Diana, Princess of Wales and the Monarchy Part 1: Queen of Fashion

Diana at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987

Diana, Princess of Wales, mother of Prince William and Prince Harry died in Paris car accident fifteen years ago today, on August 21, 1997. Over the next few weeks, I will look at Diana’s place in the history of the monarchy and her enduring influence over the current monarchy.

Queen of Fashion For most of English history, royal women set the fashions for ladies of the nobility. A visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London reveals rows of paintings of noblewomen dressed and coiffed to resemble their queen. During King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, modest gable hoods that completely covered the hair were in vogue. Catherine introduced Spanish black work embroidery to the English court, a style that Henry VIII preferred for his shirts to end of his life.

Fashions changed when Anne Boleyn became a possible queen in waiting. Anne introduced numerous fashion innovations to the English court including more revealing French hoods that showed the hair and long sleeves that covered the hands. A court lady’s choice of hood might be a political statement in the late 1520s and 1530s as Henry VIII sought to annul his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne. The King’s third wife, Jane Seymour notably returned to the modest gable hood favoured by Catherine. One of the reasons for Anne of Cleves’s failure to successful perform the role of queen consort was the English court perception that her high waisted German style dresses were unflattering and she could not act as a leader of fashionable society.

Elizabeth Throckmorton, wife of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1600.

Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I were expected to rule England in the manner of their male predecessors and set the fashion at court as their mothers had done. When Elizabeth I adopted farthingale skirts, wide neck ruffs and bejewelled wigs in the late sixteenth century, her ladies did the same. The distribution of printed images of the queen during the same period meant that women outside the court also knew how their monarch dressed and wanted to look just as fashionable. Elizabeth I insisted on the enforcement of sumptuary laws, fearing the breakdown of the social order and her subjects incurring large debts if women of all social backgrounds aspired to dress like the queen.

Stuart queens continued to play the role of fashion trendsetters during the seventeenth century. The ladies portrayed in the court portraiture of of Anthony Van Dyck in the 1620s and 1630s all resemble Charles I’s consort, Queen Henrietta Maria with tight curled hair, wide lace collars and full sleeves. When Charles II married Catherine of Braganza in 1661, one of his first gifts to his bride was a dress in the flowing, sensual style favoured by his mistress, Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland to replace the farthingale skirts still fashionable in new queen’s native Portugal.

Portrait of the Countess of Carlyle by Van Dyck. Her hairstyle and dress closely resemble that of Queen Henrietta Maria.

Royal wives and mistresses began to lose their exclusive influence over elite fashion trends after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. To shape fashion, it was necessary to be seen by the public, and the late Stuart and early Hanoverian royal families lived in increasing seclusion. William III and Mary II lived a quiet life at Kensington Palace because of the King’s asthma and discomfort in English society. Queen Anne’s health was shattered by her seventeen pregnancies. The first two King Georges could not speak English and the third was nicknamed “Famer George” for his love of country living at Kew Palace.

By the reign of George III, no lady of fashion claimed to be inspired by Queen Charlotte, the King’s homely and perpetually pregnant consort. The seclusion of the royal court and emergence of rival noble factions dictated by party politics brought new trendsetters to prominence. One of Diana’s Spencer predecessors, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire led fashionable English society in the late 1700s, inspiring the dresses worn by wealthy women.

Portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough

The Duchess was a friend of Queen Marie Antoinette of France and helped popularize the white muslin dresses and floral embellishments favoured by the French queen during her “Petit Trianon” phase in the 1780s. As sumptuary laws had been repealed by the eighteenth century, anyone with the necessary funds attempted to imitate the Duchess’s style.

The Regency and Victorian periods occasionally revived the role of leader of fashion that had been the privilege of Tudor and Stuart royal women. Queen Victoria had a lasting impact on bridal fashions when she chose a simple white wedding dress and floral bouquet for her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobourg. When Victoria retreated into mourning after Albert’s death in 1861, her daughter Princess Louise and daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra became known as the most stylish members of the royal family, setting trends in late nineteenth century ladies fashion.

Queen Mary, consort of George V with Queen Elisabeth of Belgium in the 1920s. While the Queen of Belgium sports bobbed hair, a sleeveless dress and a boyish silhouette in the fashion of the time, Queen Mary still wears her long hair coiled in the Victorian style with a floor length, hourglass shaped dress.

By the twentieth century, however, royal women’s fashion had become synonymous with tradition instead of trend setting. Until the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer, the clothes worn by royal women often seemed to hearken back to styles no longer worn by many of their subjects. Since George V disapproved of post World War One changes to ladies’ fashion, Queen Mary continued to wear floor length dresses in the hourglass style, as she had done during Queen Victoria’s reign.The conservative fashions favoured by the future George VI’s wife, Elizabeth were the antithesis of the trendy 1930s backless dresses worn by Wallis Simpson. In the 1960s, the Scotch tartans worn by Queen Elizabeth II and her children at Balmoral seemed very traditional within a fashion climate dominated by miniskirts and bell bottoms.

When Diana Spencer became Princess of Wales, in 1981, a royal woman once again set fashion as had been the case during the Tudor and early Stuart periods. In contrast to Elizabeth I or Henrietta Maria, Diana’s fashion choices were shown worldwide through photography and film.

At the annual State Opening of Parliament in the United Kingdom, the press eagerly photographed the princess and commented on her attire. Diana popularized the “princess style” wedding gowns of the 1980s with full skirts and sleeves. Her diverse fashions on official occasions ranged from the wide shouldered “Dynasty Di” ensembles of the 1980s, to elegant off shoulder evening gowns, to the form fitting sheath dresses of the 1990s. Diana’s admirers also imitated her casual wear, which included jeans with blazers and sleeveless tops with khakis.

Diana, Princess of Wales, dancing with John Travolta at the White House on a state visit to the United States in 1985.

The emergence of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as a twenty-first century fashion trendsetter reveals that Diana’s style had a lasting influence on the perceived role of royal women. As in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the public once again looks to princesses to influence the world of fashion.

The eager anticipation of Catherine’s choice of wedding dress in 2011 and and the sale of inexpensive versions of her outfits for women who wish to emulate her style reflects Diana’s enduring influence over popular expectations of royal women. Since Diana Spencer joined the royal family in 1981, royal women have once again assumed the Tudor-Stuart role of leader of fashionable society.

Next Week: Diana and the Royal Walkabout

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From Rideau Hall to the Red Cross: Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, Patron of the Paralympic Games

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands

The royalty attending the 2012 Paralympic Games, which will be declared open today by Queen Elizabeth II, include numerous members of International Paralympic Committee Honourary Board. Attendees include Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, Princess Astrid of Belgium and Prince Albert of Monaco, who are all members of this committee, which “strive[s] to maintain the issue of sport for persons with a disability high on the agenda of the global community (Ian Brittain,The Paralympic Games Explained, p. 88-89.)” The IPC Honourary Board, which also includes Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan also assists with awareness and funding initiatives for the Paralympic Games worldwide.

The IPC Honourary Board has a Canadian connection through Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, who spent her early childhood in Ottawa during the Second World War and continues to be a frequent visitor to Canada. The Dutch royal family fled the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. Margriet’s grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina resided resided in the United Kingdom as Head of the Dutch government in exile while her father Prince Bernhard served in the Royal Air Force then became Commander of the Dutch Forces during the Allied Invasion. For her own safety and that of her daughters, Margriet’s mother, Princess Juliana fled to Canada, where she resided as a guest of the Governor General and his wife, King George VI’s Uncle and Aunt, the Earl and Countess of Athlone.

Princess Juliana, Princess Margriet’s mother, prior to the Second World War

The upcoming birth of Princess Juliana’s third child in Ottawa was announced in 1942. While in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, Anne Frank recorded in her diary on September 21, “I sometimes listen to the Dutch broadcasts from London. Prince Bernhard recently announced that Princess Juliana is expecting a baby in January, which I think is wonderful. No one here understands why I take such an interest in the royal family (Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 38).”

In Ottawa, the Earl of Athlone gave royal assent to a special law declaring the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital to be temporarily extraterritorial, so that the baby would have Dutch citizenship alone. Princess Margriet was born on January 19, 1943 and was named for the daisies worn by members of the Dutch resistance (See Albert VanderMey, When Canada Was Home: The Story of Dutch Princess Margriet). The Ottawa Peace Tower flew the Dutch flag in celebration of the new princess’s arrival. Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King attended the christening in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands attending the 50th anniversary of the Tulip Festival in Ottawa in 2002

While in Canada, Princess Juliana and her three young daughters resided at Stornoway, now the residence of the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the second largest party in the Canadian House of Commons. They were part of a community of exiled royalty in Canada during the Second World War. The Earl and Countess of Athlone’s guests in and nearby the Governor General’s residence, Rideau Hall, included Crown Princess Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, King Peter of Yugoslavia, King George of Greece and the former Empress Zita of Austria and her daughters.

Princess Margriet returned to Europe with her family at the end of the Second World War, in 1945. In gratitude for Canada’s role in liberating the Netherlands and providing a refuge for the Dutch royal family, Princess Juliana sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa, the first of many gifts of this kind. As Canada’s capital became famous for its flowers, the Ottawa Tulip Festival began in the 1950s. Princess Margriet has made numerous official visits to Canada as an adult, and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Tulip Festival with Canadians in Ottawa in 2002. In 1967, she married Pieter van Vollenhoven and they have four sons and ten grandchildren.

In the Netherlands, Princess Margriet’s charitable patronage focuses on organizations that assist people with disabilities and long term illnesses. As a trained nurse, Margriet joined the local branch of the Netherlands Red Cross as a volunteer in 1966. She was elected vice-president of the National Netherlands Red Cross Society in 1987 and has held that position ever since. Margriet is a member of the Advisory Committee for Summer Camps for Young Cancer Patients and the National Association for the Care of the Terminally Ill as well as Patroness of the Equestrian Foundation for the Disabled among numerous other charitable organizations. Her work with the International Paralympic Committee is part of a lifelong commitment to improving the circumstances of people living with illnesses and disabilities.

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and her husband, Pieter van Vollenhoven will be attending Paralympic Events in the United Kingdom from August 29 to September 2. For Dutch and Canadian athletes alike, Margriet’s involvement in the Games represents the international success of the Paralympic Games, and the continuing close relationship between Canada and the Netherlands.


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The Tudor Book Reviews 6: The Last Plantagenet Consorts: Gender, Genre and Historiography 1440-1627 by Kavita Mudan Finn

England’s royal consorts during the Wars of the Roses are shadowy, controversial figures. The literary sources describing the activities of Henry VI’s consort, Margaret of Anjou, Edward IV’s and Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville, Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville and the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, are often contradictory, leaving the true significance of these royal ladies open to interpretation.

The shifting fortunes of these royal women during the political turbulence have inspired centuries of literary interpretation from Shakespeare’s history plays to present day Philippa Gregory novels. In The Last Plantagenet Consorts: Gender, Genre, and Historiography, 1440-1627, Kavita Mudan Finn looks at the mythology around these figures that emerged from the literary sources, showing how Tudor and Jacobean authors viewed Plantagenet queens.

Recent trends in historical analysis of the last Plantagenet queens include separating fact from fiction in the often contradictory source material, rehabilitating those royal women who appear to be victims of Tudor propaganda, and extrapolating instances of female political agency to demonstrate the historical significance of Lancastrian and Yorkist royal ladies. The most recent scholarly biographies of queens actives during the Wars of the Roses, Arlene Okerlund’s Elizabeth of York and Michael Hicks’s Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III both incorporate these approaches into their works. Mudan Finn, takes a different approach in The Last Plantagenet Consorts, looking at the texts themselves instead of the women discussed within them.

The actual events of the last Plantagenet queens’ lives are only one element of the fifteenth and sixteenth century texts that shape modern understanding of royal women during the Wars of the Roses. Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historica, Thomas More’s History of King Richard III and Shakespeare’s history plays all employ the literary techniques of the period and existing precedents for discussing queens consort. In successive chronicles and literary interpretations, the widowed Elizabeth Woodville appears to be the heroine of a romance, catching the eye of King Edward IV as she stands beside the road, waiting the ask the King for assistance for herself and her two sons. Both Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou also appear as tragic queens in certain chronicles, appearing to achieve their political ambitions before losing everything, including their beloved sons and heirs.

Tudor anxieties about women, royal favourites and court factions also influenced the development of popular attitudes toward the last Plantagenet queens. The Wars of the Roses were a period when Kings appeared to rise and fall according to the political agendas of prominent members of the nobility, including royal women. One of the reasons why chronicles pertaining to Henry VII’s consort, Elizabeth of York, emphasize her feminine virtues instead of her superior claim to the throne was the Tudor anxiety about powerful royal women causing political instability and undermining the authority of the monarch. In common with the Shakespearean portrayal of Richard III, the most well known portrayals of queenship during the Wars of the Roses reflect the Tudor consolidation of royal authority.

Mudan Finn’s study ends in 1627, during the first years of the reign of Charles I, with analysis of Michael Drayton’s poem, “The Miseries of Queen Marguerite.” With Charles I’s marriage to King Louis XIII’s sister, Henrietta Maria of France, there was once again a French queen consort in England and the precedents set by Margaret of Anjou were relevant to the Stuart court. I would have been interested to read Kavita Finn’s insights on depictions of the last Plantagenet queens during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. As Henrietta Maria became actively involved in the royalist cause, her activities were compared to those of Margaret of Anjou during the Wars of the Roses.

In  The Last Plantagenet Consorts, Kavita Mudan Finn combines historical scholarship, literary analysis and gender study to look at the construction of narratives about royal ladies during the Wars of the Roses. The established medieval literary genres of romance and tragedy as well as Tudor anxieties about royal favourites shaped the chronicles that continue to influence modern views of England’s last medieval queens.

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The Role of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in the Promotion of Youth Athletics and Outdoor Education

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on the Balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations

This past week, Buckingham Palace announced that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh will not accompany his wife, Queen Elizabeth II to the Opening Ceremonies for the Paralympic Games this Wednesday August 29. Instead, he will remain at the royal family’s Balmoral estate in Scotland as he continues to recuperate from a recent bladder infection.

The decision to remain at Balmoral was undoubtedly difficult for the 91 year old Duke as he has devoted much of his sixty-five years as a senior member of the British royal family to the promotion of youth athletics and outdoor activities. From the first years of his marriage to Princess Elizabeth to the present day, Prince Philip has served as a patron of existing organizations that promote youth participation in sport and founded new initiatives that support increased physical activity and outdoor education for young people.

Gordonstoun School in Scotland

Philip first became interested in physical education as a pupil at the Gordonstoun boarding school in Moray, Scotland during the 1930s. The school’s founder, Kurt Hahn, advocated outdoor education and physical fitness as part of a well rounded educational program. While attending Gordonstoun, the young Prince Philip of Greece learned to sail in the Moray Firth. He explained to Gyles Brandreth, “My best schoolmaster is the Moray Firth. I was wet, cold, miserable, probably sick, and often scared stiff, but I would not have missed the experience for anything (Brandreth, Philip And Elizabeth, p. 39).” Philip graduated Gordonstoun with a firm belief that youth athletics and outdoor education were essential components of a well rounded school curriculum.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at the time of the Queen's coronation in 1953.

Upon his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947, the newly created Duke of Edinburgh immediately found opportunities to promote physical and outdoor education. His charitable patronage between his marriage and his wife’s ascension to the throne, in 1952, was almost exclusively focused on organizations that promoted amateur athletics, physical education and outdoor activities. In 1947, he became the patron of the London Federation of Boys Clubs (now London Youth).

The following year, he accepted the presidency of the National Playing Fields Association, which he has held to the present day. When the Central Council of Physical Recreation for the United Kingdom appeared close to being disbanded in 1951, Philip assumed the presidency and guided the organization into its president form as the Sport and Recreation Alliance (For a list of Prince Philip’s charitable patronages compiled by Buckingham Palace archivist Anne Griffiths, see Brandreth, Philip And Elizabeth, p. 369-376).

When Princess Elizabeth became Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth in 1952, Philip had the opportunity to develop his own programs to promote physical and outdoor education worldwide. In 1956, he introduced the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to reward youth participation in sports and outdoor activities. The new award was designed to recognize boys (and girls from 1958) who took the initiative to increase their participation in athletics and design their own outdoor expeditions. In its current form, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards are distributed at the bronze, silver and gold level to young people between the ages of 14 and 24 who achieve objectives in volunteering, physical fitness, outdoor expeditions and practical skills.

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on their first tour of Canada in 1951

During his commonwealth tours with the Queen, Philip was eager to promote the Duke of Edinburgh Award as an opportunity for young people to increase their physical fitness and engagement with the natural world. In the 1950s and 1960s, his message was not always well received. During a cross country tour of Canada in 1959, Philip used his acceptance speech as the first lay President of the Canadian Medical Association as an opportunity to encourage Canadians to improve their physical fitness.

During his speech before more than 900 doctors and their spouses at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, Philip stated, “There is evidence that, despite everything, people in Canada are not as fit as they might be. Four things are necessary to change this state of affairs. Proper physical education in schools, adequate recreation facilities for all ages and sections of the community, an extension of the work of youth organizations in both scope and age, and finally an organization to promote recreational sports and to encourage people to take part in them (Reprinted in Arthur Bousfield et al, Royal Observations: Canadians and Royalty, p. 85).”

The speech provoked a debate in the Canadian media. The Toronto Sun implied that the Prince had committed a gaffe by telling Canadians, “We’re soft” while the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix quoted the Vice Chairman of the Canadian Pan-American Games Committee who defended the speech, stating, “Prince Philip echoes the sentiments of all informed sport people in Canada.”

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex at the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden

In the twenty-first century, Prince Philip’s promotion of youth athletics and outdoor activities is no longer considered controversial as governments, schools and medical organizations worldwide seek to combat the health conditions exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles by encouraging physical education. As the Prince gradually reduces his public engagements in his 90s, his children and grandchildren are continuing to promote his causes. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex currently distributes the Duke of Edinburgh Awards worldwide and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry promoted youth involvement in sports as Ambassadors for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Prince Philip’s promotion of youth athletics and outdoor education has had a lasting impact in increasingly popular awareness of the benefits of an active lifestyle.

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The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 8: The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr

The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People was one of the first books published in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Andrew Marr, a British journalist and political commentator, wrote it as a companion to a landmark BBC documentary series about the Queen’s life and reign. Marr is also the author of The Making Of Modern Britain and other works about the recent history of the British Isles. The Diamond Queen is therefore steeped in the historical context of both the twentieth century monarchy and broader political and social change in the United Kingdom and the rest of the commonwealth. Marr’s work complements the other Diamond Jubilee books about the Queen, providing a fresh perspective on Elizabeth II’s sixty year reign.

While Robert Hardman focuses on the Queen’s household and duties, Sally Bedell Smith looks at the Queen’s personality, and Ian Bradley analyzes her role within the Church of England, Marr looks at the people and broader historical trends who have shaped Elizabeth II’s approach to her reign. The first hundred pages are the story of her parents, paternal grandparents and other relatives who made their mark on the twentieth century monarchy and the education of the young princess and queen.

Marr’s analysis of Queen Mary’s influence over the first twenty-five years of Elizabeth’s life is particularly fascinating as George V’s consort is often portrayed by her biographers as a pillar of tradition rather than an influence over an evolving twentieth century monarchy. Elizabeth II’s paternal grandmother broadened her education by taking the young princess to museums and art galleries, contributed to the development of the philanthropic monarchy, and, in the last years of her life, influenced the debate concerning Prince Philip’s role within the royal family.

I would have been interested to see Marr extend his discussion of Queen Elizabeth II’s family to include the influence of her Bowes-Lyon relatives. As the correspondence reprinted in William Shawcross’s Queen Elizabeth: The Official Biography Of The Queen Mother demonstrates, the young princess spent time with her mother’s parents while George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the commonwealth and her Bowes-Lyon cousins remain among her closest friends.

When Elizabeth II ascended to the thrones of Great Britain and fifteen other Commonwealth realms in 1952, her relationships with her Prime Ministers defined the political climate of her reign. In contrast to biographers who often present the Queen’s interest in the commonwealth through the chronology of her royal tours, Marr looks at her interactions with political figures throughout the commonwealth, devoting a chapter to the monarchy’s role in the decolonization of Africa. In her role as Head of Commonwealth, the Queen continues to exert quiet political influence, encouraging dialogue between the world’s English speaking nations. Canadian readers will be particularly interested in Marr’s analysis of the Queen’s rapport with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and her role in the repatriation of the constitution.

One of the fascinating themes of The Diamond Queen is the relationship between the monarchy and the social and cultural changes that have occurred during the six decades of the Queen’s reign. In different decades, various members of the royal family appeared to reflect the ideals of the times from the Queen herself to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the 21st century. In the 1950s, the Queen and Prince Philip appeared to be the most modern members of the royal family, agreeing to televise the coronation and traveling across the Atlantic by airplane.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Princess Margaret seemed to capture the mood of the times, with her vibrant social life and unconventional marriage to society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Marr presents a sympathetic account of the Princess’s difficulties living in the shadow of her reigning elder sister and is deeply critical of what he describes as the “archaic” Royal Marriages Act, and its role in preventing her from marrying her first love, Group Captain Peter Townsend.

In my review of Penny Junor’s recent biography of Prince William, I observed that any biography of a living person is necessarily a work in progress. This conclusion applies as much to the Queen at 86 as it does to Prince William at 30. Since The Diamond Queenwas published in 2011 and Marr concludes his narrative with the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, he predicts a bleak future for the monarchy in Canada. If an updated version of the book were published today, Marr’s ideas on this subject might be different as the Diamond Jubilee and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s successful  tour have contributed to a revival of interest in the Canadian crown.

Andrew Marr’s The Diamond Queen was the original account of Elizabeth II’s six decade reign and remains a vital component of any Diamond Jubilee library. Marr places the Queen within the political and social context of her times, analyzing the people and events that shaped her character and reign.

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The Trial of Queen Caroline in 1820 and the Birth of British Tabloid Coverage of Royalty

Detail from "The Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820" by George Hayter, showing the Queen with her lawyers before the House of Lords

As the worldwide press discusses the photographs from Prince Harry’s recent holiday in Las Vegas, it is worth remembering the royal scandal that created modern tabloid coverage of royalty. The 1820 trial of Queen Caroline also involved evidence of semi-public nudity in a hotel suite by a member of the royal family traveling abroad, and was the subject of discussion in both parliament and broader society. The accusation leveled against the King and Queen during the proceedings undermined the reputation of the monarchy.

In 1820, the new King George IV was determined to obtain a divorce from his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick. As the only legal grounds for divorce at the time were adultery, the King brought the Pains and Penalties Bill before parliament, requesting that the marriage might be dissolved and Caroline deprived of the title of queen because of her alleged infidelity with Italian courtier, Bartolomeo Pergami during her travels on the continent. Queen Caroline returned to London for the reading of the bill, which amounted to a public trial with the nation’s representatives as judges and jury.

Queen Caroline attending the House of Lords during her "trial."

The English public have always taken an interest in the breakdown of a royal marriage. Seditious speech cases from the reign of Henry VIII demonstrate that “The King’s Great Matter” captured the popular imagination with English women in particular sympathizing with the King’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon and disapproving of his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

When King George I ascended to the thrones of England and Scotland in 1714, scurrilous verses circulated lampooning his perceived mistresses as “the elephant” and “the maypole” and expressing sympathy for his estranged wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, who was imprisoned in Ahlden Castle for her alleged adultery. Although printed political pamphlets had existed in the British Isles since the English Civil Wars, high rates of illiteracy and the difficulty spreading news to a predominantly rural population impeded the cohesion of a informed public.

Caricature of King George IV and Queen Caroline in the form of the green bags of evidence brought before parliament to support the guilt or innocence of the Queen. King George has a beard and build reminiscent of King Henry VIII and Caroline is wearing the same feather headdress she wore to parliament.

In 1820, the public audience for the Trial of Queen Caroline was very different from the groups who commented on the marriages of Henry VIII or George I. The British Isles had become increasingly urbanized with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, allowing news to travel more quickly. Literacy rates had increased and those who were illiterate could listen to news being read aloud in the pub, coffeehouse or town square.

In 1816, publisher William Cobbet introduced a single sheet version of The Register, a political digest available for a tuppence. The Register brought the news of the trial of Queen Caroline to a wide public audience who already disapproved of George IV’s extravagance during the recession that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars. While the King assumed his subjects would disapprove of the Queen’s behaviour abroad, the public instead sympathized with Caroline, who appeared to be the target of base accusations that brought the monarchy into disrepute

Political cartoon of Queen Caroline taking a bath with Pergami, based on the accusations leveled against the Queen.

The public eagerly followed the scandalous revelations in parliament through the newly published twopenny broadsheets. Witnesses supporting the King’s motion presented evidence that the Queen had been seen in the arms of her Italian lover in various states of undress during her travels and that they bathed together. One of the Queen Caroline’s Italian servants testisfied before the House of Lords that the Queen employed a male exotic dancer and demonstrated aspects of the dance before the assembled peers (Jane Robins, Rebel Queen, p. 213-214).

In response to these accusations, the Queen’s attorney, Lord Brougham threatened to reveal secrets about George IV’s personal life that would damage the monarchy. Brougham also argued that the witnesses for the prosecution had been bribed and that the Queen was the victim of a conspiracy to undermine her reputation so that the King might remarry and have more children. George’s and Caroline’s only child, Princess Charlotte, had died in childbirth three years previously and Brougham argued this event was the impetus for the Pains and Penalties Bill (Flora Fraser, The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline, p. 434). The defence concluded by comparing George IV to the Roman Emperor Nero, who degraded his wife’s reputation so that he could put her aside and marry his mistress.

After the reputations of King George IV and Queen Caroline had been debated in parliament and amongst the readership of The Register, the Pains and Penalties Bill passed the House of Lords by a narrow margin. Public support for the Queen, and the near certainty that the House of Commons would defeat the bill, however, resulted in the government withdrawing the motion. Londoners celebrated in the streets, smashing the windows of government buildings and the offices of newspaper editors who had supported the King. Despite the failure of the divorce proceedings, George barred Caroline from his coronation, resulting in a public disturbance as the Queen stood outside the doors of Westminster Abbey, demanding entrance. The broadsheets naturally covered the continuing public conflict between the King and Queen.

The Trial of Queen Caroline was a turning point in the history of the monarchy. For the first time, the collapse of a royal marriage unfolded in twopenny broadsheets that were accessible to members of all social backgrounds. The King’s attempts to undermine the Queen’s reputation to secure a divorce made him deeply unpopular with his subjects. The reign of George IV’s niece, Queen Victoria would return the monarchy to respectability but public access to information about royal scandals through the press has persisted to the present day.

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The Medieval Book Reviews 5: Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and the Crown in Fourteenth Century England by Lisa Benz St. John

In a famous photograph from the funeral of King George VI in 1952, three Queens stand together in mourning for their son, husband and father. The iconic image of George V’s widow, Queen Mary, George VI’s widow, Queen Elizabeth and the reigning Queen Elizabeth II demonstrates the continuity of the role of the royal consort in the twentieth century. From the death of King Edward VII in 1910 until the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 2002, with the exception of the brief reign of Edward VIII in 1936, the royal family has included a consort to the reigning monarch and a Dowager Queen. This succession of royal consorts allows scholars of the 20th century monarchy to analyze the expected duties and activities of the sovereign’s spouse and mother.

Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth II mourn King George VI in 1952.

This continuous presence of reigning and dowager consorts is unusual in English history. From the death of Queen Henrietta Maria, Dowager Queen during the reign of her son King Charles II, in 1669 to the ascension of Queen Victoria, daughter of the Duchess of Kent, in 1837, the royal family did not include a living “Queen Mother.” It is necessary to go further back in history to find another continuous series of queens dowager and consort. In Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and the Crown in Fourteenth-Century England, Lisa Benz St. John, the 2011-2012 Visiting Medieval Fellow at Fordham University, analyzes queenship in the fourteenth century, a period filled with fascinating royal wives and mother.

In common with the twentieth century, the monarchy of this period had successive queen consorts and dowager queens who influenced their daughters-in-law. King Edward I’s second wife, Margaret of France was Dowager Queen when her stepson, King Edward II, married her niece Isabelle of France. Isabelle was regent for her son, King Edward III, when he married Philippa of Hainault.

Detail of the Coronation of Phillipa of Hainault, shown on the cover of Three Medieval Queens.

This unusual succession of queens dowager and consort allows St. John to analyze the broader role of the queen in the fourteenth century English monarchy. As royal wives, mothers and widows, Margaret, Isabelle and Philippa were expected to act as intercessors between the King and his subjects, excercise patronage, run their households, influence the upbringing of their children, and, less frequently, administrate the realm. There may not have been any treatises written in the fourteenth century on the role of the queen but Margaret, Isabelle and Philippa faced clear  expectations when they became English royal consorts.

St. John structures her work as a thematic study of fourteenth century queenship rather than three successive biographies of the consorts of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III. This approach demonstrates the continiuty that existed in the role of the queen consort despite the political upheaval of the period. Margaret, Isabelle and Philippa all appear to have learned from the example of their predecessors and adapted these traditions to their individual marriages and circumstances.

For readers interested in the  biographical details of these three queens, the known details of their personalities emerge from St. John’s analysis of their duties and activities. Margaret appears to have initially enjoyed a cordial relationship with her stepson, Edward II until she objected to his patronage his favourite Piers Gaveston. Isabelle’s conflict with her husband emerged from his close relationship with a subsequent favourite, Hugh Despenser, which similarly upset the accepted patronage structure at court.

The scholarly, thematic approach taken by St. John in Three Medieval Queens is particularly important to the understanding of Isabelle of France. Since Edward II’s consort was closely involved in his overthrow of her husband and the establishment of a regency for Edward III, she has inspired novelists, playwrights and filmakers. Fictional portrayals of the Queen, ranging from Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, are shaped by speculation and outright historical inaccuracy. Even popular non fiction biographies of Isabelle such as Alison Weir’s Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England emphasize Isabella’s perceived sigularity as an unusually politically active royal consort and regent.

In the final chapter of Three Medieval Queens, “Administrator of the Realm,” St. John provides a balanced assessment of Isabelle’s controversial queenship and regency. As consort to Edward II, her household already contained armed knights for her status and security and her influence over her son was an accepted aspect of her queenship. Her rule on behalf of Edward III was initally accepted by the nobility as restoring the political balance upset by Edward II’s favourites until her policies became unpopular. Even after Edward III assumed power in his own right, Isabelle did not become an ostracized “she wolf” but a respected Dowager Queen. This chapter is so important to the historiography of Queen Isabelle that it should probably be placed closer to the beginning of the book.

Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and the Crown in Fourteenth-Century England is written for scholars of medieval English history and queenship but it will appeal to general readers interested the unique role of the queen in fourteenth century England and a balanced portrait of the notorious Queen Isabelle.

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There’s Something About Harry: The Royal Influence Over Baby Name Trends

Prince Harry greets the crowds the day before the wedding of his brother Prince William to Catherine Middleton

In 2011, the top English baby names were “Harry” for boys and “Amelia” for girls. More than 7,500 baby boys in England and Wales received the name “Harry” in 2011 with another 2,625 named “Henry” the same year. Commentators in the British media have noted that William was also a top ten 2011 baby name for boys in England and Wales, occupying tenth place with 4,632 children receiving the name last year.  The popularity of Harry and William as 2011 baby names appears to reflect the growing public profile of the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry within the royal family in the past few years. The near exclusive focus on the presence of “Harry” and “William” at the top of the list of the hundred most popular baby names of 2011, however, ignores the long history of royal influence over English baby name trends, which is reflected in numerous names elsewhere in the top one hundred names for both boys and girls.

Cast of the Effigy of King Henry III in Westminster Abbey, c. 1272.

The 40th most popular English boys name in 2011 was Edward. This name was revived from obscurity by King Henry III when he gave it to his eldest son, the future King Edward I. As Edward I’s biographer Marc Morris explains in A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, the Saxon name “Edward” was a highly unusual choice for the heir to a Norman-French, King of England. Since the Norman Conquest of 1066, royal princes had received suitably Norman names, such as William, Henry or Richard. King Henry III, however, was a great admirer of St. Edward the Confessor and expanded Westminster Abbey as a shrine to the saintly Saxon King. Edward I’s name reflected his father’s religious interests and became the name of seven subsequent Kings and countless ordinary people in England and Wales.

Effigy of Isabella of Angouleme in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, alongside the effigy of her brother-in-law, Kign Richard the Lionhearted

Marriages between English monarchs and members of foreign royal houses brought new names to the British Isles that are still among the top one hundred baby names in England and Wales. “Isabelle” or “Isabella” was a common medieval royal name amoung the dynasties that ruled the regions that now comprise France.

King John married Isabella of Angouleme in 1200, King Edward II married Isabella de Valois in 1308 and King Richard II married another Isabella de Valois in 1398. Although the first two Queen Isabellas were controversial figures and the last returned to France after her husband was deposed, the presence of these princesses in England made this variation of “Elizabeth” familiar to the inhabitants of England and Wales. In 2011, 3,464 English and Welsh baby girls received the name Isabella and another 2,719 were named Isabelle making these names the 10th and 17th most popular female baby names in these regions.

Effigies of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor in Fontevraud Abbey.

The Provencal name, “Eleanor” also became familiar to England through royal dynastic marriages. Henry II’s formidable consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine lived to be eighty years old and strongly influenced the reigns of her husband and sons, King Richard I and King John. Subsequent influential medieval English Queens were also known as Eleanor including Henry III’s consort and Edward I’s queen, Leonor of Castille. In 2011, Eleanor was the 59th most popular name in England and Wales.

Princess Amelia, the youngest daughter of King George III and Queen Charlotte. In 2011, Amelia was the most popular baby name for girls in England and Wales.

The reigns of the German rulers of Hanover as monarchs of Great Britain in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries popularized a new set of names in England and Wales. While some Hanoverian royal names have faded into obscurity, such as Augusta and Octavius, others remain among the most popular English and Welsh baby names. The presence of Amelia, Sophia, Charlotte and Georgia on the list of the hundred most popular names for baby girls in 2011 and George and Frederick on the parallel list of baby boys’ names reflects the continuing influence of the Hanover dynasty over English name trends. These names increase and decrease in popularity depending on the fame of modern figures but it is unlikely they would have become common in England and Wales without royal antecedents.

The presense of Harry and William in the top ten list of English and Welsh baby names for boys in 2011 is not the only evidence of the royal influence over naming trends in the British Isles. Throughout history, individual monarchs and their consorts have popularized little known names, inspiring ordinary people to name their children after well known royal personages. Names introduced by Norman, Plantagenet and Hanoverian royalty remain among the top one hundred most popular baby names for boys and girls in England and Wales.

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From Party Prince to the Queen’s Representative: The Rise of Prince Harry in 2012

Prince Harry (centre) representing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London on August 12, 2012. The Duchess of Cambridge is standing at his right. Source: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

At the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the audience in Olympic Stadium was called to stand for the arrival of Prince Henry of Wales, representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Harry’s central role in the Closing Ceremonies marked the apogee of an extraordinary year for Queen’s grandson that saw him assume the duties of a senior member of the royal family.

In March, 2012, Harry completed a successful tour of Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee. The Prince infused the well known format of the royal tour and walkabout with his own personal style, joining the dancing during street parties, and racing Olympic champion Usain Bolt. In Jamaica, the Prince diffused what might have been a tense diplomatic situation by embracing Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, who had previously expressed support for the appointment of a Jamaican born Head of State.

Prince Harry plays volleyball on Flamengo Beach on March 10, 2012 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. (Source: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Following the Jubilee tour of the Caribbean, Harry visited Brazil as an ambassador for British trade and the London Olympics, promoting youth athletics and discussing the transition from the 2012 to 2016 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro. Once again, Harry succeeded within a complicated diplomatic climate as South American attitudes toward the United Kingdom are coloured by Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands.

In May, Prince Harry traveled to Washington D.C. to receive the 2012 Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award from the Atlantic Council, on behalf of himself and his brother, Prince William for their patronage of charities that assist injured members of the British and American armed forces. This award drew worldwide public attention to Harry’s charity work including his patronage of the Walking With The Wounded, and  support for The Soldiers’ Charity and Help For Heroes.

Prince Harry at the official press launch of Walking with the Wounded in 2010.

The Prince returned to the United Kingdom to celebrate his grandmother’s Diamond Jubilee then threw himself into the role of Olympic Ambassador during the London Games, which culminated in his central role at the Closing Ceremonies. If 2011 was the year of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with their magnificent wedding and successful tour of Canada, 2012 has been the year Prince Harry assumed the profile and duties of a senior member of the royal family.

The public approval that Harry currently enjoys because of his success representing Queen Elizabeth II and philanthropic work  contrasts with his past reputation as a “party prince” with poor judgement. Although Harry received widespread public sympathy when his mother, Princess Diana, died when he was only twelve years old, he attracted criticism in his late teens and early twenties.

Prince Harry at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2005.

Harry engaged in charity work in Lesotho during his gap year visit to Africa but the press focused on his altercations with photographers outside nightclubs and his poor choice of fancy dress costume. Carol Sarler, a Daily Express columnist, wrote in 2004 that Prince Harry was a “horrible young man” and a “national disgrace” in column that received a personal rebuttal from the Prince of Wales. Prince Harry’s diplomatic and philanthropic work in 2012 demonstrates that he has learned from his past lapses in judgment and is eager to take his place as a prominent working member of the royal family.

King Henry VIII, the second son of King Henry VII. Upon the unexpected death of his childless elder brother Arthur, he became the heir to the English throne.

Harry’s evolution from Party Prince to the Queen’s representative is important to the future of the royal family because he is currently a direct heir to the throne. The intense speculation about when (not if) the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will have children ignores the numerous historical precedents for second sons and their children ultimately becoming monarchs. King Henry VIII, King Charles I, King George V and King George VI were all originally second sons of reigning monarchs or their heirs.

The eight years of childlessness experienced by Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako of Japan before the 2001 birth of their only child, Princess Aiko, demonstrates that even in the 21st century, royal succession can be unpredictable. Aiko is not eligible to become Empress under the current Japanese law of succession, which is restricted to male dynasts. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are childless, Prince Harry should be viewed as a potential successor to the thrones of the United Kingdom and the other fifteen commonwealth nations.

In the event that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have children of their own, Prince Harry’s abilities as a diplomat and philanthropist will still be essential to the success of the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II’s cousins, the Duke of Kent and Gloucester and Princess Alexandra perform an extensive program of royal duties but it is unlikely that the younger generation of the royal extended family will have the same public profile. In a smaller working royal family, Harry will be expected to assume a wide range of royal tours and charitable patronages.

Prince Harry’s successes in 2012 as the Queen’s representative and a respected philanthropist will be of lasting benefit to the monarchy. In the event that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge do not have children of their own, Harry’s increased profile as a working member of the royalty will reassure the public that he will be a successful future monarch. If the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge continue the direct royal line, Harry’s activities will support subsequent monarchs within a streamlined working royal family.

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