New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: The St. George’s Society of Toronto

Saint George, England's patron saint, slaying a dragon
Saint George, England’s patron saint, slaying a dragon

My latest article in the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia is about The St. George’s Society of Toronto.

Founded in 1834, the St. George’s Society of Toronto is one of Canada’s oldest philanthropic organizations. The Society was created to assist English and Welsh immigrants, and promote patriotism among English Canadians. Today, the Society has three $1-million endowments and gifts, and makes annual donations to more than 20 charitable causes.

Click here to read the full article about The St George’s Society of Toronto in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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Hello! Canada Interview: “Fabulous at 50: Sophie of Wessex”

The Earl and Countess of Wessex in Ottawa on September 12, 2012 Photo Credit: Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY
The Earl and Countess of Wessex in Ottawa on September 12, 2012 Photo Credit: Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY

The Countess of Wessex turned 50 on January 20, 2015. I discussed her philanthropy and royal duties with Hello Canada! in “Fabulous at 50: Sophie of Wessex.” The Earl and Countess of Wessex undertake a full schedule of royal engagements  including overseas tours. They visit Canada almost every year.

Click here to read Fabulous at 50: Sophie of Wessex in Hello! Canada

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CBC News Interview: Why Buckingham Palace is defending Prince Andrew so stoutly

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York

In my interview with CBC.ca this week, I discuss the recent allegations concerning the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, and Buckingham Palace’s response to this situation. I also talk about the Prince’s reputation. Other junior members of the royal family, such as Andrew’s siblings, Princess Anne and Prince Edward are closely identified with their charity work. In contrast, Prince Andrew’s philanthropy has been overshadowed in the public imagination by his reputation for extravagance.

Click here to read “Why Buckingham Palace is defending Andrew so stoutly” at CBC.ca

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The Queen’s Garden: Sunday January 11 at 10pm ET on PBS

Buckingham Palace across the lake
Buckingham Palace Across the Lake

The private garden at Buckingham Palace is best known as the setting for garden parties where the Queen and other members of the royal family meet people from all walks of life. The 2014 documentary The Queen’s Garden, which premieres on PBS this Sunday,  provides a behind the scenes look at the royal gardeners preparing the grounds  for thousands of guests. Trees are trimmed to allow for gentlemen walk under them in top hats, the lawn is carefully raked in case ladies in high heels decide to kick off their shoes and walk barefoot on the grass, and the pond is aerated to ensure that there are no foul smells interfering with enjoyment of the grounds.

There’s also interesting film footage of past events on the lawn including the young Princess Elizabeth attending what may have been her very first garden party, hosted by her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary and Edward VIII giving debutantes permission to flee from the pouring rain at an outdoor reception. Although The Queen’s Garden provides a fresh perspective on garden parties past and present, the documentary also reveals there is more to the Buckingham Palace park than the famous lawn. Over the course of four seasons, the biodiversity of this urban oasis is revealed. In the heart of London, the Queen’s Garden provides a haven for rare plants and animals.

In December, the filming of The Queen’s Garden attracted worldwide press attention because the film crew encountered hallucinogenic fungi – magic mushrooms – on the Buckingham Palace grounds. Although the distinctive red toadstools with white spots in the palace garden are the toxic variety from Alice in Wonderland instead of the better known little brown mushrooms, the news sparked curiosity about what other plants and animals made their home in the Queen’s garden. The documentary includes interviews with royal bee keepers and bird watchers who reveal the little known species live around Buckingham Palace.

Plenty of royal history took place in the Queen’s garden as well. Henry VIII evicted Londoners from the grounds to create a deer park for his hunting parties. James I hoped to turn the garden into a silk production centre by planting mulberry trees to feed silkworms. King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, kept a zebra and an elephant in the garden before her menagerie was moved to the Tower of London and Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert once fell through the ice while skating on the pond.

The Queen’s Garden combines history, science and party planning to provide a unique glimpse of the Buckingham Palace grounds, showing the hidden places beyond the lawn that even garden party guests rarely see.

For more about royalty and gardening, see my previous post, Royals in the Garden that looks at royal personages who have lent their names to flowers -and the occasional vegetable!

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Tales from the Royal Bedchamber: Sunday December 21 at 8pm ET on PBS

Lucy Worsley When Victoria became Queen in 1837, she shut the door of the royal bedchamber to the public. The government officials who traditionally attended royal births were relegated to the adjoining room while only the Queen’s consort, Prince Albert, and medical staff were permitted in the bedchamber for the arrival of the royal children. The Queen observed a strict separation between her public life and her domestic life. In Tales from the Royal Bedchamber,  Dr. Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, reveals that the monarch’s bedchamber was a ceremonial space in Tudor and Stuart times where proximity to the monarch meant proximity to political power.

Worsley presents the history of the English royal bedchamber with enthusiasm and energy. She climbs into beds to test just how comfortable they were, showing that it was impossible to lie entirely flat on a hammock-like, collapsible  medieval royal bed frame. She also tries her hand at silk weaving. Sitting on the edge of royal beds, Worsley has interesting discussions about royal marriage, mistresses and childbearing with a broad range of fellow curators, historians and authors such as Anna Whitelock, Tracy Borman and Helen Rappaport.

Perhaps the most engaging part of the documentary is Worsley’s description of the rumours that the son of James II and Mary of Modena, born in 1688, was a “warming pan baby” smuggled into the Queen’s bed to replace a stillborn child. Worsley shows viewers a warming pan, an early form of hot water bottle that was too small to hold a baby,  draws the supposed route the warming pan took through state rooms to the royal bedchamber and describes the crowd that witnessed the actual birth. The warming pan baby story was a convenient fiction to justify the Glorious Revolution&accession of William III and Mary II.

Since Worsley is chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, much of the documentary is filmed in royal bedchambers of the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. There is also a visit to the Isle of Wight to view the memorial to Queen Victoria in the private bedchamber where she died at Osborne House. If the program were longer, a trip across the channel to Versailles would have shown the origins of certain late seventeenth century English court practices. It is no coincidence that the late Stuart monarchs commissioned elaborate state beds after the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. Charles II was first cousin to Louis XIV  and spent part of his exile in France, observing the elaborate ceremonies that took place when the King rose from his bed in the morning or retired in the evening.

Tales from the Royal Bedchamber is a look behind the royal bed curtains of centuries past. Before Queen Victoria shut the door, the whole court thought they had the right to know exactly what took place in the royal bed. The modern fascination with the private life of the royal family is as old as monarchy itself.

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My latest Ottawa Citizen column: “The Queen’s reign doesn’t depend on Richard III’s DNA”

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III
The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

“The remains of King Richard III continue to yield new information about one of England’s most controversial kings and his family. DNA analysis reveals that Richard’s bones share mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line with the Canadian Ibsen family, but there is no genetic match with his male line relatives. The release of these findings has prompted speculation about the Queen’s right to reign if there was a break in the main royal bloodline. The royal succession, however, was not always determined by seniority in the royal family….”

Click here to read the full column in the Ottawa Citizen: “The Queen’s Reign Doesn’t Depend on Richard III’s DNA”

Curious to learn more about the life and legacy of King Richard III? My University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies course “Richard III: Monstrous or Misunderstood?” begins January 7, 2015. Click here to register!

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CBC Interview: Royals or Celebrities? Prince William and Kate Take Manhattan

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a Gala in honour of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a Gala in honour of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in New York City today for a three day American visit that focuses on philanthropy including endangered species conservation and fundraising for the University of St. Andrew’s at a gala dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although the United States is not a monarchy, royalty have received a warm welcome there since Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward (the future Edward VII) toured in 1860. I discussed the history of royal philanthropy and royal visits to the United States with CBC.ca

Click here to read “Royals or Celebrities? Prince William and Kate Take Manhattan.”

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My Perspective on Magna Carta in Insights on Law and Society Magazine

Runnymede Meadow where King John reluctantly accepted Magna Carta in 1215
Runnymede Meadow where King John reluctantly accepted Magna Carta in 1215

The Fall 2014 edition of Insights on Law and Society, the Magazine published by the American Bar Association for teachers of civics, history and government and the law, is devoted to the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. I share my perspective on the historical significance of the famous charter in this issue.

Click here to read the Perspectives on Magna Carta feature in Insights on Law and Society Magazine.

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Toronto Star Interview: Shabby Toronto apartment was once home to Russia’s Grand Duchess Olga

Grand Duchess Olga painting in her Cooksville home
Grand Duchess Olga during her last years in Canada

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.

I am quoted in an article about Grand Duchess Olga’s time in Canada in today’s Toronto Star. Click here to read “Shabby Toronto apartment was once home to Russia’s Grand Duchess Olga

For more on Grand Duchess Olga, see my article on this site, “From St. Petersburg to Toronto: The Life of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna”

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CBC Interview: Royal visit: Princess Anne’s Ottawa tour will honour ‘everyday heroes’

Princess Anne
Princess Anne

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.

Click here to read “Royal visit: Princess Anne’s Ottawa tour will honour ‘everyday heroes'” at CBC.ca 

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