The Victorian Book Reviews 2: Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy

The long nineteenth century, from the French Revolution to the outbreak of the First World War was a period where the assassination of world leaders became an increasingly prevalent form of political protest. In France, the executions of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette created a precedent for future aspiring revolutionaries. King Louis XVIII’s nephew, the Duc de Berry was fatally stabbed at the opera in 1820 and King Louis Philippe and his sons survived an 1835 attack from an assassin wielding a makeshift machine gun that killed eighteen members of King’s entourage.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander II became the chief target of the revolutionary organization, “The People’s Will” despite abolishing serfdom in 1861. Alexander survived seven assasination attempts before succumbing to a homemade bomb thrown at his feet in 1881. Three  American presidents were assassinated over the course of the nineteenth century, and Empress Elisabeth of Austria was murdered in 1898 by an Italian anarchist who later stated that, “I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill.” The identity of the victim mattered far less than his or her royal status.

As British monarch for much of the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria also experienced threats to her personal safety. Before the publication of Paul Thomas Murphy’s, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy, the seven men who shot at or otherwise threatened the Queen received little attention from historians. Filmmakers have paid more attention to the dramatic potential of these incidents but most of these dramatizations, such as the climax of The Young Victoria, are full of historical inaccuracies. In an century where an attempt on the life of a world leader was usually accompanied by a grand political statement, Queen Victoria’s would-be assassins appeared motivated by mental illness instead of ideology. Their guns were usually unloaded, and the perpetrators disappeared into obscurity in lunatic asylums and Australian penal colonies.

Murphy’s compelling analysis of the biographies of the men who threatened their Queen, the evolving nineteenth century monarchy and the Victorian criminal justice system reveals that these seemingly minor threats against the Queen’s safety were highly significant. While modern historians are aware of the personal demons that motivated such disparate characters as an unemployed publican, a failed tobacconist and a “hunchbacked dwarf” to publicly threaten the Queen with firearms, the nineteenth century British public viewed these incidents as possible evidence of political conspiracies involving the Queen’s Uncle, King Ernest of Hanover, Irish Fenians or broader class warfare.

The Queen’s personal courage in the face of gun wielding assailants and refusal to allow these incidents to curtail her daily activities, reaffirmed the bond between the monarch and her people. When Queen Victoria experienced periods of personal unpopularity because of her Whig partisanship early in her reign or her extended seclusion during her widowhood, public attempts on her life restored her to the position of beloved mother of the nation. Meanwhile, her justice system repeatedly changed its approach to prosecuting these incidents, drawing up the guidelines governing insanity pleas and legislation forbidding harassment of the monarch that is still in force today.

At 525 pages plus footnotes, bibliography and index, Shooting Victoria is longer than most popularly published works of royal history but the book is a page turner. Murphy has an excellent sense of dramatic pacing, building up the unusual characters of the assassins before presenting the attempts on Queen Victoria’s life as they unfolded at the time. The book is filled with fascinating details including the chain mail parasol made for the Queen as a safety measure and the massive police roundup of “hunchback dwarves” to catch the third man to shoot at the Queen. Shooting Victoria is the kind of history book that reads like a thriller, revealing how seven threats to the Queen’s safety transformed the criminal justice system and brought Queen Victoria closer to her people.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Zara Phillips and 100 Years of Royal Athletes in the Olympic Equestrian Events

Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth II’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips is currently competing in the equestrian events as a member of Team Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The royal family has been in the stands at Greenwich Park yesterday and today supporting her quest for Olympic Gold. On Sunday, Zara’s grandfather, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, and her mother Princess Anne, herself a former Olympic equestrian competitor, applauded her strong showing in the dressage. Today, a large gathering of Zara’s royal relatives attended the show jumping including her cousins the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. Zara commented after the events, “It was incredible, an amazing feeling to be part of the Olympics and to ride for your country and to just be here. The crowd are amazing.” Team Great Britain is thought to have a strong chance of reaching the podium for the equestrian events.

Zara is not the only royal athlete in the 2012 Olympic equestrian events. The Saudi Arabian equestrian team contains two members of the House of Al Saud including King Abdullah’s grandson, Prince Abdullah bin Miteb and his second cousin, Prince Faisal Al Shalan. In contrast to Team Great Britain, which has received twenty seven medals in Olympic history, Saudi Arabia has never received a medal in this event and is not a favourite in the 2012 Games. Prince Faisal, who also competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing has commented, “It is good to be underestimated” about his team’s chances of winning a medal.

The Opening Ceremonies at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, the first Games to feature the full programme of dressage, show jumping and eventing.

Zara Phillips, Prince Abdullah bin Miteb and Prince Faisal Al Shalan are following in a one hundred year old tradition of royal participation in the equestrian events at the modern Olympic Games. Although an eclectic collection of equestrian events took place at the 1900 Paris Olympics including polo and mail coach racing, the 1912 Stockholm Olympics were the first Games to feature the full modern program of dressage, show jumping and eventing. From 1912 to 1952, participation in the Olympic equestrian events was restricted to commissioned military officers, a narrow range of eligible athletes that included many of Europe’s princes.

As in London in 2012, there were multiple royal athletes in the 1912 Stockholm equestrian events. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s distant cousin, and nephew by marriage, Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia was a member of the German team while Tsar Nicholas II’s first cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri was considered the most accomplished equestrian on the Imperial Russian team. With such prominent members of Europe’s royal families competing for medals, the Stockholm Olympic stadium also contained royal spectators.

Postcard of Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, Princess Lennart of Sweden printed at the time of the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

Grand Duke Dmitri’s sister, Marie, who was married to King Gustaf V’s of Sweden’s second son Prince Lennart, at the time of the Games, attended the equestrian events. She described the Games in her memoirs, Education of a Princess, writing, “That Spring the Olympic games were held in Stockholm, and Dmitri, who was to take part in the mounted events, came with his horses and grooms to stay with me at Oakhill. When the games began we passed whole days in the Stadium, a splendid structure put up for the occasion. The Russian contingent, with the exception of the Finnish group, did not distinguish itself in anything, and the officers, although they were all good horsemen, won no prizes. However, nothing happened to my brother and only one of his companions had a bad fall. During the two months that the games lasted, there were many informal fetes and parties . . .Stockholm seemed to me a different place (p. 147).” In contrast to the Imperial Russian team’s disappointing seventh place showing, Prince Karl Friedrich of Prussia and the German team received bronze medals, making the Prussian Prince the first royal Olympic medalist.

Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia, bronze medalist in the 1912 Olympic equestrian events.

While both royal athletes and royal spectators were present at the Olympics in both 1912 and 2012, Grand Duchess Marie’s account demonstrates how much the Games have changed in the past century. In 1912, the Olympics lasted for eight weeks instead of seventeen days, there was a single venue for all events and no Olympic village in the modern sense of the term to house the athletes. The equestrian events remained all male competitions until 1952 when civilian riders were permitted to participate, a change that allowed royal women to become Olympic equestrian athletes. Along with sailing, the equestrian events are the only Olympic sports where men and women compete directly against one another.

Zara Phillips, Prince Abdullah bin Miteb and Prince Faisal Al Shalan are following in a one hundred year old tradition of royal participation in Olympic equestrian events. In 1912 and 2012, multiple members of the world’s royal houses competed for medals in a sport traditionally associated with royalty.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Queen Concludes Her Jubilee Tour of the UK in the New Forest and Isle of Wight

Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1910, after the former royal residence had been converted into a Naval College.

With the 2012 Summer Olympics beginning opening today in London, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations ended yesterday in the United Kingdom with visits by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh to the New Forest and Isle of Wight.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh arrived in Cowes, the site of the world’s oldest Regatta, and former holiday destination of nineteenth and twentieth century royalty, through a “Parade of Sail,” and were greeted by a 21 gun salute fired by the Royal Yacht Squadron. The royal party walked along the seafront, unveiling a plaque commemorating their visit and opening a new lifeboat station. After returning to Hampshire, the royal party toured the New Forest Agricultural Showground.

The Isle of Wight and the New Forest are an appropriate place to end the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in the United Kingdom as both regions have a rich royal history. Osborne House on the Isle of Wight was a favourite residence of Queen Victoria while the New Forest was the setting of pivotal events in the history of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Seventeenth century image of Cerdic, the earliest Saxon King and the first named ancestor of the current Queen.

According to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, Queen Elizabeth II’s earliest recorded ancestor, Cerdic, invaded and conquered the Isle of Wight in 530, leaving it to his nephews, whose descendants ruled the island until its absorption into the Kingdom of Wessex in 685. The last Saxon King of England, Harold II and his brother Tostig had estates on the island and used their lands there to supply their rebellion against King Edward the Confessor and eventual showdown against each other at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought immense changes to both the New Forest and the Island, which is described as “Wit” in the Domesday Book. William the Conqueror enclosed the New Forest as a royal park for deer hunting, reputedly evicting the Saxon families who resided in the region. Edward Rutherfurd’s novel, The Forest, contains a dramatic scene of a Norman deer hunt with beaters driving the animals toward the noble hunting party.

Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight

The deaths of two of William I’s sons, Prince Richard and William II, in hunting accidents in the New Forest were interpreted during the eleventh century as divine judgement against the enclosure of these lands and removal of the original residents. In contrast, the Isle of Wight was awarded to the Norman FitzOsburn family, who commissioned the original Carisbrooke castle. The Island did not return to the crown’s control until 1293, when Edward I purchased the land as part of his attempted consolidation of authority over the British Isles.

The ruins of the cloister at Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest

The comparatively remote locations of the New Forest and the Isle of Wight made these regions attractive to royalty or nobility seeking sanctuary during the Wars of the Roses and English Civil Wars. Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest sheltered a diverse range of important personages including Richard III’s future wife Anne Neville and her mother, the Countess of Warwick, Henry VI’s consort Margaret of Anjou and Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be one of the lost Princes in the Tower. The Abbey was dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII.

In 1647, King Charles I escaped from parliamentary custody at Hampton Court, intending to flee to the Isle of Jersey. The King and his companions reputedly became lost in the New Forest and missed their intended ship, ultimately fleeing to the Isle of Wight. The Island’s Governor, Robert Hammond, supported the parliamentary cause and held the King prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle.

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children on the terrace at Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight had much happier associations for Queen Victoria who envisioned the Island as a place where her family could holiday by the seaside. Prince Albert designed Osborne House in the style of a Renaissance Italian villa and oversaw its construction between 1845 and 1851. Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to go on holidays with her children and there was immense public interest in the comparatively informal lives of the royal family on the Isle of Wight. Thousands of prints and photographs of the royal family were sold to the public, prompting Queen Victoria to remark, “No Sovereign was ever more loved than I am (I am bold enough to say).” The cheerful atmosphere at Osborne changed when Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria preserved his rooms as they were during his life.

Queen Victoria’s children had very different memories of their holidays on the Isle of Wight. Her eldest son dismissed Osborne House as “a mausoleum” and “surplus to our requirements,” ultimately selling the building to the Naval College. In contrast, his sisters Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice retained property on the Isle of Wight. Beatrice was Governor of the Island from 1896 to her death in 1944 and resided at Carisbrooke Castle. According to her biographer, Matthew Dennison in The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter, “The position provided her with a fixed purpose and an enduring interest when, after the Queen’s death, she found herself increasingly marginalized from the centre of royal affairs (209).” Beatrice considered the Isle of Wight her home and gained the admiration and respect of its residents.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee tour of the United Kingdom ended in regions that have been associated with the monarchy for more than a thousand years. The New Forest provided hunting grounds for the Norman Kings and a place of sanctuary during the Wars of the Roses. The Isle of Wight has been a Saxon Stronghold, a Norman estate, Charles I’s place of imprisonment and Queen Victoria’s seaside retreat. The Jubilee tour is the latest event in the colourful royal history of the New Forest and Isle of Wight.


Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Royal History of Canada’s Maritime Provinces Round 4: Royalty in the Novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery

Green Gables in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery's MacNeill cousins and the inspiration for the Cuthbert home in Anne of Green Gables. The house and grounds are now a National Historic Site.

“All the time I was ironing, I was trying to think of a name for a new island Diana and I have discovered up the brook. It’s the most ravishing spot, Marilla. There are two maple trees on it and the brook flows right around it. At last it struck me that it would be splendid to name it Victoria Island because we found it on the Queen’s birthday. Both Diana and I are very loyal.” — Anne Of Green Gables(1908), Lucy Maud Montgomery.

In nineteenth century Prince Edward Island, where the author Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1947) spent her childhood, loyalty to the crown was one of the qualities that united the descendants of the Scottish immigrants who settled along the North Shore. Like membership in the Presbyterian church, devotion to the monarchy was seen as one of the hallmarks of respectability. The Montgomery family had an additional connection to the crown as Lucy Maud’s grandfather, Donald Montgomery was appointed by the Governor General as one of the first senators representing the Province of Prince Edward Island in the Dominion of Canada. In this setting, Montgomery developed a lifelong interest in Europe’s royal families and included elements of the popular royalism that shaped her community in her novels.

Visiting the grounds of the MacNeill homestead in Cavendish where Montgomery spent her childhood in the care of her maternal grandparents. The original house is no longer standing but the gardens have been restored by descendants of the author's cousins.

In the fictional Avonlea, which Montgomery modelled closely on the actual village of Cavendish where she grew up, the education Anne and her bosom friend Diana received in the one room schoolhouse, the holiday marking the Queen’s birthday and the coverage of royal news in the Island papers would all have encouraged the girls to see themselves as loyal subjects of the crown. With her vivid imagination, enthusiasm for Tennyson poetry, and love of beautiful dresses, an interest in the monarchy would have come easily to Anne.

The significance of the 1860 royal tour of British North America by Queen Victoria’s son and heir, Prince Albert Edward, to Canadian society is also part of the fabric of the eight Anne novels. The tour included a visit to Charlottetown and was long remembered by the inhabitants of Prince Edward Island. In the fifth novel, Anne’s House Of Dreams (1917), the adult Anne hears gossip about one of her unmarried neighbours who danced with the Prince at a ball. “Elizabeth was always very proud of that dance. Mean folks said that was why she never married-she couldn’t put up with an ordinary man after dancing with a prince.” In the intensely monarchist society of nineteenth century British North America, Elizabeth Russell’s pride in having met royalty may be seen as one of the defining moments of her life.

Lucy Maud Montgomery's birthplace in New London, PEI. The author spent the first few years of her life here before moving to Cavendish to life with her grandparents after her mother's death.

In 1923 as the wife of the Reverend Ewan MacDonald in Uxbridge, Ontario, Montgomery reminisced in her journals about the place of Queen Victoria in her island childhood, writing, “When I was a child and young girl the Victoria myth was in full flower. We were brought up to believe that ‘the queen’…was a model for all girls, brides, wives, mothers and queens to follow. In those days every home boasted a framed picture of the queen-a luridly coloured photo sent out as a ‘supplement’ by a popular weekly. There was a crown and lace veil on her head, a broad blue ribbon over her breast and jewels plastered on thickly everywhere… Poor Victoria hadn’t any chance to be bad even if she wanted to be.” Montgomery, and her characters, were fascinated by the actual personality of the symbolic figure that shaped Prince Edward Island society.

The Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silver Bush. The house was originally the home of Montgomery's aunt and uncle and her wedding took place in the parlour. Montgomery's Order of the British Empire, signed by King Edward VIII is on display here.

As perceptions of royalty changed during the first half of the twentieth century, and the number of royal visits to Canada increased, Montgomery’s characters encountered more varied examples of popular royalism. In Magic For Marigold (1929), Marigold encounters a young woman who claims to be an exiled Russian princess. Marigold is shocked that Varvara speaks of Queen Victoria irreverently, on the grounds that “she’s mother’s aunt.” The fact that the Russian people has “got rid of the Tsar” during the Revolution is mentioned in Rilla Of Ingleside (1921), and the character of Princess Varvara was undoubtedly inspired by the myth of Grand Duchess Anastasia’s survival of her family’s murder that developed during the 1920s.

Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

In common with many other authors writing about Canadian society between the First and Second World Wars, Montgomery created a character who imagined he had a close connection with the future King Edward VIII. In Mistress Pat (1935), the newly hired handyman Mr. Tillytuck urges Patricia Gardiner’s housekeeper Judy Plum to call him by his first name because, “the Prince of Wales called me Josiah the whole time I worked on his ranch in Alberta. A very democratic young man.” Subsequent events reveal that Tillytuck’s stories are largely untrue but he could haveconcocted his story about the Prince of Wales from the extensive coverage of his tours and property in Alberta in the Canadian popular press during the 1920s and 1930s.

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s upbringing on the stauchly rmonarchist Prince Edward Island inspired a lifelong interest in Europe’s royal families that shaped her work as a novelist. From Anne Of Green Gables to Pat Of Silverbush, Montgomery’s heroines engaged with Canada’s rich history of popular royalism, viewing themselves and their communities as part of a worldwide British Empire.

Next Week: Following in the Footsteps of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Dalvay by the Sea

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 6: Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King by Penny Junor

Any biography of a living person, particularly one who has just turned thirty, is a work in progress. Longtime royal commentator and biographer Penny Junor frames her snapshot of Prince William at thirty, Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King as a study of the making of the future King. Junor argues that the Prince and Princess of Wales’s unhappy marriage and the relationship between the modern monarchy and the press shaped William’s personality, encouraging him to cautious and guarded in his dealings with others. She blames the uncertainty he experienced as a child for his long relationship with Catherine Middleton prior to their engagement. The Duke of Cambridge also emerged from his upbringing with a strong attention to duty and ability to relate to people of all backgrounds, qualities that Junor predicts will shape a successful reign as King.

Since William and Catherine announced their engagement in 2010, there have been numerous biographies written about them as individuals and as a couple. Many of these works repeat the same basic facts about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s education, travels, families and charity work. Junor’s book stands out for its details of just what it meant to be educated at Eton or volunteer for the Raleigh International program in Chile. Junor also attended the St. Andrews, where William first met Catherine, and is able to describe how the Prince’s time at the university gave him greater confidence and a much needed respite from constant media attention. Although the author did not receive permission to interview William himself, she was allowed to speak to numerous members of his household and social circle while researching the biography. This wealth of source material provides a compelling portrait of the Prince’s childhood and youth.

A large number of Junor’s sources are palace press officers or members of the media who have followed the royal family’s activities for decades. (The inclusion of footnotes and a full bibliography of interview subjects would have been useful to keep track of the various sources quoted throughout the book.) The complicated relationship between Prince William and the media is therefore a central theme of this book. In contrast to most people who become celebrities, William was born a public figure. There were photographers at his first school Christmas pageant urging him to look in their direction. The breakdown of his parents’ marriage was chronicled in the media with both Charles and Diana breaking with tradition to tell their sides of story to journalists. William’s relationship with Catherine was eventually made public knowledge on the grounds that the identity of a possible future Queen is a matter of public interest.

Junor provides unique examples of how this life in the public eye both expanded and limited William’s experiences. While the publicity surrounding William’s wedding and subsequent tour of Canada have been credited with revitalizing the monarchy, the Prince had difficulty with a university art history assignment that required a visit to the National Gallery to compare two paintings. By the time he reached St. Andrews, William had traveled worldwide for both royal tours and his gap year abroad but had never visited the National Gallery in the heart of London, where he would have been instantly recognized and surrounded by journalists and other observers.

The strongest sections of Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King focus on William himself during his education, military training, relationship with Catherine and royal duties. Unfortunately, Junor devotes much of the first quarter of the book to the breakdown of Charles’s and Diana’s marriage. This material has been discussed extensively in the author’s previous works and she adds little new material here. Junor’s sympathies are clearly with Prince Charles, who she argues was unfairly maligned as an absentee father by the press.

Junor’s defence of the Prince is part of a broader trend in recent works on the monarchy, such as John Fraser’s The Secret Of The Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty, which highlight the heir’s accomplishments as a parent and charitable patron. While Fraser provides an eloquent rebuttal to the negative portrayals of Prince Charles in the media with little mention of Diana, Junor blames the Princess for the breakdown of her marriage. In the first quarter of Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King, Junor constantly criticizes Diana, an approach that seems out of place in a biography of Prince William, who clearly cherishes his mother’s memory.

Since the current line of succession indicates that William will be the 42nd monarch since the Norman Conquest, greater attention to historical context would have enhanced Junor’s analysis of William’s significance within the monarchy of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms. Her claim that charity work was not part of the daily life of the royal family until the current Queen’s reign ignores the extensive philanthrophic acitivities of Queen Victoria’s daughters and granddaughters, particularly in the fields of nursing and maternal health. The section on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s tour of Canada contains few comparisons to previous visits beyond the erroneous claim that Queen never visited the province of Quebec again after she was booed by French-Canadian seperatists in 1964. (Her Majesty opened Expo 67 in Montreal, three years later). In a biography of a future King of a thousand year old monarchy, there should be greater attention to William’s place in history.

Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King is a fascinating snapshot of Prince William at thirty. Penny Junor provides rich detail about the influence of his family, relationships, education and celebrity on his character. She predicts William will be a successful King and his grandchildren will speak as highly of him as he did of Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Medieval Book Reviews 4: Richard III: A Life by David Baldwin

In 1525, King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, met with the mayor and prominent citizens of London to request that they provide “a benevolence” of money for their monarch. One of the citizens replied that a statute passed by King Richard III made any form of taxation without the consent of parliament illegal.This statute would have profound implications for subsequent historical events including the English Civil Wars and the American Revolution.

After thirty years of Tudor propaganda designed to blacken the late King Richard III’s reputation, Cardinal Wolsey was incredulous that anyone would use the last Plantagenet King’s legislation to support his argument. Wolsey declared to the assembled Londoners, “I marvel that you speak of Richard the third, which was a usurper and murderer of his own nephews. Then of so evil a man, how can the acts be good? Make no such allegations; his acts be not honourable.”

The irate citizen continued to challenge the Cardinal, stating, “And it please your Grace, although he did evil, yet in his time were many good acts made, not by him only, but by the consent of the body of the whole realm, which is the Parliament.” This interpretation of Richard III’s life and reign mirrors David Baldwin’s approach to the often contradictory and fragmentary sources concerning one of England’s most controversial monarchs. Richard III: A Life analyzes the King within the context of his times, presenting the monarch as a complex figure, whose character was shaped by the violent and uncertain circumstances of the Wars of the Roses. Baldwin is the author of numerous works of English medieval history including Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower and Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked and applies his vast knowledge of the period to his assessment of Richard III.

Popular portrayals of Richard III contain little nuance, presenting the King as either the straightforward villain described by Cardinal Wolsey or the innocent victim of Tudor libel. In William Shakespeare’s famous play, the King is presented as an older man, even though he was only thirty-two when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth field, and responsible for murders that took place before the actual King was born. Shakespeare’s King suffered from numerous health problems including a hunchback, and, according to one scholar of the play, celiac disease, and therefore must resort to deviousness and the removal of his relatives to achieve political leadership in the military climate of fifteenth century England.

Recent historical novels provide an alternate interpretation of the King’s character that is equally dramatically compelling but one dimensional. In Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III  or Sandra Worth’s, The King’s Daughter, Richard III is a chivalric hero, deeply in love with his wife, Anne Neville, despite the fact that historians know little about their relationship except that they spent their childhoods in the same household and grieved together when their only son died. These authors imagine Richard reluctantly assuming the throne to save England from the chaos that might come of a boy King’s rule although his precise motives remain open to debate.

In his balanced biography, Baldwin explains that these two contrasting legends of Richard III emerged from the same evidence because the King may have had had a split personality that changed according to his circumstances. During the brief periods when Richard felt secure in his position as Duke of Gloucester or King of England, he was known for his personal piety, strict moral standards, charitable endowments and love of learning. During the more extended periods when he fought to maintain his wealth and position, he did not hesitate to overthrow his nephew, accuse his mother of adultery or consider putting aside his ailing wife.  According to Baldwin, “He knew the difference between right and wrong, but the terrible uncertainty of his earliest years compelled him to behave in ways he himself would not have thought acceptable in other circumstances.” The historical Richard was not as villainous or heroic as the fictional King but a complicated figure whose actions changed according to his circumstances.

Baldwin quickly dismisses the ailments attributed to the King by Shakespeare for a medieval Prince with a hunchback and celiac disease would not have been able to fully participate in fifteenth century warfare as Richard did during the reign of his brother, Edward IV. The question of whether Richard was directly involved in the murder of his nephews, known as the Princes in the Tower, is more difficult to answer. Baldwin correctly observes that there is not enough surviving evidence to convict Richard or anyone else of their murder and that young Edward V’s situation was very different from previous deposed English monarchs who were adults despised for their misrule.

There was a medieval English precedent for the disappearance of a child claimant to the throne, however, that is not discussed in Baldwin’s work. When King John assumed the throne in 1202, he almost certainly had his sixteen year old nephew, Arthur of Brittany, murdered to secure his own succession. The same split personality that allowed Richard to justify the overthrow of Edward V may have concluded that the existence of a rival King would only prolong the Wars of the Roses, which ultimately ended in 1485 with the triumph of King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth field.

David Baldwin’s balanced biography, Richard III: A Life is a welcome counterpoint to the one dimensional portrayals of the King in popular culture. King Richard III was a monarch shaped by the circumstances of the Wars of the Roses. Despite his brief reign, his decisions as monarch had a profound effect on the course of English history.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Royal History of Canada’s Maritime Provinces Round 3: Queen Victoria and Canada’s Confederation

The Confederation Players re-enact the debates surrounding the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 in front of Province House

Charlottetown, the capital of the province of Prince Edward Island is best known as the setting of the 1864 Charlottetown conference where the representatives of the various British North American colonies gathered to discuss the confederation of the Dominion of Canada. The union of these colonies into a single self governing Dominion was controversial in the 1860s, as the annual summer performances by the Confederation Players demonstrate to modern visitors to Charlottetown. Actors playing the Fathers of Confederation defend their proposal while other actors portray skeptical Prince Edward Islanders who fear they will pay higher taxes and lose their regional autonomy in a united Canada.

Peake’s Wharf at the foot of Great George St. The Canadian delegates lodged on the steamer that brought them to Prince Edward Island as there was not any available accommodation in town due to a visiting circus.

The meeting in Charlottetown was originally a gathering of the Premiers of the Maritime Provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to discuss the possibility of a Maritime Union. Representatives from the United Province of Canada including future Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, George-Etienne Cartier and George Brown saw the event as opportunity to discuss a wider Canadian confederation and invited the themselves to the meetings. There were no documents signed during the Charlottetown Conference but there was enough interest in the union of the provinces for a second conference to be planned for the following month in Quebec City.

The original furniture from the Charlottetown Conference is still on display in Province House.

The Provincial Representatives were divided by geography, economy, language and culture but they shared a common loyalty to the crown, personified by Queen Victoria. The layout of Charlottetown, which was founded in 1764, demonstrates the degree to which British North Americans valued the monarchy as a unifying institution. The town’s name honours King George III’s consort, Queen Charlotte and nearly all the streets including King, Queen, Prince, Great George, Fitzroy and Kent honour members of the royal family.  When the negotiations for Canada’s confederation threatened to unravel over the course of the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences, John A. Macdonald evoked the crown’s authority and influence as a means of unifying the varied interests of the colonies.

As Richard Gwyn discusses in the first volume of his masterful two part biography of Macdonald, John A: The Man Who Made Us, “The potency of the ethic of loyalty, conjoining as it did an earthly sovereign with a heavenly one and a rule of law, was overwhelming. It made Canadians not just proud to be who they were (and not to be Americans) but ebulliently, braggartly proud. There was not the least shyness about Canada’s loyalty. Flags were waved, songs were sung and public figures competed in their expressions of devotion to Crown and Queen (Gwyn, p. 366).”

Queen Victoria, the Mother of Confederation

When the Maritime Provinces threatened to abandon the Confederation negotiations, Macdonald traveled to London to discuss Canadian unity with Queen Victoria. The Queen’s reception of Macdonald and the other members of the Canadian delegation and encouragement of confederation provided the necessary incentive for the premiers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to join a union that they still regarded with skepticism.  The Dominion of Canada, initially consisting of the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia came into being on July 1, 1867.

Queen Victoria’s birthday was a public holiday in the Province of Canada from 1845. After her death in 1901, the Canadian government declared May 24 “Victoria Day,” a holiday to remember the Queen and her role as a “Mother of Confederation.” Queen Victoria’s political influence and leadership united the diverse interests of Canada’s provincial premiers, making the founding of the Dominion of Canada possible in 1867.

Next Week: Royalty in the Novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Tudor Book Reviews 5: Mary Rose: Tudor Princess, Queen of France, the Extraordinary Life of Henry VIII’s Sister by David Loades

King Henry VIII’s beautiful and spirited sister, Princess Mary, is a favourite subject for historical novelists. In the sixteenth century, an era when royal women were expected to make political marriages without regard for their personal inclinations, Mary’s clandestine second marriage with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk stands out as an example of a princess taking control of her destiny. Unfortunately, most historical fiction about Mary is wildly inaccurate and provides little context for her bold decision to defy her brother by marrying one of his closest friends. David Loades’ scholarly biography, Mary Rose analyzes the princess’s political and historical significance, placing her marriage in its actual historical context.

In most fictional and popular retelling of Mary’s marriages, her union with Suffolk is presented as a purely emotional decision, emerging from a desire to avoid another marriage to an elderly foreign prince after the death of her first husband, King Louis XII of France. In the recent showtime series, The Tudors, Henry VIII’s two sisters are merged into a single figure named Margaret who begins an affair with Suffolk before her first marriage to an elderly King. In an older film, Sword and the Rose, Suffolk and Mary attempt to elope to the New World, fifty years before the founding of the first English settlement in North America. Even Jean Plaidy’s more historically accurate novel, Mary Queen Of France, imagines the princess as consumed by a single minded passion for Suffolk from her youth at the Tudor court.

Loades challenges all these romantic accounts of Mary’s relationship with Suffolk by providing an incisive analysis of the circumstances she faced as the widowed Queen of France. Louis XII’s son-in-law and successor, Francois I was reluctant to allow Mary to leave France to become part of second political marriage arranged by Henry VIII to benefit England. Marriage to Suffolk, the English envoy sent to arrange Mary’s return to her brother’s court, provided a means for Francois to release his predecessor’s wife without the threat that she might become part of a marriage that would increase England’s European stature at the expense of France.

Loades argues that within this context, Mary’s decision to marry Suffolk was neither emotional nor impulsive but instead combined her personal inclinations with shrewd political strategy. Henry VIII’s decision to forgive the couple for marrying without his permission, which was not his usual response to courtiers who disobeyed his wishes, undoubtedly reflected his recognition of Mary’s tenuous situation in France.

Loades also provides ample evidence of Mary’s political and cultural role as Duchess of Suffolk, at the court of King Henry VIII. As the Dowager Queen of France, Mary became a patron of French culture and fashions at her brother’s court. Along with her sister, Margaret of Scotland and sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon, she performed an intercessory role in the Evil May Day riots of 1517. Mary’s children and grandchildren played pivotal roles in the English succession as Henry VIII’s designated them heirs to the throne after his own children. The ill fated nine days Queen, Lady Jane Grey, owed her claim to the English throne to her royal lineage through her grandmother, Mary.

The only comparatively weak section in Loades’s otherwise incisive analysis of Mary’s life and historical significance is the first chapter, “The Infant Princess.” Loades states that Mary’s mother, Elizabeth of York had little involvement in her children’s upbringing without engaging with David Starkey’s recent handwriting analysis suggesting that the Queen taught her daughters and younger son their earliest lessons. He also surmises that Mary’s formidable grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, limited her education to the traditional feminine accomplishments of French, piety, needlework and music. The political savvy Mary displayed during her brief tenure as Queen of France and widowhood suggest that she learned other practical skills from her grandmother, who was instrumental in the Tudor dynasty’s rise to power.

The biography’s title, Mary Rose, is also curious as it is the name of the famous Tudor warship, which is not discussed anywhere in the text. While certain scholars have theorized that the ship was named for Henry VIII’s sister, Loades himself questioned this hypothesis in his extensive work on the Tudor navy. The title therefore seems incongruous for his biography of Princess Mary.

Mary Rose is an important new scholarly biography of a Tudor princess whose life has been romanticized by historical novelists. David Loades restores Henry VIII’s sister to her proper place at the English and French courts, placing her within the context of the complex political and diplomatic circumstances of Henry VIII’s reign.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Romanov Book Reviews 3: A Bride for the Tsar: Bride-Shows and Marriage Politics in Early Modern Russia by Russell E. Martin

On the cover of Russell E. Martin’s comprehensive study of Russian royal bride-shows, A Bride for the Tsar: Bride-Shows and Marriage Politics in Early Modern Russia is Grigorii Sedov’s painting, “Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich selects his bride.” Sedov painted this work in the late nineteenth century when the customs of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Muscovite court, which were largely abolished when Emperor Peter the Great moved the capital to St. Petersburg, inspired Russia’s artists, writers and composers.

Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich Selects His Bride by Grigory Sedov

Martin judges Sedov’s painting to be the most accurate representation of the bride show, where every Russian ruler from Ivan the Terrible’s father, Vassily III, to Peter the Great selected a wife from the daughters and sisters of the mid ranking court gentry. The teenaged Tsar Aleksei is shown tentatively holding out a rose to a group of six young women, who are dressed in their finest gowns and jewellery but demurely avoid meeting their sovereign’s eye.

In contrast to modern reality television shows such as The Bachelor, the woman who received the rose would not only gain wealth and fame but her relatives would emerge from comparative obscurity to receive prestigious positions at court. In Sedov’s painting, barely visible behind the young Tsar, is a shadowy nobleman, undoubtedly advising his master to choose a particular lady and her family to elevate with his favour. With the fortunes of so many people dependent on the Tsar’s choice, the potential for intrigue and sabotage was high, making royal bride shows events of immense political significance and personal drama.

Russell E. Martin, a professor of Russian history at Westminster College has done extensive scholarly work about royal bride shows and A Bride for the Tsar includes a wealth of previously unpublished archival sources. His research reveals the roles prominent boyars (nobles) and their wives played in the selection, how the arrival of a new royal bride affected the political and social dynamics of the Russian court, and how matches with foreign princesses fell out of favour in the sixteenth century only to become popular again in Peter the Great’s reign (1682-1725). Martin also describes examples of bride shows at other courts throughout Europe and Asia, theorizing that the Russian bride show had Byzantine antecedents. One of the last foreign marriages before Tsars began choosing local brides was the union of Ivan the Great and Sophia Paleologue, niece of the last Byzantine Emperor.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Martin’s research is how the bride shows reveal aspects of the personalities of the early Tsars of Russia and their wives and demonstrates who were the most influential figures at each ruler’s court. For example, the seven successive wives of Ivan IV “The Terrible” are described as “shadowy figures” by historian Natalia Pushkareva in Women in Russian History but documents relating to the seven successive bride shows that undoubtedly took place in Ivan’s reign reveals the place of their families at the Tsar’s court. The decision of the first Romanov Tsar, Mikhail, to repudiate his first betrothed, even when an investigation revealed she was the victim of a court plot to sabotage her chances of marrying the sovereign, reveals the strong influence of his mother over his decisions.

Martin also presents evidence that challenges conclusions put forth in popular works about Russia’s Tsars. Peter the Great’s biographers, such as Robert K. Massie, have described the marriage of Peter’s parents, Tsar Aleksei and Natalia Naryshkina as a love match that blossomed in the household of her godfather, Artamon Matveyev. The documents relating to the bride show where Aleksei selected Natalia as his second wife reveal that there was another candidate who may have been the Tsar’s first choice. Natalia most likely owed her position to her godfather’s ambition and the sympathy she received as the target of a plot to undermine her reputation rather than any chance to form a personal rapport with her future husband.

A Bride for the Tsar: Bride-Shows and Marriage Politics in Early Modern Russia is a well written and exhaustively researched study of the bride show, one of the most important events at the sixteenth and seventeenth century Russian court. A Tsar’s choice of bride changed the dynamics of his court, bringing an unknown young lady to the throne and her relatives into positions where they could change the course of Russian history.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Honeymoon Photographs, Princess Diana and the Royal Image

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Canada Day, 2011, some weeks after their honeymoon in the Seychelles.

In the past week, the Australian magazine, “Women’s Day” published unauthorized photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 honeymoon on North Island in the Seychelles. The photographs portray the royal couple walking hand in hand on the beach, the Duke in floral board shorts and the Duchess in a black bikini. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are reportedly upset that their privacy was violated. According to a St. James palace representative, “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s honeymoon was obviously a private occasion, and we would ask people to respect their privacy.” Most of the mainstream British newspapers have respected the royal couple’s wishes, declining to reprint the Australian photographs for their readers.

While media commentary on the photographs has focussed on the relationship between the monarchy and the press, there is an additional facet to the royal family’s displeasure at the publication of the unauthorized honeymoon photos. The release of candid photographs of the royal family’s private moments has the potential to detract from their perceived political significance and make them appear to be the same as any other celebrities caught on camera by the paparazzi, a circumstance experienced by the late Princess Diana.

Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales leaving for their honeymoon on the royal yacht Britannia in 1981.

Queen Elizabeth II recognized the danger that overexposure of the royal family’s private moments to the public created for the monarchy’s prestige. The courtship, engagement and marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales during the early 1980s attracted such intense interest from the media that the Queen took the unprecedented step of holding a meeting with senior representatives of the press to indicate her concern about the constant invasion of her daughter-in-law’s privacy.

The Queen’s engagement with the media appeared to result in greater privacy for the Prince and Princess of Wales until they departed for a second honeymoon in the Bahamas, in 1982. Despite the Bahamanian government’s expulsion of photographers caught stalking the royal couple on vacation, photographers from the Daily Star and The Sun acquired photographs of the visibly pregnant Princess swimming in the ocean. The contrast between the Queen’s reaction to the publication of these images and the defense put forward by the editorials of the tabloid press demonstrate very different attitudes regarding Diana’s significance as a public figure.

Lady Diana Spencer surrounded by photographers immediately prior to the announcement of her engagement to the Prince of Wales. Photograph from the Hulton Archive.

Although the royal family does not usually respond to the press, the Queen issued a statement calling the unauthorized photographs “tasteless behaviour” that “is in breach of normally accepted British standards (Tina Brown, The Diana Chronicles, p. 242-243).” The Queen’s stance made clear that she believed her daughter-in-law was entitled to privacy and dignity, particularly while she was expecting a future heir to the throne.

The Sun editorial seemed oblivious to the Queen’s concerns, the Princess’s apparent desire for privacy on her holiday or the political significance of her pregnancy. The Sun insisted, “The pictures were carefree, innocent and delightful. They brought summer into the lives of millions of our readers back in chilly Britain.” This justification reduced Diana to the status of any other celebrity whose activities delighted the British public. The Sun’s insistence that Diana looked wonderful in the photos did not respond to the Queen’s displeasure that photographs of her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy had been distributed through the tabloid press. This treatment of Diana was very different from her own experience. The Queen’s pregnancies were not discussed in the media prior to the release of official announcements and unauthorized photographs of her condition did not appear in the newspapers.

The unauthorized release of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 honeymoon photographs is reminiscent of the distribution of photographs of the Prince and Princess of Wales’s second honeymoon in 1982. Although Catherine has not experienced the degree of daily scrutiny experienced by Diana, both sets of photographs represent depictions of royal couples as ordinary celebrities without reference to their political significance. As the experiences of the Prince and Princess of Wales demonstrate, the invasion of an individual royal couple’s privacy has the potential to undermine the image of the monarchy.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather