The Medieval Book Reviews 3: Eleanor de Montfort, A Rebel Countess in Medieval England by Louise J. Wilkinson

Eleanor de Montfort, daughter of King John, sister of King Henry III, aunt of King Edward I “Longshanks” and wife of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, was one of the most influential women in thirteenth century England. In the 1260s, she was at the centre of an explosive conflict between her weak willed brother and her charismatic husband, who rebelled against the monarch’s arbitrary rule and called the first directed elected parliament in European history.

Although Eleanor enjoyed a warm relationship with her brother in childhood, she identified herself completely with Simon’s cause, negotiating with a broad network of allies and housing his hostages. Simon’s defeat and death fighting the future King Edward I at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 shattered Eleanor’s family fortunes, leaving the Countess to attempt to negotiate a settlement that would preserve a small portion of her former wealth and influence for her surviving children.

Historical novelists have long recognized the drama of Eleanor’s involvement in the Montfort rebellion. The Countess is a prominent character in the second novel of Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Trilogy, Falls the Shadow, attempting to act as mediator between Simon de Montfort and Henry III then actively supporting her husband’s rebellion. Nevertheless, Eleanor has not been the subject of a biography since her inclusion in Mary Anne Everett Green’s Lives of the Princesses of England, from the Norman Conquest, one hundred and fifty years ago. Louise Wilkinson’s Eleanor de Montfort restores the Countess of Leicester to her rightful place in medieval historiography.

Wilkinson is a senior lecturer in medieval history at Canterbury Christ Church University and has written two previous books about women and queenship in medieval England, Women in Thirteenth-Century Lincolnshire and The Rituals and Rhetoric of Queenship: Medieval to Early Modern. Her expertise provides valuable context for the pivotal moments of Eleanor’s life. Everett Green attributed the Countess’s decision take a vow of perpetual chastity after the death of her first husband, William Marshall, to her piety alone but Wilkinson interprets this act as part of her ongoing negotiations with his heirs for her widow’s portion of the estate.

Eleanor’s second marriage to Simon de Montfort was certainly considered scandalous because she broke her vow of chastity but the groom’s comparatively low social standing was not necessarily an impediment. Wilkinson identifies other cases of medieval English Countesses and Duchesses choosing comparatively minor members of the nobility as their second husbands.

Wilkinson draws upon unique and fascinating historical documents to reconstruct Eleanor’s life and historical significance. The Countess’s household roll from 1265, the year of the Battle of Evesham, contains the oldest surviving household records of an English noble estate. Previous historians, such as Margaret Labarge, author of Mistress Maids And Men, have used this document to illuminate the role of noblewomen inside their castles, managing large numbers of servants, supervising meals, and entertaining guests.

Wilkinson expands upon this research to identify evidence of Eleanor’s political role in her household records. The amount of food and drink ordered for the kitchens varied according to the number of Montfort’s hostages resident in Kenilworth Castle and rolls contain evidence of extensive correspondence with an extensive network of allies.

Eleanor de Montfort: A Rebel Countess in Medieval England is a fascinating biography of a woman closely involved in one of the most significant rebellions in medieval English history. The Countess’s experiences reveal the opportunities for thirteenth century noblewomen to wield political influence and advance the interests of their families. Wilkinson ends by observing that Eleanor lived long enough to witness the proxy marriage between her daughter and namesake, and Prince Llywelyn the Last of Wales. The fortunes of the Countess of Leicester’s surviving children would make an interesting subject for a subsequent book about the Montfort family and their role in European history.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Death of Queen Victoria’s last surviving great-grandchild, Carl Johan Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg

Count Carl Johan Bernadotte and his second wife Gunilla Wachtmeister at the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel Westling in 2010.

Count Carl Johan Bernadotte, Uncle of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and the last survivor of the eighty-five great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, was part of a generation of European royalty that experienced unprecedented changes in the relationship between monarchy and society. Carl Johan was born in 1916, fifteen years after the death of Queen Victoria and the in the midst of the First World War, which precipitated the collapse of the German, Austrian and Russian monarchies. Although Carl Johan never knew his famous great-grandmother, he had numerous elder cousins with memories of the Queen. At the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, she had thirty-seven surviving great-grandchildren and many of them were present for celebrations of her Golden and Diamond Jubilees in 1887 and 1897.

Princess Margaret of Connaught, Crown Princess of Sweden and mother of Count Carl Johan Bernadotte

Carl Johan’s grandparents, Queen Victoria’s third son Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and his wife Princess Margaret of Prussia led a long life of public service. Prince Arthur served as an officer in the Rifle Brigade in Canada in 1869, Egypt in 1882 and India from 1886 to 1890, and his children became some of the most well traveled members of the 19th century British royal family. His eldest daughter Margaret met Crown Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden on a tour of Portugal, Spain, Egypt and Sudan in 1905 and they were married later that year. During the First World War, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden founded a sewing circle to support the Red Cross and acted as an intermediary between relatives on opposite sides of the conflict. Her father, Prince Arthur was Governor General of Canada during the War and he corresponded with his elder daughter and grandchildren in Sweden.

Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden died suddenly of an infection in 1920, leaving five young children. With the exception of her eldest son Prince Gustaf Adolf, the father of the current King of Sweden, who died in a place crash in 1947, they all had long lives and were among the senior surviving descendants of Queen Victoria into the 21st century. While Carl Johan’s parents and grandparents were all members of European royal houses and his only sister Ingrid married Frederick IX of Denmark, the Prince and two of his brothers, Sivgard and Bertil married commoners.

Charlotte, reigning Grand Duchess of Luxembourg from 1919 to 1964

In contrast to Great Britain, which gradually relaxed the lineage requirements for royal spouses after the First World War, Swedish royalty were expected to marry other royalty until the 1970s. Carl Johan defied both his family and Swedish popular opinion to marry journalist Kerstin Wijkmark in 1946, losing his royal title and his place in the Swedish line of succession. He received the courtesy title of Count of Wisborg from Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg in 1951.

While the beginning of Carl Johan’s career was marked by the military service that had defined the life of his grandfather, the Duke of Connaught, he pursued opportunities that were unusual for royalty after his marriage. Carl Johan and Kirstin lived for five years in New York, where he worked as the representative of the Anglo-Nordic Trading Co, a Scandinavian firm. The couple also became close friends with film actress Greta Garbo and traveled with her in the French Riviera. Although Carl Johan’s exclusion from the Swedish line of succession was upheld by the 1980 revisions to the laws governing the royal family, he was invited to state events, most recently the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria to Daniel Westling.

Count Carl Johan Bernadotte died on May 5, 2012 at the age of ninety five. He is survived by his second wife Gunilla Wachtmeister and children Christian and Monica.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Television Appearance to Discuss the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations on CPAC TV this Sunday June 3 4-5pm EST

I will be part of the panel on Goldhawk Live on CPAC TV this Sunday June 3 from 4 to 5pm EST. The topic of the panel will be the celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee that are taking place this weekend and the relationship between Canada and the monarchy. Viewers will be invited to call in with comments and questions about the Diamond Jubilee and the Canadian Crown.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Diamond Jubilee Exhibitions in the United Kingdom’s Palaces, Museums and Art Galleries

Planning a visit to the United Kingdom for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and/or the London Olympics this summer? Be sure to visit some of the fascinating exhibitions in honour of the Queen’s sixty years on the throne. Elizabeth II has been described as “The Curator Monarch” for opening the state rooms at Buckingham Palace to the public and authorizing numerous exhibitions of treasures from the Royal Collection. Visiting a Jubilee exhibition is a great way to celebrate the Queen’s reign and see some of the UK’s finest historic and cultural sites.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2008. The British Galleries contain a fascinating array of royal memorabilia including the suit King James II wore to his second wedding.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London curated the exhibition Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration, which was on display there from February-April 2012. This collection of photographs of the Queen by royal photographer Cecil Beaton is currently on tour around the United Kingdom, on display in Dundee at the McManus Gallery from 30 September 2011 – 8 January 2012, at Leeds City Museum from 8 May – 24 June 2012, at the Norwich Castle Museum from 7 July – 30 September 2012, and at the Laing Art Gallery in Tyne & Wear from 13 October – 2 December 2012.

The exhibition includes some of the most iconic photographs from the Queen’s life including her earliest official portraits as a Princess, coronation photographs, family pictures with her children and the 1968 photo shoot for the National Portrait Gallery, which is also featuring a 2012 exhibition of images of the Queen.

The National Portrait Gallery in London

The National Portrait Gallery’s Diamond Jubilee Exhibition, The Queen: Art and Image includes a diverse array of portraits of the Queen that encompass changing attitudes toward the monarchy during her sixty year reign. Coronation portraiture from 1953 focused on her regal splendour while studio photographers emphasized her youth and elegance. The 1960s and 1970s portraits are more informal, showing the Queen with her children and during relaxed moments on her travels.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the press became increasingly intrusive and sought images that implicitly critiqued the monarchy. The 21st century prompted a broad range of images that sought to capture the complexity of the Queen’s long reign. Royal history enthusiasts will also want to visit the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection, which contains images of royalty from Tudor times to the present.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is holding an exhibition complementing the Thames river pageant that will mark the culmination of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee festivities this June. Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames includes objects from the Royal Collection to present the long history of royal pageantry on the Thames. Greenwich park also contains numerous other famous places from royal history including the Queen’s House, the site of the Tudor Palace of Placentia and the Ranger’s House.

 

Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland

Exhibitions of treasures from the royal collection are also on display in palaces throughout the United Kingdom. One of the most notable exhibitions is taking place at the Queen’s Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, which is presenting more than one hundred of the finest works of art from the royal collection, in the Queen’s Gallery. Treasures from the Queen’s Palaces includes paintings by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Nash, drawings by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Holbein, and Imperial Easter Eggs by Fabergé. Holyroodhouse itself has a long association with the royal family having been Mary, Queen of Scots’ principal residence as an adult monarch.

The palaces, museums and art galleries of the United Kingdom are celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee with a fascinating array of special exhibitions highlighting some of the most significant pieces from the Royal Collection. The accessibility of the works accumulated by centuries of monarchs demonstrates the Queen’s achievement as a “curator monarch,” bringing the Royal Collection to a wide public audience.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Spontaneous Moments During the 2012 Royal Tour of Canada

Prince Charles in 2011

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have returned to the United Kingdom after a successful four day tour of CFB Gagetown, Saint John, Toronto and Regina. Prior to the  couple’s arrival in Canada, royal commentators predicted that Jubilee tour would have a traditional structure that would not allow for the spontaneous moments that characterized the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 visit. Instead, the royal couple surprised and delighted audiences with actions and anecdotes that demonstrated their sense of humour and ability to interact informally with Canadians.

In Canada, the favourite spontaneous moment from the royal tour was Prince Charles picking up a hockey stick and joining a game of ball hockey with children in Saint John. In contrast to Prince William’s impromptu hockey game in Yellowknife last year, the Prince of Wales scored a goal to the delight of onlookers. In the United Kingdom, the press has focused on the DJ lesson the Prince received at the Yonge Street Mission in Toronto, where he elicited applause for his song mixing.

A 1920 postcard showing an RCMP officer in uniform

The Prince also received a warm reception in Regina when he was named honourary commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In accepting the honour, the Prince reminisced, “It was a wonderful surprise, “Particularly as I recall, I think from a photograph album belonging to the Queen, a long time ago when I was very small, she must have been given a complete uniform for a child on a visit to Canada. Anyway, there in the photograph album of me wearing the uniform. Little did I think …” Prince Charles’s speech incidentally demonstrates that while some of the gifts received by members of the royal family traveling abroad are displayed publicly as part of the royal collection, others are personally enjoyed by their recipients.

Canada has long been a place where members of the royal family are expected to behave comparatively informally and embrace regional customs. When Queen Victoria’s son-in-law Lord Lorne was appointed Governor General in 1878, Canadian newspapers expressed concern that he and his wife, Princess Louise would expect deference and formality that was foreign to the egalitarian society in Canada. The Princess quickly endeared herself to Canadians by declaring that if visitors came to be received at Rideau Hall, she “wouldn’t care if they came in blanket coats!”

Princess Louise in Canada, suitably dressed for winter weather.

The Lornes embraced Canadian culture and became well known for holding evening snow parties where guests skated, curled and tobogganed by torchlight. These evenings sadly came to an end when Princess Louise was injured in an 1880 sleigh accident and returned to England for an extended period of convalescence. When Queen Victoria’s third son Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught became Governor General in 1910, he and his family also took up winter sports. The Duke’s daughter, Princess Patricia, was an enthusiastic skater who often led skating parties on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal.

Royal visitors who spent briefer periods in Canada have also had the opportunity to enjoy the Canadian winter. When Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh toured Canada on behalf of King George VI in 1951, they spent a few days winter holiday in a St. Agathe chalet in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains at the end of the tour. The royal couple went sleighing and built a snowman who was dubbed “Mr. Churchill.” Like his grandson, Prince William in 2011, the Duke of Edinburgh wore a white cowboy hat to the Calgary Stampede in 1951, matching the crowd of Canadian onlookers.

The informal moments on the Diamond Jubilee tour of Canada by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are part of a long tradition of informality and spontaneity during Canadian royal visits. The ball hockey games played by Prince Charles and Prince William on their recent Canadian tours follow a long tradition of royalty enjoying themselves during their time in Canada.

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Duchess of Cornwall’s Speech in Canada

The Duchess of Cornwall in April, 2011

During the Jubilee Tour of Canada by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, which concludes today in Regina, Saskatchewan, the Duchess gave her first speech outside the United Kingdom. The Duchess’s mastery of public engagements and integration into the royal family has attracted widespread attention in Canada and I have had the opportunity to discuss her impact on the royal visit with Canada AM, cbc.ca and other Canadian media outlets over the past few days.

In a solo royal engagement at Moss Park Armoury in Toronto yesterday as honourary Colonel-in-Chief of The Queen’s Own Rifles regiment, the Duchess addressed the troops in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. Her three minute speech acknowledged her regiment’s accomplishments including its participation in the 1944 Juno Beach landing.

The Camp Flag of the Queen’s Own Rifles

The Duchess has been looking forward to meeting her regiment for the last two years. She stated in her speech, “Since my appointment in 2010, I have looked forward enormously to this moment when I can personally experience the professionalism and proud history of this great regiment. It has been a huge pleasure for me to meet so many serving soldiers, their families, and many veterans here today. It is quite clear that your desire to serve Canada and uphold the standards of The Queen’s Own Rifles is second to none.” She mentioned the example of her predecessors in this role, Queen Mary and Princess Alexandra, and her own Canadian ancestry as the descendant of Allan MacNabb, Premier of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856. The address was well received and the Duchess effortlessly circulated amongst the guests at the reception that followed.

This first overseas speech for the Duchess of Cornwall closely follows a previous speaking engagement at the London Press Club Awards earlier this May. While her audience expected her to express support for strict privacy laws because of the negative press coverage she experienced in the past, the Duchess instead affirmed that freedom of the press is “at the heart of our democratic system.” The London Telegraph argued that the speech to the Press Club would silence her critics and attract popular admiration.

The Duchess of Cornwall’s speeches in London and Toronto demonstrate a remarkable transformation of her role and reputation since her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 2005. The popular attitude toward her relationship toward the Prince was largely negative at the time of her wedding. The Duchess’s reputation reflected both the widespread public admiration for the late Princess Diana, and the longstanding historical reality that royal mistresses who aspire to be royal wives are criticized by their contemporaries.

When Edward III’s son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster married his third wife, and mother of his four youngest children, Katherine Swynford in 1396, the new Duchess of Lancaster had been described as an “unspeakable concubine.” According to Swynford’s biographer Alison Weir in Mistress of the Monarchy, her reputation eventually improved with one chronicler observing, “The lady herself was a woman of such bringing up and honorable demeanor that envy could not but in the end give place to well deserving.”

By Tudor times, criticism of ambitious royal mistresses had become an accepted means of voicing political opposition to the King’s policies as Andy Wood discusses in his article, The Queen is “a goggyll eyed hoore”: gender and seditious speech in early modern England in The English Revolution c. 1590-1720. The tradition of vilifying these unofficial consorts continued into the 20th and 21st centuries with the popular rejection of Wallis Simpson as an acceptable Queen to Edward VIII and the mixed responses to the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker Bowles.

Since the inauspicious beginning of her marriage, the Duchess of Cornwall has become fully integrated into the royal family and gradually gained the respect of the public in both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. While her first royal engagements were exclusively in the company of her husband, the Duchess now delivers her own speeches and undertakes royal duties alone and with other members of the royal family including the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge. Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s acceptance of the Duchess of Cornwall as a member of their family has improved her reputation among the wider public. The Duchess has become a fully fledged member of the royal family and a public figure in her own right.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Upcoming Television Interviews about Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in Canada on Wednesday May 23

I will be discussing the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in Canada on TV tomorrow. I will be interviewed on Canada AM at 7:15am EST about the Duchess of Cornwall’s integration into the royal family then on Global News Regina  at 8am EST about the royal couple’s arrival in Saskatchewan.

I will also be participating in a live Jubilee chat at 1pm tomorrow on canada.com

I will also be interviewed about the royal visit on CKNW news Kingston, Ontario at 6pm EST.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Upcoming Television Interviews about Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in Canada on Tuesday May 22

I will be discussing the Diamond Jubilee Visit to Canada of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall on Tuesday May 22. I will be interviewed about their upcoming visit to Regina on Global News Saskatchewan at 8am EST and their upcoming engagements in Toronto on CP24 at 9am EST.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather