Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 88th birthday today, marking the occasion privately at Windsor Castle. I was interviewed by Janet Davison of CBC.ca about the Queen at 88. Although the monarch’s children and grandchildren are assuming a larger number of official engagements, especially overseas tours, the Queen continues to have a full schedule. If she matches the longevity of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, she may still be an active public figure for years to come.by
My Canadian Encyclopedia article on Prince Philip, (HRH The Duke of Edinburgh) was published today. The article focuses on Philip’s activities in Canada including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Program, military patronages, philanthropy and discussion of the future of the Canadian monarchy.by
William, Kate and George arrived in Sydney today for the Australian half of their royal tour. Upcoming highlights include a visit to Taronga Zoo, where the bilby enclosure is being named after Prince George, a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra and an ANZAC Day March for the centenary of World War One.
I participated in a Canada.com live chat today about the royal tour of Australia and New Zealand.by
King Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, has emerged from the shadows. After decades of obscurity compared to her son’s six wives, Elizabeth is now the subject of popular biographies and historical novels alike including Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy License and The White Princess by Philippa Gregory. The England of Elizabeth’s lifetime has also captured the public’s imagination. The recent discovery of the remains of Elizabeth’s uncle, Richard III, has revived interest in the Battle of Bosworth Field where her future husband, Henry Tudor seized the crown and founded a new dynasty that united the Houses of Lancaster and York. In Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Alison Weir, author of sixteen medieval and Tudor biographies and five historical novels tells the story of the first Tudor Queen and her tumultuous times.
Elizabeth was popular in her own lifetime and idealized by Victorian biographers because she appeared to be the ideal Tudor wife, mother and queen consort, providing quiet support and legitimacy for Henry VII’s rule. While source material concerning Elizabeth’s life, particularly before her marriage, is frustratingly incomplete compared to her more famous children and grandchildren, Weir emphasizes evidence that she exerted influence over her family and court. The “Song of Lady Bessy” imagined her actively plotting to place Henry Tudor on the throne and secure their marriage. Her account books as queen reveal her extensive charitable activities and court patronage. Elizabeth also worked with her powerful mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, to influence Henry VII’s policies, particularly the dynastic marriages of her children. There are a few places where speculation is presented as fact, most notably Weir’s controversial view that Elizabeth “was actively pushing” for a marriage to her uncle, Richard III, but most of the analysis of Elizabeth’s character is clearly supported by surviving source material.
In additional to revealing Elizabeth’s full role at the Tudor court, Weir provides an evocative portrait of her world. Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, imitated the sumptuous display of the Burgundian court and the young princess therefore grew up in an atmosphere of great luxury. At the same time, the political circumstances of the Wars of the Roses made her position precarious. She experienced two periods of sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and was declared illegitimate by Richard III before becoming Henry VII’s queen. The disappearance of Elizabeth’s brothers, the Princes in the Tower, remains a mystery to the present day. Weir is critical of revisionist interpretations of Richard III’s reign and blames him for the death of his nephews, summarizing convincing evidence from her previous book, The Princes in the Tower.
The second two thirds of the book is stronger than the first because there are more sources about Elizabeth’s time as a queen than a princess. The early chapters would benefit from a more thorough discussion of English attitudes toward female succession in the Middle Ages. Weir writes, “in the fifteenth century it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne” but there had actually been plenty of debate about women’s succession rights. William the Conqueror’s granddaughter, Matilda, briefly held power in 1141, during a Civil War with her cousin, King Stephen.
England explicitly upheld women’s succession rights during the reign of Edward III when a proposal to introduce a Salic law was defeated by parliament. The Wars of Roses resulted in both men and women losing succession rights that they would have enjoyed in peacetime. Outside England, there were prominent examples of female rulers in the fifteenth century including Queen Isabella of Castile and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. A key reason why Henry Tudor was determined to marry Elizabeth, and there was speculation that Richard III contemplated marrying his niece, was because she was a rival claimant to the throne.
Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen is a well written and interesting portrait of Elizabeth of York’s life and times. Weir captures the unique circumstances of Elizabeth’s world, which combined sumptuous display and deadly political intrigue. Greater attention to the medieval English debate over female succession would have made the narrative stronger, demonstrating how Elizabeth’s granddaughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I were able to establish themselves as England’s first undisputed female rulers.
I will be participating in a Canada.com Royal Chat about the current visit to New Zealand and Australia by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge & Prince George on April 9 at 1pm.by
I am quoted in Janet Davison’s article “Baby Prince George off on first royal tour to Australia, N.Z.” at CBC.ca. I discuss the colourful history of royal tours of Australia, which includes an assassination attempt and a train crash, as well as the significance of the upcoming royal tour. William, Kate and George arrive in Wellington, New Zealand on April 7.by
My article in the Canadian Encyclopedia about the Prince of Wales was published today. The piece focuses on the Prince’s time in Canada as well his philanthropy and philosophy on the natural world.by
My latest article for the Canadian Encyclopedia is a biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900-2002) with a focus on her impact in Canada. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in 1939, the first Canadian visit by a reigning monarch. During her fifty year widowhood, the Queen Mother visited Canada on numerous occasions and there were rumors that she would be appointed Governor General during the 1950s. During her long lifetime, the Queen Mother became honourary Colonel-in-Chief of Canadian military regiments and a patron of Canadian charities.by