Grand Duchess Olga, younger sister of Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II, lived in Canada from 1948 until her death in 1960. Olga’s last home in Toronto has recently gone up for sale, demonstrating the changes she experienced over the course of her life, from her birth at the Peterhof Palace outside St. Petersburg, to her last months in a Toronto apartment.
Princess Anne will pay an official visit to Ottawa on November 10 and 11 to mark Remembrance Day. I discussed the history and significance of Princess Anne’s visits to Canada with Janet Davision of CBC.ca.
I have contributed a chapter to Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor, edited by Randy J. Holland, the book that complements the Magna Carta Muse and Mentor exhibition at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. My chapter, “King John and Magna Carta in Popular Culture” examines the cultural impact of the famous charter and the king who reluctantly accepted it in 1215. Princess Anne will be attending the gala opening of Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor at the Library of Congress during her visit to Washington on November 6.
My forthcoming book “Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada” will be published in 2015 by Dundurn Press to complement the Magna Carta Canada 2015 touring exhibition. The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Great Charter imposed on King John by his barons in the thirteenth century to ensure he upheld traditional customs of the nobility. Though it began as a safeguard of the aristocracy, over the past 800 years, the Magna Carta has become a cornerstone of democratic ideals for all.
Princess Charlene, consort of Prince Albert II of Monaco is expecting twins by the end of the year. I discussed the succession in Monaco with Eun Kim at today.com. In contrast to most other European ruling houses, Monaco has not introduced gender neutral succession policies. If the twins are a boy and girl, the boy will be heir regardless of which twin is born first. The most recent succession reforms in Monaco, passed in 2002, allowed Albert’s siblings and their children to succeed in the event that Albert remained childless. Albert’s sister. Princess Caroline, is the current heir until the arrival of the twins.
Eleanor of Castile, consort to King Edward I of England, traveled further than most medieval queens, living in five different countries and going on crusade. She exerted political and cultural influence over the English court and was part of one of the most successful marriages in royal history. Despite her varied life, achievements and forceful personality, Eleanor of Castile is little known today. Sara Cockerill has written the first full length popular biography of this enigmatic medieval queen, Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen. Here, Cockerill discusses how she discovered Eleanor of Castile and how she brought this little known queen out of the shadows:
Carolyn Harris: You have been researching Eleanor for Castile in your spare time for 10 years. How did you become interested in this particular queen?
Sara Cockerill: It was really via her husband, Edward I. I had read the romantic Victorian accounts of Eleanor, and thought that, if they were true, it seemed a bit odd that Edward I should have been so devoted to her. Then, as I started to read more about Edward, the odd bits of information that cropped up about Eleanor actually raised more questions than they answered. As I started to delve into the material on Eleanor herself, I just got hooked, and started to think it was outrageous that no-one had written a biography of her for a general readership before.
CH: Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most famous women in history but her descendant Eleanor of Castile is little known. Why is Edward I’s consort so obscure?
SC: Well, my own view is that this was entirely deliberate. The English crown had passed through a very difficult period in the mid 1200’s during which a very assertive queen, Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Provence, had become so unpopular that the citizens of London made a bit of a stab at lynching her. An overtly assertive queen was therefore never going to go down well – and an overtly assertive foreign queen, in a climate where “aliens” had become the target of much political hostility, still less so.
Edward and Eleanor therefore decided that it was best that she didn’t make her influence or her assertiveness too generally known. For public consumption she was simply the devoted queen who accompanied Edward everywhere. Which of course was, usefully, a strand of the truth. The fact that she was an intellectual powerhouse, whose business drove quite a lot of Edward’s movements around the country, was something people didn’t need to know – and would probably never work out. The only hints at the truth came in contemporaneous letters and documents concerning the inquest into her property, first really considered in the nineteenth century, which showed that Eleanor ran a property empire – and ran it with an extremely firm hand.
CH: Agnes Strickland thought Eleanor was meek and retiring. Lisa Hilton thought she was bad tempered and unpleasant. Why are the few biographical sketches of Eleanor so different from each other? Who is the real Eleanor?
SC: Most certainly Hilton is nearer the mark than the Victorians who had Eleanor down as a bit of a sap – but I think she is also quite far from the truth. The reason for the different views of Eleanor is really a succession of historical accidents. The romantic side, fed by the survival of the Eleanor Crosses, came from some poetic exaggerations about Eleanor after her death – sometimes fueled by a political agenda. The more modern view of Eleanor amongst scholars has equally been fueled by the fortuitous survival of the records concerning the inquest into the running of her properties after her death, and a few rather trenchant letters by the Archbishop of Canterbury about – again – her business practices. Since these are rather negative, and make up the bulk of the surviving direct testimony, it is not surprising that a negative view of her developed.
The real woman that I have found is rather different. She was a vibrant, energetic woman with many interests, and a woman who was considerate of those around her and generous to those she loved. But at the same time, she was a very competent, successful businesswoman who very much disliked inefficiency, or being thwarted; and was capable of really letting rip when she was displeased. All in all, I find her a very real, and surprisingly modern, figure.
CH: Edward I reissued the Magna Carta during his reign. Did your law background inform your research about Eleanor’s life and times?
SC: Yes and no. I didn’t come to the story as a lawyer, looking for the legal spin. However I did find things which resonated with me as a lawyer. I found the legal aspect of the transition from dower to dowry and the treatment of dower fascinating – and revelatory. And the parallels between the Castilian approach to legal structures in resettling new territories and that adopted by Edward in Wales also struck me forcibly. But I think there is still much work to be done on looking to see if Eleanor’s fingerprints are to be seen in other aspects of Edward’s legislative programme.
CH: What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Eleanor of Castile?
SC: I’m tempted to say just how much more substantial and forceful a person she was than I expected; and that certainly was a big surprise. I was ready to find that the woman who won Edward I’s devotion was no milk and water girl, but the sheer range of her accomplishments, her energy, her vibrancy, her force – that, I was not prepared for. But actually really the most surprising thing to me in the end, was given that range of interests and achievements, how successfully she had kept the traces of this dynamism from public knowledge. It is one of the reasons that I have called her “The Shadow Queen” – she has deliberately obscured herself and hidden out of sight, so that only glimpses of different aspects of her personality can be seen.
CH: Where did your research take you? To what degree did you follow in Eleanor’s footsteps?
SC: Sadly, with research having to be fitted around my job, I didn’t get to do the full tour of the places Eleanor knew from childhood, or follow her on crusade. A number of her properties were familiar to me from holidays – and romantic weekends in the Cotswolds – and I had also visited a number of the Gascon venues as an Edward I fan. Dover Castle and the properties in Kent are close by for me – I often cycle past Wallett’s Court, known to Eleanor as the manor of Westcliffe, and caught some great photos there just the other day. Mostly, though, my research was confined to the British Library, with the occasional foray to the National Archives. But I had a wonderful trip to pay homage at the surviving crosses, and I have paid a few visits to Eleanor at Westminster Abbey.
CH: What are your plans for future books?
SC: There is nothing absolutely firm yet, but I have a fairly substantial list of things which I would like to do. One day I would like to know another medieval queen as well as I have go to know Eleanor. But I am not planning to commit to another big biography quite yet – because I can’t work at it full time, I need to be very sure about a project of that size.
At the moment I’m looking at a rather shorter book concerning the development of knighthood and chivalry, showing the forces which brought it into being, and shaped it into what it became and also showcasing some amazing people and their stories as illustrations of those themes. I got interested in the idea while writing about Eleanor. I was very struck by the looming figures of William Marshal and Jean de Brienne who became respectively the greatest man in England and the King of Jerusalem and Emperor of Constantinople through their knightly prowess. And Eleanor’s own contact with the institution showcases a number of aspects of the developing institution – the fading of the social mobility theme, alongside the changing nature and role of tournaments, the increasing Arthurian and literary links, and also the administrative importance which the institution acquired, and which Edward and Eleanor promoted. Whether I can pull it together in a way which will appeal to anyone but myself is the question, though!
Royalty have acted as patrons to artists for centuries. Henry VIII and his wives sat for Hans Holbein’s portraits. Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, advanced the careers of numerous seventeenth century painters including Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens and Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. Marie Antoinette encouraged female artists, commissioning over thirty royal portraits by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and inviting wax sculptor Anna Maria Grosholtz, better known as Madame Tussaud, to live at Versailles. George III founded the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768.
Today, royalty continue to support and promote the arts. The National Portrait Gallery in the United Kingdom raised its profile when the Duchess of Cambridge became its patron. What is less well known is how many past and present members of the royal family became prolific amateur artists themselves. In The Royal Paintbox, The Prince of Wales shares paintings by royal artists, demonstrating how kings, queens, princes and princesses have expressed themselves through art since Mary, Queen of Scots created intricate embroideries during her nineteen years of imprisonment in England.
At the heart of the documentary is the Prince of Wales, who discusses his own education as an artist, receiving early lessons in technique from his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, and encouragement to observe the natural world from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The Prince grew up surrounded by paintings at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral and learned to appreciate art from a young age. His overseas tours provide fresh inspiration for new works of art. The Prince explains how he almost missed a plane leaving Morocco to complete a desert landscape in watercolours.
The artwork shown onscreen provides a new perspective on past royalty including key figures from Canadian history. Prince Rupert, 1st Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was an accomplished printmaker, whose most famous mezzotint, The Great Executioner, depicts the beheading of St. John the Baptist. The Prince of Wales explains that Rupert’s choice of subject matter may have been influenced by the beheading of his uncle, Charles I. Princess Louise, wife of Lord Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883, is described by the Prince of Wales as “a seriously good artist” as he showcases her paintings and sculptures.
In addition to narration by the Prince of Wales, the Royal Paintbox includes commentary from a vast array of historians, biographers, artists, and royal relatives. The Duke of Edinburgh’s cousin, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, shows artwork by her grandfather, Prince Louis of Battenberg, including his drawings for the Illustrated London News. The Queen’s niece, Sarah Armstrong-Jones, discusses her work as a professional artist. “Tour artists” reminisce about painting scenes from the Prince of Wales’s overseas tours , showing examples from Australia to Oman. Historians who have written about Queen Victoria and her family including Jane Ridley, author of Bertie: A Life of Edward VII and Jehanne Wake, author of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Unconventional Daughter reveal the importance of art in the lives of the Queen and her children.
The Royal Paintbox is a fascinating glimpse of the private world of royalty through their artwork. With the Prince of Wales as their guide, viewers see how they expressed themselves through paintings, drawings, embroidery and sculpture. From Mary, Queen of Scots to the present Prince of Wales, the royal family have been both patrons and artists for centuries.