Prince Charles’s Correspondence and the Nature of Constitutional Monarchy

Charles, Prince of Wales

Throughout the month of October, one of the most significant news items concerning the monarchy was the controversy concerning Princes Charles’s letters. Between Sept 1, 2004 and April 1, 2005, the heir to the throne engaged in correspondence with the Departments for Business, Health, Education, Environment, Culture, Northern Ireland and the Cabinet Office. In 2005, the Guardian newspaper, which is often critical of the royal family, applied for access to these letters under the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner of the United Kingdom, Christopher Graham, decided not to order the release of the letters. The Freedom of Information Act was amended in 2010 to exempt Prince Charles from future requests for public access to his correspondence.

Last month, three judges from the of the Upper Tribunal of the Administrative Appeals Chamber overturned the Information Comissioner’s decision, arguing that there was an overwhelming public interest in Prince Charles’s relations with the British government. The Appeal prompted a rare veto by Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General for England and Wales, ensuring the continued privacy of Prince Charles’s political correspondence.

Dominic Grieve, Attorney General for England and Wales

Grieve’s justification for the suppression of the Prince’s correspondence demonstrates the profound influence of Queen Elizabeth II’s  political impartiality on the public perception of constitutional monarchy. In his ten page summary of the reasons for overturning the decision made by the judges of the Appeals Chamber, Grieve stated that the political neutrality of the monarch is “a cornerstone of the UK’s constitutional framework.” Any evidence in the correspondence that Prince Charles is “disagreeing with government policy” would be “seriously damaging to his role as future monarch.”

Grieve’s justification for applying his veto to the release of the letters has been reprinted in British and Commonwealth newspapers with little analysis of how the political neutrality of the monarch came to be accepted as “a cornerstone of the UK’s constitutional framework.” In common with Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for more than sixty years and is the only monarch in living memory for the majority of people in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in Canada in 2010

Since Elizabeth II has maintained a public image of strict political neutrality since ascending to the throne in 1952, the fact that she is the only monarch who has never been quoted as “disagreeing with government policy” has been largely forgotten. Both the Queen’s father, King George VI, and her grandfather, King George V were effective constitutional monarchs who were known to have held political opinions opposed to those of their governments. Public knowledge of these disagreements did not undermine their legitimacy as sovereigns.

King George VI with Prime Minister Clement Attlee after the 1945 General Election

In 1945, Clement Attlee’s Labour party defeated Winston Churchill’s Conservatives in the general election. King George VI was not pleased with the election results, writing to Churchill, “I was shocked at the result.  . .I thought it most ungrateful to you personally after all your hard work for the people” (Quoted in Robert Lacey, Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II, p. 143). The King nevertheless bowed to popular opinion and invited Attlee to form a government.

During his term as Prime Minister, which lasted until Churchill’s reelection, Attlee oversaw the introduction of the modern British welfare state including the National Health Service. King George VI’s skepticism of these new developments was well known. In 1951, he remarked to Hugh Gaitskell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, “I don’t see why people should have false teeth free any more than they have shoes free,” (Quoted in Lacey, p. 143). Once again, the King overcame his personal views and granted royal assent to Attlee’s innovations in response to popular support for the Labour government and its policies.

King George V at his coronation in 1911

King George V’s political opinions were even more opposed to those of his Prime Ministers than George VI’s views of Attlee’s election and policies. King George V was born in 1865. His upbringing, education and marriage all occurred during the reign of his grandmother, Queen Victoria but his own reign lasted from 1910 to 1936. George V was therefore a twentieth century King presiding over a period of unprecedented social and political change with political opinions that had been shaped by the Victorian era.

Like his grandmother, Queen Victoria, King George V opposed women’s suffrage but ultimately granted royal assent to the 1918 bill granting British women over thirty the right to vote. Although he opposed many of the Labour Party’s policies, he invited Ramsay MacDonald to form a government in 1923 when the results of the election made clear that this political change was the will of the British people. George V found qualities that he could admire in his new government, noting his diary, “I must say they all seem to very intelligent and they take things very seriously . . .They ought to be given a chance (Quoted in Miranda Carter, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I, p. 422-423).

King George V (right) with his cousin Emperor Nicholas II of Russia in 1913.

Despite this initial gracious approach to political change in the United Kingdom, relations between George V and MacDonald were not always harmonious. Perhaps the greatest ideological difference between King and Prime Minister was the Labour government’s decision to establish diplomatic links with the Soviet Union.

The King made a number of public gestures that demonstrated he did not personally acknowledge the legitimacy of the Soviet regime, which he held responsible for the murder of his cousin, Emperor Nicholas II, regardless of the stance of his government. The King refused to receive a Russian trade delegation in 1924 and was absent when the new Soviet ambassador attempted to present his credentials in 1929 (See Carter, p. 423).  Despite this obvious, public disagreement between the King and his government, George V maintained his legitimacy and popularity as a constitutional monarch.

The disagreements between George V, George VI, and their respective governments demonstrate that strict political neutrality by the sovereign is a recent development rather than a “cornerstone of the UK’s constitutional framework.” Both Elizabeth II’s father and grandfather were able to express their personal opinions provided that they accepted governments and legislation that reflected the will of the people. The precedents set by George V and George VI are crucial to understanding the full significance and implications of Prince Charles’s political correspondence.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Comparing the Constitutional Monarchies of Canada and Jamaica

My column in today’s edition of the Globe and Mail online compares Queen Elizabeth II’s role as head of state in two commonwealth constitutional monarchies, Canada and Jamaica. Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has promoted the monarchy’s role in Canadian history and political culture in recent years while Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller is interested in Jamaica becoming a republic to mark the 50th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom. There are key differences between the Queen’s role as Queen of Canada and her role as Queen of Jamaica demonstrating the diversity of constitutional monarchy in the commonwealth. Click here to read Constitutional Monarchy: The Canadian-Jamaican divide.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

How a Romanov Duke Popularized Skiing in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains

The Laurentian Mountains, Charlevoix, Quebec

When Duke Dimitri of Leuchtenberg, whose ancestors included Empress Josephine of France and Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, died in Saint Sauveur des Montagnes, Quebec, Canada in 1972, the Montreal Gazette published a long obituary with his picture. The headline was “Duke Dimitri Leuchtenberg dies, pioneered skiing in the Laurentians.” Dimitri’s journey from the court of his distant cousin, Emperor Nicholas II of Russia in St. Petersburg to the Pension Leuchtenberg ski chalet that he operated in St. Saveur was eventful and changed the history of alpine skiing in Canada.

Portrait of Duke Dimitri's father, Duke George painted in 1872

Dimitri was born in St. Petersburg on April 30 (new style), 1898, the second of six children. His father, Duke George of Leuchtenberg was a great-grandson of Nicholas I through the marriage of the Emperor’s daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna to Maximilian de Beauharnais, third Duke of Leuchtenberg, a grandson of Napoleon I’s consort, the Empress Josephine. Maria and Maximilian had remained in Russia after their marriage and their children and grandchildren were treated as members of the extended Russian Imperial family.

By Duke George’s lifetime, many of the Leuchtenberg descendants had intermarried with the Russian nobility and held the title of Serene Highness. Although Duke George was related to the last Emperor of Russia, he was not one of the monarch’s close friends and his wife, Duchess Olga (nee Princess Olga Repnina) only saw the Imperial family on official occasions that brought all the Romanov descendants together.

Castle Seeon in Bavaria

Duke Dimitri enjoyed an upbringing typical of the Russian aristocracy in the early twentieth century. He was educated at the elite Russian Imperial Cavalry School and served in the White Russian Army during the Russian Civil Wars that followed the outbreak of Revolution in 1917. Duke George, Duchess Olga and their surviving five children ultimately fled Russia and settled in Castle Seeon in Bavaria, a property inherited by Duke George and his brother in 1891. While in exile, Duke Dimitri married a fellow member of the dispossessed Russian nobility, Ekaterina (Catherine) Arapova, in 1921 and she joined his family at Castle Seeon.

Photograph of Anna Anderson, the most famous of the numerous women who claimed to be Nicholas II's youngest daughter, Anastasia, after the murder of the Imperial family in 1922.

Although the Leuchtenbergs of Castle Seeon experienced continuous financial difficulties in the 1920s, Duke George was always willing to host fellow emigres in need on his Bavarian estate. In 1927, he welcomed “Anna Anderson,” the most famous of the numerous women who claimed to be Nicholas II’s youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia, following the murder of the Imperial family in 1918. Duke George confided to a friend, “I can’t tell you if she’s the daughter of the Tsar or not. But so long as I have the feeling that a person who belongs to my tight circle of society needs my help, I have a duty to give it (Peter Kurth, Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, p. 177.)

Dimitri was deeply suspicious of his parents’ new house-guest. He knew Anastasia had belonged to a religious family yet Anderson seemed confused by the Russian Orthodox liturgy and crossed herself in the Roman Catholic manner. Dimitri and Catherine also witnessed a curious conversation between Anderson and Felix Schanzkowski, who initially recognized her as his sister Franzinska then retracted his statement after a brief conversation with the claimant. (For further information about Anna Anderson’s time with the Leuchtenbergs at Castle Seeon, see Greg King and Penny Wilson, The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World’s Greatest Royal Mystery, p. 152-161).

As financial pressures and tensions surrounding the identity of Anna Anderson increased in Castle Seeon, Dimitri and Catherine decided to start a new life for themselves in Canada. There had been a wave of White Russian immigration to Canada after 1917, which included some of the most prominent aristocratic families, such as the Ignatieffs. Dimitri was also a winter sports enthusiast and one of his relatives, the Marquis d’Albizzi had opened a guesthouse in the Laurentian mountains in 1924. In 1931, Dimitri and Catherine immigrated to Quebec.

A Rope Tow Ski Lift in the Laurentian Mountains in 1935

At this time of the ducal couple’s arrival, the Laurentians were a comparatively remote farm region. The first rope tow ski lift had only been invented in 1930 and downhill skiing was a comparatively elite activity. Dimitri opened the first ski school in the region, teaching the guests at the Marquis d’Albizzi’s resort. Throughout the 1930s, Dimitri expanded his teaching activities, raising the profile of the Penguin ski club for female students at Montreal’s McGill University by helping train their competitors for downhill ski competitions. Dimitri also worked extensively as a surveyor, mapping new cross country trails in the Laurentian mountains. His work was widely admired by ski enthusiasts throughout North America and he was employed as a surveyor in the Rocky Mountains and New England.

At the same time, Dimitri and Catherine were frequently mentioned on the society pages of Montreal newspapers. The Montreal Gazette reported on November 6, 1937, “The Duke and Duchess Dimitri von Leuchtenberg, who arrived from the Empress of Britain from Europe where the spent the summer, are en route to their skiing camp at St. Saveur, where they will spend the winter.” In 1939, the Marquis d’Albizzi returned to Europe and Dimitri acquired his resort, renaming it the Pension Leuchtenberg. Following the Second World War, the Leuchtenbergs hosted distinguished guests at their resort including Governor General Vincent Massey and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Anastasia's aunt, in her later years in Cooksville, Ontario

Despite Dimitri’s new life in Canada, he never entirely escaped his family’s involvement in the Anna Anderson affair. On March 20, 1959, as Anderson’s case to establish her identity slowly unfolded in the West German courts, the Montreal Gazette reported, “Can Canadians Solve the Mystery of Anna Anderson-Anastasia?: German Lawyers Here.” The article reported, “Two whom they will meet this morning are Duke Dimitri of Leuchtenberg and his wife, now innkeepers in St. Saveur . . .he is convinced she is not Anastasia.” The lawyers also visited Nicholas II’s sister, Grand Duchess Olga, who was residing in Cooksville (now part of Mississauga), west of Toronto, at the time. Olga shared Dimitri’s conviction that Anna Anderson was not Anastasia.

Duke Dimitri died in St. Saveur at the age of seventy-four. He was survived by his wife, two daughters, three grandchildren and his brother Duke Constantine, who had immigrated to Ottawa. The remains of Grand Duchess Anastasia were unearthed after the collapse of the Soviet Union outside Yekaterinburg, where she was murdered with her family in 1918. DNA tests on tissue samples from Anna Anderson indicate that Dimitri’s suspicions were correct. She was Franzinska Schanzkowska and not a daughter of his distant cousin, the last Tsar of Russia.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Medieval Book Reviews 6: Margaret of York: The Diabolical Duchess by Christine Weightman

The last reigning generation of the House of York was not treated kindly by Tudor chroniclers. King Edward IV’s relations with women threatened the stability of his dynasty as his supposed pre contract with Eleanor Butler allowed his brother Richard III to argue that his children with his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, were illegitimate. George, Duke of Clarence was the incautious opportunist who may have ended his days drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine for conspiring against King Edward. Richard III was immortalized by Shakespeare as a usurper responsible for the deaths of his relatives. Their sister, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy was “the diabolical duchess,” believed to have supported the claims of various Yorkist pretenders as part of a personal vendetta. While Richard III’s villainous reputation has been contested by revisionist historians and an entire Richard III society, the characterization of Margaret as a scheming “diabolical duchess” continues to appear to both factual accounts of the reign of King Henry VII and historical fiction about Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel, the Yorkist pretenders. In Margaret of York, Christine Weightman presents “the diabolical duchess” as a multidimensional stateswoman, who had sound political and economic reasons to support attempts to overthrow Henry VII and his Tudor dynasty.

Margaret of York begins with the most significant event in the Princess’s life, her lavish wedding to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in Bruges, in 1468. Charles and Margaret presided over the most opulent wedding celebrations of the fifteenth century with days of tournaments and banquets that symbolized both the apparent stability of the Yorkist dynasty and the immense wealth of the Dukes of Burgundy, who controlled access the valuable trading centres of the Low Countries. The wedding received particular attention in England because dynastic marriages with foreign royalty were comparatively uncommon during the Wars of the Roses. Both of Margaret’s elder sisters, Elizabeth and Anne, married English noblemen to increase the domestic resources of the House of York during its hostilities against the House of Lancaster.

Weightman’s decision to begin her biography of Margaret with her wedding then look backwards at her youth is astute because childhood, particularly that of women, was of little interest to medieval writers. Nevertheless, the common childhood experiences of George, Duke of Clarence, Margaret of York and the future Richard III appear to have had a profound impact on their future approach to the politics. These three youngest children of Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville were still residing with their parents when their family incurred the displeasure of Henry VI’s ambitious consort, Margaret of Anjou and witnessed the most desperate moments in their family’s political fortunes.

In contrast to the Duke and Duchess of York, who appear to have lost significant revenues from indifferent management of their lands and estates, George, Margaret and Richard all grew up to be fiercely protective of their economic and political interests. David Baldwin recently speculated that Richard III was determined to do anything, even overthrow and possibly murder his own nephews, to avoid experiencing the instability of his youth again. Weightman’s portrayal of Margaret suggests that was similarly preoccupied with her wealth and political power.

Margaret of York at the time of her wedding to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1468.

The position of Duchess of Burgundy provided the capable Margaret with an outlet for her abilities as a diplomat and stateswomen. She appears to have had a strong relationship with her husband and her stepdaughter, Mary the Rich, heiress to Burgundy and been instrumental in the arrangement of the happy and politically significant marriage of Mary and Archduke Maximilian, heir to the Holy Roman Empire. (Those following this weekend’s wedding of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg to Countess Stephanie Lannoy of Belgium may be interested to know the wedding of Maximilian to Mary prevented modern day Belgium from being absorbed into France.) At the same time, Margaret enjoyed English revenues and trading interests, which came to an abrupt end when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485.

Weightman’s Margaret of York was therefore not consumed by a personal vendetta against the Tudors but economic and political grievances. King Henry had terminated her English income and pursued a French alliance that threatened the interests of her Hapsburg step-grandchildren. Margaret’s support for the Yorkist claimants significantly coincided with Henry VII’s diplomatic overtures toward France, asserting Maximilian’s interests as well as her own.

Margaret of York is a fascinating study of one of the most significant political figures in fifteenth century Europe. Christine Weightman’s research and analysis rescues “the diabolical duchess” from the one dimensional portrayals of Tudor chronicles and reveals a multifaceted princess, determined to protect the interests of herself and her family in the uncertain world of late medieval Europe.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Royal Wedding in Luxembourg, the House of Lannoy and Changing Trends in Royal Marriage

Countess Stephanie de Lannoy of Belgium, the new hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

This weekend, Luxembourg is celebrating the wedding of the heir to the world’s only Grand Duchy, hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume to Countess Stephine de Lannoy of Belgium. The civil ceremony took place on October 19 and the religious ceremony and gala dinner occurred on October 20. The wedding is largest gathering of royalty in 2012 with Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses from around the world attending the festivities. Queen Elizabeth II is represented by her youngest son and daughter-in-law, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, who also attended the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel Westling in 2010.

Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, the last of the medieval Wittlesbach rulers of the region.

The new hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg is a member of the Belgian nobility. Her ancestry has attracted a great deal of media attention because of its historical significance and the comparative rarity of marriages between European royalty and members of the titled nobility in the twenty-first century. The House of Lannoy is descended from the Counts of Hainaut, who controlled a strategic coastal region that overlaps with modern day Belgium. Hainaut’s prosperity and proximity to the British Isles, France and the Holy Roman Empire allowed the ruling house of Hainaut to make royal marriages.

In 1328, King Edward III of England married Phillipa of Hainaut. Philippa’s father, Count William I had assisted Edward’s mother, Queen Isabella in her campaign to depose her husband, Edward II, and place her son on the English throne. Marriages between members of royal houses and the ruling nobility were common throughout the Middle Ages as royalty sought strategic regional allies in a decentralized Europe and ruling counts or grand dukes sought to maintain their autonomy through alliances with their powerful neighbours.

Hainalt maintained its independence until the death of Countess Jacqueline of Wittesbach in 1433 and the acquisition of the region by the Duchy of Burgundy, which became part of the Holy Roman Empire with the marriage of Mary, Duchess of Burgundy to the future Emperor Maximilian in 1477. The absorption of Hainaut into larger entities was part of a larger process of state centralization in Europe that continued until the nineteenth century. As Europe’s royal houses gained territory and power in the early modern period, marriages between royalty and nobility became less desirable and union between royal houses more common.

Tapestry illustrating the Battle of Pavia between the Holy Roman Empire and France in 1525

Despite the increasing rarity of marriages between royalty and nobility in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Stephanie de Lannoy’s ancestors prospered under the rule of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors. Charles de Lannoy commanded the Imperial army against French forces at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, which resulted in the capture of King Francois I. For his services to the Holy Roman Empire, Charles de Lannoy received the Imperial title of Count, which was inherited by his descendants. Count Lamoral de Linge, the ancestor of Stephanie’s paternal grandmother, Princess Beatrice de Ligne, received the title of Prince in 1601 from Emperor Rudolf II for his services as a diplomat.

The Lannoy chateau in Anvaing

When Belgium gained its independence in the early nineteenth century, Stephanie’s Lannoy ancestors became burgomasters of the Walloon municipality of Frasnes-lez-Anvaing, where the family chateau is located, wielding local influence to the present day.

In the twentieth century, royal marriage trends experienced the most significant change since the consolidation of European states in the early modern period. With the collapse of the Russian, German and Austrian ruling dynasties during the First World War and increased popular opposition to foreign royal marriages, members of the European nobility once again intermarried with royalty in large numbers. In the United Kingdom, the 1923 wedding of the future George VI to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer were part of this twentieth century shift in royal marriage partners. The last wedding between two members of Europe’s royal houses occurred in 1982 when Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein married Princess Margaretha of Luxembourg.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway at the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in 2010.

In the twenty-first century, royal marriage trends shifted once again to become broadly inclusive of partners from a diverse range of backgrounds. In 2001, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway married Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby, the daughter of a journalist and a single mother. In 2005, Crown Prince Felipe of Spain married Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, a divorced television journalist. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden married her personal trainer, Daniel Westling in 2010 and Prince William of Wales married Catherine Middleton, the daughter of self made millionaires in 2011.

In this climate, the wedding of the heir to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to a member of the Belgian noble house of Lannoy is reminiscent of both medieval and twentieth century royal marriages. The shift from titled to untitled marriage partners among Europe’s royal houses has been so complete that Stephanie will be one of only three royal consorts from the European aristocracy. The wedding between Guilaume and Stephanie has therefore captured the imagination of the people of Luxembourg and the wider world. This weekend’s royal wedding may be the last instance of an heir to a reigning house marrying a countess with a family chateau unless royal marriage trends change again in the coming decades.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Princess Alexandra Celebrates the Centennial of the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria, British Columbia

Queen Elizabeth II's cousin, Princess Alexandra, the Honourable Lady Oglivy. Photo Credit: The Buckingham Palace Press Office

Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, the Honourable Lady Oglivy will be visiting Victoria, British Columbia this weekend to celebrate the centennial of the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s). Alexandra has been the Colonel-in-Chief of this regiment since 1977. On Saturday October 20, the Princess will attend a cadet lunch at the historic Empress hotel, which was named for Queen Victoria, the namesake of the capital of the province of British Columbia. That evening, Alexandra will also attend a gala dinner at the Bay Street Armoury to celebrate the centennial of her regiment.

On Sunday, October 21, the Canadian Scottish regiment will participate in a Church Parade at Christ Church Cathedral and the Princess will lay a wreath in honour of fallen soldiers in Pioneer Square. Following the celebration of the centennial of her regiment, Alexandra will leave Canada and travel to New York City where she will attend a reception, gala dinner and board meeting in her capacity as Honourary Patron of the American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust.

The Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria

Princess Alexandra’s upcoming engagements in Canada, the third Canadian royal visit in 2012, are part of a Personal Visit and has not received any media coverage outside the local newspapers. The Princess is a comparatively unknown member of the royal family in Canada despite her long history of carrying out Canadian engagements as a representative of Queen Elizabeth II and in her capacity as Colonel in Chief of various Canadian regiments.

When King George VI died in 1952, there were only five princesses by birth in the royal family: the new Queen, Elizabeth II, her sister, Princess Margaret, her young daughter, Princess Anne, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Alice of Athlone, former Vice Regal Consort of Canada, and Princess Alexandra of Kent. Although junior royal princesses rarely undertook a full program of royal engagements, the Queen asked her cousin to become a full time working member of the royal family. The involvement of the Queen’s cousins in royal duties allowed the monarch to expand the personal presence of her family in the commonwealth.

Princess Alexandra opens the MacBride Museum of Yukon History in Whitehorse during her 1967 Canadian centennial tour

When Canada celebrated the 100th anniversary of confederation in 1967, cross country train journeys by the monarch were no longer commonplace. The last royal tour of Canada including stops in all provinces in territories had been the 1959 visit of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. To celebrate Canada’s centennial, multiple members of the royal family traveled to diverse regions of Canada.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended the formal celebrations in Ottawa then visited Expo 67 in Montreal. That same year, Princess Alexandra and her husband, the Honourable Angus Oglivy undertook a twenty-seven day official tour focused on Western Canada. The royal couple visited Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Banff, Calgary, Edmonton, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Jasper, Hay River, Regina, Brandon, Winnipeg and Ottawa before also ending their Canadian sojourn at Expo 67 in Montreal. The schedule was extremely busy, even by the standards of a royal tour, prompting a headline in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, “Royal Stamina put to the test.”

Brandon University in Manitoba, which received its charter from Princess Alexandra in 1967

Although Princess Alexandra’s 1967 tour is little known today, it received tremendous publicity at the time. The Ottawa Citizen included a photograph of Alexandra chatting with children outside Toronto’s City Hall, who were thrilled to meet a “Real Life Princess.” Alexandra’s donation of a collection of her grandmother Queen Mary’s books to the Toronto Public Library was extremely well received as the Princess stated, “There could be no better home for my grandmother’s collection.” The Calgary Herald admired both the Princess’s sense of style and her close engagement with the Queen’s Own Rifles as Colonel in Chief. The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix published a lengthy profile of the Queen’s cousin, describing Alexandra as “Hardworking, glamorous and anything but stuffy.” The 1967 tour was a great success that endeared Princess Alexandra and the monarchy to Canadians.

Since 1967, Princess Alexandra has visited Canada on five subsequent occasions, usually in her capacity as Colonel-in-Chief of Canadian regiments. The Princess’s attendance at the 2012 centennial celebrations for the Canadian Scottish regiment reflect her longstanding involvement with the Canadian Forces and broader engagement with Canadian institutions.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur’s Tale of the World’s Richest Princesses by Jayne Amelia Larson (Review)

In 1744, a fire ravaged the Moscow residence of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, daughter of Peter the Great. The future Empress Catherine the Great, who was betrothed to Elizabeth’s nephew and heir, recorded in her Memoirs, “In that fire, the Empress lost everything in her immense wardrobe that had been brought to Moscow. She did me the honour of telling me that she had lost four thousand outfits and that of all them, she regretting losing only the one made of the cloth I had given her, which I received from my mother (The Memoirs of Catherine the Great, p. 123).” Empress Elizabeth never wore a dress more than once. When she died less than two decades after the palace fire, she left fifteen thousand gowns and two trunks filled with silk stockings (W. Bruce Lincoln, The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias, p. 194).

Even in the eighteenth century, Empress Elizabeth’s conspicuous consumption was already going out of fashion in many royal courts. Queen Marie Antoinette of France, whose name became a byword for extravagance, adopted simpler fashions in the 1780s and refused to purchase the famous Diamond Necklace because of its immense cost. Despite this change in perspective in numerous royal households, Jayne Amelia Larson’s entertaining memoir Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur’s Tale of the World’s Richest Princesses (plus their servants, nannies, and one royal hairdresser)
demonstrates that there is still at least one royal court where Empress Elizabeth would feel right at home. In Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, conspicuous consumption remains a favourite pass time of royalty flush with oil wealth.

Jayne Amelia Larson is an actress and independent film producer who weathered a financially difficult period in her career by becoming a limousine driver in Beverly Hills. Larson imagined that her job will give her an opportunity to network with other members of the entertainment industry but instead encounters long hours, low pay and celebrities at their worst moments. When the opportunity to chauffeur a group of Saudi princesses on a lavish Beverly Hills shopping spree arises, Larson jumps at the chance to meet royalty and potentially receive large gratuities from members of one of the world’s wealthiest ruling houses.

Larson’s conclusion that the princesses have enormous material wealth but little social freedom or autonomy will be familiar to readers of Jean P. Sasson’s famous ghostwritten memoir, Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia but her temporary role as a member of the Saudi royal household for five weeks in the United States provides her with a unique insight into the social hierarchy of the House of Al-Saud, where a tea service belonging to the princesses receives its own hotel suite but the servants sleep seven to a room.

The first half of the book is filled with entertaining anecdotes about Larson’s foray into limousine driving and her initial culture shock upon encountering the spendthrift princesses. She chauffeurs her clients to luxury boutiques and witnesses them selecting thousands of dollars of designers bags, shoes and lingerie without a glance at the prices. The royal hairdresser demands frequent trips to the casino outside Los Angeles and his employer, “Princess Zaahira,”, eagerly listens to stories of his adventures as either her own sense of propriety or her husband’s dictates prevent her from entering gambling establishments.

The tone changes in the second half of the book as Larson becomes increasingly close to both the princesses and their overworked servants. As the only female chauffeur employed for the trip, she is given charge of a thirteen year old princess who appears to be an outsider within her family, more interesting in dreams of studying abroad than shopping. Larson also gets to known the princesses’ maids who live in virtual indentured servitude with their passports held by their employers. The mistreatment of the servants appears to be an open secret wherever the Saudi royal family vacations and Larson draws attention to the complicity of American hoteliers who guard the household passports in their safes in exchange from the vast economic benefit of a visit from the House of Al-Saud.

Driving the Saudis is an entertaining and insightful snapshot of one of the world’s wealthiest and most autocratic royal families on vacation. Larson reveals both the conspicuous consumption of the princesses and the sad plight of their maids through the unique perspective of a temporary royal chauffeur.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Duke of Kent Celebrates Two Jubilees in Uganda

Queen Elizabeth II's cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent

Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent is currently in Uganda where he will celebrate two jubilees on October 9. The Duke’s visit to Uganda is part of the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which has seen members of the royal family travel to all commonwealth nations to mark the monarch’s sixty year reign. For Uganda, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of full independence from the United Kingdom, the nation’s Golden Jubilee. The Duke of Kent represented the Queen at the independence ceremonies in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, in 1962 and his presence represents the continuity of his interest in this African nation. October 9 is also the Duke’s birthday. The Duke’s busy schedule of royal engagements and tours also demonstrates the importance of the Queen’s extended family to her relationship with the global commonwealth.

Following the death of Queen Victoria and the ascension of Edward VII in 1901, the number of members of the royal family performing official duties began to contract. Queen Alexandra assumed charitable patronages previously held by Edward’s sisters, Princesses Helena, Louise and Beatrice. In an era when overseas royal visits were rare, a smaller royal family appeared to suit public needs.

A 1917 Punch cartoon entitled "A Good Riddance" showing King George V sweeping away his family's German titles

The process of streamlining the royal family was formalized in 1917 when King George V decreed that only children or male line grandchildren would be Princes or Princesses addressed as His or Her Royal Highness. The German royal titles of many members of the King’s extended family were abolished and replaced with titles that placed them within the English aristocracy. For the younger children and grandchildren of Queen Victoria resident in the United Kingdom, the reigns of George V and George VI marked their gradual withdrawal from royal engagements and life in the public eye.

By the time Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952, the public role of the royal family had expanded to encompass frequent personal visits to the Commonwealth, which expanded rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s as the decolonization of the former British Empire accelerated. The new Queen took her role as Head of the Commonwealth seriously and was determined to increase the royal family’s personal relationship with this global group of nations. To achieve this goal, the Queen reversed the streamlining of the royal family enacted by her predecessors and actively involved her royal first cousins, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra, Prince Michael of Kent and Richard, the present Duke of Gloucester in public engagements and tours.

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, hands the instruments of Ugandan independence to Milton Obote in 1962

Queen Elizabeth’s ascension therefore marked the beginning of Edward’s long career of public service. The sixteen year old Duke, who had inherited the title on the death of his father Prince George, (younger brother of Edward VIII and George VI), in an airplane crash in 1942, walked behind George VI’s coffin and swore allegiance to Elizabeth II at her coronation. Following his graduation from Eton, Edward enrolled at Sandhurst, the beginning of a long military career that included a tour in Hong Kong and command of a squadron serving in Cyprus as part of a United Nations force in 1970. Following his retirement from the military in 1976, Edward assumed the role of Vice Chairman of British Trade International, a position he held until 2001.

The Duke and Duchess of Kent on their wedding day in 1961

Although Edward’s 1961 wedding to Katharine Worsley, at York Minster cathedral, which had not been the setting of a royal wedding since the Middle Ages, had raised his public profile in the United Kingdom, Edward was not well known internationally until he represented the Queen at a series of independence ceremonies for new commonwealth nations including Sierra Leone, Uganda, Guyana and The Gambia. As royal historian Hugo Vickers has recently written, Uganda’s first executive Prime Minister Milton Obote did not consider the Duke of Kent to be a sufficiently senior member of the royal family to represent the Queen when Uganda formalized its independence, describing Edward as “a young man and totally unknown in Uganda.”

Despite the skepticism that greeted his arrival in Uganda for the independence celebrations, the Duke received popular acclaim for his speech, which expressed his admiration for the Ugandan people and hopes for the newly independent nation. Edward stated, “This lovely country which is your home was once aptly described as “a fairy tale” – a description given to it by one of the greatest men of our time, Sir Winston Churchill, who came to Uganda nearly sixty years ago.  In Uganda, he continued, “There is discipline, there is industry, there is peace”.  And, “From end to end, it is one beautiful garden.”

It was a well-deserved tribute, as my wife and I have been able to see for ourselves; it is now in your hands to preserve this good repute; to ensure that your country’s name is respected by other nations, not only in the vast Continent of Africa but throughout the world, and to build it into a nation that is envied everywhere for its stability, and for its happiness.” The full text of the Duke of Kent’s 1962 speech is available here.

Sadly, the people of Uganda experienced little stability or happiness during the first fifty years following independence. Obote was deposed in 1971 and replaced by the military dictator Idi Amin, whose eight year reign of terror resulted in the mass killings of 300,000 Ugandans. More recently, the civil war between the Ugandan government and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistence Army, which is notorious for the use of child soldiers, has killed thousands and displaced millions. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of independence, many Ugandans have expressed disappointment in the current state of the country.

The combined celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Uganda’s Golden Jubilee provides an opportunity for Uganda to begin a new chapter in its history. The stability and happiness predicted by the Duke of Kent in 1962 may finally occur in the twenty-first century as Uganda gradually rebuilds after decades of warfare. The Duke of Kent’s presence for the fiftieth anniversary of Ugandan independence represents the continuity of the monarchy’s relationship with this troubled commonwealth nation and the royal family’s hopes that the next fifty years will bring more stability and happiness to Uganda.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection by Deirdre Kelly (Review)

King Louis XIV of France is remembered as Europe’s longest reining monarch, an absolutist ruler who exerted his will over the nobility and presided over a glittering court at Versailles. The King’s contributions to the history of ballet are less well known. Like his father, Louis XIII, Louis XIV performed in court ballets, ultimately dancing eighty roles in forty different court productions. The King took this activity seriously, sometimes rehearsing six hours a day before a performance. The orderly precision of the dance appealed to Louis, who spent his part of his childhood amidst the Fronde rebellion of the nobility. Ballet performances emphasized the strict hierarchy of the court, with the Sun King presiding over noble fellow performers organized according to their rank.

King Louis XIV performing the role of Apollo in the 1663 Ballet de la Nuit.

When the King stopped performing in middle age, he continued to support the development of the ballet as an art form, founding a theatre school in 1669 that trained both male and female dancers for the stage. While noblewomen had participated in court performances throughout the seventeenth century, Louis XIV’s theatre school gave ordinary women a chance at social advancement as ballerinas. In Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, journalist and dance critic Deirdre Kelly chronicles the fascinating double life of the ballerina, personifying perfection on the stage and facing poverty, exploitation and unsafe working conditions behind the curtain.

In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most of the young women who joined the French ballet came from the opposite end of the social spectrum than the monarch. Many were the children of single mothers in Paris’s poorest neighbourhoods, who viewed the ballet as a chance at social advancement that would lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Prince Frederick Adolph of Sweden (1750-1803)

Since the ballet itself paid most dancers too little to cover their lavish costumes and other expenses, most acquired wealthy patrons and the most successful became mistresses of royalty. Philippe d’Orleans, regent to Louis XIV’s great-grandson and successor, Louis XV had an affair with Emilie Dupré, a ballerina with peasant origins. Sophie Hagman, a dancer in the Royal Swedish ballet, began her life as the daughter of a gamekeeper but eventually became the official mistress of Prince Frederick Adolf of Sweden. Kelly provides countless other examples of women from humble origins who used the role of the ballerina-courtesan to rise to the pinnacle of high society.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Kelly`s work is how the life of a ballerina was often opposed to the prevailing trends regarding women`s place in society. In the late eighteenth century, when women were supposed to be subordinate to their husbands and fathers, dancers and singers employed by the Paris Opera were legally emancipated from their authority of the parents and spouses.

In the nineteenth century, when women were idealized as paragons of domestic virtue, ballerinas were subject to the advances of men who paid for access to the backstage areas of theatres. When women gained rights in most workplaces during the 1960s and 1970s, ballerinas working for the autocratic artistic director George Balanchine were discouraged from marrying, having children or maintaining a healthy weight. Only in the late 20th and 21st centuries did ballerinas negotiate better working conditions and gained public respect as athletes as well as artists.

Kelly’s account of the 18th and 19th century French ballet and the modern struggle for better working conditions within the ballet is well researched and engagingly written. The chapter concerning the Imperial Russian ballet, however, contains some surprising historical inaccuracies and omissions. Kelly implies that Mathilde Kschessinska, one of the last royal ballerina-courtesans was the lifelong mistress of Emperor Nicholas II when there is no evidence of physical relationship after the ruler’s ascension to the throne and marriage to Alexandra of Hesse in 1894. Kelly also reprints a few anecdotes from Kschessinska’s problematic memoirs, Dancing in St. Petersburg that have been proven false by historians, most notably Coryne Hall in Imperial Dancer.

Since Kelly presents the ballerina courtesan as a consummate survivor, I was surprised by the absence of Antonina Nesterovskaya from her narrative. This former Imperial Russian ballet dancer successfully negotiated the release of her husband Prince Gabriel Konstantinovich from imprisonment during the Russian Revolution by arguing that only a Prince who had accepted socialism would have legally married a humble ballerina. Nesterovskaya’s brave actions and the couple’s escape to Paris is told in Gabriel’s memoirs, Memories in The Marble Palace.

Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection is an engaging history of the life of the ballerina from King Louis XIV’s court to the modern workplace negotiation table. The life of ballerina was often very different from the perfect grace displayed on the stage or the expectations faced by the women in audience. Kelly presents the ballerina as a survivor, finding opportunities for social advancement and artistic perfection within the most difficult conditions.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather