CBC News Interview: Royal archives: What Canadian secrets might they reveal?

Princess Louise in Canada, dressed for an Ottawa winter.

Princess Louise in Canada

My most recent interview with Janet Davison at CBC news discusses the Royal Archives and Canadian history. The archives contain documents concerning Queen Victoria’s 4th daughter, Princess Louise that are currently inaccessible to researchers. These restrictions have fueled speculation that the Princess had a secret son before she married Lord Lorne, who was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883.

I do not believe the rumors about Princess Louise’s personal life because she was present at Queen Victoria’s court and made public appearances during the period when the supposed pregnancy and birth took place. Nevertheless, this speculation has informed a recent popular biography of the Princess and contributed to interest in making the contents of the Royal Archives more accessible to researchers.

Click here to read “Royal archives: What Canadian secrets might they reveal?” at CBC.ca

For more on Princess Louise and her impact on the Canadian monarchy, see my book chapter, “Royalty at Rideau Hall: Lord Lorne, Princess Louise and the Emergence of the Canadian Crown” in Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy

Magna Carta And Its Gifts to Canada on Globe and Mail Bestseller List

My book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, is #7 on The Globe and Mail Canadian non-fiction bestseller list for August 1, 2015.

Click here to see The Canadian Non-Fiction Globe and Mail Bestseller List

Click here to purchase a copy of Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Friday Royal Read: The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone

The religious upheaval of Tudor England is well known. The French Wars of Religion, which occurred while Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, have received much less attention in popular histories and culture. At the centre of this conflict were two powerful royal women: Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman who married King Henri II of France and served as regent for her son Charles IX, and Catherine’s daughter Marguerite “Margot” de Valois who was compelled to marry the Protestant King Henry of Navarre. Both queens shaped the religious and political climate of sixteenth century France. In The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom, Nancy Goldstone, author of The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc and Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe brings these two influential women to life.

The Rival Queens begins powerfully with the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, the event that defined the lives and reputations of both Catherine and Marguerite.  In the days following Marguerite’s wedding, thousands of Protestants were murdered by Catholics. Catherine de Medici appeared to be the instigator of the violence with Marguerite caught between the two factions. In popular culture, such as Alexander Dumas’s novel La Reine Margot and the film of the same name, Marguerite’s romances  are the focus but Goldstone reveals her sincere Roman Catholic religious faith, intellectual interests and political acumen. Her life was filled with narrow escapes, quick thinking and daring rescues and the The Rival Queens is most engaging when it is describing  her adventures in France and Navarre during the Wars of Religion.

While Marguerite emerges as a fully realized figure in The Rival Queens, Catherine de Medici does not receive the same nuanced treatment. Her childhood and decades of marriage to Henri II are summarized in a single chapter. This approach not only results in a hurried description of a fascinating period of Catherine’s life – the young Mary, Queen of Scots was raised alongside her children – but her complex motivations are simplified to resentment alone. While Goldstone is critical of how historians have reduced Marguerite to her personal life, she accepts much of the traditional depiction of Catherine de Medici as an unambiguous villain. For example, she describes Catherine’s “Flying Squadron” of beautiful ladies-in-waiting as her spies, encouraged to seduce unsuspecting male courtiers even though there is recent scholarship arguing that this interpretation is a legend that reflected male discomfort at the prominence of women at Catherine’s court.

The dramatic circumstances of Catherine’s and Marguerite’s lives unfolded in Renaissance France, amidst the Chateaux of the Loire Valley and the Louvre in Paris. Catherine de Medici seized the Chateau de Chenonceau from Henri II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers upon his death and it became a favoured royal residence. The images at the centre of the book, however, are all of historical figures and there only scattered descriptions of the opulent surroundings where royal events unfolded. More attention to the setting would have added depth and cultural context to the book.

The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom is an engaging introduction to the two most influential women of the French Wars of Religion. Marguerite de Valois emerges as a survivor and an unlikely heroine, saving her husband’s life multiple times then accepting an amicable annulment and settling down as an elder stateswoman in Henry IV’s Paris. In contrast, Catherine reached the zenith of her power as Charles IX’s regent then found herself unable to control her his successor, Henri III. Mother and daughter struggled for power in one the most tumultuous periods in France’s history and emerged as The Rival Queens.

Next Week: The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas (historical fiction)

Friday Royal Read: Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Lady Katherine Knollys lived her life at the centre of the Tudor court, her fortunes rising, falling and rising once more as different kings and queens succeeded to the throne. She was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, who had a quiet affair with Henry VIII that became known throughout Europe when Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon to marry Mary’s younger sister, Anne Boleyn. When Henry VIII’s Roman Catholic daughter Mary I succeeded to the throne, Katherine and her husband, Sir Francis Knollys fled abroad to escape the persecution of Protestants. Once Elizabeth I became queen, Katherine was back in favour, serving as a Lady of the Bedchamber while Francis was appointed a Privy Councillor, captain of the guard, treasurer of the royal household, and guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots. The couple had 14 children and are ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin.

Katherine’s eventful life, shaped by the key political, religious and social changes of the 16th century has plenty of material for a biographer. For Sarah-Beth Watkins, however, Katherine is most interesting  because of the circumstances of her conception and birth. The book is boldly titled Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII without a question mark even though there is no definitive evidence regarding Katherine’s paternity.

Katherine was treated as a cousin rather than a sister by Elizabeth I and the resemblance to Henry VIII in the cover portrait may reflect the artist’s views on her parentage rather than her actual appearance. Even Watkins’s argument that Henry VIII ended his affairs once a child was born may be countered by speculation by Elizabeth Norton that Bessie Blount was the mother of two of the king’s children, a recognized son and an unacknowledged daughter. In contrast to how Henry VIII is portrayed in popular culture, such as The Tudors, the king conducted his early affairs with discretion. Under these circumstances, it’s unlikely that definitive evidence will emerge regarding whether Katherine’s father was Henry VIII or Mary Boleyn’s first husband, William Carey.

The emphasis on the circumstances of Katherine’s birth and childhood is at the expense of her later life. A single chapter is devoted to her service at Elizabeth I’s court. In recent years there has been an outpouring of books about Queen Elizabeth’s friendships including Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman, Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court by Anna Whitelock and the newly published Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran. Elizabeth expected to control the personal lives of ladies in waiting and those who married or left court without permission risked the queen’s wrath. Katherine managed to remain in the queen’s good graces and her service to the queen merits more attention in the book. Watkins also has little to say about Francis Knollys’ family background, which was as intertwined with Tudor court politics as Katherine’s own circumstances.

Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII is a clearly written, short introduction to the life of one of the most prominent women at the Tudor court. The book contains lengthy excerpts from correspondence and other documents related to Katherine’s life that serve as an introduction to the Tudors and their times. There are many other books, however, that provide a better sense of what it was like to serve in the household of Elizabeth I. The definitive biography of Lady Katherine Knollys is yet to be written.

 Next week: The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone

Friday Royal Read: Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams

King Henry VIII – a larger than life historical figure in every sense of the word – usually dominates biographies of his six wives. When Henry VIII is at the centre of events, the focus is usually on England with Europe and the wider world including successive Popes, Kings of France and rulers of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor serving as a backdrop to the people and politics of the English court. This approach makes sense for Henry VIII’s 3rd, 5th and 6th wives, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr as they never left England and owed their rise entirely to the King’s interest.

The lives of Henry VIII’s other 3 wives, however, were shaped directly by events in the rest of Europe as well as England. Anne Boleyn spent part of her childhood in France and the acknowledgement of King Francois I was crucial to her legitimacy as Henry VIII’s queen. Anne of Cleves was a German princess, raised amidst the conflict between the German states sparked by the Protestant Reformation.

Of all of Henry VIII’s wives, his first queen, Katharine of Aragon, made the greatest impact beyond England’s borders. As the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, her two successive English marriages were part of a broader Anglo-Spanish alliance. Henry VIII’s attempts to secure an annulment would become an multi-year international incident, encompassing France, the Holy Roman Empire (including Spain) and the Papacy. In Katharine of Aragon, Patrick Williams, Emeritus Professor of Spanish History at the University of Portsmouth and author of Philip II and The Great Favourite: The Duke of Lerma and the Court and Government of Philip III of Spain, 1598-1621 makes full use of Spanish archival material to present Henry VIII’s first wife in her full European context.

Williams’s biography of Katharine of Aragon is very much a life and times, discussing the political and religious events across Europe that affected Katharine in addition to Katharine herself. He covers corruption within the Papacy, the Protestant Reformation and the shortage of male heirs in many of Europe’s royal houses in the early sixteenth century. Of all of Henry VIII’s six wives, Katharine is the one who has been the subject of the greatest number of popular histories that place her in a European context. Julia Fox compared her life to that of her sister Queen Juana “la Loca” of Castile in Sister Queens , Catherine Fletcher examined the negotiations with the papacy regarding the annulment of Katharine’s marriage in The Divorce of Henry VIII and Giles Tremlett wrote of Katharine as The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII.

Williams’s book stands out from these other works because it focuses on three main events in Katharine’s life: the negotiation of her marriages, Henry VIII’s short lived alliance with Katharine’s nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Henry VIII’s quest for an annulment, which led to the break with Rome and establishment of the Church of England. Henry VIII is not always at the centre of events and does not marry Katharine until page 173 of 400 in the book. Instead, Katharine’s parents, Ferdinand and Isabella and her nephew Charles V emerge as the key figures who helped to shape her destiny.

While Williams provides a fresh perspective on the key events of Katharine’s life, he rarely engages with recent historical debates concerning the other figures of the period. As far as Williams is concerned, Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower, Henry VII was one of England’s greatest kings and Katharine’s sister Juana la Loca was showing signs of mental illness from childhood. A more nuanced portrayal of these people would have enhanced the book. The idea that Juana was too insane to rule suited the political ambitions of her father Ferdinand of Aragon, husband Philip the Handsome and son Charles V. Their attitudes toward her mental health cannot be accepted at face value. The focus on international events also means that little time is devoted to Katharine’s network of support in England. Only two of her female friendships, with Henry VIII’s sister Mary and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, are discussed in any detail.

Katharine of Aragon was married to Henry VIII longer than his subsequent five wives put together and arguably knew him better than any other person in his life. This magisterial biography illuminates her full historical significance in both England and the rest of sixteenth century Europe. Katharine lived in a time of tremendous social, political and religious change and was always at centre of events as a princess and queen.

Next Week:  Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Ben Franklin’s World Podcast Interview: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America

038-Harris (1) I am interviewed on this week’s episode of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History. The interview, with fellow historian Liz Covart, is about Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America, comparing the impact of Magna Carta on the United States and Canada. I also discuss how Magna Carta was imposed on King John by his rebel barons in 1215 and the legal rights – including rights for women – that were codified in the Great Charter.

Click here to listen to Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America at Ben Franklin’s World

For more on Magna Carta, see my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Canadian Geographic Magazine Interview: The Charter of the Forest

Medieval_forestMagna Carta is not the only historic Charter touring Canada this year. Magna Carta’s lesser known companion document, the Charter of the Forest, is also on tour as part of the Magna Carta Canada exhibition. In my Interview about the Charter of the Forest in Canadian Geographic Magazine I discuss why the Charter of the Forest, first issued in 1217, affected more people than Magna Carta in the thirteenth century, what “evil customs relating to the forests” the Charter promised to reform and why there are environmentalists today who wish the Charter of the Forest was as famous as as Magna Carta.

Click here to read my Interview about the Charter of the Forest with the Canadian Geographic.

For more about the Charter of the Forest, see my article on the Charter of the Forest on the Magna Carta Canada site and my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Friday Royal Read: Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada

King George III is remembered very differently in Canada, the United States and Britain. In the regions of British North America that became Canada, George III was a nation builder. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 served as the foundation for an enduring relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Nations and the Quebec Act of 1774 guaranteed free practice of Roman Catholicism and use of French Civil Law for private disputes.

These acts were were not well received in the Thirteen Colonies that became the United States as the Royal Proclamation designated land west of the Appalachian Mountains as “Indian Territory,” restricting the colonists from the settling there. The American Revolution transformed George III’s image into that of a tyrant, whose government imposed taxation without representation. In Britain, George III was neither nation builder nor oppressor. Instead, he began his reign as “Farmer George,” the first Hanoverian King to be born and raised in England and ended his reign as “Mad King George,” suffering from what was most likely porphyria under the regency of his son, the future George IV.

The reign of King George III, and the monarchy itself, is far from the only issue to be viewed differently in Canada and the United States, two countries with a shared history of British settlement and governance. In Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada,  which will be published in September 2015, Robert Bothwell, the Gluskin Professor of Canadian History at the University of Toronto and author of The Penguin History of Canada and Canada and Quebec: One Country, Two Histories provides an accessible and engaging account of how Canada and the United States have related to one another since European settlement began in North America.

The American Revolution brought thousands of British, European African-American and First Nations loyalists to what is now Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.The promise of free land in British North America brought a second wave of “late loyalists” to Upper Canada who made clear during the War of 1812 that they were content with British rule. Bothwell details how generation after generation of American politicians in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries assumed that British North America would become part of the United States and were mystified when Canada continued to assert its independence and loyalty to the Crown and parliamentary system of government.

Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada is primarily a political and diplomatic history of Canada and the United States. There are references to common cultural influences from Charles Dickens novels in the 19th century to American television in the 1950s but it would have been interesting to read more about how literary and artistic ideas circulated around North America and beyond. American author Mark Twain admired the work of Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery and drew parallels between his most famous book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and her Anne Of Green Gables series.  Both authors achieved an international following that transcended their national origins.

Canada and the United States also developed very different attitudes toward the role of the government in national culture and discussion of this aspect of each country’s policy would fit in well amidst the comparison of Canadian and American attitudes toward health care and foreign policy. While the role of the Crown in Canada is discussed throughout the early chapters of the book, the monarchy is last mentioned in the context of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Analysis of this key difference between Canada and the United States could have been extended to the present day.

At the beginning of his book, Bothwell states “If there were ever a prize for the most futile academic study, Canadian-American relations would be an earnest contender” observing how little known Canadian history and politics is in the United States. Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada demonstrates that the histories of Canada and the United States illuminate each other, revealing the different paths that were taken on the same continent.

Next Week: Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams

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