Queen Elizabeth II’s second great-grandchild Isla Elizabeth Phillips born March 29, 2012: Canadians in the Royal Family

Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne and eldest grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II attending the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing with his wife, Autumn. Mrs. Phillips was born Autumn Kelly in Montreal.

Queen Elizabeth II became a great-grandmother for the second time last Thursday with the birth of Isla Elizabeth Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne’s son, Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn. The couple also have an older daughter Savannah, who was born in 2010. Through her mother, baby Isla is the most recent member of the royal family with a direct Canadian connection. Autumn was born in Montreal in 1978 to Brian and Kitty Kelly. She graduated from McGill University in 2002 and met Peter Phillips at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2003.

Peter’s and Autumn’s 2008 wedding in St. George’s chapel, Windsor Castle drew attention to the terms of the 1701 Act of Settlement, which originally forbade the marriage of princes and princesses in line of succession with Roman Catholics. Autumn converted to the Church of England at the time of her wedding, allowing Peter to retain his status as 11th in line to the throne of the United Kingdom and sixteen commonwealth realms, including Canada. The Act was amended in 2011 to allow marriages between dynasts and Roman Catholics although the monarch must still be a member of the Church of England.

The Countess of St. Andrews with her brother-in-law, Lord Nicholas Windsor

Autumn Phillips is the most famous Canadian born member of the royal family but she is not the only one. The Countess of St. Andrews, wife of George Windsor, Earl of St. Andrews, the eldest son and heir of Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, the Duke of Kent, was born Sylvana Palma Tomaselli in Plancentia, Newfoundland in 1957. Although her family left Placentia when she was a child, they returned to Canada when she was a teenager. The Countess completed her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of British Columbia and Masters Degree at York University before moving to England, where she met the Earl of St. Andrews. They were married in 1988 and have three children, Lord Edward Windsor (Lord Downpatrick), Lady Marina-Charlotte Windsor and Lady Amelia Windsor. Like Peter and Autumn Phillips, the Earl and Countess of St. Andrews do not carry out royal duties but attend special events within the royal family and the annual Trooping of the Colour Parade. In contrast to Autumn, the Countess retained her Roman Catholic faith at the time of her marriage and her husband and children were therefore excluded from the line of succession until 2011.

The future Edward VIII as Prince of Wales in 1932. Edward purchased the Bendingfield ranch near Pekisko, Alberta during a tour of Canada in 1919.

While the current Queen’s Uncle, King Edward VIII was born in London, England, he acquired personal property during his extensive travels in Canada. In 1919, he became the owner of the Bedingfield Ranch in Alberta. It became known as the EP ranch. As Anne Sebba discusses in That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, Edward wrote to his mistress Freda Dudley Ward in 1919 that if she would come live with him on his ranch, “I’d never want to return to England; I’ve got thoroughly bitten with Canada and its possibilities. It’s the place for a man, particularly after the Great War, and if I wasn’t PofW. well I guess I’d stay here quite a while.” The Canadian people reciprocated Edward’s enthusiasm and perceived him as a uniquely Canadian Prince. The 1936 Abdication crisis features in numerous works of Canadian literature, most notably Fifth Business by Robertson Davies and Famous Last Words by Timothey Findley. The Duchess of Windsor would observe after 1936 that the largest proportion of the angry letters she received from around the commonwealth were authored by Canadians who blamed her for the Abdication of their King.

The newborn Isla Elizabeth Phillips is the most recent member of the royal family with a direct link to Canada. Her mother, Autumn Phillips and the Countess of St. Andrews were both born and educated in Canada while Edward VIII owned personal property in Alberta. Queen Elizabeth II is not only Queen of Canada but the head of a family with extensive Canadian connections.

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Changing the Experience at Kensington Palace

View of the entrance to Kensington Palace taken in January, 2009, before the recent refurbishment of the public galleries.

The state rooms of London’s Kensington Palace have recently been reopened to the public after a $20 million renovation project. Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that administers the public wing of the palace along with the Tower of London, Hampton Court, the Banqueting House at Whitehall and Kew Palace have unveiled a new stately entrance, new gardens and previously inaccessible areas such as the red saloon, when the eighteen year old Queen Victoria held her first meeting of the privy council. The new design of the museum includes art installations designed to help visitors navigate the palace and costumed staff to tell the stories of famous occupants such as Princess Diana and Queen Victoria. The private apartments will also be refurbished for new royal tenants. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will use the apartment that once belonged to the late Princess Margaret as their London residence (it is currently used for special exhibitions in the renovated museum).

Statue of Queen Victoria in Kensington Gardens, sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise, the Duchess of Argyll

Admirers of the renovations praise the new layout, accessibility and design of the palace museum. Unfortunately, these positive reviews have been accompanied by disproportionately negative descriptions of what the palace looked like before it was redesigned. Here in Canada, Patricia Treble of Maclean’s Magazine wrote that prior to the renovations, “After [tourists] plunked down $20 for an adult ticket, they got little for their money but a stroll through a confusing maze of rooms devoid of interesting features, listening to a boring commentary on what used to be here or was once there.” Having visited the palace in 2009 and taken the entire audio tour, I believe that this assessment is unfair. The former Kensington Palace museum clearly provided a different experience than the newly renovated space but it was still a fascinating and engaging place to visit.

After paying the reduced rate for my student ticket, I began on the garden floor, enjoying the ceremonial dress collection. There was interesting commentary about the difficulties reconciling changing court dress to twentieth century changing fashions. Attaching the a feathered headdress to a 1920s bobbed hairstyle was particularly difficult. A number of the late Princess Diana’s dresses were also on display with commentary on her decision to auction much of her 1980s wardrobe for her charitable causes.

View of Kensington Palace with the statue of King William III, the first royal resident.

The state rooms upstairs provided a glimpse of palace life in the time of King William III and Queen Mary II. After becoming King of England in 1688, William found that the sooty air around Whitehall Palace aggravated his asthma but Hampton Court was too removed from the seat of his government. The purchase of Kensington Palace combined fresh air with relative proximity to Westminster. William’s wife and co-ruler Mary devoted attention to refurbishing the gardens, commissioning the planting of centerfolia roses, which were much admired in the seventeenth century. The rooms where Queen Victoria spent her childhood in the early nineteenth century were also well presented, highlighting her difficult relationship with her mother, the Duchess of Kent.

The Kensington Palace Orangery, which is now a restaurant and special event venue.

In 2009, the special exhibition was “The Last Debutantes” about the final parade of unmarried aristocratic women presented to the sovereign in 1958. The galleries included dresses from the period, and interesting taped interviews with surviving debutantes, and the young men who danced with them during the social season. The exhibition sparked my interest in the experiences of these women and I read Fiona McCarthy’s fascinating account, Last Curtseyduring my time in London.

I look forward to seeing the renovated Kensington Palace the next time I visit London but will always have good memories of visiting the old palace museum.

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The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 4: The Evolving Canadian Crown edited by Jennifer Smith and D. Michael Jackson

The Evolving Canadian Crown, a volume of papers first presented at the June 2010 conference, “The Crown in Canada: Present Realities and Future Options” contains the answers to every conceivable question about the workings of the Canadian constitutional monarchy. The contributors to this volume cover a diverse range of topics including the role of provincial Lieutenant Governors in what is often described as “the Compound Monarchy,” the relationship between the crown and the Canadian parliament, the history of the crown’s relationship with the First Nations and the Quebecois, and how the Canadian crown compares to other commonwealth constitutional monarchies. At a time when polling data demonstrates that numerous Canadians are unaware of the crown’s place in Canada’s political system, The Evolving Canadian Crownis an invaluable resource that should be part of the library of anyone interested in Canadian history and politics as well as the workings of the commonwealth.

Readers who enjoyed The Secret Of The Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, will find The Evolving Canadian Crown to be the ideal book to read next about the Canadian monarchy because the contributors expand on many of the issues raised by John Fraser. The degree to which the “Canadianization” of the crown following the appointment of exclusively Canadian born Governors General after the Second World War has minimized the role of the sovereign is of particular concern to contributors Jacques Monet and Serge Joyal. These authors propose longer terms for Governors General, more working visits by members of the royal family and greater opportunities for consultation between the Prime Minister and the crown to improve the visibility of Queen Elizabeth II’s role in Canada’s government.

Joyal argues that the appointment of Canadian born Governors General has resulted in a “hybrid” system where the Queen actually reigns but her representative performs the crown’s duties in Canada. The most famous example of this interpretation of the Canadian crown is former Governor General Michaelle Jean’s 2009 speech before the United Nations cultural agency in which she described herself as Canada’s Head of State. Christopher McCreery effectively refutes this interpretation of the 1947 letters patent in the third chapter of The Evolving Canadian Crown.

It would have been interesting to read an article in The Evolving Canadian Crownabout Canada’s British born Governors General  as there is evidence that these aristocrats and members of the royal family were encouraged to present themselves to the public as Canadians by hosting comparatively informal receptions at Rideau Hall and displaying enthusiasm for winter sports. As R.W. Sandwell discusses in Majesty in Canada: Essays on the Role of Royalty, the Duke and Duchess of Argyll endeared themselves to Canadians by receiving people from all walks of life during their extensive tours of the country in the 1880s. The Duchess described her enjoyment of skating and sleigh riding in her correspondence. The Canadianization of the Governor General’s office was clearly underway long before the Second World War.

One of the great strengths of The Evolving Canadian Crown is that it draws on the entire history of monarchy in Canada. The reader is reminded that New France was governed by the French crown until the  territory was formally ceded to Great Britain under the 1763 Treaty of Paris, at the end of the Seven Years War. The book contains reproductions of the portraits of the French monarchs who were Kings of Canada, which are currently displayed in the Foyer and Salon de la Francophonie of the Canadian senate, as well as British monarchs from the eighteenth century to the present. The longstanding relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Nations people is also covered in the chapter by David Arnot, reminding the reader that land treaties were negotiated directly with the crown.

The Evolving Canadian Crown places Canada within a comparative context, discussing how the monarchy is perceived in Australia and New Zealand. Australia has already held a referendum on the question of severing ties with the constitutional monarchy but Peter Boyce argues that this outcome is unlikely in the future, as Australia’s government and citizens have different views concerning the selection of a potential president of an Australian Republic.

In New Zealand, attitudes toward the crown are more positive, particularly as the structure of the modern state dates from the Treaty of Waitango between the Maori leaders and Queen Victoria. In New Zealand, as in Canada, there is a close relationship between the crown and original inhabitants of the state. These chapters of The Evolving Canadian Crownare fascinating and it would have been interesting to read additional pieces concerning the crown in the Caribbean particularly because Jamaica is considering becoming a republic on the 50th anniversary of the nation’s independence.

The Evolving Canadian Crownis a collection of thought provoking articles that demonstrate the continued relevance of the crown to Canada’s political system. The inclusion of comparative and historical pieces as well as essays about current events involving the Governor General will appeal to any reader interested in Canada’s government and history as well as the wider commonwealth.

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Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Beatrice to attend Royal Maundy Service at York Minster, April 5, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at the 2009 Trooping of the Colour Parade

Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and their granddaughter Princess Beatrice will attend the Royal Maundy Thursday service at York Minster this Easter. This service was traditionally an opportunity for the poor to receive alms in the sovereign’s name but the current Queen has transformed the event into an opportunity to personally honour seniors who have contributed to their community and church. 86 men and 86 women, one for each year of the Queen’s age will receive a commemorative Diamond Jubilee coin and specially minted Maundy coins as keepsakes of the event. The structure of the Maundy service, the decision to hold this ceremony in York Minster and the presence of members of the extended royal family are all significant to the history and future of the royal family.

A thirteenth century image of King John, who reigned from 1199 to 1216, with his hunting dogs. John is the first recorded monarch to provide alms for the poor on Maundy Thursday.

Through her active participation in Maundy services, the Queen has revived a ceremony that received little interest from the monarchy between the reign of Queen Anne and the reign of George V. While there are recorded instances of churchmen washing the feet of the poor and providing Maundy Thursday alms since the 5th century, the first monarch to be involved in this ceremony was the notorious King John. In 1212, John gave thirteen pence to thirteen poor men in Rochester Cathedral. The distribution of these alms may have been an attempt to improve his reputation with his subjects and the clergy. John had been excommunicated by Pope Innocent III in 1208 for seizing church lands, and was widely unpopular for raising crippling taxes to first pay his brother King Richard’s ransom at the end of the Third Crusade then to fight a expensive war with France to attempt to regain the Duchy of Normandy.

John’s son Henry III and all his children participated in several Maundy celebrations each year, emphasizing the piety and humility of the royal family. Edward I “Longshanks” established the custom of only holding Maundy services on the Thursday before Easter and subsequent monarchs and consorts held more and more elaborate ceremonies. Although Mary I was Roman Catholic and Elizabeth I was Supreme Governor of the Church of England, both sisters held elaborate Maundy services, washing the feet of the poor (after they had been pre-washed three times by court servants and officials) and distributing extensive alms. Mary followed the example of her mother, Catherine of Aragon and gave the poorest woman present her own gown. James II was last monarch to actually wash the feet of the poor and the alms giving became less widespread in the eighteenth century.

Princess Marie Louise of England, daughter of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein and Princess Helena of the United Kingdom. Marie Louise attended Maundy Thursday services with her mother and suggested that George V participate in the almsgiving.

As discussed in Silver Pennies and Linen Towels: The Story of the Royal Maundy by Brian Robinson, royal participation in Maundy services ended in the eighteenth century with court officials providing the alms in the monarch’s name. Members of the extended royal family continued to attend the service, however, and in 1931, Princess Marie Louise suggested to her cousin, King George V that he might personally distribute the alms the following year. At that time, the recipients tended to be heads of households that had experienced unexpected financial difficulties. Elizabeth II eventually transformed the ceremony into a celebration of service to church and community.

York Minster cathedral has longstanding associations with the current British royal family. The second son of the monarch traditionally receives the title of “Duke of York” recalling the combined Lancaster and York descent of the Tudor dynasty, at the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1485. The Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Kent married Katherine Worlesley in York Minister in 1961 in the presence of the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles. There had not been a wedding of a senior member of the royal family in York Minster since King Edward III married Princess Philippa of Hainault in 1328.

The Western Entrance of York Minster Cathedral

The attendance of Princess Beatrice at the 2012 Maundy Thursday service demonstrates her interest in carrying out royal duties. Queen Elizabeth II’s cousins, the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester and Princess Alexandra currently perform extensive royal duties but there is evidence that Prince Charles and Prince William intend to preside over a smaller group of active members of the royal family. Beatrice’s activities during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations may determine whether she spends her adult life as a working member of the royal family or if she persues an independent career as a private citizen.

The 2012 Maundy Thursday service at York Minster reflects Elizabeth II’s innovative approach to a centuries old royal tradition involving the sovereign and members of the royal extended family in the recognition of community service in York. The historic York Minster cathedral has long standing associations with the royal family and is the ideal setting for this ceremony.

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The Tudor Book Reviews 2: Bessie Blount, the King’s Mistress by Elizabeth Norton

Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount is remembered as the woman King Henry VIII did not marry. While Henry VIII’s six wives are all well known historical figures in their own right, the King’s mistresses have received less attention until comparatively recently. Mary Boleyn has been the subject of Philippa Gregory’s bestselling novel The Other Boleyn Girland the popular biography, Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings by prolific Tudor historian Alison Weir. Bessie Blount has been a character in Tudor historical fiction such as The Autobiography of Henry VIII and The Shadow of the Pomegranate but has not been the subject of a biography until now. In Bessie Blount: The King’s Mistress, Elizabeth Norton reconstructs the life of the most famous English royal mistress during Henry VIII’s lifetime, the mother of the King’s son and rumoured successor Henry Fitzroy.

Elizabeth Norton is an experienced biographer of Tudor royal women, having previously written about Henry VIII’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort and four of his wives, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, Anne of Cleves and Jane Seymour. Bessie Blount is her most challenging subject to date because there are far fewer sources about the lives of Henry VIII’s mistresses than his Queens and the formidable “My Lady, The King’s Grandmam.” In contrast to his contemporary, King Francois I of France, Henry VIII kept his  affairs discreet, particularly in the early years of his first marriage when he feared upsetting Catherine of Aragon during her frequent pregnancies with potential male heirs.

As a result, it is difficult to determine exactly when the King’s extramarital relationships began and ended and how many mistresses and unacknowledged children were part of his court. Furthermore, there is not any surviving correspondence between Bessie and Henry VIII, complicating analysis of their relationship. Norton observes in Bessie Blount: The King’s Mistressthat if it had not been for the birth of Henry Fitzroy, the subject of the recent biography Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son, the relationship might only have been known to scholars through records of gifts bestowed on the young lady-in-waiting by the King.

Norton does a masterful job of interpreting documents pertaining to the Blount family, Henry Fitzroy, and other sixteenth century court women to restore Bessie Blount to her rightful place in Tudor history. In Bessie Blount: The King’s Mistress, Bessie comes alive as one of the most beautiful women at Henry VIII’s court, sharing the King’s literary interests and taste for court pageantry despite her comparatively humble origins as a member of the Shropshire gentry. The birth of Henry Fitzroy encouraged the King to blame Catherine of Aragon for the absence of surviving sons in their marriage and believe that it might be possible to have male heirs with another wife.

While Edward IV’s illegitimate son, Arthur Plantagenet did not even receive a peerage from his royal father, Henry Fitzroy was made Duke of Somerset and Richmond and there were rumours he would be legitimized and made Henry VIII’s heir. Norton convincingly argues that Henry VIII may also have been the father of Bessie’s daughter, Elizabeth Tailboys, as the King took an unusual interest in this young woman’s marriage and property rights. Through her status as mother of King’s children, Bessie remained a notable figure at Henry VIII’s court even after his interest had shifted to the Boleyn sisters.

Bessie Blount: The King’s Mistress is not only the story of one woman’s rise to prominence at Henry VIII’s court but a case study of court politics in the sixteenth century. Bessie’s experiences were part of the Blount family’s attempts to increase their stature in the royal household through proximity to the King. Norton devotes considerable attention to her antecedents and the family of her eventual husband, Gilbert Tailboys, because family connections were critical to social advancement in Tudor times. Norton also uses Bessie as a lens for discussing the duties of ladies-in-waiting and the life cycle of a sixteenth century English noblewoman, providing a fascinating perspective of Tudor social history.

Bessie Blount: The King’s Mistress is an engaging and readable biography of an often overlooked figure at Henry VIII’s court. Norton effectively reconstructs the life and times of the King’s most prominent mistress revealing her historical significance and place within Tudor court politics.

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Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge Makes Her First Public Speech at the East Anglia Children’s Hospice in Ipswitch

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet with President Barack Obama of the United States and his wife Michelle. Since becoming a member of the royal family, Catherine has assumed an increasingly public profile.

On Monday March 19, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge delivered her first public speech, launching  the new East Anglia Children’s Hospices in Ipswitch. There was intense interest in her speech on behalf of this charity because Catherine has spoken so little in public during her marriage to Prince William. During the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s tour of Canada in 2011, Catherine had numerous private conversations with ordinary Canadians but William gave all the official speeches. This approach allowed the Duchess to adjust to her new public role.

In her speech in Ipswitch, Catherine had the opportunity to draw popular attention to a charity that she feels strongly about, stating “What you do is inspirational, it is a shining example of the support and the care that is delivered, not just here, but in the children’s hospice movement at large, up and down the country.” Catherine’s decision to become the patron of charity that provides end of life care for seriously ill children follows a long tradition of royal involvement in raising awareness of medical trends that improve the comfort and care of patients.

As Frank Prochaska discusses in Royal Bounty: The Making of a Welfare Monarchy the relationship between the British monarchy and the patronage of charities that improve the lives of ordinary people dates from the reign of King George III, in the eighteenth century. Queen Victoria’s daughters were particularly interested in reforming medical care to improve patient quality of life. Her third daughter Helena, who became Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein was one of the original members of the Red Cross when it was founded in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. She helped initiate the state registration of nurses and started the military nursing service during the Boer War.

According to the Memoirs of Helena’s daughter, Princess Marie Louise, entitled My Memories of Six Reigns, “We were taught as children to work for the sick and distressed, and I can still remember, at the age of six, trying to roll a bandage which was destined to be sent out to the sick and wounded in the Russo-Turkish War of 1878.” The importance of being personally involved in patient care was passed from one generation of royal women to another. Helena’s elder sister, Alice, who became Princess Louis of Hesse-Darmstadt actively supported the improvement of care for expectant mothers in Hesse-Darmstadt. Both Alice and Helena were supporters of Florence Nightingale’s hospital reforms and spread awareness of the principles of Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not.

Queen Victoria’s granddaughters spread the British conception of service monarchy  through their marriages to Princes, Kings and Emperors throughout Europe. Alice’s daughters all shared her strong commitment to public service. For example,  when Elizabeth and Alexandra married into the Russian Imperial family, they encouraged Russian noblewomen to move beyond making donations to hospitals to actually involving themselves in the care of the wounded. Empress Alexandra and her daughters trained as nurses during the First World War while Grand Duchess Elizabeth founded the Martha and Mary order of working nuns during her widowhood.

Through her patronage of the East Anglia Children’s Hospices, the current Duchess of Cambridge is following a long tradition of royal involvement in patient care. Queen Victoria’s daughters and granddaughters did not simply donate to hospitals but championed medical reform, actively involving themselves in improving the welfare of the sick and wounded. This conception of service monarchy clearly has a bright future in the twenty first century.

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The Tudor Book Reviews 1: Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile

Of Henry VIII’s six wives, Katherine of Aragon enjoyed the longest and most complicated relationship with the King. First, she was his sister-in-law, escorted at sixteen by the ten year old Henry to marry his elder brother, Arthur. Next, she was a widowed princess in financial and diplomatic limbo, rescued from this uncertainty by Henry’s ascension to the throne and proposal of marriage. As Henry VIII’s first wife, she was his friend, lover and advisor. She served as regent of England while her husband fought the French, organizing the defense of England against the Scots. She was the mother of the future Queen Mary I, and numerous other children who died in infancy. In the end, Katherine was Henry’s victim and adversary in “The King’s Great Matter,” asserting the validity of her marriage and her status as Queen until her dying breath.

Despite this variety of experience, Katherine’s biographers traditionally assumed her to be a saintly woman whose relationship with Henry superseded all other concerns. Garrett Mattingly’s beautifully written biography, Catherine of Aragon, is the story of a woman wronged by her husband’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn. In collective biographies of Henry VIII’s wives by Agnes Strickland, Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser, Katherine’s twenty year marriage receives the same amount of space as the much shorter marriages of the subsequent five queens, simplifying the ever changing relationship between Henry and Katherine.

Only recently has David Starkey questioned Katherine’s supposed uncomplicated, saintly character in Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII and Giles Tremlett analyzed her enduring connections to her Spanish family in Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII.Julia Fox, the author of Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford combines Starkey’s admiration for Katherine’s skills as a diplomat and public figure with Tremlett’s close analysis of Spanish documents in a well written and innovative joint biography of Queen Katherine and her sister Juana. Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile reveals that the daughters of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile were astute, educated, resourceful women who attempted to preserve the interests of their children through periods of political upheaval.

One of the great strengths of Sister Queens is Fox’s attention to the settings were these two princesses spent their lives. She has clearly traveled extensively in England, Wales and Spain and describes the Alhambra Palace in Grenada where Katherine and Juana spent part of their childhood, Ludlow Castle where Katherine lived during her brief time with Arthur and the numerous estates that comprised Katherine’s dower lands during her marriage to Henry VIII in exquisite detail. The households and responsibilities of both Katherine and Juana are also extensively discussed, revealing the precise responsibilities of a princess and queen in the sixteenth century.

Fox has a keen eye for the art and culture of sixteenth century European courts, describing the books owned by Catherine and Juana, the images woven into the tapestries in their chambers and the objects that decorated their palaces. This approach provides fresh insights into the worldview of two Spanish princesses who played such significant roles in the English and Flemish courts.

The sad life of Juana’s long life as the imprisoned Queen of Castile provides an effective counterpoint to Katherine’s experiences as Queen of England, revealing the challenges faced by royal women in a male dominated era of dynastic marriage. Juana has gone down in history as “Juana la Loca,” famously traveling around Spain with her husband’s coffin because she supposedly could not bear to be separated from his remains.

Fox makes a convincing case for Juana’s sanity, arguing that she was the victim of the political machinations of her father, Ferdinand of Aragon, her husband, Philip the Handsome of Flanders and her eldest son, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire who all wanted direct control over her inheritance. The popular perception that Juana was insane and therefore unfit to rule provided a useful pretence for her enforced seclusion. Since Juana has been the subject of only one previous major English language work, Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe, I would have been interested to read more of Fox’s insights about this controversial Queen.

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castileis an engaging dual biography of two fascinating Queens that reveals the full complexity of their personalities and  goals. Fox also provides as fascinating portrait of the art and culture of the sixteenth century courts of Europe, demonstrating that Katherine and Juana were cultural patrons as well as political figures.

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Royals at the Olympics: The Involvement of European Royalty in the Modern Olympic Games

King Edward VII opening the 1908 London Olympic Games at White City Stadium

Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, will open the 2012 London Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry will be Olympic Ambassadors. Harry expressed his enthusiasm for this role during his recent visit to Jamaica, telling a reporter, “It’s massively important to get young kids out doing sport. . . I know that when I was at school, sport was the best thing. Being stuck in the classroom wasn’t.” While these senior members of the royal family will perform ceremonial roles at the Games, Princess Anne’s daughter, Zara Phillips hopes to qualify for the equestrian team, having pulled out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of an injury to her horse.

King Gustav V of Sweden and his sons Crown Prince Gustav and Prince William attend the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. Prince William`s brother-in-law, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia competed in the equestrian events.

There is a long history of royal involvement in the Modern Olympic Games in both ceremonial and sporting roles. The first Olympics to take place in England occured in 1908. King Edward VII opened the 1908 Olympic Games in London, and his wife, Queen Alexandra presented numerous medals. Edward VII’s granddaughter Princess Mary requested that the marathon begin beneath the nursery windows of Windsor Castle, 42 kilometres (26 miles) from the newly built White City Stadium. This distance remains the official length of the Olympic marathon.

Princess Anne. The Princess was a member of the British equestrian team in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal

Princess Mary’s brother, King George VI opened the 1948 London Olympic Games.The British government had discussed allowing the United States to host these games because food rationing was still in effect but George firmly believed that hosting the Olympics would symbolize England`s recovery from the Second World War. Elizabeth II and Prince Philip have been actively involved in the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games throughout the Commonwealth. The Queen opened the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games, where Princess Anne competed in the equestrian events, at the invitation of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Although, the Queen received a letter from Parti Quebecois leader René Lévesque, requesting that refuse Trudeau`s invitation, the royal presence was well received. The Duke of Edinburgh opened the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games on behalf of the Queen.

Princess Anne and her daughter Zara are part of a long tradition of royal equestrians at the Games. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia`s cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich competed in the equestrian events at the 1912 Stockholm Games. His sister Marie attended with her husband, Prince William of Sweden and the other members of the Swedish royal family. To Dmitri`s disappointment, his team placed seventh and the Imperial Russian athletes did not receive a single medal in 1912.

King Olav V of Norway. As Crown Prince, he won the gold medal in sailing at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

Sailing is another popular event for royal Olympians. The future King Olav V of Norway (a nephew of King George V of Great Britain) won a gold medal in sailing in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Other prominent royal sailors include Felipe, Prince of Asturias, who was a member of the Spanish sailing team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. His mother, the future Queen Sofia of Spain and uncle, the future King Constantine II of Greece were both members of the Greek sailing team at the 1960 Rome Olympics, just thirteen years before the Greek monarchy was deposed in 1973.

The presence of Queen Elizabeth II and her family at the 2012 London Olympics marks more than a hundred years of royal involvement in the Modern Olympic Games. Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Zara Philips will promote London as a tourist destination, and the importance of sport, to an international audience.

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The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 3: The Secret of the Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty by John Fraser

The Secret Of The Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty is a book that every Canadian should read. Despite the intense nationwide interest in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 Canadian tour, the important role of the crown in Canada is not widely understood. This royal heritage is so thoroughly embedded in Canadian history, geography, politics and culture that it is rarely noticed or commented upon. John Fraser’s insightful and well written study illuminates the role of the crown in all aspects of Canadian life and provides convincing arguments in support of continued ties with the constitutional monarchy. Monarchists, republicans, and readers who have never really considered the significance of the Maple Crown will all learn something new about the relationship between Canada’s history and potential future in The Secret Of The Crown.

While publications that coincide with Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee often treat this occasion as a symbolic opportunity to look back at the Queen’s life of public service, Fraser treats this milestone, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Canadian tour as significant historical events. After decades marked by the increasing popular perception that the institution was no longer relevant to Canadian society, the Canadian tour and the Diamond Jubilee have revived widespread interest in Canada’s constitutional monarchy. The Secret Of The Crownis a book about the monarchy in modern Canadian society rather than a historical work alone. Other superb works about Canada and the Crown such as Majesty in Canada: Essays on the Role of Royalty or Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and the United States look at the monarchy’s history while Fraser focuses on its future.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to make Canada the setting of their first overseas tour both emphasized the enduring links between the crown and Canadian society, and symbolized the future of the monarchy. The Jubilee celebrations in Canada are highlighting the significance of the Queen’s presence at key moments in the nation’s history, and how she continues to be a significant Canadian public figure. Her Majesty opened the St. Lawrence Seaway, attended Expo ’67 and repatriated the constitution. While critics of the monarchy often describe Elizabeth II a “foreign” ruler, the Queen calls Canada home.

Fraser writes in an engaging style that includes entertaining and insightful descriptions of his various encounters with royalty and Canadian Governors General. Prince Philip’s remarks on meeting the journalism fellows at Massey College, University of Toronto are both hilarious and reveal the longstanding tensions between the modern royal family and the press. Fraser’s analysis of the successive Canadian born Governors General and provincial Lieutenant Governors reveals how dynamic and progressive this office became in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. I would have been interested to read his insights concerning the British born Governors General as well because many of these figures were directly connected to the royal family and symbolized Canadian sovereignty.

As a historian, I was most interested in his critique of the monarchy’s place in Canadian history books. He observes that Donald Creighton’s seminal work, Canada’s First Century does not contain a single reference to Queen Victoria in its index despite her significance to nineteenth century Canadians. This approach to Canada’s history appears to be changing as Richard Gwyn’s biography of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A: The Man Who Made Us emphasizes that the idea that Queen Victoria wanted Confederation helped unite the provinces in 1867.

During the interviews I gave in the past year concerning the history of royal weddings, tours and the Canadian crown, one particular question was asked by the majority of journalists. Will Canada continue to be a monarchy after the death of Elizabeth II? Fraser’s sympathetic portrayal of Prince Charles makes a strong case for his suitability as a future King of Canada, emphasizing his interest in Canadian society, long history of charitable activity and the continued success of the constitutional monarchy. The Secret Of The Crownis a compelling defense of the Maple crown that deserves to be a part of every Canadian’s library.

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That Woman by Anne Sebba: Book Review of the latest biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

“I who had sought no place in history would now be assured of one – an appalling one, carved out by blind prejudice.” — Wallis Simpson in her memoirs, The Heart Has Its Reasons

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor may be one of the most reviled women in the history of the 20th century British monarchy. To Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother), who blamed Wallis for the anxiety her shy husband experienced as King George VI, her name was not to be spoken in polite society. The twice divorced American who inspired Edward VIII to abdicate in 1936 because he believed he could not reign “without the help and support of the woman I love” was simply That Woman.

Wallis is often portrayed in popular culture as an adventuress, determined to become Queen despite her unsuitability for the role. In the recent Academy Award winning film The King’s Speech, the actress portraying Simpson speaks a single line at a palace reception, removing her cigarette holder to welcome the Duke and Duchess of York to “our humble sha-a-a-ack,” a scene that appears to encapsulate just how out of place she was among royalty. In contrast, Madonna has recently attempted to rehabilitate her image in the popular imagination, presenting Wallis as another American material girl who encountered snobbery from the English upper classes, in the film W.E.

Anne Sebba has extensive experience researching the lives of prominent Americans in British high society, as demonstrated by her engrossing 2007 biography of Lady Randolph Churchill, American Jennie. That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor is a sympathetic portrayal of another controversial American socialite. Sebba discusses documentary sources that have not been consulted by previous  biographers such as Wallis’s correspondence with her second husband Ernest Simpson (which continued during her marriage to the Duke of Windsor), and recently declassified British government files stored in The National Archives of the United Kingdom. Although some of her conclusions regarding Wallis’s medical issues and activities during her first marriage are highly speculative, her discussion of the Abdication Crisis provides convincing new evidence of Wallis’s motives and expectations in 1936.

Through the correspondence between Wallis and Ernest, and a critical reading of The Heart Has Its Reasons, Sebba argues that Wallis never wanted to become Queen of England or even marry the future Edward VIII. Both Ernest and Wallis were fascinated by British high society and wanted to belong to the fashionable set led by the Prince of Wales. Wallis appears to have viewed her flirtation and eventual affair with the Prince as a temporary arrangement that was under her control. When Edward succeeded to the throne and declared that he would not reign unless Wallis was permitted to be his Queen, she expressed her willingness to end their relationship. In her letters to Ernest, she wrote of her nostalgia for the life they had enjoyed together before she was forced to flee to France during the Abdication crisis as  the most hated woman in England and Commonwealth.

One of the great strengths of That Woman is Sebba’s discussion what it meant to be divorced and American in 1936. While divorce was gradually becoming acceptable within the United States, it was viewed as a destabilizing practice in England. The idea of the King marrying a divorcee was particularly unsettling as many Britons believed the marriage would normalize divorce, leaving deserted wives destitute and children without stable homes. For Edward VIII, Wallis’s origins made her particularly attractive because America appeared to symbolize modernity and he was eager to distance himself from the traditional society personified by his parents, King George V and Queen Mary.

While Sebba creates a nuanced portrait of Wallis, I would have been interested to read more of her research concerning Edward VIII. She presents a highly negative interpretation of his character, drawing heavily on Philip Ziegler’s King Edward VIII: A Biography for context.  That Woman contains numerous instances of the Duke of Windsor’s selfishness, ignorance, poor judgment, and, during the Second World War, defeatist and pro-German sentiments that might be interpreted as treason. Although Sebba makes passing references to Edward’s desire to reconnect with his German relatives, and his thoughts on Bolshevism, a detailed discussion of the fate of his Russian and German cousins during the First World War would have strengthened her analysis of his rejection of his Kingship and his questionable behaviour during the Second World War.

That Woman is an interesting, readable biography of one of the most controversial figures in 20th century British royal history. Sebba’s analysis provides new insights about Wallis Simpson’s role in the abdication crisis and her long life in exile as the Duchess of Windsor.


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