monarchy and republican rule in Holland. There is even some discussion of the rise of the prime minister in the 18th century as a pseudo-monarchial power. Still, whenever he discusses monarchy in general or specific examples outside of England, it is always to make some point about the British system.
Monarchy then is really a history of the British throne, and as such it is sweeping and complete. In 16 episodes on five discs with a combined running time of about 776 minutes, Professor Starkey traces the English monarchy from its Anglo-Saxon beginnings to the reign of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert. No important event and almost no important personage, British or foreign, with any significance in that history goes unmentioned. Landmark events, like the Norman Conquest, the Wars of the Roses, the Glorious Revolution, and the American Revolution, are described and analyzed at length. Monarchs of particular significance, like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles I, may have whole episodes devoted to their reigns. Lesser royals get limited coverage. Courtiers and commoners—Thomas Wolsey, Sarah Churchill, William Pitt—are given their due. There is some repetition, but with an epic so vast to cover, a little repetition helps to keep the players straight.