New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Patricia of Connaught

Princess Patricia

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is a biography of Princess Patricia of Connaught.

Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth of Connaught (born 17 March 1886 in London, United Kingdom; died 12 January 1974 in Windlesham, Surrey, United Kingdom). Patricia resided in Canada from 1911 to 1916 and acted as hostess for her father, the Duke of Connaught, during his term as governor general. She gave her name to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and became honorary colonel-in-chief in 1918. A talented artist inspired by Canadian landscapes, she exhibited her paintings in Canadian art exhibitions, and examples of her work remain part of Canadian collections.

Click here to read my article on Princess Patricia of Connaught in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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Books I’ve Read This Week: Jane Austen and other Classics

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 15: Jane Austen and Other Classics: One of my goals this year was to finish reading Jane Austen’s novels. I had previously read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Emma but did not get around to reading Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey until this year. Once I finished reading the Austen novels, I read a couple of books about Austen including a study of how she incorporated the political, economic and cultural upheaval of her times into her books and an advice book written by a descendant of one of Austen’s brothers. I also read a few other classics this past week as well as a social history of marriages between American heiresses and British aristocrats, circumstances that inspired the television series, Downton Abbey. Here are this week’s reviews.

#99 of 365 Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Genre: Classic Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from

Format: Audiobook, 8 hours and 16 minutes

Dates Listened: April 14-15, 2018

Review: My favourite Jane Austen novels remain Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice but Northanger Abbey includes a lot of fun moments including Catherine’s conviction that the Tilney estate is in fact the setting for a gothic novel and every chapter that includes the sarcastic wit of Henry Tilney. Henry delivers the most memorable dialogue in the novel including “Now I must give you one smirk, then we can be rational again” and “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” The story is not especially memorable but the gothic novel satire and characters are very entertaining. The audiobook is well read by Juliet Stevenson.

#100 of 365 Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

Genre: Literary Criticism

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Acquired: Received as a gift

Dates Read: April 15, 2018

Review: A fascinating and engaging book. Kelly places Jane Austen and her novels in the context of their times, and reads between the lines to observe the influence of the political, cultural and economic climate of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain on the plots and characters. The chapter concerning Sense and Sensibility was particularly interesting as it discussed how Ferrars, Brandon and Willoughby had more in common than readers (and viewers of the film adaptations) would at first notice. There were sections where I disagreed with Kelly’s interpretations but even the theories that seemed unlikely encouraged me to look at Jane Austen’s work from a different perspective. Highly recommended, after reading all six novels of course!

#101 of 365, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas 

Genre: Advice Literature

Acquired: Purchased from Book City

Format: Hardcover, 226 pages

Date Read: April 18, 2018

Review:  Austen’s great-great-great-great-great niece Rebecca Smith, writer in residence at Chawton House makes creative use of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels and letters to answer questions about relationships, family, friends, work, household and travel. For example, dress for success as everyone encounters a Caroline Bingley in their career. The overall Georgian diet may not be recommended today but the regency enthusiasm for fresh fruit and tea is still recognized for its health benefits. It is best to read Austen’s novels first as their plots are outlined over the course of the book!

#102 of 365 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Genre: Classic Novel

Acquired: Purchased from

Dates Read: April 15-20, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 13 hours and 24 minutes

Review: I greatly enjoyed Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. I thought that A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, however, was much less engaging. There are some fun moments in the beginning: (“Bridgeport?” said I. “Camelot!” said he.) but the plot seems to slow down mid way through the narrative and the novel becomes Mark Twain stating his views on politics and economics over and over again. There are repeated tirades against monarchical government and long digressions about comparative wages. Also, the novel seemed to replace one set of tired stereotypes about medieval times (Sir Walter Scott’s tales of romance and chivalry) with another set of stereotypes (a credulous society with excessive deference to authority). The narrator is excellent, and manages to make the material as entertaining as possible.

#103 of 365 The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Genre: Classic Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from

Format: Audiobook, 3 hours and 28 minutes

Date Read: April 21, 2018

Review:  This short novel is well written, capturing the atmosphere of early 20th century Alaska and the Yukon, and well read by John Lee. However, I found the early chapters of the novel really difficult to listen to because of the upsetting scenes of cruelty to animals and the fights between the sled dogs. The last chapters are quite beautiful though, as Buck bonds with a kindly master, John Thornton, then answers the Call of the Wild.

#104 of 365 The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

Genre: Classic Fiction

Date Read: April 22, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 3 hours and 42 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from

Review: The Moon is Down is an absorbing short novel based on the German occupation of Norway during WWII (though the author is careful not to name the location or “The Leader”), examining how a town comes together to resist an occupation. The complicated feelings of both the occupiers and the occupied are interspersed before it becomes clear that the occupation will never succeed and resistance will continue until the war is won. The novel ends quite abruptly and I would have liked the author to have dramatized the very end of the war. 

#105 of 365 The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York by Anne de Courcy

Genre: Social History

Format: Hardcover, 320 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Ben McNally Books

Dates Read: April 21-22, 2018

Review:  Anne de Courcy’s social histories are always enjoyable to read. I have previously read 1939: The Last Season, Debs at War and The Fishing Fleet. The Husband Hunters is filled with fascinating details about elite society in late 19th and early 20th century Britain and the United States. The phenomenon of American heiresses marrying British and European nobleman has been covered in other books, including To Marry an English Lord, but de Courcy’s book is notable for focusing as closely on American social traditions as British ones. She is also interested in the mothers of the heiresses who often arranged glittering marriages for their daughters in the hope of being accepted by established social circles in New York or Boston. I would have been interested to read more about the marriages themselves as the focus of the book is courtship and weddings rather than later married life.

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CBC News Network Interview: Third Royal Baby Is A Boy

I discussed the new royal baby with the CBC News Network on Monday April 23. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are now the parents of three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and the newborn prince. In the interview, I discuss the celebrations surrounding the birth, the impact on the royal succession and trends in royal baby name choices. Click here to watch the interview.

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CBC Life Interview: Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the royal wedding but didn’t know who to ask

Meghan Markle

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 3rd child, a little boy, arrived on April 23 – St. George’s Day – and I discussed the festivities surrounding royal births and possible names for the prince with the CBC News Network.

I also discussed the preparations for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with CBC Life including honeymoon plans, the cake and gift giving traditions.

Click here to read “Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the royal wedding but didn’t know who to ask” at CBC Life


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Global National Interview: Charles in charge: can Prince Charles unite the Commonwealth?

The Prince of Wales

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 92nd birthday on April 21. The recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting celebrated her decades of service to her role as Head of the Commonwealth and affirmed that Prince Charles, Prince of Wales will inherit this role at the end of the Queen’s reign. Although monarchs in Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have abdicated in recent years, the Queen views her position as monarch as a lifetime commitment and she will continue to reign with her children and grandchildren assuming a greater number of engagements and Commonwealth tours. I discussed the Queen’s reign with Global National.

Click here to watch Charles in charge: can Prince Charles unite the Commonwealth? on Global National for Friday April 20, 2018

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Pauline Vanier

Georges and Pauline Vanier

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia discusses The Honourable Pauline Vanier, PC, CC (born 28 March 1898 in Montreal, Quebec; died 23 March 1991 in l’Arche, France), vice regal consort of Canada from 1959 to 1967 and chancellor of the University of Ottawa from 1966 to 1973. Vanier was the first woman outside party politics to be appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council. She cofounded the Vanier Institute of the Family in 1965 with her husband, Georges Vanier, and became one of the first companions of the Order of Canada in 1967 for her humanitarian work.

Click here to read my article about Pauline Vanier in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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Global News Interview: Preparing for a Royal Wedding

Windsor Castle

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is one month away and the preparations include both centuries of royal tradition and new innovations introduced by the royal couple. I discussed the preparations for the royal wedding as well as the history of royal weddings at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle with Global News. Here is the interview:


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CBC Radio Interview: Queen Elizabeth II, The Royal Family and The Commonwealth

Prince Harry

The 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting takes place this week in the United Kingdom. This event is not only an opportunity for Commonwealth leaders to celebrate the Queen’s commitment to this intergovernmental organization over the course of her long reign but to consider the organization’s future. In contrast to the Crown, the position of Head of the Commonwealth does not automatically pass to the next generation and the current Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate the involvement of the Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry in Commonwealth issues including the environment and youth leadership.

I discussed the Queen, the royal family and the future of the Commonwealth in a series of CBC interviews on Tuesday April 17. Click here to listen to the interview with Dave White at CBC Whitehorse.


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Books I’ve Read This Week: Civil Wars

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 14: Civil Wars Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reading a series of biographies and general histories that discuss Civil Wars around the world. The first three books discussed the Stuart dynasty and English Civil Wars from a variety of perspectives, the fourth examined the American Civil War, the sixth discussed Russia’s Time of Troubles amidst other conflicts and the seventh is a popular history of the partition of India and Pakistan. In between, I read about the impact of Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the Americas on Italian cuisine. Here are this week’s reviews:

#92 of 365 James I: The Phoenix King by Thomas Cogswell

Genre: Royal History

Date Read: April 5, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 108 pages

Review:  One of the most entertaining volumes in the Penguin Monarchs series as James I had strong opinions on a variety of topics and the author’s goal is to present the king’s life and reign in his own words as much as possible. Cogswell presents James I’s personality and wide variety of interests, which blended ideas that were ahead of his time (the health risks of tobacco) and ideas that were already being questioned in his own time (witchcraft trials). I would have been interested to read more about the culture of his court as this was a time when William Shakespeare and John Donne were writing their masterworks. I also though there was a little too much time spent on James I’s love of hunting and dogs. The King nicknamed one of his ministers “Beagle” and that was likely a compliment! Overall, this short biography of James I is an an engaging and informative read.

#93 of 365 Cromwell: The Protector by David Horspool

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 144 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: April 5-6, 2018

Review: Cromwell probably would not have approved of being included in the Penguin Monarchs series but this volume provides a necessary account of English Civil Wars from the opposite side from the book on Charles I and summarizes the events of the Interregnum. Horspool presents Cromwell as a deeply pious man who was nevertheless willing to act ruthlessly to further his own goals. The section about the Protectorate is confined to a single chapter and I would have liked more details about Cromwell’s infamous military activities in Ireland. There is also very little in the book about Cromwell’s relationship with his wife and children except that he had an apparently harmonious marriage with his “dearest wife” Elizabeth for nearly forty years and his son Richard was not trained as a successor and was unable to remain in power after his father’s death, resulting in the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

#94 of 365 Royal Renegades: The Children of Charles I and the English Civil Wars by Linda Porter

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 432 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Dates Read: April 7-8, 2018

Review:  The adventures of the children of Charles I and Henrietta Maria during the English Civil Wars. While their two eldest sons, Charles II and James II are the subject of numerous biographies, their youngest son, Henry, Duke of Gloucester and their daughters, Mary, Elizabeth, Anne and Henrietta Anne are little known today. The chapters concerning Mary and Henrietta Anne were especially interesting as these princesses represented Stuart interests abroad through their marriages in the Netherlands and France respectively. Royal Renegades is well written and interesting to read but there is a little too much summary of the events of the English Civil Wars and the circumstances of Charles I’s and Henrietta Maria’s marriage. The book is at its best when it focuses closely on the children and their experiences.

#95 of 365 Columbus Menu: Italian Cuisine After the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus by Stefano Millioni

Genre: Cookbook/Food History

Date Read: April 8, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from one of my students in my History of Imperial Spain course 

Format: Paperback, 127 pages

Review: This book was loaned to me by one of the students in my history of Imperial Spain course. The author explains the impact of the New World on Old World cuisine, ingredient by ingredient, including tomatoes, potatoes, beans, squash, turkey and chocolate. While chocolate became immediately popular, other produce from the Americas took longer to shape European cuisine. Spanish conquistadors observed Aztec women selling tomato sauce flavoured with chilies in what is now Mexico city in the 16th century but pasta and tomato sauce was not a common aspect of Italian cuisine in the 19th century (transforming pasta from a finger food to a dish eaten with a fork). I was expecting more history and fewer recipes though the recipes look delicious!

#96 of 365 Grant by Ron Chernow

Genre: History

Acquired: Purchased from

Format: Audiobook, 48 hours and 1 minute

Date Listened: March 22-April 9, 2018

Review: An absorbing biography of Ulysses S. Grant, an underrated American president. While his role in the American Civil War is well known the events that followed Lincoln’s assassination are more obscure and the book illuminates a tragic period in American history as the civil rights of Native Americans and African Americans were suppressed despite Grant’s best efforts as President to make a success of Reconstruction in the South and treat native land claims fairly. I was fascinated by all the differences between the presidency in the 1860s and 1870s and today including the absence of campaign speeches, charitable causes for First Ladies and presidential pensions. The final chapters, detailing Grant’s career after the presidency were also interesting as Grant and his wife Julia went on a world tour, meeting more than half a dozen monarchs including Queen Victoria and Czar Alexander II before returning to financial difficulties and a memoir project completed just before Grant’s death. The audiobook was well read by Mark Bramhall but very long, at just over 48 hours.

#97 of 365 Russia: The Story of War by Gregory Carleton

Genre: History

Acquired: Purchased on

Format: Audiobook, 10 hours and 35 minutes

Dates Read: April 11-12, 2018

Review:  I expected to read a military history of Russia in chronological order from the arrival of the Vikings to Putin’s annexation of the Crimea. Instead, Russia: The Story of War is a thematic analysis of the role of war in Russia’s national identity and international reputation. The book examines Russia’s view of itself as a nation under constant threat from west and east, the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and military culture (there is a patron saint of nuclear bombers), and the place of Civil War in Russia’s history. Certain conflicts are emphasized more than others. There is extensive analysis of conflict in Kievan Rus, the Mongols, the Time of Troubles and especially the Crimean War, the Second World War (Great Patriotic War) and Afghanistan. In contrast, the First World War is summarized quickly and Peter the Great’s Great Northern War (which regained Russia’s Baltic coast line and allowed for Saint Petersburg to develop as the Imperial capital) is mentioned in passing. The author includes both historical and literary sources and is especially fond of quoting Tolstoy. Fascinating, but should be read alongside other, more comprehensive histories of Russia.

#98 of 365 Freedom at Midnight: Inspiration for the major motion picture Viceroy’s House by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

Acquired: Purchased from Books and Company in Picton, Ontario

Dates Read: April 10-14, 2018

Genre: History

Format: Paperback: 628 pages

Review: A compelling though incomplete history of the Partition of India and Pakistan. Collins and Lapierre write in a dramatic style and describe the violence and tragedy that accompanied partition in emotional detail. There is a narrow focus, however, on the most famous figures of the time at the expense of the experiences of ordinary people. There are large sections of the book that read as a dual biography of Lord Mountbatten and Mahatma Gandhi rather than a wider history of partition. The authors interviewed Mountbatten for the book and his perspective sometimes dominates the narrative.


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New Book Chapter about Royalty and The Arts in Canada

The Canadian Kingdom: 150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy, edited by D. Michael Jackson was published  by Dundurn Press today. The book contains a chapter I wrote about the history of Royalty and the Arts in Canada from the eighteenth century to the present day. Click here to purchase The Canadian Kingdom: 150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy

From the introduction of The Canadian Kingdom:

“In “Royalty and the Arts in Canada,” Carolyn Harris examines royal interest in Canadian culture over the three centuries since Queen Anne. The royal family have paid particular attention to the artistic heritage of the Indigenous Peoples, paralleling the intimate link between the Crown and the Indigenous Peoples in Canada. A daughter of Queen Victoria, the accomplished artist Princess Louise gave a big boost to Canadian culture when she was chatelaine of Rideau Hall with her husband Lord Lorne, governor general from 1878 to 1883. Vigorous royal support resumed when the artistic Princess Patricia, daughter of Louise’s brother the Duke of Connaught, accompanied her father during his term as governor general from 1911 to 1916. Harris points out that the present Queen and her family are very much involved as patrons and collectors of the arts in contemporary Canada. Indeed, she refers to Elizabeth II as the “curator monarch” and believes that “the continued close ties between the royal family, the creation of fine art, and the Royal Collection suggest a dynamic future for royal involvement in the arts in Canada.”

Click here to purchase The Canadian Kingdom: 150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy

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