CBC News Interview: Princess Charlotte’s christening: A balance between private celebration and public show

The newborn Princess Charlotte of Cambridge (photo credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage)

The newborn Princess Charlotte of Cambridge (photo credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge’s christening will take place on Sunday July 5 at St. Mary Magdalene Church on the Queen’s Sandringham estate. The last Princess born into the royal family, Princess Eugenie, was christened there in 1990 as part of the regular Sunday service open to the public but Charlotte’s christening will be a balance between public and private. The ceremony will be attended by close family and godparents but the public will be able to gather outside the church to see the royal family as they do at Christmas.

Click here to read my interview with CBC News: Princess Charlotte’s christening: A balance between private celebration and public show

Friday Royal Read: Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

The trial and execution of King Charles I in 1649 for treason against his people, following his defeat in the English Civil Wars, was unprecedented in English history. King John had limits on his power imposed by his rebel barons through the Magna Carta of 1215. There were subsequent kings, such as Edward II, Richard II an Henry VI, who were deposed and quietly murdered behind closed doors. Henry VIII placed two of his queens on trial – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – and sanctioned their executions. England’s “9 days Queen,” Lady Jane Grey was tried and executed for treason by her successor, Mary I.

The case of Charles I was different from all of these previous kings and queens. The responsibility for Charles I’s fate was not the will of a subsequent monarch or a small group of rebels but was shared by eighty people. Fifty-nine men, including future Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, signed the King’s death warrant and another twenty-one were involved in the courtroom proceedings and the execution itself. In Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I, Charles Spencer (brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales), author of Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier and Blenheim : Battle for Europe provides a dramatic account of what happened to the “regicides,” the men who had condemned and executed Charles I.

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I is a series of courtroom dramas interspersed with bloody battles, assassinations, beheadings and hangings, drawings and quarterings. (Readers unsure about what hanging, drawing and quartering entailed will find a detailed description at the beginning of Chapter 7). Charles I’s eldest son, Charles II has gone down in history as “the merry monarch” for his mistresses and love of the theatre but through the fate of the regicides, Spencer reveals another side to his character. Following his Restoration to the English throne in 1660, Charles II was determined to avenge his father’s death and brutally punish those involved. His subjects were initially content to see a small group of regicides act as scapegoats for the much larger proportion of the population who opposed Charles I’s rule during the English Civil Wars.

Spencer devotes much of the book to how the regicides met their end. Sixty of the eighty people involved in Charles I’s trial and execution were still alive in 1660 and ten were promptly found guilty of treason and hung, drawn and quartered. Others fled abroad though whether they traveled to the Netherlands, Switzerland or New England, they rarely found safety and security. Some repented their involvement in Charles I’s death while others defended the act of regicide until their dying breath. Spencer begins the book with Charles I’s last years, trials and execution. It would have been interesting to read more about the lives of the regicides before their fates were bound together by the beheading of Charles I. The trial and execution of an English King was unprecedented and controversial and the book would have been strengthened by more material that showed how the regicides stood out from their contemporaries.

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I is an engaging and suspenseful history of the fate of Charles I’s judges and executioners. When it came to his treatment of the men responsible for his father’s death, Charles II was far from a “merry monarch.” Instead, he began his reign in 1660 with a bloody reckoning for the events of the English Civil Wars that culminated in the death of Charles I. The reprisals lasted for twenty-five years, finally ending in 1685, when Dame Alice Lisle, widow of one of the regicides, became the last woman in England to be beheaded for treason.

Next week: Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada by Robert Bothwell

My 2nd book “Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette” will be available November 5, 2015

I am pleased to announce that my 2nd book Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette will be released on November 5, 2015. The book is part of the Queenship and Power series published by Palgrave Macmillian

Though separated by over a century, Queens Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette bear striking similarities as historical figures: both women lived through periods of violent revolution in which insurgent regimes specifically targeted and undermined them in order to discredit the monarchy and strengthen claims to legitimate rule. This novel comparative study explores how these queens perceived their roles as wives, mothers, and heads of royal households, thus providing new insights into the political significance of royal women in Early Modern Europe, the evolution of court culture and the public sphere, and changing ideas of marriage and family.

Click here to pre-order Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette

Friday Royal Read: Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival 1900-1950

The first half of the twentieth century was a turbulent time for Europe’s royal families. The First World War precipitated the collapse of the German, Austrian and Russian ruling houses. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary fled into exile with their families while Nicholas II of Russia was murdered with his wife, children and servants in 1918. The Turkish War of Independence led to the overthrow and exile of the last Ottoman Sultan in the 1920s. The Greek royal family (including the infant Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) also experienced exile in the 1920s. King Alfonso XIII of Spain went abroad in 1931 and his dynasty would not be restored until his grandson Juan Carlos became constitutional monarch in 1975. Italy’s reigning House of Savoy lost power in 1946. Not only did Umberto II have to leave the country but his male descendants were forbidden from visiting Italy until 2002.

Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900-1950 is the story of what happened to German, Russian, Turkish and Spanish families after the fall of each country’s monarchy and Italian families during the last years of the House of Savoy. While countless historians have analysed the politics and wars of 20th century Europe, the impact of these cataclysmic changes on ordinary families has received little attention. Ginsborg combines short biographies of key figures with careful analysis of changes to family law in the early 20th century including the resistance to these developments. The new regimes that came to power often distrusted the traditional family that emerged from the 19th century, fearing that loyalties to other individuals would supersede loyalty to the state. Successive conflicts including the Spanish Civil War to the Turkish Wars of Independence divided families and tested the bonds between spouses, siblings, and parents and children.

Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900-1950 is often a heartbreaking book, particularly the last couple of chapters that discuss the destruction of millions of families in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust and Soviet Russia during the Holodomar and Stalinist Terror. Amidst the devastation, individual tales of heroism and family solidarity emerge from a Soviet lamp factory worker who refused to disown her husband after he was sent to a gulag to a lawyer’s wife who disguised herself as a street vendor to safeguard her children during the Spanish Civil War.  Family Politics is never an easy read but it is a very important one that illuminates how the family endured through  war and revolution across Europe.

Next week: Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Elizabeth Lee (Owen) Macdonald

Prince Edward Island Magazine 2My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is a profile of a little known Mother of Confederation. Elizabeth Lee (Owen) Macdonald was born into one of Prince Edward Island’s elite families and married Andrew Archibald Macdonald, a Father of Confederation. She assumed leadership positions in both Island society and women’s organizations within the Church of England. In later life, she wrote a nine-part series of articles on local history titled “Charlottetown Fifty Years Ago” for Prince Edward Island Magazine.

Click here to read my article on Elizabeth Lee (Owen) Macdonald in the Canadian Encyclopedia

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Mercy Anne Coles

Mercy Coles

Mercy Coles

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Mercy Anne Coles, a diarist and one of the key witnesses to the negotiations that preceded Canada’s Confederation in 1867. Mercy Coles was one of the daughters of George Coles, the first premier of Prince Edward Island. She attended the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences with her parents. Her diary, Reminiscences of Canada in 1864, is one of the most detailed sources about the events that preceded Confederation. The diary includes descriptions of the Fathers of Confederation and their personalities and brings light to the social politics of mid-19th-century Canada.

Click here to read my article about Mercy Coles in the Canadian Encyclopedia

Interview: The Great Kate Debate: Is it Kate Middleton or HRH The Duchess of Cambridge?

Prince Harry and Kate Middleton (later the Duchess of Cambridge) attending Prince William's 2008 Investiture into the Order of the Garter

Prince Harry and Kate Middleton, future Duchess of Cambridge  in 2008 

My interview with Yahoo Shine Canada discusses why the Duchess of Cambridge is still known to much of the public as Kate Middleton more than four years after her marriage to Prince William. I also discuss the history of royal nicknames from what Queen Victoria called the multiple granddaughters who shared her name to Canada’s Princess Pat, as another one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, Princess Patricia of Connaught, became known.

Click here to read “The Great Kate Debate: Is it Kate Middleton or HRH The Duchess of Cambridge?” at Yahoo Shine Canada

My 2015-2016 courses at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies

My photo in the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies 2015-2016 course calendar

My photo in the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies 2015-2016 course calendar

Registration is now open for the three eight week courses that I will be teaching during the 2015-2016 academic year at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. There are no prerequisites for arts courses at the School and everyone is welcome to enroll. Here are the course descriptions:

Fall 2015: Magna Carta and the Making of the Modern World 

The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the landmark charter that placed limits on the power of the English king. Neither the king nor his rebel baron opponents necessarily expected its terms to be respected for long. But some of the Magna Carta’s principles – like the right to trial by peers and due process – have become basic to common law. The charter influenced the creation of Parliament and the concept of equality before the law. Later interpretations informed the American and French Revolutions, Canada’s Confederation and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 800th anniversary is being celebrated around the world (a surviving copy of the Magna Carta will be exhibited across Canada). Join Carolyn Harris, author of Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, and discover the enduring impact of this document on the modern world. Click here to register!

Winter 2016: Artists and Their Royal Patrons

For centuries, artists sought out royal patrons to advance their careers. European monarchs were eager to fill their courts with artists to demonstrate their own acumen and prestige. Through lectures, images and discussions, Carolyn Harris will lead you through a lively exploration of the relations between great artists and their royal patrons. These include Hans Holbein and Henry VIII, Leonardo da Vinci and François I, Anthony van Dyck and Charles I, Peter Paul Rubens and Marie de Medici, and Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun and Marie Antoinette. We will look at Catherine the Great, who helped found the Hermitage Museum, and Queen Elizabeth II, who is appreciated as a “curator monarch” for her part in opening the British Royal Collection to the public. You’ll learn more about the collaboration and tension between royalty and artists that produced some of Europe’s most famous works of art and established collections now featured in great museums around the world. Click here to Register!

Spring 2016: Imperial Spain

Ferdinand and Isabella transformed a united Spain into a world power, sponsoring Columbus’ voyages to the Americas and forming alliances with other European kingdoms. This new Imperial Spain had a dark side: the rise of the Inquisition, the expulsion of Spain’s Jewish population and the exploitation of the native peoples in the colonies. Gold and silver from the Americas made Spain’s rulers the richest in Europe until its Golden Age came to an end with the wars of the 18th century. Join Carolyn Harris and learn about the rise and fall of Imperial Spain and its lessons for politics and international relations today. Click here to Register!

Column in the National Post: Magna Carta established that nobody, not even the king, was above the law of the land


My column in today’s National Post discusses the history of Magna Carta and its continuing influence on politics and law today, including in Canada. King John was the first English monarch to accept limits on his powers imposed by his subjects, beginning the process that the led to the development of constitutional monarchy, Canada’s system of government. The legal rights codified in Magna Carta expanded in the scope during the 13th and 14th centuries. Magna Carta emerged from medieval times as a document that applied to people of varied backgrounds, not just the nobility, informing the Common Law system that would be employed throughout the English speaking world.

Click here to read “Magna Carta established that nobody, not even the king, was above the law of the land” in the National Post

Click here to purchase my book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Queen Victoria at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897

Queen Victoria at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Queen Victoria (who reigned from 1837–1901) was the first monarch to celebrate 60 years on the throne. Celebrations to honour the grand occasion — the first Diamond Jubilee — showcased the Queen’s role as “mother” of the British Empire and its Dominions, including Canada. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier led the Canadian delegation to the London ceremonies, while communities across Canada held their own civic celebrations in honour of the Queen.

Click here to read “Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – 1897″ in the Canadian Encyclopedia