Read our interview with the author here.
When summer is at its zenith and the sallow foliage develops a bluish tinge, a giant butterfly – beautiful, bold and brazen – flies powerfully over the tree canopy. Females of this species, wary yet determined, haunt the sallow thickets, depositing their eggs, while the males establish treetop territories and descend to the woodland floor in search of indelicacies to feed upon. Mysterious, elusive and enthralling in equal measure, this is the butterfly that Victorian collectors yearned for above all others: His Imperial Majesty, the Purple Emperor.
A wondrous enigma, the Purple Emperor is our most elusive and least-known butterfly – we glimpse it only through fissures in its treetop world, yet this giant insect has fascinated us for centuries and has even inspired its own 'Emperoring' language. Matthew Oates became captivated by the Purple Emperor following his first sighting as a boy. He has studied it assiduously ever since, devoting his life to trying to unravel the Emperor's secrets.
His Imperial Majesty takes us on a journey, beginning with a dalliance into the bizarre history of our engagement with the butterfly, with daring doings and gross eccentricities from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Subsequent chapters explore all aspects of this remarkable butterfly's life cycle, including behaviour, habitat preferences, life history and conservation, all relayed in Matthew's unique, informative and witty style. Not so long ago, our knowledge of the Emperor was largely based on a blend of mythology and assumption. This book dispels the fabrications and reveals all about the Purple Emperor – the king of British butterflies.
"With its beautiful jacket cover and subject matter, His Imperial Majesty conjures intrigue from the off. Delving page by page into the natural history of one of Britain’s most spectacular and mysterious insects, Matthew Oates reflects on almost 50 years of personal observations, study, musings, and what is, quite frankly, obsession, setting you on course for a riveting and riotous rollercoaster ride through the life and times of this remarkable butterfly.Delving page by page into the natural history of one of Britain’s most spectacular and mysterious insects, Matthew Oates reflects on almost 50 years of personal observations, study, musings, and what is, quite frankly, obsession, setting you on course for a riveting and riotous rollercoaster ride through the life and times of this remarkable butterfly. [...]"
– Simon Breeze, British Wildlife 32(3), December 2020
"One of the greatest naturalists of our time, Matthew is also one of science's most articulate and generous communicators, the kind of champion nature needs now more than ever."
– Isabella Tree, author of Wilding
"Dogbarking wood, cherry-pickers, shrimp paste, caterpillars called Sir Cloudesley Shovell – this monumental, transcendent, hilarious book is a natural history like no other. This profound work of genius brings us alive to the pulsating wonder of an English woodland in June – to life, the universe and everything."
– Patrick Barkham, author of The Butterfly Isles
"Matthew Oates's beautification of one of our most – he would say the most – spectacular insects is a total delight. In prose which soars as high as its subject, he blends mythology, history, biology and exceptional field skills to create the ultimate butterfly biography."
– Brett Westwood, presenter and author