Author Archives: CarolynHarris

Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen by Alison Weir (Review)

King Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, has emerged from the shadows. After decades of obscurity compared to her son’s six wives, Elizabeth is now the subject of popular biographies and historical novels alike including Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy License and The White Princess by Philippa Gregory. The England of Elizabeth’s lifetime has also captured the public’s imagination. The recent discovery of the remains of Elizabeth’s uncle, Richard III, has revived interest in the Battle of Bosworth Field where her future husband, Henry Tudor seized the crown and founded a new dynasty that united the Houses of Lancaster and York. In Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Alison Weir, author of sixteen medieval and Tudor biographies and five historical novels tells the story of the first Tudor Queen and her tumultuous times.

Elizabeth was popular in her own lifetime and idealized by Victorian biographers because she appeared to be the ideal Tudor wife, mother and queen consort, providing quiet support and legitimacy for Henry VII’s rule. While source material concerning Elizabeth’s life, particularly before her marriage, is frustratingly incomplete compared to her more famous children and grandchildren, Weir emphasizes evidence that she exerted influence over her family and court. The “Song of Lady Bessy” imagined her actively plotting to place Henry Tudor on the throne and secure their marriage. Her account books as queen reveal her extensive charitable activities and court patronage. Elizabeth also worked with her powerful mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, to influence Henry VII’s policies, particularly the dynastic marriages of her children. There are a few places where speculation is presented as fact, most notably Weir’s controversial view that Elizabeth “was actively pushing” for a marriage to her uncle, Richard III, but most of the analysis of Elizabeth’s character is clearly supported by surviving source material.

In additional to revealing Elizabeth’s full role at the Tudor court, Weir provides an evocative portrait of her world. Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, imitated the sumptuous display of the Burgundian court and the young princess therefore grew up in an atmosphere of great luxury. At the same time, the political circumstances of the Wars of the Roses made her position precarious. She experienced two periods of sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and was declared illegitimate by Richard III before becoming Henry VII’s queen. The disappearance of Elizabeth’s brothers, the Princes in the Tower, remains a mystery to the present day. Weir is critical of revisionist interpretations of Richard III’s reign and blames him for the death of his nephews, summarizing convincing evidence from her previous book, The Princes in the Tower.

The second two thirds of the book is stronger than the first because there are more sources about Elizabeth’s time as a queen than a princess. The early chapters would benefit from a more thorough discussion of English attitudes toward female succession in the Middle Ages. Weir writes, “in the fifteenth century it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne” but there had actually been plenty of debate about women’s succession rights. William the Conqueror’s granddaughter, Matilda, briefly held power in 1141, during a Civil War with her cousin, King Stephen.

England explicitly upheld women’s succession rights during the reign of Edward III when a proposal to introduce a Salic law was defeated by parliament. The Wars of Roses resulted in both men and women losing succession rights that they would have enjoyed in peacetime. Outside England, there were prominent examples of female rulers in the fifteenth century including Queen Isabella of Castile and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. A key reason why Henry Tudor was determined to marry Elizabeth, and there was speculation that Richard III contemplated marrying his niece, was because she was a rival claimant to the throne.

Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen is a well written and interesting portrait of Elizabeth of York’s life and times. Weir captures the unique circumstances of Elizabeth’s world, which combined sumptuous display and deadly political intrigue. Greater attention to the medieval English debate over female succession would have made the narrative stronger, demonstrating how Elizabeth’s granddaughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I were able to establish themselves as England’s first undisputed female rulers.

 

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The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Celebrate Their 9th Anniversary

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on the balcony of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton during their 2009 tour of Canada.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on the balcony of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton during their 2009 tour of Canada.

After nine years of marriage to Prince Charles, the former Camilla Parker Bowles has been accepted by the public as a respected member of the royal family. I discussed how the Duchess’s image has improved over the course of her marriage in an interview with Eun Kim at Today.com

Click here to read “Prince Charles, Camilla celebrate 9 years of marriage — and an improved image” at Today.com

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George in Australia and New Zealand

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and family dog Lupo in the window Kensington Palace.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and family dog Lupo in the window Kensington Palace.

I am quoted in Janet Davison’s article “Baby Prince George off on first royal tour to Australia, N.Z.” at CBC.ca. I discuss the colourful history of royal tours of Australia, which includes an assassination attempt and a train crash, as well as the significance of the upcoming royal tour. William, Kate and George arrive in Wellington, New Zealand on April 7.

Click here to read the article at CBC.ca

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The Monarchy in Canada: HRH The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles)

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

My article in the Canadian Encyclopedia about the Prince of Wales was published today. The piece focuses on the Prince’s time in Canada as well his philanthropy and philosophy on the natural world.

Click here to read Prince Charles (HRH The Prince of Wales) in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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The Monarchy in Canada: Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother by Richard Stone in 1986

Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother by Richard Stone in 1986

My latest article for the Canadian Encyclopedia is a biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900-2002) with a focus on her impact in Canada. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in 1939, the first Canadian visit by a reigning monarch.  During her fifty year widowhood, the Queen Mother visited Canada on numerous occasions and there were rumors that she would be appointed Governor General during the 1950s. During her long lifetime, the Queen Mother became honourary Colonel-in-Chief of Canadian military regiments and a patron of Canadian charities.

Click here to read the full article on the Queen Mother in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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Royal Chat: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Tour with Prince George

On Tuesday March 11 at 1pm, I will be participating in a Canada.com online chat about 2014 royal events including the upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George.

Click here to read the chat and join in with your questions!

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Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government and the Postwar Commonwealth by Philip Murphy (Review)

The second Monday in March is Commonwealth Day and Queen Elizabeth II will mark the occasion by attending a multi-faith service at Westminster Abbey with the Duke of Edinburgh, High Commissioners, Commonwealth dignitaries and young people from around the world. Women’s education advocate Malala Yousafzai will deliver the keynote address. The 2000 person congregation will be the largest Commonwealth Day observance but similar events will take place around the world including a Canadian Commonwealth Day Observance Service in Toronto, in the presence of The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

In the twenty-first century, the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth as a family of nations are synonymous in the popular imagination. Recent coverage of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGMs) has emphasized the importance of these events for the Queen and the future of the monarchy. In 2011, coverage of the Perth CHOGM focused on the support for succession reform in the sixteen Commonwealth Realms where the Queen is Head of State. In 2013, the presence of the Prince of Wales in Sri Lanka, representing the Queen, sparked discussion of the changing face of the monarchy as the Queen’s children and grandchildren assume more of the royal duties and overseas engagements once undertaken by the monarch.

In Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Postwar Commonwealth, Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Professor of British and Commonwealth Studies at the University of London explains that the current “Royal Commonwealth” was a controversial idea for much of the organization’s history. As much of the former British Empire transformed into a Commonwealth of independent nations after the Second World War, it seemed inevitable that the connection with the monarchy would gradually weaken. Newly independent African nations were encouraged to become republics rather than constitutional monarchies. The Queen took her role as Head of the Commonwealth seriously and became the most traveled monarch in history but the desirability of a “ceremonial head” for the Commonwealth was a matter of debate.

For Canadian readers, there is plenty of fascinating material about the decline and rebirth of the Canadian monarchy during the reign of Elizabeth II. In recent years, Australia had a referendum about the future of the monarchy while Canada was chosen as a friendly destination for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first overseas tour as a married couple in 2011. During the 1960s, Canada was the nation that appeared more likely to become a republic as the Quiet Revolution fostered negative attitudes toward the Crown in Quebec and prominent Canadians mused about the gradual decline of the monarchy in Canada. The Duke of Edinburgh’s remark at a 1969 Ottawa press conference, “We don’t come here for our health…we can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves” has been dismissed as a gaffe but Prince Philip was actually making a larger point about how monarchy exists in the interests of the people rather than the monarch.

Murphy also provides a fresh perspective on the Queen through his analysis of the Commonwealth. A number of recent biographies focus on her role as Queen of the United Kingdom and therefore emphasize her ceremonial role. By looking at the Queen through the context of the Commonwealth, Murphy reveals her multifaceted political influence around the world over the course of her reign. The Queen supported sanctions to aid the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and encouraged continued democracy in Ghana. Murphy also illuminates the influence of gender on public perceptions of the monarchy. Just as the public saw Queen Victoria as the “mother” of the British Empire, Elizabeth II has been viewed as a maternal figure for the Commonwealth.

Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Postwar Commonwealth is an erudite and engaging study of the relationship between the monarchy and the Commonwealth since the Second World War. For the past sixty-two years, the Queen has been the one constant figure in the organization, her role endlessly scrutinized by successive governments around the world. It remains to be seen if the current model of a “royal commonwealth” will remain successful during future reigns.

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Princess Louise and the Founding of the National Gallery of Canada

 

Princess Louise in Canada, dressed for an Ottawa winter.

Princess Louise in Canada

My column in this weekend’s edition of the Kingston Whig Standard looks at the role of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise in founding of the National Gallery and Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Louise’s husband, Lord Lorne was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883 and the Princess resided at Rideau Hall, Ottawa for long periods during that time. Louise was a trained painter and sculptor and she was eager to develop national institutions where Canadian artists could share their work with the public and attract patrons.

Click here to read “Princess Louise and the Founding of the National Gallery of Canada” in the Kingston Whig Standard.

Interested in learning more about Princess Louise in Canada. See Carolyn Harris, “Royalty at Rideau Hall: Lord Lorne, Princess Louise and the Emergence of the Canadian Crown” in eds. D. Michael Jackson and Philippe Lagassé, Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy (2014)

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When Catherine the Great Invaded The Crimea And Put The Rest of the World On Edge

Portrait of Catherine the Great as a Legislator in the Temple Devoted to the Godess of Justice by Dmitri Levitsky, early 1780s.

Portrait of Catherine the Great as a Legislator in the Temple Devoted to the Goddess of Justice by Dmitri Levitsky, early 1780s.

My article in Smithsonian Magazine, “When Catherine the Great Invaded The Crimea And Put The Rest of the World On Edge” looks at the original annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Empire during the reign of Empress Catherine II in the late eighteenth century. Catherine presented herself to the world as an “enlightened” despot who ruled according to the law, and considered the welfare of her subjects.  Her foreign policy and treatment of internal dissent, however, demonstrated that she saw did not observe any constraints on her power. For centuries the Crimean peninsula and other regions of the modern day Ukraine have been one of Europe’s battlegrounds. Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin is following in a long tradition of Russian leaders expanding their political influence at the expense of Ukrainian autonomy.

Click here to read “When Catherine the Great Invaded The Crimea And Put The Rest of the World On Edge” in Smithsonian Magazine. 

Interested in learning more about Catherine the Great and The History of the Ukraine?

Books about Catherine the Great

Simon Dixon, Catherine The Great (2010).

Isabel de Madariaga, Catherine the Great: A Short History; Second Edition (2002).

Robert K. Massie, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (2011).

Books about the Ukraine

Anna Reid, Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine (2000).

Paul Robert Magocsi, Ukraine: An Illustrated History, (2013).

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