On April 29, 2013, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrated their second anniversary. While the royal couple were almost universally praised during their first year of marriage, Catherine has been the target of criticism during the past year despite the happy news that the royal couple’s first child will arrive in July. Recent critiques and invasions of the couple’s privacy suggest that William and Catherine are still negotiating their relationship with the press.
My article in today’s Kingston Whig-Standard, “All Eyes on the New King” discusses the challenges facing the new King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who succeeded his mother, Queen Beatrix upon her abdication today. While the House of Orange-Nassau enjoyed near universal popularity during the Second World War, as a symbol of Dutch resistance and independence, there are now concerns that the royal family has become the most expensive in Europe and is more popular with older generations. It will be up to King Willem-Alexander, the first of Europe’s current generation of heirs to ascend to the throne to demonstrate the importance of the Dutch monarchy in the 21st century.
I will also be discussing the Dutch monarchy on CJAD 800 AM radio Montreal on April 30 at 1:30pm
My article in today’s Toronto Sun discusses the long relationship between Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the City of Toronto.
This morning (April 27), I joined the crowds outside Queen’s Park in Toronto to watch Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh present new colours to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. The ceremony was followed by a military parade in honour of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of York, during the War of 1812. Here are my photos from the royal visit:
Queen Elizabeth II’s consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, arrived in Toronto today, (April 26, 2013). The Duke of Edinburgh was named a Companion of the Order of Canada and will be presenting new colours to the 3rd Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment tomorrow, (April 27, 2013) I will be discussing the royal visit on CBC’s The National the evening of April 27.
Elizabeth of York, consort of the founder of the Tudor dynasty, King Henry VII, is the least well known of the Tudor Queens. Both Henry and Elizabeth have been reduced to one dimensional stereotypes in the popular imagination: Henry the miser and Elizabeth the dutiful wife and mother whose image is the model for the queen on playing cards. In contrast, their son Henry VIII has been the subject of both scholarly analysis and popular biographies, which scrutinize all the known evidence concerning his personality, religious reforms, cultural patronage and his famous marriages.
Henry VIII’s six wives, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr are the subjects of individual and collective studies that discuss them as private women and as queens. Many of Elizabeth of York’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, such as Queen Mary I, Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots are iconic figures in their own right. In Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen, Amy Licence, author of Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen and In Bed with the Tudors brings the first Tudor queen out of obscurity, looking at Henry VII’s consort within the context of her times and discussing her role in establishing the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.
Throughout Elizabeth of York, Licence emphasizes the importance of viewing the Plantagenet princess and Tudor queen through the worldview of the late 15th century. Recent historical fiction featuring Elizabeth has speculated that the young princess was attracted to the power and personality of her uncle, Richard III, on the basis of an incomplete and no longer extant letter than might refer to any number of marriage plans for the King’s niece. Earlier speculation concerning Elizabeth imagined a romance with the future Henry VII, although it is unlikely that they met before he became King and their marriage was a foregone conclusion.
Licence reminds her readers that romance would have had little influence on Elizabeth’s choices or the choices that were made for her. As the eldest daughter of King Edward IV, her duty was to make a royal marriage that advanced the interests of her family. Once her Uncle, Richard III, seized the English throne in 1483, all Edward IV’s children were declared illegitimate and her brothers, the famous “Princes in the Tower” disappeared, it became all the more important that Elizabeth devote herself to restoring the fortunes of her mother and sisters. Drawing on scholarly studies such as Elizabeth of Yorkby Arlene Naylor Okerlund, Licence speculates that the princess may have served as a kind of spy for her mother, Elizabeth Woodville and future mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort at the court of Richard III.
Licence’s discussion of the culture of late 15th century suggests some revealing conclusions about the major figures in Elizabeth’s life. The marriage between her parents, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, took place in secret on the May Day, when the boundaries within the social hierarchy were temporarily set aside. The timing, secrecy and Edward IV’s rumoured history of going through some form of marriage with women who resisted his advances suggests that he may have planned initially to repudiate the union. Licence also looks at Richard III’s reputation during his reign, before the Tudors came to power, highlighting evidence that he was already rumoured to have murdered his nephews before he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485.
The final chapter of Elizabeth of York is the strongest because the best documented year of the Queen’s life was the last one before she died of childbirth in 1503 at the age of 37. Elizabeth’s accounts in the last year of her life reveal an active queen consort whose reputation for charity and intercession tempered Henry VII’s perceived severity and frugality. Records of her religious donations and pilgrimages reveal a strong identification with the Virgin Mary as an intercessor and bereaved mother. Elizabeth’s devotions increased after the death of her eldest son Arthur and she and Henry VII appear to have been particularly united in the aftermath of this family tragedy.
As Queen, Elizabeth of York is less well documented than future generations of Tudor women but Amy Licence reveals hints of the personality behind the illustration on playing cards to a broad popular audience in Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Elizabeth’s Yorkist ancestry, popularity with the English people and intercessory activities were crucial to establishing the Tudors as a legitimate dynasty during the reign of Henry VII>
Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 87th birthday today, April 21, 2013. The Queen is spending the day privately with her family at Windsor Castle. Tomorrow, the Queen’s birthday will be marked by the traditional 41-gun salute from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at noon tomorrow in London’s Green Park. The comparatively modest celebrations in honour of the Queen’s actual birthday contrast with the fireworks, parades and public holidays that accompany the sovereign’s official birthday, which takes place on various dates in different regions of the Commonwealth. The celebration of a monarch’s official birthday on a different date that the actual birthday dates from 1748 when the annual Spring Trooping the Colour became a celebration of the monarch as well as the military.
The earliest versions of the Trooping the Colour parade date from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. At this event, regiments displayed their flags enabling all soldiers to recognize their regimental colours for use as a rallying point in battle. While the Trooping the Colour parade usually occurred during the warmer months of the year, the sovereign’s actual birthday varied, sometimes taking place at times that were less suitable for outdoor public celebrations. When the War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1748, the British Government decided to combine the celebration of the sovereign’s official birthday with the Trooping the Colour Parade.
The King at the time, George II, had led the troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 and was closely associated in the popular imagination with his role as Commander-in-Chief. The parade took place again with the ascension of King George III in 1760 and became an annual tradition with the ascension of George IV in 1820.
In 1901, King Edward VII, whose actual birthday was November 9, decreed that the Trooping the Colour should always take place in June, when the weather was more likely to be appropriate for an outdoor parade. Edward VII was also the first monarch to personally review the troops during the Trooping the Colour, attracting large crowds eager to see the sovereign parade down the Mall from Buckingham Palace after the decades of seclusion observed by the King’s mother, Queen Victoria.
The commonwealth nations have their own royal birthday traditions that often occur on different dates from both the sovereign’s actual birthday and the official celebrations in the United Kingdom. While the Trooping the Colour parade does not occur on a public holiday in the United Kingdom, a number of commonwealth nations observe the monarch’s birthday with a statutory holiday.
In 1845, the parliament of the Province of Canada declared Queen Victoria’s birthday, May 24, a public holiday. On the Queen’s 35th birthday in 1854, 5,000 residents of Canada West (now the province of Ontario) gathered outside Government House, (near King and Simcoe streets in modern day Toronto) to raise three cheers for Queen Victoria. After confederation in 1867, Victoria Day celebrations expanded to encompass picnics, fireworks, athletic events and torchlight parades. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, the Monday before May 24 remained a public holiday to honour the late sovereign for her role in Canada’s confederation. Victoria Day became Canada’s celebration of the reigning monarch’s official birthday with the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.
In Australia, the monarch’s birthday has been a public holiday since 1788. Australian celebrations took place on the monarch’s actual birthday until the death of King George V when all Australian provinces but one agreed to celebrate on the second Monday in June each year. The province of Western Australia is the exception, celebrating the Queen’s birthday on either the last weekend of September or the first weekend of October to avoid conflict with Western Australia day in June. Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands celebrate the Queen’s birthday at the same time as most of Australia while New Zealand observes the occasion on the first Monday in June.
Changes to the observance of the sovereign’s birthday have been a source of controversy. When Fiji became a Republic in 1987, following a military coup d’etat, the new government bowed to popular opinion and retained the Queen’s birthday as a public holiday. In 2012, the military government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama abolished this occasion. Labour ministry spokesman Jone Usamate explained the unpopular decision to remove a public holiday, stating, “The Queen’s birthday’s importance disappeared from Fiji when we became a republic and now our status is an independent nation. There is a focus on more productivity and growth, so as a result the decision was made to cut down on the number of holidays in Fiji, as holidays can be a burden on business and government.”
In Bermuda, the Progressive Labour Party government announced plans in 2008 to eliminate the June Queen’s Birthday holiday and replace it with a National Heroes’ Day in October. The decision resulted in 2,000 of Bermuda’s 65,000 residents signing an online petition to save the public holiday. “Clearly, the removal of our sovereign’s birthday as a public holiday is inexcusable,” stated petition creator Cameron Hollis, calling the decision “a blatant insult to Her Majesty.” Despite the protests, the Queen’s birthday was abolished as a public holiday in Bermuda in 2009.
The Queen’s actual birthday is today, April 21, but celebration of her official birthday varies across the Commonwealth. While the Trooping the Colour does not occur on a public holiday in the United Kingdom, the monarch’s official birthday is a statutory holiday in many commonwealth nations. Attempts to change the status of the Queen’s birthday in British overseas territories, such as Bermuda, or former commonwealth realms, such as Fiji, have sparked controversy as the holiday honouring the monarch is popular in numerous regions of the world.
Anne Boleyn is the most famous of King Henry VIII’s six wives because every era creates their own version of her that best suits the times. Changing attitudes toward women over the centuries also changed Anne’s reputation. In The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen, feminist scholar Susan Bordo reveals just how little we know of Anne’s actual relationship with Henry VIII then provides as fascinating cultural history of the famous queen over the centuries.
In the reign of Mary I, the stepdaughter who blamed Anne for the collapse of her parents’ marriage, the queen was a scheming temptress, leading Henry VIII away from the papacy with her feminine wiles. In the reign of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I, Anne was reborn as the Protestant champion who brought much needed religious reform to England. This religious reputation persisted into the seventeenth century.
In the 19th century, much of the English public viewed Anne Boleyn as the innocent victim of Tudor tyranny similar to Lady Jane Grey. Jane Austen believed that Anne was indeed an innocent victim while Charles Dickens broke with prevailing wisdom to suggest that she might have been the author of her own demise. The historical novels of the 20th century introduced a new Anne Boleyn, the plucky, vivacious young woman who was destroyed by her ambition and her marriage to Henry VIII. In the 1969 film, Anne Of The Thousand Days, Anne openly challenges the King until the end of her life, suffering a marriage that ends disastrously because their passions only briefly overlap.
For the twenty-first century, historical novelist Philippa Gregory revived the old sixteenth century image of Anne the scheming temptress, stopping at nothing to achieve her ambitions in The Other Boleyn Girl. Meanwhile, actress Natalie Dormer portrayed an Anne who was intelligent as well as alluring in the Showtime series, The Tudors, an interpretation that has made Anne an inspiration to countless young women.
After Anne was executed in 1536, Henry VIII appears to have destroyed her letters to him as well as her portraits painted from life. As a result, much of what historians know about the relationship between Henry and Anne comes the dispatches of Eustace Chapuys, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s Ambassador to England. Chapuys was a strong supporter of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, his master’s Aunt, and inevitably described Anne in extremely negative terms. Despite the clear bias of Chapuys’ writings, Bordo reveals that they had a profound impact on future scholars and novelists alike, creating a received wisdom about Anne’s ambition, character and sexuality. Balanced and critical biographies, such as The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives are comparatively few.
Bordo’s work stands out from all other scholarship about Anne Boleyn because she takes the popular influence of historical fiction seriously. Historians rarely engage with fictional portrayals of historical figures beyond the most famous works such as William Shakespeare’s plays. Bordo’s research shows that so many aspects of Anne Boleyn’s life that the public believes it “knows” actually emerged from fictional accounts that became received wisdom.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Bordo’s work is her interviews with the various actresses who played Anne Boleyn over the decades including Geneviève Bujold from Anne Of The Thousand Days and Natalie Dormer from The Tudors. Both Bujold and Dormer did their own research about Anne Boleyn’s life and brought new insights to their portrayals of the famous queen. In contrast the cast of the 2008 film version of The Other Boleyn Girl appear to have been almost entirely ignorant of both the actual historical figures they portrayed and the nature of historical scholarship.
I highly recommend The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen to anyone interested in either the historical Anne Boleyn or the broader impact of popular culture and changing attitudes toward women on historical figures. I hope that additional books of this kind are written about other women in history with a significant modern pop culture presence including Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia and her daughters and Anne Boleyn’s own daughter Elizabeth I.
As of last week, British bookmakers slashed the odds to 2-1 that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child, expected this July, will be a daughter and that her name will be Alexandra. The addition of Alexandra to the list of most likely names for a Princess, which includes Elizabeth, Diana and Victoria, has prompted speculation of an information leak from the royal household. If the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s child is indeed a girl, Alexandra would be an entirely appropriate name for a Princess and future queen. The name has a long royal history and is currently a popular baby name among Europe’s royal, princely and grand ducal houses. I discuss how royal baby names are chosen in more detail in an interview with the Associated Press published in numerous newspapers today.
In medieval Scotland, Alexander (or Alasdair as it is translated in modern Scots Gaelic) was a popular name for Kings. King Alexander I of Scotland (r. 1107-1124), nicknamed “The Fierce,” was a complex figure famous for both his piety and his ruthlessness. According to chronicler John of Fordun, “Now the king was a lettered and godly man; very humble and amiable towards the clerics and regulars, but terrible beyond measure to the rest of his subjects; a man of large heart, exerting himself in all things beyond his strength.”
King Alexander II of Scotland (r. 1214-1249) joined the English Barons in their struggle against King John, becoming a party to Magna Carta. According to chronicler Matthew of Paris, “[King John] taunted King Alexander, and because he was red-headed, sent word to him, saying, ‘so shall we hunt the red fox-cub from his lairs.” Alexander II ultimately achieved a period of peace with England by marrying King Henry III’s sister Joan in 1221. At the time of his death in 1249, Alexander II was attempting to gain control of the Western Isles from Norway.
Alexander II’s only child, Alexander III (r. 1249-1286) was the last King from the Scottish House of Dunkeld. The premature deaths of all three of Alexander III’s children prompted a succession crisis after the King died suddenly in 1286 by accidentally riding his horse over a cliff at night. King Edward I of England assumed the right to choose the new Scottish dynasty, prompting the Scottish Wars of Independence, which lasted until England acknowledged the authority of King Robert the Bruce in 1327. The choice of Alexandra as a name for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first born child would honour Scotland’s royal history.
The first English royal child to receive a feminine variant of Alexander as her first name was the future Queen Victoria. At the Princess’s christening in 1819, the only name her assembled relatives could agree upon was “Alexandrina” because her godfather was Emperor Alexander I of Russia. The baby’s father, Duke of Kent, stated that the child should also receive her mother’s name “Victoria” but that it should not precede the name honouring Alexander I. Victoria spent her infancy as baby “Drina” before assuming her second name for the rest of her life.
Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the future King Edward VII, married the most famous Alexandra in British royal history, Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863. The marriage was immensely popular with Queen Victoria’s subjects. The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson penned A Welcome to Alexandra, which read “Sea King’s daughter from over the sea, Alexandra! Saxon and Norman and Dane are we, But all of us Danes in our welcome of thee, Alexandra!” While the future Edward VII’s reputation varied over the course of his lifetime because of his gambling and mistresses, Alexandra remained consistently popular for her beauty, sense of style, social graces and devotion to her children.
While none of Queen Victoria’s daughters received Alexandra as a first name, it was a popular name amongst her granddaughters and great-granddaughters. Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, the daughter of Victoria’s second daughter Alice, assumed the name Alexandra Feodorovna as the consort of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia. As a Russian Empress, Alexandra became a controversial figure because of her perceived distaste for the Russian aristocracy, reliance on Gregory Rasputin as a faith healer for her hemophiliac son Alexei, and political influence during the First World War. Empress Alexandra was murdered by Bolshevik Revolutionaries along with her husband, children and servants in 1918.
Other descendants of Queen Victoria named Alexandra include Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the third daughter of the Queen’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. She married a minor German Prince, Ernst II, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, and became a Red Cross nurse during the First World War.
Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife, eldest daughter of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra named her elder daughter Alexandra in honour of her mother. The young Alexandra of Fife was styled a Princess by her grandfather and succeeded her father to become Duchess of Fife in her own right.
Alexandra remains a popular baby name among Europe’s royal, princely and grand ducal houses. In 1991, Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg named their only daughter Alexandra. In 1999, Prince Ernst August V Hanover and Princess Caroline of Monaco also named their daughter Alexandra. If the current rumours are correct and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a daughter in July and choose the name Alexandra, they will be following a long royal tradition that dates from the medieval Kings of Scotland to the modern princesses of Luxembourg and Hanover.
The Wars of the Roses or “The Cousins Wars” as they were known in the fifteenth century are a difficult period for any historian. The Latin monastic chronicles that described the main events of the Middle Ages were going out of style at this time and England did not yet have a strong tradition of secular historical writing. The surviving primary sources often contradict one another, resulting in wildly different interpretations of the same historical figures.
The current controversy about whether King Richard III was an honorable Prince who assumed the throne in 1483 for the good of England or a power hungry usurper who ordered the murder of his nephews may never be resolved because of the absence of key sources. The lives of the mothers, wives and daughters of the Princes who fought in the Wars of the Roses are even more difficult to reconstruct. In Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses, Sarah Gristwood, a journalist and author of Elizabeth & Leicester and Arbella: England’s Lost Queen pieces together both the political role of the women of the Wars of the Roses and the social history of women at court in fifteenth century England.
Gristwood looks at seven pivotal figures from Henry VI’s coming of age in 1437 to the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509. Henry VI’s wife Marguerite of Anjou came from a family of powerful Queens and noblewomen. Marguerite’s grandmother Yolande of Aragon, was a patron of Joan of Arc who influenced King Charles VII of France’s rise to power during the Hundred Years War. When Henry VI developed what would now be diagnosed as catatonic schizophrenia, Marguerite assumed a leadership role at his court but discovered that the English were hostile to foreign queens assuming power.
Cecily Neville was the matriarch of the House of York, wife of Richard, Duke of York and mother of King Edward IV and King Richard III. Despite her influence over her husband and sons and connections to other powerful figures of the period, she has never been the subject of a full biography. Cecily’s youngest daughter, Margaret of York, supported the her family’s ambitions from Burgundy. Her support for Yorkist claimants to the English throne threatened the legitimacy of Margaret Beaufort’s son, Henry VII. Margaret Beaufort was a senior member of the House of Lancaster in England. Following the birth of her son, Henry Tudor, at the age of thirteen, she was unable to have more children and became fiercely ambitious for her only child.
Elizabeth Woodville was an unlikely Queen of England, a Lancastrian widow with two sons who caught the eye of Edward IV. Gristwood reminds her readers that Elizabeth Woodville was not simply a commoner who had married above her station but a descendant of the ruling House of Luxembourg through her mother. The favour shown to her numerous relatives at court alienated Edward IV’s supporters including Anne Neville’s father, the Earl of Warwick. Despite first marrying Marguerite of Anjou’s only son Edward then becoming the consort of Richard III, Anne is the most under-documented figure in Gristwood’s book. Gristwood speculates that she was politically marginalized by Richard III, who assumed control over her extensive lands in the North of England.
Following the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485, the Houses of Lancaster and York were united through the wedding of Henry VII to Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. The first Tudor queen is often assumed to have been a passive figure but Gristwood analyzes evidence that Elizabeth had been raised to become a queen and attempted to shape her own destiny at the court of Richard III. Elizabeth of York appears to have exerted a profound a influence on her daughters, Queen Margaret of Scotland and Queen Mary of France and her younger son, King Henry VIII.
Through her comparative study of the seven most prominent women of the Wars of the Roses, Gristwood reveals the abrupt changes in the fortune that were typical for royal and aristocratic families of the period. Cecily Neville narrowly missed her opportunity to become queen when her husband Richard of York was killed in battle. Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest son was born in sanctuary but she regained her throne when Edward IV triumphed over Marguerite of Anjou. Margaret Beaufort was accused of treason during the reign of Richard III then became a respected councillor to her son, Henry VII.
Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses is a fascinating joint biography of seven of the most prominent women in fifteenth century England. Gristwood makes excellent use of the limited source material about the women behind the conflict that defined the last decades of Plantagenet rule in England. The leadership roles assumed by the wives, mother and daughters of England’s last Plantagenet Kings set precedents for the famous reigning queens of the Tudor dynasty, Mary I and Elizabeth I.