My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia: Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – 2012

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

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

This year, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British and modern Canadian history, surpassing the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria (1837-1901) My most recent article in the Canadian Encyclopedia discusses Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the second to be celebrated after that of Queen  Victoria in 1897. I discuss the preparations for the celebrations, the Diamond Jubilee Medals in Canada, the Thames Diamond Jubilee river pageant and Commonwealth tours by members of the royal family including the Canadian tour by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in 2012.

Click here to read Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – 2012 in the Canadian Encyclopedia

CTV News coverage of my Magna Carta book tour

While I was in Saskatoon last week, CTV news visited my book signing at the University of Saskatchewan. I was interviewed about the my book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights and the cultural impact of Magna Carta.

Click here to watch my interview with CTV News Saskatchewan

My Magna Carta lecture series at Fort York this October

While Magna Carta is on display at Fort York in Toronto, I will be delivering a series of lectures based on my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, at the historic Blue Barracks, which will be transformed into the Runnymede pub for the duration of the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty and Legacy exhibition. Here is the lecture schedule:

October 7 and 8: King John and the Making of Magna Carta

Wednesday, October 7, 2 – 3 p.m.
Thursday, October 8, 8 – 9 p.m. (Pub open 6 – 10 pm)

When King John’s rebel barons presented him with terms of Magna Carta, they did not see themselves as revolutionaries but as guarantors of traditional English rights and customs. King John’s predecessors issued Coronation Charters promising to uphold traditional English customs and the rights of the barons and clergy. When King John refused to uphold these traditions and his barons rebelled, he was presented with Magna Carta, the first example of a king accepting limits on his power imposed by his subjects. Tickets are available here.

October 14 and 15: King Edward I “Longshanks” and Magna Carta in 1300

Wednesday, October 14, 2 – 3 p.m.
Thursday, October 15, 8 – 9 p.m (Pub open 6 – 10 pm)
Today, Edward I – known as Longshanks for his great height – is best known as the villain of Mel Gibson’s 1995 film Braveheart but in his own lifetime, he earned the respect of his English subjects through his military victories in Scotland and Wales. The King’s wars required the financial and military support of his people. In exchange for taxes and troops, Edward I’s subjects expected him to accept the terms of Magna Carta and Edward I reissued the document numerous times during his reign. Clauses from the Edward I’s Magna Carta remain on the Statute Books in the UK. Tickets are available here.

October 21 and 22: Magna Carta and the Making of the Modern World

Wednesday, October 21, 2 – 3 p.m.
Thursday, October 22, 8 – 9 p.m. (Pub open 6 – 10 pm)
In Tudor times, Magna Carta fell into obscurity and became an obscure legal document. A strong monarch seemed necessary to protect England for external threats and Shakespeare’s play, King John, does not even mention the Great Charter. Magna Carta emerged from obscurity because of the legal writing of Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) who argued that document was the foundation of all English liberties. Coke’s interpretation of Magna Carta informed the American and French Revolutions and the development of modern Canada, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Tickets are available here.

Click here to purchase my book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights


Friday Royal Read: The Crown and Parliament, edited by Michel Bédard and Philippe Lagassé

Crown and Parliament cover In 2011, the Queen and the Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Perth, Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. All sixteen Commonwealth realms agreed in principle to succession reform that would introduce absolute primogeniture. The monarch’s eldest child, male or female, would succeed to the throne. The succession reforms also addressed the 1701 Act of Settlement, which did not allow those married to Roman Catholics to retain their succession rights and the 1772 Royal Marriage Act. which required the descendants of King George II to receive the monarch’s permission to contract a valid marriage. The introduction of gender of equality in the British and Commonwealth monarchies followed the trend established by the other European monarchies but succession reform proved to be far more complicated for the House of Windsor.

While the sixteen commonwealth realms agreed on the importance of gender equality, reopening the question of the royal succession demonstrated the difficulties of sixteen commonwealth realms with different relationships with the monarchy passing similar legislation. In the United Kingdom, succession reform was criticized for not taking into account the land holdings that have traditionally passed to the heir to the throne through male preference primogeniture. In Australia, succession reform demonstrated the independence of the states in a federal system as Western Australia became the last region of the commonwealth to pass a royal succession bill before the changes came into force. In Canada, the government’s decision to assent to the British succession legislation rather than formulate its own reform legislation was controversial and is currently facing a court challenge.

La Couronne et le Parlement/The Crown and Parliament, which emerged from the May 2014 conference by the Canadian Study of Parliament Group is an essential resource for the debate concerning succession reform in Canada. The four chapters in the book concerning succession reform address all sides of the debate. Anne Twomey’s chapter, “The Succession to the Crown of Canada” is particularly fascinating as it compares Canada’s approach to succession reform to the changes enacted in other Commonwealth realms and compares modern succession reform to the Dominion response to the Abdication crisis of 1936. In the chapter on “The Crown and Constitutional Amendment” in Canada, Philippe Lagassé and Patrick Baud examine Section 41a of the Constitution Act of 1982, which concerns changes to the office of the queen, looking at the implications of the various interpretations of this passage for succession reform and the broader role of the Crown in Canada. In contrast, Mark D. Walters and The Honorable Serge Joyal discuss the Canadian assent to British succession reform legislation in successive chapters, discussing crown identification and the development of the constitutional monarchy in Canada.

In addition to explaining all sides of the Canadian debate on succession reform, the essays in La Couronne et le Parlement/The Crown and Parliament provide important historical and political context for the modern relationship between the Crown and Parliament, beginning with an overview of the history two institutions by André Émond. Political innovations that reflected the circumstances of individual reigns set established precedents in the relationship between Crown and Parliament. For example, prior to the reign of Henry VIII, royal assent was granted by the monarch in person at a ceremony where the entire text of a bill was read aloud. That changed in 1541 when Henry VIII expressed reluctance to give personal royal assent to the Bill of Attainder that condemned his 5th wife, Catherine Howard to death. The result was a new process of granting royal assent to legislation, royal assent by commission.

As David Smith, author of The Invisible Crown: The First Principle of Canadian Government observes in his chapter about Parliament and the Crown, there is a divide between public perceptions of the Governor General’s position and the constitutional role of the Crown. La Couronne et le Parlement/The Crown and Parliament bridges this divide by bringing together a broad range on scholarship on Canada’s political institutions. The book is essential reading for any Canadian who wants to learn more about the crucial relationship between the Crown and Parliament.

Next Week:  The Tudor Kitchen: What the Tudors Ate & Drank by Terry Breverton

Interview with the University of Regina and 10 Things You Didn’t Know about Magna Carta

I will be speaking at the University of Regina on September 29 about Magna Carta and the Making of the Modern World at 7pm. My interview with the University of Regina discusses history, the enduring impact of Magna Carta and my great-granduncle Robert Leith “Dinny” Hanbidge, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan from 1963 to 1970.

Click here to read my interview with the University of Regina

On November 26, I will be giving lectures on Magna Carta in Edmonton, the last stop for the Magna Carta Canada touring exhibition in 2015. The Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta has compiled a list of “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Magna Carta” from my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Click here to read 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Magna Carta

Click here to purchase my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Magna Carta Book Signings and Lectures in Saskatoon and Regina

Here is my schedule of Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights book signings and lectures in Saskatchewan September 28 and 29, 2015. All are welcome:

September 28: Saskatoon

12pm: “Magna Carta and The Making of the Modern World” lecture at the University of Saskatchewan, Room 150, MLT Lecture Theatre, College of Law

3-5pm: Book Signing at Indigo Centre, Saskatoon, 3322 8th St East

September 29: Regina

12-2pm, Book Signing at Chapters Regina, 2625 Gordon Road

7pm “Magna Carta and the Making of the World” lecture at the University of Regina, Dr. John Archer Library

Click here to purchase Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights


Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada Reviewed in Canadian Materials Magazine

My book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights has been reviewed in Canadian Materials Magazine, which recommends resources for teachers and librarians across Canada.

“Secondary school and public libraries across Canada should add Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada to their collections. Librarians and booksellers will want to recommend this volume to history buffs and civics teachers alike. Highly Recommended.

Click here to read the full review in Canadian Materials Magazine

Click here to purchase Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Friday Royal Read: Becoming a Romanov: Grand Duchess Elena of Russia and Her World (1807-1873) by Marina Soroka and Charles A. Rudd

The four daughters of Russia’s last Emperor, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, are well known in the English speaking world. They have been the subject of popular biographies, most recently The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport and Road to Ekaterinburg:Nicholas and Alexandra’s daughters by ECS Banks, as well as historical novels. In contrast, the Grand Duchesses at the courts of nineteenth century Czars, the daughters and daughters-in-law of Paul I, Nicholas I and Alexander II are little known outside of Russia.

Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, the wife of Catherine the Great’s youngest grandson, Michael Pavlovich, assumed in her own lifetime that she would be the subject of a biography and carefully curated her own papers. Despite her extraordinary accomplishments, she has disappeared into near obscurity, the subject of a few academic conference papers and a chapter in Charlotte Zeepvat’s Romanov Autumn. In Becoming a Romanov: Grand Duchess Elena of Russia and Her World (1807-1873), Elena finally receives the full length biography she expected and deserves. University of Western Ontario professors Marina Soroko and Charles A. Rudd bring the Grand Duchess and 19th century St. Petersburg to life.

Elena displayed a strong personality and intellectual curiosity from her childhood as a Princess of Wurttemburg, Germany. When she was seventeen and had only been at the Russian court for a year, she informed the author of a multivolume history of Russia, “I know your work sir, and do not think I have only read it only in translation, I also read it in Russian.” In middle age, she tackled Russia’s social and political problems, advising her nephew the “Czar-Liberator” Alexander II in his plan to free the serfs. During the Crimean War, she acted as Russia’s Florence Nightingale, founding an order of nurses that developed into the Russian branch of the Red Cross. Her palace was a gathering place for Russian intellectuals and her artistic patronage included the founding of the St. Petersburg conservatory

While Elena was respected in her public role, her private life was filled with unhappiness from her childhood through her engagement and marriage. Her parents separated when she was a child and her father, Prince Paul of Wurttemburg cut corners on her education to pocket the money sent for this purpose by her grandfather. When Elena showed a fear of mice as a child, Paul had a servant release a sack of live mice in her bedroom (she fainted). Elena’s husband, Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich, was pressured into the marriage and made clear from their betrothal that would have preferred to marry another. He shared none of her intellectual interests, smoked cigars to avoid having to talk to her and said that he would celebrate 30 years of marriage as the anniversary of the 30 Years War. Two of their five daughters died in infancy and another two died as young women.

In addition to Elena’s eventful life, Soraka and Rudd also describe 19th century St. Petersburg in vivid detail. Elena’s and Michael’s residence, the Mikhailovsky Palace was one of the city’s landmarks with a main staircase described as the finest in Europe. Elena’s first child was born in the aftermath of the 1824 Neva river flood that killed more than 600 people and the disaster and recovery efforts are described extensively. Becoming a Romanov is richly illustrated with portraits of Elena and her family in addition to images of the landmarks of the St. Petersburg she knew.

The only false note in this otherwise brilliant biography comes in the first paragraph, where the authors describe Elena as “…the only female Romanov whose name merits mention in any narrative of Russian history after the Crimean War…” The contributions of the Romanov women – including the famous daughters of Russia’s last Czar – to Russia’s war effort during the First World War merits a book of its own. Grand Duchess Elena’s accomplishments over the course of the nineteenth century were so extensive that it was difficult for any future Grand Duchess to achieve a similar public profile. Becoming a Romanov restores Elena Pavlovna to her rightful place in Russian history.

Next Week: La Couronne et le Parlement – The Crown and Parliament, eds. Michel Bédard and Philippe Lagassé

Friday Royal Read: Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran

Most biographies of Elizabeth I describe her life from birth in 1533 to death in 1603, covering the events of her path to the throne and reign in chronological order. In Elizabeth I and Her Circle, Susan Doran, a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, co-editor of The Elizabethan World and Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives, and author of Mary Queen of Scots: An Illustrated Life and numerous books on Tudor England, instead devotes a chapter to each of the key relationships in the Queen’s life. Through analysis of Elizabeth I’s connections to her relatives, courtiers and councilors, Doran explodes the myths about the Queen’s character and reign, revealing the that England’s most famous ruler was a more complicated person than past biographers – and popular culture – have assumed.

Doran begins by reversing long standing assumptions about Elizabeth’s views of her parents, King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII is often described as a role model for his daughter and a person she idealized (For an example, listen to the recent BBC Great Lives episode on Elizabeth I) while the disgraced and beheaded Anne Boleyn was quietly forgotten. While Elizabeth I included Henry VIII in her public image to reinforce her legitimacy as queen, Doran argues convincingly that her surviving writings hint that she viewed her father as an intimidating and unpredictable figure during her childhood. Elizabeth displayed little grief when Henry died in 1547. In contrast, Elizabeth surrounded herself with Boleyn cousins during her reign, particularly the numerous members of the Carey and Knollys families, the descendants of Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary.

In many biographies of Elizabeth I, the Queen’s relationships with her Tudor cousins are reduced to decades of conflict with Mary, Queen of Scots and outrage over the secret marriage of Lady Catherine Grey (sister of the famous 9 Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey). These selected episodes convey the impression that Elizabeth’s primary emotion toward her female cousins was jealousy, declaring Catherine’s sons illegitimate and comparing her own childlessness to Mary giving birth to a healthy son (the future James I). Elizabeth had far more relatives with a claim to her throne and more complicated dealings with her family than a narrow focus on Mary and Catherine would suggest.

Doran traces the careers of the entire Suffolk line (descendants of Henry VIII’s youngest sister), revealing that the Queen enjoyed decades of friendship with her cousin Margaret Clifford, the mother of numerous sons, which belies the assumption that she was inherently hostile to her female royal cousins and their progeny. Elizabeth even enjoyed a brief period of good relations with Mary, Queen of Scots. Doran provides evidence that Elizabeth’s decision to reject the legitimacy of Catherine’s marriage was partly motivated by a desire to reassure Mary about her place in the succession. The only close royal relative who does not receive substantial analysis in Doran’s book is Arbella Stuart, a curious omission considering that Elizabeth actually met her in person, in contrast to Mary and James.

Key chapters at the centre of the book are devoted to Elizabeth I’s “favourites,” Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Sir Christopher Hatton and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Doran dismisses the speculation, which has existed since the sixteenth century and persists in films and historical novels today, that Elizabeth had affairs with these courtiers. Instead, the book discusses the political role of these men and takes them seriously as influential figures at the Queen’s court. The Earl of Essex, who is often dismissed as a vain and empty headed youth, in fact earned an MA from Cambridge at the age of sixteen and displayed a consistent desire to serve the Queen on the battlefield. The women in Elizabeth I’s circle have already received extensive analysis in the recent books The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court by Anna Whitelock and Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman but Doran provides some fresh insights and challenges the longstanding view that the Queen was inherently hostile to the marriages of her ladies-in-waiting.

Elizabeth I and Her Circle is essential reading for anyone interested in Queen Elizabeth I, her court and the wider Tudor dynasty in the sixteenth century. Doran strips away centuries of mythology surrounding Elizabeth I, revealing the interplay between her personal relations with family, courtiers and counselors and the political decisions she made as Queen. In her dealings with her circle, Elizabeth placed her interests as Queen above any personal rivalries or attachments. The Queen’s most lasting relationship was with England and her subjects.

Next Week: Becoming a Romanov: Grand Duchess Elena of Russia and Her World (1807-1873) by Marin Soroka and Charles A. Ruud.