Friday Royal Read: Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury

The Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 and the wartime reign of his younger brother and successor, King George VI is well known. In contrast, their two youngest brothers, Henry, Duke of Gloucester and George, Duke of Kent are virtually unknown today.  Members of the public sometimes to struggle to recall how the Queen’s cousins, the current Dukes of Gloucester and Kent, are connected to the rest of the royal family. Edward VIII’s career after his abdication has also received less attention than the tumultuous events of 1936. In Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII, Deborah Cadbury, a BBC documentary producer and author of Chocolate Wars and The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, tells the story of all four royal brothers and the Second World War.

Cadbury’s history of the royal family at war reads like a novel, emphasizing the uncertainty of the early years of the hostilities when the outcome was unknown. While the British press reported the impending Blitz with defiant good humour including headlines like “French sign peace treaty. We’re in the finals!,” Buckingham Palace prepared for the worst. Barbed wire was laid in the gardens and Queen Elizabeth took shooting lessons. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke and Duchess of Kent assumed new leadership positions and traveled extensively, raising morale and welcoming commonwealth forces.

In contrast to the three dutiful younger brothers and their wives, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, spent the early months of the war on a series of European holidays, surrounded by the intrigues of dubious financiers and Nazi informants. The Duke of Windsor was appointed Governor of the Bahamas – a position he accepted with great reluctance – to remove him from Europe for the duration of the war. Cadbury provides a page turning account of the Duke of Windsor’s last minute departure for the Bahamas as British agents persuaded him to leave while German agents implored him to remain on the continent. While George VI, his younger brothers, and their families observed wartime rationing in England, the Duchess of Windsor purchased one hundred dresses per year in the Bahamas.

Throughout the book, Cadbury places the House of Windsor in context, highlighting the harrowing experiences of Europe’s other ruling houses during the Second World War. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands had to flee the Nazi invading force so quickly that she arrived in England in her nightdress covered by a raincoat. King Haakon VII of Norway refused to follow the example of his cousin, King Christian X of Denmark by capitulating to a Nazi occupation and declared “For my part I cannot accept the German demands. It would conflict with all that I have considered to be my duty as King of Norway since I came to this country nearly thirty-five years ago.” Haakon – King George VI’s “Uncle Charles”- spent his final wartime days in Norway in a log cabin near the Arctic Circle with only the local rifle association as a guard before going abroad to form a government in exile. Princess Mafalda of Italy died in a concentration camp. The rulers of the Balkan states found themselves squeezed between the Nazis and the Soviets on either side with devastating consequences.

Cadbury does not only look at the four royal brothers in the United Kingdom but writes about their travels around the Commonwealth including Canada. In his role as Air Commodore, the Duke of Kent toured Canada to inspect the Canadian war effort including the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. While the 1939 tour by George VI and Queen Elizabeth had been a traditional whistle-stop tour, the Duke of Kent crossed the country by air, in the manner of a modern royal visit. The Duke of Kent reported to George VI, “Canada has done a great work and they are 20% ahead of schedule.” The Second World War revitalized the relationship between the monarchy and the Commonwealth nations. Princes at War is a gripping account of a royal family at war and the lasting consequences of the conflict for the modern monarchy.

Next Week: John Guy, The Children of Henry VIII

CTV News Channel Interview: The Reburial of Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, after months of debate concerning both his final resting place and the plans for the ceremony. On the CTV news channel, I discussed Richard III’s contentious reputation from Shakespeare to modern times, the controversy surrounding the funeral plans and what Richard III himself might have thought of the arrangements.

Click here to watch the interview, “Reburial of an English King” on the CTV news channel.

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Fathers of Confederation: Thomas Heath Haviland

Thomas Heath Haviland

Thomas Heath Haviland

I have contributed an article to the Canadian Encyclopedia about Thomas Heath Haviland, one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation from Prince Edward Island.

Thomas Heath Haviland was member of one of Prince Edward Island’s most prominent families under the “Family Compact” system that preceded responsible government. He favoured Confederation as a means to protect British North America against political and military encroachment from the United States. He attended the Québec Conference in 1864 and helped negotiate Prince Edward Island’s entry into Confederation in 1873.

Click here to read my article on Thomas Heath Haviland in the Canadian Encyclopedia

Friday Royal Read: Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner

Edward II and Richard III, who will be laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, have made a similar journey through popular culture. In both cases, the story of a flawed monarch who lost his throne to an invading force inspired an Elizabethan playwright. Both Richard III by William Shakespeare and  Edward II by Christopher Marlowe created a received wisdom about their title characters that was accepted by the public for centuries. Shakespeare’s Richard III was a hunchbacked villain who ruthlessly eliminated his family members and died offering his kingdom for a horse. Marlowe’s Edward II was foolish, dominated by his male “minions,” and met a gruesome end by being disemboweled with a red hot poker.

In the 20th century, popular perceptions of Richard III and Edward II diverged. The founding of the Richard III society in 1924 began the process of reevaluating Richard III’s reputation and Shakespeare’s portrayal has been thoroughly critiqued. The discovery of Richard III’s remains revived popular interest in the king’s reputation and there is now a range of more sympathetic portrayals of Richard in historical fiction and popular biography alike. In contrast, Marlowe’s portrayal of Edward II has become even more accepted and entrenched in popular culture. For example, the 1995 Oscar winning film Braveheart, portrayed the future Edward II as frivolous, focused entirely on his male favourites and easily cuckolded by his estranged wife.

In the foreward to Kathryn Warner’s book, Edward II: The Unconventional King, historian Ian Mortimer observes that there is an “Edward II routine” accepted by the public and numerous historians. Warner, one of the foremost experts on Edward II, scrutinizes the accepted narrative of Edward II’s life and death, finding the complex historical figure behind the Elizabethan legend.

Warner demonstrates that while Edward II rarely an effective monarch, especially compared to his father, Edward I, and son, Edward III, he was a much more complicated figure than his depiction in popular culture. The strongest sections of the book are Warner’s thoughtful revaluation of Edward II’s marriage to Isabelle of France. The match began badly with Edward ignoring his 12 year old wife to socialize with his favourite, Piers Gaveston, during the wedding celebrations, and ended badly with Isabelle overthrowing her husband with the help of her own favourite, Roger Mortimer. During the intervening years, however, Warner reveals an effective working relationship between the king and queen with evidence that they cared for each others’ welfare. The existence of four children, all of whom were clearly fathered by Edward, is clear evidence that the royal couple were not estranged for their entire marriage as they are in Marlowe’s play.

I was not convinced by the final chapter of Edward II: The Unconventional King on Edward II’s possible life in exile after his presumed death in 1327. While accounts of Edward II’s death by red hot poker are as fictionalized as Richard III offering his kingdom for a horse at the Battle of Bosworth field, the possibility that Edward II managed to fake his own death and live out his life in obscurity seems unlikely. Edward II did not simply disappear in the manner of Richard III’s nephews, the Princes in the Tower, but had a funeral in Gloucester Abbey attended by dozens of people close to him. The existence of circumstantial evidence for Edward II’s survival, however, reveals that there remain unanswered questions about this controversial king. Like Richard III, Edward II continues to be a historical enigma with a contested reputation.

Next Week: Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Fathers of Confederation: Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley

Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley

Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley

I have revised and expanded the Canadian Encyclopedia article on Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, the most influential of the Fathers of Confederation from New Brunswick.

Tilley was a strong supporter of both Confederation and the construction of the Intercolonial Railway. He is believed to have suggested the name “Dominion of Canada” for the new country. He was a member of Sir John A. Macdonald’s first government before he was appointed lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick. In contrast to a number of the other Fathers of Confederation, he favoured Prohibition.

Click here to read the article on Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley in the Canadian Encyclopedia

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Fathers of Confederation: John Hamilton Gray (New Brunswick)

John Hamilton Gray of New Brunswick

John Hamilton Gray of New Brunswick

I have revised and expanded the Canadian Encyclopedia article on John Hamilton Gray, one of the Fathers of Confederation from New Brunswick. (Not be confused with another Father of Confederation with the exact same name from Prince Edward Island).

John Hamilton Gray served in the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly, in the Canadian House of Commons and on the British Columbia Supreme Court. Remembered as a Father of Confederation, he was a very early proponent of British North American union and attended the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences. Gray was one of the few 19th-century public figures to oppose the discriminatory taxation and exclusion of Chinese immigration to Canada.

Click here to read the article on John Hamilton Gray in the Canadian Encyclopedia

 

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Fathers of Confederation: Peter Mitchell

Peter Mitchell

Peter Mitchell

I have revised and expanded the Canadian Encyclopedia article on Peter Mitchell, Premier of New Brunswick at the time of Canada’s Confederation in 1867. Mitchell was one of the most colourful characters in 19th century Canadian politics. He distributed rum to electors on the campaign trail, determined the route of the Intercolonial railway by “force of character” and caused an international incident as Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s minister of Marine and Fisheries by apprehending American fishermen in Canadian waters.

Click here to read the article on Peter Mitchell in the Canadian Encyclopedia.

French edition of “Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada” to be published in June

The French edition of my forthcoming book La Magna Carta, son importance pour le Canada: La démocratie, le droit et les droits de la personne will published on June 13, in time for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the the first stop of the Magna Carta 2015 Canada exhibition tour, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.

Click here to pre-order La Magna Carta, son importance pour le Canada: La démocratie, le droit et les droits de la personne from Amazon.

Click here to pre-order the English edition, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, which will be available May 2.

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Fathers of Confederation: Andrew Archibald Macdonald

Andrew Archibald Macdonald

Andrew Archibald Macdonald

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Andrew Archibald Macdonald, one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation from Prince Edward Island. Macdonald was one of the Prince Edward Island delegates to the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences that preceded Confederation. Though initially opposed to a federal union, Macdonald changed his mind after the Island faced bankruptcy from its railway debt. He thereafter supported Prince Edward Island’s entry into Confederation, as Canada’s seventh province in 1873. Macdonald outlived all of the Fathers of Confederation except Sir Charles Tupper and wrote extensively about his experiences at the Confederation conferences in the last decade of his life.

Click here to read the article on Andrew Archibald Macdonald in the Canadian Encyclopedia

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Fathers of Confederation: Charles Fisher

Charles Fisher

Charles Fisher

I have revised and expanded the Canadian Encyclopedia’s article on Charles Fisher, one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation from the province of New Brunswick. Fisher led the first responsible government in New Brunswick (1854–61) and was the leading constitutional lawyer of his day. He attended the Québec and London Confederation conferences and contributed to the drafting of the British North America Act (1867) as New Brunswick’s attorney general.

Click here to read the article on Charles Fisher in the Canadian Encyclopedia