“The Succession Prospects of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1895-1918)” now available from Canadian Slavonic Papers

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaeva, eldest daughter of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia in 1913.

I am pleased to announce the publication of my first peer reviewed scholarly article, “The Succession Prospects of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1895-1918)” in Canadian Slavonic Papers, Volume 54, Number 1-2, (March-June, 2012). The article is available from Canadian Slavonic Papers directly and through many university and college library systems.

I presented an early version of this paper at the 2007 Graduate History Symposium at the University of Toronto and have greatly enjoyed researching the political significance of this fascinating historical figure. The development of the article for publication involved extensive research concerning perceptions of the Romanovs in the foreign press, sources that have received less attention from previous scholars. I also took Russian language classes, allowing me to engage with the original text of the Fundamental Laws that governed the Imperial Russian succession during the reign of Russia’s last Emperor, Nicholas II.

ABSTRACT: Current political histories of late imperial Russia seldom discuss Grand
Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1895–1918), the eldest daughter of Emperor Nicholas II (r.
1894–1917), because she is considered to be politically insignificant. Nicholas’s
discussions with his ministers in the early 1900s regarding the possibility of Olga’s
succession in the absence of a direct male heir, the inclusion of the young Grand Duchess
in the amended regency act of 1912, and the degree of importance attributed to her choice
of husband reveal that the Emperor conceived a political role for his eldest daughter and
considered her, at various times, to be a possible successor to the Russian throne.
Nicholas II’s attempts to unilaterally influence the line of succession after 1905 provide
evidence of his unwillingness to work with the Duma regarding the governance of the
imperial family. In an environment in which Nicholas II’s actual intentions regarding the
succession were open to conjecture, the foreign press constructed a popular narrative
concerning Olga’s political significance as a possible successor to her father, creating the
conditions for the intense international interest regarding the fate of Nicholas and
Alexandra’s children that would be expressed after the murder of the imperial family in

Click here to read the full article



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Prince Philip at 91 and the Historical Role of a Reigning Queen’s Consort

Prince Philip in 2008.

“When King George died, [biographer Giles Brandreth] asked Prince Philip, “did you know what to expect?”

“No,” he said, laughing a little bleakly. “There were plenty of people telling me what not to do. ‘You mustn’t interfere with this.’ ‘Keep out.’ I had to try to support the Queen as best as I could without getting in the way. The difficulty was to find things that might be useful.”

“But there was the example of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort. [Brandreth] suggested, “You’d read biographies . . .”

“Oh yes,” An exasperated sigh. “The Prince Consort . . .” A pause. “The Prince Consort’s position was quite different. Queen Victoria was an executive sovereign, following in a long line of executive sovereigns. The Prince Consort was effectively Victoria’s private secretary. But after Victoria the monarchy changed. It became an institution. I had to fit in with the institution.” — Giles Brandreth, Philip And Elizabeth: Portrait of a Royal Marriagep. 215.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, turned 91 yesterday. Queen Elizabeth II’s consort participated in last Sunday’s Diamond Jubilee flotilla on the Thames but was hospitalized the next day with a bladder infection, and continues to convalesce at home as the Queen continues her jubilee travels around the United Kingdom. The Queen and Prince Philip have been married for sixty-five years, the longest marriage between monarch and consort in British history. Philip’s long tenure as a royal consort has given him the opportunity to revitalize the office over the course of Elizabeth II’s sixty year reign. He has engaged in extensive, innovative charity work, supported the Queen in her duties and contributed to the modernization of the monarchy. (I discussed his role with cbc.ca last week). As demonstrated by the above interview with Brandreth, he believed the example set by Prince Albert had little relevance in the twentieth century.

There have only been six undisputed reigning queens in British history and only five of those monarchs were married women. Every time a married queen regnant occupied the throne, the role of her husband in the monarchy became a topic of debate at court, in parliament and among the wider population. In every century, there was little consensus regarding the appropriate role of a consort of a female sovereign. While the wife of a King might compare herself to her predecessors and emulate those Queens Consort whom she particularly admired, male royal consorts expressed similar sentiments to Prince Philip. In every reign where the monarch was a married queen, her husband sought to remake his position to suit the unique circumstances of his marriage and the political culture of his time.

The wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840

When Prince Philip described Prince Albert to Brandreth as Queen Victoria’s secretary, he was referring to the later period of Albert’s tenure as consort, when he was known as the architect of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and virtual co-ruler of Great Britain.

At the time of Victoria and Albert’s wedding in 1840, parliament and public opinion alike were determined to curtail any potential authority he might attain through his marriage. Just as Prince Philip was critiqued by senior British courtiers in the 1940s as a member of the comparatively impecunious Greek royal family, Prince Albert was caricatured as a penniless German prince, seeking his fortune as the Queen’s husband. One broadsheet of the period declared “Here comes the bridegroom of Victoria’s choice,/The nominee of [Governess] Lehzen’s vulgar voice;/He comes to take “for better or for worse”/England’s fat Queen and England’s fatter purse. (See Stanley Weintraub’s Victoria, p. 133.)

Although Albert naively expressed hope in a letter to Victoria that “It needs but the stroke of your pen to make me a peer and to give me an English name,” the Queen was powerless to oppose parliament’s decision that he would not be admitted to the peerage or hold military rank in Great Britain. In her journals, which have recently been made available online, Victoria blamed the “abominable, infamous Tories,” and, in a marked contrast to the current Queen’s strict political impartiality, wrote, “Monsters! You Tories shall be punished. Revenge! Revenge!” She asked Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne why Albert was considered to be worth less than “[Queen Anne’s consort], stupid old George of Denmark.”

Portrait of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Queen Anne in 1705.

In the late seventeenth century, the future Queen Anne was equally indignant about the treatment of her husband by her father, King James II and her brother-in-law, King William III. Although George experienced few of the political difficulties encountered by Albert, receiving English citizenship and a place on the Privy Council and House of Lords at the time of his marriage, he was politically sidelined by Anne’s predecessors, who treated him with the same contempt expressed by Queen Victoria.

George had few political ambitions on his own behalf and was content to act as Anne’s proxy in the male realm of parliament. He wrote to a friend soon after his marriage in 1683, “We talk here of going to tea, of going to Winchester, and everything else except sitting still all summer, which was the height of my ambition. God send me a quiet life somewhere, for I shall not be long able to bear this perpetual motion.” (See R. O. Bucholz, The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture, p. 17.)

Enamel Portrait of Queen Anne and her husband Prince George of Denmark in 1706.

Although George’s transfer of loyalties from James II to William III in 1688 was important to the legitimacy of the Glorious Revolution, James supposedly sneered “So ‘Est il possible’ is gone too,” referring to his son-in-law’s habit of reacting to each previous defection by saying, “Is it possible?” William accepted George’s loyalty, and much needed income from his Danish properties, but made him unwelcome in his military activities.

During the 1690 Irish campaign, George traveled with the regular officers instead of the King’s suite, and he was prevented from volunteering for the navy during the 1691 Flanders expedition. Anne railed against William in her correspondence, referring to him as “Caliban” and “the Dutch Abortion” but she could do little to improve George’s status until she succeeded to the throne in 1702. As the Queen’s consort, George received the titles of Generalissimo and Lord High Admiral of the Navy but Anne shrewdly left the  actual administration of these offices to John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and his brother, George Churchill.

Prince Philip’s determination to reinvent the role of royal consort to reflect his own abilities and circumstances was shared by his predecessors. Prince George lacked the ambition of Philip of Spain and William of Orange, who already wielded sovereign authority at the time of their marriages and received the title of King in England. Prince Albert aspired to a more active role than George and gradually increased his influence over the monarchy during his marriage. Prince Philip recognized the differences between the nineteenth and twentieth century monarchical systems and adapted his role accordingly. Prince Philip’s long and successful tenure as a royal consort may break this trend as future consorts to reigning Queens may follow his example instead of seeking to reinvent the position.

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Historical Fiction Roundup 5: Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up The Bodies is an appropriate title for the second book in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of novels about Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son from Putney who rose to become King Henry VIII’s chief minister and one of the principal architects of the Church of England. The people who Cromwell lost over the course of the first novel, Wolf Hall, continue to shape his worldview as he negotiates the rise and fall of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Cromwell’s falcons are named for the wife and daughters he lost to the sweating sickness, and the late sisters who cared for him as a child.

Thomas More has been executed for refusing to sign the Act of Supremacy but Cromwell still finds himself imagining debates with his old adversary. Even the political events surrounding the King’s first marriage are informed by the dead. The question of whether Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, consummated her first marriage with the King’s late brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales informs the debates regarding the validity of her queenship. Catherine’s own death will change the fortunes of her successor Anne Boleyn so dramatically that the more superstitious characters in the novel wonder if she reached out from beyond the grave to smite her rival.

While Wolf Hall covered Thomas Cromwell’s rise from blacksmith’s son, to soldier to fortune, to prodigy of the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, to successful lawyer, to royal chancellor, Bring Up The Bodies is the tightly focused story of Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace and the rise in fortune of the Seymour family of Wolf Hall. Mantel draws heavily on the research of scholars Eric Ives and G.W. Bernard in the crafting of her narrative, recreating a political conspiracy to remove the Boleyn faction from the court and replace them with the seemingly more tractable Seymours.

Cromwell recognizes the conflicts emerging in the King’s second marriage and fears he will experience the same disgrace as Cardinal Wolsey, another deceased figure who shapes the action in the novel, if he doesn’t ensure his master’s happiness with a new wife. The question of whether Anne Boleyn was actually guilty of adultery, the chief accusation leveled at her trial is left open, particularly her relationship with Henry Norris. The charge of witchcraft receives less attention, and historian Retha Warnicke’s theory that Anne might have sealed her fate by miscarrying a deformed male child does not influence the events of the novel.

In all her novels, Mantel has a gift choosing the perfect turn of phrase to summarize the essence of a character. Cromwell percieves Anne Boleyn as a woman so stylish and elegant that beauty is beside the point while Jane Seymour “looks upon men as though they are an unpleasant surprise” Both Henry VIII’s second and third wives are presented as calculating figures responsible for advancing the fortunes of their families. Anne may appear confident and Jane may appear meek but they are both persuing the same goal as Anne’s success has emboldened other English families to imagine their own daughters as potential wives for the King. The reminisenses of Catherine of Aragon in her last months form a touching counterpoint to the scheming at court as she remembers the first years of their marriage when he brought her silk roses to celebrate the birth of her son. Cromwell finds himself wondering how English history might have been different if that baby had survived.

Bring Up The Bodies is a compelling dramatization of the fall of Anne Boleyn. The use of Thomas Cromwell as the narrator and Mantel’s gift for bringing her characters to life with wit and telling details makes this novel stand out from all the other retellings of the famous collapse of Henry VII’s second marriage. It will be interesting to see how Mantel handles Cromwell’s own fall from grace in the final novel of her fascinating trilogy.

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Comparing Prince William and Prince Charles at 30

Prince William in 2010, wearing his Royal Air Force uniform

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge will turn thirty on June 21, 2012. Today, it was announced that he has qualified as a Captain for Search and Rescue missions in the Royal Air Force, demonstrating his abilities as a pilot and commander.  For members of the royal family, turning 30 is often a time for major life transitions and the Duke of Cambridge is considering his future at this time. During a recent interview with Katie Couric to mark his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, William discussed both his desire to start a family and the impending decision he will make about his career. In the interview, his enthusiasm for children is unambiguous. William told Couric, “I’m just very keen to have a family and both Catherine and I, you know, are looking forward to having a family in the future.”

In contrast, the Prince faces a difficult decision regarding whether to take another tour of duty as a search and rescue pilot or assume full time royal duties. “I’m still trying to decide,” he said to Couric. “It’s a really difficult one because I really enjoy my time in the Air Force. And I’d love to continue it. But the pressures of my other life are building. And fighting them off or balancing the two of them has proven quite difficult.” The comparatively anonymous life that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge currently enjoy in Anglesey, Wales might be more suited to raising children but the recent ill health of William’s grandfather, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, demonstrates the need for younger members of the royal family to assume increasing numbers of royal engagements.

Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in 1974, photographed by Allan Warren

In 1975, the twenty-seven year old Prince Charles also participated in revealing interview with Women’s Own Magazine where he discussed his expectations about life at thirty. The interview is most famous for Charles’s remark that “thirty is a good age to get married,” which fuelled public pressure for him to propose to Lady Diana Spencer a few years later, but the Prince’s remarks are also signficant for their insights into his worldview at the age of twenty-seven.

When Prince Charles declared thirty to be the best age to marry, he was acknowledging that he was not yet ready for a wedding and that he took the institution of marriage seriously. The Prince told the magazine, “By this time you have seen a great deal of life, met a large number of girls, been able to see what types of girls there are, fallen in love every now and then, and you what it’s all about . . .I would never recommend getting married too young. I think it can be very awkward, and you miss so much, you get tied down.”

Charles and Camilla in the 1970s.

Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince Charles’s former mistress at the time, and eventual second wife would have undoubtedly agreed that life experience was a necessary prerequisite to marriage. In contrast, Lady Diana does not appear to have had serious relationships prior to her marriage, and married Charles at the young age of twenty. In hindsight, the conflicts that would occur during Charles’s and Diana’s marriage are foreshadowed by this interview.

Prince Charles also discussed personal and popular attitudes toward divorce during the 1975 interview, demonstrating his views on this subject before the breakdown of his marriage to Diana and renewed relationship with Camilla changed his perspective. Charles made clear to Women’s Own Magazine that it was very important for him to marry the right person because he would not consider divorce under any circumstances.

When the interviewer asked if he would consider marrying a divorced woman, he referred to the unfortunate precedent set by King Edward VIII’s abdication then marriage to the twice divorced Wallis Simpson, stating, “Things have changed a great deal since 1936 but even today I think people would not be altogether happy if I married a divorced woman.” That conclusion proved true in 2005 when Charles’s second marriage prompted mixed responses from the public.

Prince Charles and Prince William faced different circumstances as they approached their thirtieth birthdays. As second in line to the throne, William has enjoyed the opportunity to pursue a career as a search and rescue pilot in relative seclusion in Anglesey, Wales. The public is interested in any plans the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge might have to start a family.

In contrast, Charles had been heir to the throne since the age of three and was under intense pressure to get married from the general public as he approached thirty. The 1975 interview engaged with this interest in his future, providing the Prince with the opportunity to add his own views on marriage to the public speculation. Charles spoke with certainty about his views on marriage then changed his perspective in subsequent decades while William acknowledges that he is still trying to balance his work as a Search and Rescue pilot and a member of the royal family, and will have significant decisions to make in the future.


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The Diamond Jubilee Series 4: The Jubilee Queen of Canada

The fourth and final article of my four part series about Queen Elizabeth II in Canada was published today in the Kingston Whig Standard. Click here to read The Jubilee Queen of Canada about the recent revival of interest in the monarchy in Canada with the 2010 Canada Day visit of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, the 2011 tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the 2012 Jubilee visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

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The Diamond Jubilee Series 3: The Celebrity Queen of Canada

The third article in my four part series about Queen Elizabeth II in Canada was published today. Click here to read “The Celebrity Queen of Canada” about the visits of the Queen and her children to Canada during the 1980s and 1990s and the intense media interest in the personal lives of the royal family.

Also, see my recent interview with cbc.ca comparing the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.

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The Diamond Jubilee Series 1: The Young Queen of Canada

The first of the four part series I wrote for the Kingston Whig-Standard about the Queen’s role in Canada during her sixty year reign was published today. Click here to read “The Young Queen of Canada.”

In the past few days, I have also been interviewed for the Hamilton Spectator and Le Figaro.

Enjoy the Diamond Jubilee Coverage!

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Canada and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

The Official Photograph of Queen Victoria for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897

This weekend, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II that have been taking place in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth throughout 2012 will culminate in a magnificent river pageant on the Thames. The festivities mark the Queen’s six decade reign and the United Kingdom’s history as a naval power. The opulence of the planned flotilla also underscores the rarity of Diamond Jubilees.

There has only been one other comparable occasion in the history of the British Isles: The Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II’s great-great grandmother Queen Victoria in 1897. Victoria succeeded to the throne in 1837 at the age of eighteen and enjoyed the longest reign in British history. When she died in 1901, after nearly sixty-four years on the throne, the nineteenth century was already being described as the Victorian Era.

A Victoria Day celebration at First Government House in Toronto, 1854. The public holiday was originally a celebration of the Queen’s birthday before becoming a commemoration of a “Mother of Confederation” after her death in 1901.

The current Queen is the most well traveled monarch in history and takes her role as Head of the Commonwealth seriously. The modern royal family is therefore celebrating Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee on an international scale with representatives visiting all the commonwealth realms. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall joined the Canadian celebrations, significantly visiting Canada over the Victoria Day holiday weekend. The international celebrations in 2012 highlight the Queen’s role as Head of a Commonwealth of equal nations.

Canadian involvement in the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was very different in 1897. The Queen had a personal connection to Canada. Her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, did military service in British North America, overseeing the defenses surrounding the royal naval base in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Prince was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in North America in 1799 and gave his name to the future province of Prince Edward Island. Although there is no direct evidence that Prince Edward and his mistress Madame de St. Laurent had children during their time in British North America, there are Canadian families who claim descent from the couple.

Portrait of Queen Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn by Sir William Beechey

In contrast to her father, Queen Victoria did not travel widely, leaving the British Isles on rare occasions such as a state visit to Napoleon III in France and family weddings in Germany. By the time of her Diamond Jubilee, the seventy eight year old Queen suffered increasing difficulties walking. The Thanksgiving service for her sixty year reign was held outside St. Paul’s cathedral because she could not climb to steps to go inside. For the British Empire to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee with Queen Victoria, representatives had to travel to London.

The presence of colonial premiers, diplomats and military regiments in London in 1897 made the Diamond Jubilee distinct from all previous celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign. The Golden Jubilee of 1887 celebrated the Queen’s role as grandmother of Europe with the parade comprising of her illustrious children and grandchildren from across Europe. In contrast, the Diamond Jubilee celebrated Queen Victoria as the matriarch of a global Empire.

John Hamilton-Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen and Governor General of Canada at the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

On June 22, 1897, the Diamond Jubilee Parade in London began with the Colonial Procession, headed by the Canadian delegation. Although Canada had been a self-governing Dominion since 1867, the country’s foreign affairs were managed by Great Britain and Canadians viewed themselves as part of the British Empire. When Lord Aberdeen, Governor General of Canada received the Queen’s Jubilee message that morning, “From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them,” he responded, “The Queen’s most gracious and touching message, this moment received, shall be immediately made known to all your Majesty’s people throughout the Dominion and will stir afresh the hearts already full on this memorable day. We offer the glad tribute of loyal devotion and affectionate homage. God save and bless the Queen.”

In London, the Canadian cavalry rode five abreast at the Head of the Colonial Procession. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, an ardent monarchist who had received his knighthood from the Queen that morning, followed in a carriage. After the Prime Minister came a
detachment of the Toronto Grenadiers and Royal Canadian Highlanders. Representatives from the other regions of the British Empire, British and foreign royalty and finally, the Queen herself completed the parade. The festivities took place in London but Canada was well represented by the Prime Minister and the military.

Canada participated in the celebrations for both Queen Victoria’s and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilees. While the Empire gathered in London to celebrate Victoria in 1897, members of the royal family are traveling throughout the commonwealth in 2012 to join the worldwide festivities in honour of Elizabeth II.

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