Friday Royal Read: Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury

The Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 and the wartime reign of his younger brother and successor, King George VI is well known. In contrast, their two youngest brothers, Henry, Duke of Gloucester and George, Duke of Kent are virtually unknown today.  Members of the public sometimes to struggle to recall how the Queen’s cousins, the current Dukes of Gloucester and Kent, are connected to the rest of the royal family. Edward VIII’s career after his abdication has also received less attention than the tumultuous events of 1936. In Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII, Deborah Cadbury, a BBC documentary producer and author of Chocolate Wars and The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, tells the story of all four royal brothers and the Second World War.

Cadbury’s history of the royal family at war reads like a novel, emphasizing the uncertainty of the early years of the hostilities when the outcome was unknown. While the British press reported the impending Blitz with defiant good humour including headlines like “French sign peace treaty. We’re in the finals!,” Buckingham Palace prepared for the worst. Barbed wire was laid in the gardens and Queen Elizabeth took shooting lessons. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke and Duchess of Kent assumed new leadership positions and traveled extensively, raising morale and welcoming commonwealth forces.

In contrast to the three dutiful younger brothers and their wives, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, spent the early months of the war on a series of European holidays, surrounded by the intrigues of dubious financiers and Nazi informants. The Duke of Windsor was appointed Governor of the Bahamas – a position he accepted with great reluctance – to remove him from Europe for the duration of the war. Cadbury provides a page turning account of the Duke of Windsor’s last minute departure for the Bahamas as British agents persuaded him to leave while German agents implored him to remain on the continent. While George VI, his younger brothers, and their families observed wartime rationing in England, the Duchess of Windsor purchased one hundred dresses per year in the Bahamas.

Throughout the book, Cadbury places the House of Windsor in context, highlighting the harrowing experiences of Europe’s other ruling houses during the Second World War. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands had to flee the Nazi invading force so quickly that she arrived in England in her nightdress covered by a raincoat. King Haakon VII of Norway refused to follow the example of his cousin, King Christian X of Denmark by capitulating to a Nazi occupation and declared “For my part I cannot accept the German demands. It would conflict with all that I have considered to be my duty as King of Norway since I came to this country nearly thirty-five years ago.” Haakon – King George VI’s “Uncle Charles”- spent his final wartime days in Norway in a log cabin near the Arctic Circle with only the local rifle association as a guard before going abroad to form a government in exile. Princess Mafalda of Italy died in a concentration camp. The rulers of the Balkan states found themselves squeezed between the Nazis and the Soviets on either side with devastating consequences.

Cadbury does not only look at the four royal brothers in the United Kingdom but writes about their travels around the Commonwealth including Canada. In his role as Air Commodore, the Duke of Kent toured Canada to inspect the Canadian war effort including the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. While the 1939 tour by George VI and Queen Elizabeth had been a traditional whistle-stop tour, the Duke of Kent crossed the country by air, in the manner of a modern royal visit. The Duke of Kent reported to George VI, “Canada has done a great work and they are 20% ahead of schedule.” The Second World War revitalized the relationship between the monarchy and the Commonwealth nations. Princes at War is a gripping account of a royal family at war and the lasting consequences of the conflict for the modern monarchy.

Next Week: John Guy, The Children of Henry VIII

Friday Royal Read: Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner

Edward II and Richard III, who will be laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, have made a similar journey through popular culture. In both cases, the story of a flawed monarch who lost his throne to an invading force inspired an Elizabethan playwright. Both Richard III by William Shakespeare and  Edward II by Christopher Marlowe created a received wisdom about their title characters that was accepted by the public for centuries. Shakespeare’s Richard III was a hunchbacked villain who ruthlessly eliminated his family members and died offering his kingdom for a horse. Marlowe’s Edward II was foolish, dominated by his male “minions,” and met a gruesome end by being disemboweled with a red hot poker.

In the 20th century, popular perceptions of Richard III and Edward II diverged. The founding of the Richard III society in 1924 began the process of reevaluating Richard III’s reputation and Shakespeare’s portrayal has been thoroughly critiqued. The discovery of Richard III’s remains revived popular interest in the king’s reputation and there is now a range of more sympathetic portrayals of Richard in historical fiction and popular biography alike. In contrast, Marlowe’s portrayal of Edward II has become even more accepted and entrenched in popular culture. For example, the 1995 Oscar winning film Braveheart, portrayed the future Edward II as frivolous, focused entirely on his male favourites and easily cuckolded by his estranged wife.

In the foreward to Kathryn Warner’s book, Edward II: The Unconventional King, historian Ian Mortimer observes that there is an “Edward II routine” accepted by the public and numerous historians. Warner, one of the foremost experts on Edward II, scrutinizes the accepted narrative of Edward II’s life and death, finding the complex historical figure behind the Elizabethan legend.

Warner demonstrates that while Edward II rarely an effective monarch, especially compared to his father, Edward I, and son, Edward III, he was a much more complicated figure than his depiction in popular culture. The strongest sections of the book are Warner’s thoughtful revaluation of Edward II’s marriage to Isabelle of France. The match began badly with Edward ignoring his 12 year old wife to socialize with his favourite, Piers Gaveston, during the wedding celebrations, and ended badly with Isabelle overthrowing her husband with the help of her own favourite, Roger Mortimer. During the intervening years, however, Warner reveals an effective working relationship between the king and queen with evidence that they cared for each others’ welfare. The existence of four children, all of whom were clearly fathered by Edward, is clear evidence that the royal couple were not estranged for their entire marriage as they are in Marlowe’s play.

I was not convinced by the final chapter of Edward II: The Unconventional King on Edward II’s possible life in exile after his presumed death in 1327. While accounts of Edward II’s death by red hot poker are as fictionalized as Richard III offering his kingdom for a horse at the Battle of Bosworth field, the possibility that Edward II managed to fake his own death and live out his life in obscurity seems unlikely. Edward II did not simply disappear in the manner of Richard III’s nephews, the Princes in the Tower, but had a funeral in Gloucester Abbey attended by dozens of people close to him. The existence of circumstantial evidence for Edward II’s survival, however, reveals that there remain unanswered questions about this controversial king. Like Richard III, Edward II continues to be a historical enigma with a contested reputation.

Next Week: Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury

New cover design for my forthcoming book: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada

Magna Carta cover My forthcoming book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights has a new cover design! The new cover features one of the original thirteenth century versions of Magna Carta and an illuminated manuscript image of King John hunting a stag with hounds.

The book launches on May 5, 2015.

In Canada,  Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada is available for pre-order on The book is also available for pre-order at Indigo and directly from Dundurn Press

In the USA, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada is available for pre-order on

In the UK, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada is available for pre-order at

My forthcoming book “Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada” is available for pre-order

My forthcoming book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights is available for pre-order on Amazon. The book will be published by Dundurn Press on May 2, 2015 to complement the Magna Carta Canada exhibition, which will tour Canada from June to December 2015 in honour of the 800th anniversary of King John accepting the Magna Carta.

Click here to pre-order Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

For updates on the book, “like” my new Facebook author page here.

Royal History Q&A: Sara Cockerill, author of Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

Eleanor of Castile, consort to King Edward I of England, traveled further than most medieval queens, living in five different countries and going on crusade. She exerted political and cultural influence over the English court and was part of one of the most successful marriages in royal history. Despite her varied life, achievements and forceful personality, Eleanor of Castile is little known today. Sara Cockerill has written the first full length popular biography of this enigmatic medieval queen, Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen. Here, Cockerill discusses how she discovered Eleanor of Castile and how she brought this little known queen out of the shadows:

Eleanor of Castile

Eleanor of Castile

Carolyn Harris: You have been researching Eleanor for Castile in your spare time for 10 years. How did you become interested in this particular queen?

Sara Cockerill: It was really via her husband, Edward I.  I had read the romantic Victorian accounts of Eleanor, and thought that, if they were true, it seemed a bit odd that Edward I should have been so devoted to her.  Then, as I started to read more about Edward, the odd bits of information that cropped up about Eleanor actually raised more questions than they answered.  As I started to delve into the material on Eleanor herself, I just got hooked, and started to think it was outrageous that no-one had written a biography of her for a general readership before.

Eleanor of Aquitaine's effigy in Fontevraud Abbey

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s effigy in Fontevraud Abbey

CH: Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most famous women in history but her descendant Eleanor of Castile is little known. Why is Edward I’s consort so obscure?

SC: Well, my own view is that this was entirely deliberate.  The English crown had passed through a very difficult period in the mid 1200’s during which a very assertive queen, Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Provence, had become so unpopular that the citizens of London made a bit of a stab at lynching her.  An overtly assertive queen was therefore never going to go down well – and an overtly assertive foreign queen, in a climate where “aliens” had become the target of much political hostility, still less so.

Edward I

Edward I

Edward and Eleanor therefore decided that it was best that she didn’t make her influence or her assertiveness too generally known. For public consumption she was simply the devoted queen who accompanied Edward everywhere.  Which of course was, usefully, a strand of the truth.  The fact that she was an intellectual powerhouse, whose business drove quite a lot of Edward’s movements around the country, was something people didn’t need to know – and would probably never work out.  The only hints at the truth came in contemporaneous letters and documents concerning the inquest into her property, first really considered in the nineteenth century, which showed that Eleanor ran a property empire – and ran it with an extremely firm hand.

CH: Agnes Strickland thought Eleanor was meek and retiring. Lisa Hilton thought she was bad tempered and unpleasant. Why are the few biographical sketches of Eleanor so different from each other? Who is the real Eleanor?

 Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest

Agnes Strickland, author of Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest

SC: Most certainly Hilton is nearer the mark than the Victorians who had Eleanor down as a bit of a sap – but I think she is also quite far from the truth.  The reason for the different views of Eleanor is really a succession of historical accidents.  The romantic side, fed by the survival of the Eleanor Crosses, came from some poetic exaggerations about Eleanor after her death – sometimes fueled by a political agenda.  The more modern view of Eleanor amongst scholars has equally been fueled by the fortuitous survival of the records concerning the inquest into the running of her properties after her death, and a few rather trenchant letters by the Archbishop of Canterbury about – again – her business practices.  Since these are rather negative, and make up the bulk of the surviving direct testimony, it is not surprising that a negative view of her developed.

The real woman that I have found is rather different.  She was a vibrant, energetic woman with many interests, and a woman who was considerate of those around her and generous to those she loved.  But at the same time, she was a very competent, successful businesswoman who very much disliked inefficiency, or being thwarted; and was capable of really letting rip when she was displeased.  All in all, I find her a very real, and surprisingly modern, figure.

The Queen Eleanor Cross at Northampton

The Queen Eleanor Cross at Northampton

CH: Edward I reissued the Magna Carta during his reign. Did your law background inform your research about Eleanor’s life and times?

SC: Yes and no.  I didn’t come to the story as a lawyer, looking for the legal spin.  However I did find things which resonated with me as a lawyer.  I found the legal aspect of the transition from dower to dowry and the treatment of dower fascinating – and revelatory. And the parallels between the Castilian approach to legal structures in resettling new territories and that adopted by Edward in Wales also struck me forcibly. But I think there is still much work to be done on looking to see if Eleanor’s fingerprints are to be seen in other aspects of Edward’s legislative programme.

CH: What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Eleanor of Castile?

SC: I’m tempted to say just how much more substantial and forceful a person she was than I expected; and that certainly was a big surprise.  I was ready to find that the woman who won Edward I’s devotion was no milk and water girl, but the sheer range of her accomplishments, her energy, her vibrancy, her force – that, I was not prepared for.  But actually really the most surprising thing to me in the end, was given that range of interests and achievements, how successfully she had kept the traces of this dynamism from public knowledge.  It is one of the reasons that I have called her “The Shadow Queen” – she has deliberately obscured herself and hidden out of sight, so that only glimpses of different aspects of her personality can be seen.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

CH: Where did your research take you? To what degree did you follow in Eleanor’s footsteps?

SC: Sadly, with research having to be fitted around my job, I didn’t get to do the full tour of the places Eleanor knew from childhood, or follow her on crusade.  A number of her properties were familiar to me from holidays – and romantic weekends in the Cotswolds – and I had also visited a number of the Gascon venues as an Edward I fan.  Dover Castle and the properties in Kent are close by for me – I often cycle past Wallett’s Court, known to Eleanor as the manor of Westcliffe, and caught some great photos there just the other day.  Mostly, though, my research was confined to the British Library, with the occasional foray to the National Archives.  But I had a wonderful trip to pay homage at the surviving crosses, and I have paid a few visits to Eleanor at Westminster Abbey.

CH: What are your plans for future books?

SC: There is nothing absolutely firm yet, but I have a fairly substantial list of things which I would like to do.  One day I would like to know another medieval queen as well as I have go to know Eleanor.  But I am not planning to commit to another big biography quite yet – because I can’t work at it full time, I need to be very sure about a project of that size.

At the moment I’m looking at a rather shorter book concerning the development of knighthood and chivalry, showing the forces which brought it into being, and shaped it into what it became and also showcasing some amazing people and their stories as illustrations of those themes.  I got interested in the idea while writing about Eleanor.  I was very struck by the looming figures of William Marshal and Jean de Brienne who became respectively the greatest man in England and the King of Jerusalem and Emperor of Constantinople through their knightly prowess.  And Eleanor’s own contact with the institution showcases a number of aspects of the developing institution – the fading of the social mobility theme, alongside the changing nature and role of tournaments, the increasing Arthurian and literary links,  and also the administrative importance which the institution acquired, and which Edward and Eleanor promoted.  Whether I can pull it together in a way which will appeal to anyone but myself is the question, though!

Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen” by Sara Cockerill is available now in bookstores and direct from Amberley Publishing. ISBN: 9781445635897 

Royal Travelogue 4: The Queens Who Shaped Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in Scotland. Every year, the Queen resides at the Castle for “Royal Week,” hosting garden parties on the Holyroodhouse grounds and inducting new members into the ancient Order of the Thistle. If Scotland votes to secede from the United Kingdom in September, the Queen’s successor may have a separate Scottish coronation at Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral.

The Queen has a close affinity for Scotland. She spent her childhood summers visiting both sets of grandparents there: King George V and Queen Mary at Balmoral and the Earl and Countess of Strathmore at Glamis Castle. Elizabeth II is not the only Queen who has made her mark on the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Here are 5 Scottish and English queens who contributed to the development of the modern palace:

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey

1) St. Margaret (1045-1093) Malcolm III’s queen, Margaret, chose Edinburgh as Scotland’s capital, persuading her husband to move his court there from Dunfermline. Margaret was renowned for her piety and education and transformed the Scottish court into a centre of learning. One of the holy relics in her possession was a fragment of the “holy rood” or true cross. In 1128, Margaret’s son, David I, founded Holyrood Abbey to house the relic.

2) Margaret Tudor (1489-1541) When James IV negotiated his marriage to Henry VII’s elder daughter, Margaret, he decided to transform to royal apartments at Holyrood Abbey into a Renaissance Palace between 1501 and 1505. James IV was well versed in history and spoke multiple languages. The construction of  the Palace of Holyroodhouse was intended to impress the King’s English bride and proclaim to the world the Scottish court was the equal of other European royal establishments.

1833 artist's depiction of the murder of David Rizzio in 1566

1833 artist’s depiction of the murder of David Rizzio in 1566

3) Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) When Mary, Queen of Scots returned to Scotland from France in 1561 at the age of eighteen, she introduced French style decorations to her apartments in Holyroodhouse. Mary spent her youth in France as the future wife of King Francois II and found Holyroodhouse shabby in comparison to the Louvre and the Chateaux of the Loire Valley. In 1566, a heavily pregnant Mary, Queen of Scots witnessed the murder of her secretary, David Rizzio, in her private apartments at Holyroodhouse by a faction of Scottish nobles led by her second husband, Lord Darnley. After the murder, Mary left Holyroodhouse and gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland/James I of England at Edinburgh Castle.

Holyroodhouse Gardens, where the Queen hosts Scottish garden parties today.

Holyroodhouse Gardens, where the Queen hosts Scottish garden parties today.

4) Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) Charles II’s Portuguese queen, Catherine of Braganza, never visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Following the restoration of the English and Scottish monarchies in 1660, however, Charles II ordered extensive improvements to the palace for himself and his bride including new apartments for the queen. The King appointed architect Sir William Bruce to oversee additions to the palace including the modern quadrangle. Catherine also had a strong cultural impact on Britain – she popularized tea drinking at a time when coffee was the preferred beverage of the aristocracy.

5) Queen Victoria (1819-1901) Queen Victoria discovered Scottish culture through the novels of Sir Walter Scott and developed a strong affinity for Scotland. While her predecessors largely neglected Holyroodhouse, Victoria spent part of her year in Scotland, attending official engagements in Edinburgh and holidaying at her private residence, Balmoral. While in Scotland, Victoria immersed herself in Scottish culture, dressing her children in tartans, listening to readings of Robert Burns poems and even assuming a Scottish accent. The relationship between the monarchy and Scotland has remained close since Victoria’s reign.

Further Reading on the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Scotland’s Palaces and Scottish Monarchs


Elizabeth Patricia Dennison, Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Years of History
John Dunbar, Scottish Royal Palaces: The Architecture of the Royal Residences During the Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Periods

John Guy, Queen of Scots: Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart

Historical Fiction:

Sir Walter Scott, Waverley

Nigel Tranter, Robert the Bruce Trilogy

Jean Plaidy, The Thistle And The Rose

ReayTannahil, Fatal Majesty: A Novel of Mary Queen of Scots

Next: The Investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle in Wales

Friday Royal Read: Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts by James Anderson Winn

Queen Anne (r. 1702-1714) has gone down in history as one of England’s most mediocre reigning queens. She is neither remembered as one of the great monarchs like Elizabeth I, Victoria or Elizabeth II nor as a villain like “Bloody” Mary I. Between these extremes, Anne appears to have been an ordinary woman in an extraordinary position. She enjoyed eating, drinking and playing cards. She had a close relationship with her husband Prince George of Denmark, and spent hours each day with her various female friends including Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and Abigail Masham. Like numerous other eighteenth century women, Anne mourned the deaths of many children in infancy and a beloved eleven year old son.

In Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts, Professor James Anderson Winn, author of The Poetry of War and John Dryden and His World, argues that history has underestimated Queen Anne. She may not have received a classical education in the manner of Elizabeth I or Mary, Queen of Scots but she played the harpsichord and guitar, danced and performed in court theatricals, promoted the opera, spoke fluent French, quoted poetry from memory, appreciated architecture and painting and mastered political oratory. Since Anne’s brother-in-law, King William III, had little interest in artists or musicians, Anne’s court became a cultural centre while she was still heir to the throne and she remained an influential patron as Queen.

As England’s third constitutional monarch since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Anne ushered in key elements of the modern monarchy. George III and Queen Charlotte are often credited with beginning the “welfare monarchy” focused on philanthropy (see Royal Bounty by Frank Prochaska) but Winn provides evidence that Anne was also cast in this role. When the Queen visited Oxford University in 1702, eighteen year old Simon Harcourt, son of the Solicitor General, recited a welcome poem that declared, “These happy Walls by Royal Bounty plac’d/Often with Royal Presence have been Grac’d.” His words emphasized Anne’s role as a patron and benefactor of England’s cultural and intellectual institutions.

Throughout her reign, Anne demonstrated a keen awareness of popular opinion similar to that of Elizabeth II today. When parliament voted to award her the same annual income enjoyed by William III, £700,000, she returned £100,000 to the treasury, stating that “while her subjects remain’d under the Burden of such great Taxes, she would straighten her self in own Expences, rather than not contribute all she could to their Ease and Relief.” The current Queen’s decision to pay income taxes and reduce her own expenses over the course of her reign follows a long tradition.

Despite her personal frugality, Anne had strong feelings about proper upkeep of royal residences. Today, there is popular debate over the cost of renovations to the Kensington Palace apartment of William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. During Queen Anne’s reign, the monarch sought to restore the Kensington Palace gardens, which had been neglected by William III. Anne’s presentation of herself to the public as “entirely English” with an understanding of how English gardens should be maintained, in contrast to her Dutch predecessor, contributed to public support for this expensive landscaping project.

While Anne appears modern in her philanthropy, cultural patronage, economies and interest in popular opinion, her active involvement in party politics demonstrate how much the constitutional monarchy has changed since the early eighteenth century. The Queen was a staunch Tory, which contributed to the breakdown of her decades long friendship with the Duchess of Marlborough, who tactlessly encouraged her to support the Whigs. Anne was also the last monarch to refuse royal assent to a piece of legislation. The Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 required the Queen’s active participation as she sent letters to the Scottish parliament advocating a united Great Britain.

Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts is much more than a fascinating study of the Queen’s cultural patronage and inspiration to early eighteenth century artists. Winn restores Anne to her rightful place in British political history, revealing her contributions to the creation of the modern constitutional monarchy and the unification of Great Britain.  As Anne herself once said, “Whoever of the whigs thinks I am to be Heckter’d or frighted into a complyance tho I am a woman, are mightily mistaken in me.” Readers of Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts will never underestimate Queen Anne again.

Next Friday Royal Read: The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America by F. H. Buckley

Friday Royal Read: John Buchan: Model Governor General by J. William Galbraith

John Buchan was a Scottish journalist, novelist and Member of Parliament. He is most famous for writing the thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which inspired a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film. Lord Tweedsmuir was Canada’s fifteenth Governor General since Confederation and the first to be appointed after the 1931 Statute of Westminster granted Canada and the other Dominions legislative equality with the United Kingdom. Tweedsmuir’s five year tenure as Governor General from 1935 to 1940 encompassed key events in Canada’s history including the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936, the 1939 tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the outbreak of the Second World War.

There are many who are unaware that Buchan and Tweedsmuir were the same person and that his time in office served as a model for subsequent Governors General. The monarch’s representatives in Canada prior to the Second World War are sometimes treated as interchangeable British political figures despite their distinct approaches to the office. In John Buchan: Model Governor General, J William Galbraith, council member of the John Buchan society, analyzes Buchan’s profound impact on Canadian history and lasting influence on the office of Governor General in Canada.

Galbraith’s study of Buchan’s tenure as Governor General provides reveals Canada’s role behind the scenes of key royal events of the late 1930s. The Abdication Crisis of 1936 had an international dimension as there was evidence that the Dominions would not accept the twice divorced Wallis Simpson as Edward VIII’s consort and queen. As Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII was an extremely popular figure in Canada and owned a ranch in Alberta. Buchan interpreted Canadian popular opinion for Edward VIII’s private secretary though he stated it would be, “improper for me to have any view.” Buchan also played a key role in the organization of the 1939 royal tour though he appeared to fade into the background when George VI and Queen Elizabeth were on Canadian soil.

In contrast to past narrative biographies of Buchan, Galbraith focuses almost exclusively on the Canada years and adopts a thematic approach to his five years in office. This structure highlights key aspects of Buchan’s time as Governor General such as his patronage of the arts and extensive travels across Canada. In a few instances, however, the thematic chapters fragment contiguous historical events. For example, there is entire chapter devoted to George VI’s and Queen Elizabeth’s 1939 tour of Canada but their subsequent visit to the United States is covered in a subsequent chapter about Buchan’s role as an intermediary between Great Britain and America. The close focus on Buchan also means that readers must look elsewhere for detailed biographical information on the key figures who influenced Buchan and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, such as political power broker Violet Markham.

John Buchan: Model Governor General restores Buchan to his rightful place in Canadian history. In the foreword,  Canada’s current Governor General, His Excellent the Right Honourable David Johnston states, “John Buchan quietly established a new model for the position of Governor General. His considerable impact on Canada has not been fully recognized.” Galbraith’s book reveal’s the full extent of Buchan’s political and cultural influence on Canada.

Next Friday Royal Read: Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts by James Anderson Winn

Weekend Royal News Roundup: Prince William Celebrates His 32nd birthday and June 28th is the 100th anniversary of the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The Duke of Cambridge

The Duke of Cambridge

1) The Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) celebrated his 32nd birthday today, his first since the birth of his son, Prince George of Cambridge. Media outlets in the UK and Canada reported that the second-in-line to the throne received an expensive helicopter from the Queen as a birthday present.

The History: There are number of issues with articles such as the CBC’s “Prince William gets $11M helicopter from Queen on his birthday.” Due to the timing of the helicopter lease and William’s past experience as a Search and Rescue Pilot, the acquisition has been presented as a private “birthday present” from the Queen to her grandson. The helicopter has in fact been leased to assist a number of members of the royal family with their duties. Royal transport acquisitions often prompt popular controversy because their perceived expense to the taxpayer but income for equipment that helps members of the royal family carry out their duties comes from a separate Sovereign Grant.

King George III in his coronation robes

King George III in his coronation robes

In 1760, King George III placed the Crown Lands under the administration of his government, with the exception of the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides for the sovereign’s personal expenses and the Duchy of Cornwall, which provides the income for the heir to the throne. George III’s government returned a portion of the income from the Crown Lands to the KIng to cover the expenses incurred by royal duties. This arrangement is the origin of the Civil List, which governed the monarch’s working expenses until the Sovereign Grant Act of 2011.

The 2011 reforms replaced four individual grants to the sovereign, The Civil List, The Grant-in-Aid for Royal Travel, The Grant-in-Aid for Communications and Information and The Grant-in-Aid for the Maintenance of the Royal Palaces, with a single grant from the Crown Lands, initially set at 15% of the annual income from these properties. Any implication that the taxpayer is directly responsible for expenses incurred my members of the royal family undertaking their duties is therefore inaccurate. Income for the original Crown Lands covers the expenses incurred by royal engagements.

For more of my writing on royal finances, see my 2013 article for Bloomberg View, “How Big an Inheritance Awaits Kate and William’s Baby?”

Archduke Franz Ferdinand his wife Sophie and their three children.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand his wife Sophie and their three children.

2) June 28 is the 100th anniversary of the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg in Sarajevo. This event which contributed to the outbreak of the First World War. 

The History: On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. This event was one of the catalysts for the First World War yet the victims of the assassination are little known today beyond the circumstances of their deaths.

There are numerous reasons for the comparative obscurity of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie as historical figures. The political entity that they represented, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, collapsed during the First World War. In contrast to the 1963 Kennedy assassination and the murder of Russia’s last Imperial family in 1918, there were no mysteries about the perpetrators or possible survivors respectively to capture the popular imagination. Most significantly, the public has little sense of who Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were as people because they usually appear in the history books just in time for their assassination.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

New books commemorating the centenary of the First World War are bringing Franz Ferdinand and his family out of the shadows. The War That Ended Peace by Margaret Macmillan discusses Franz Ferdinand’s hopes for achieving peace in Europe. His assassination eliminated a key political figure that might have steered Austria-Hungary toward a more moderate course. The most recent biography of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, The Assassination of the Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans presents Franz Ferdinand as a romantic determined to marry Sophie against the wishes of the court and a political visionary, who hoped to recreate the Hapsburg Empire as a federation of equal states, inspired by his travels across North America. The centenary of WWI is  bringing the lives of Franz Ferdinand, Sophie and their children out of the shadows revealing their full historical significance beyond the 1914 assassination.

Friday Royal Read: Hereward by Peter Rex

The Norman Conquest did not end with William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. There was an older vision of England that remained stubbornly persistent in the decade following the coronation of William I in Westminster Abbey. During the reign of King Canute (1016-1035), England was part of a vast Anglo-Scandinavian Empire, ruled by the same monarch as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. There was an Anglo-Danish elite with a vested interest in the connections between Saxon England and Scandinavia rather than a new Norman regime. In Hereward, the late Peter Rex, author of William the Conqueror: The Bastard of Normandy, The English Resistance and Edward the Confessor reconstructs the life and rebellion of Hereward, who led the best known rebellion against William the Conqueror.

Source material for Hereward’s life beyond the revolt on the Isle of Ely in 1071 is fragmentary. The first line of the book is, “While it is not possible to produce a full biography of the Lincolnshire thegn called Hereward, the main threads of his career can be recovered, at least in outline.” Nevertheless, Rex reaches informed conclusions about who Hereward was and who he was not. There is no evidence that  the outlaw known as Hereward was the son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia and the famous Lady Godiva and therefore a descendant of Alfred the Great. There is also no evidence that Hereward had surviving children despite unsubstantiated claims that the Wakes are descendants in the female line and the Harwoods are descendants in the male line.  Rex argues that that Hereward’s patrimony and lineage were inflated by early chroniclers and later novelists to make him seem a more worthy adversary for a King.

Instead, Hereward appears to have been from a comparatively modest gentry family, an Abbot’s nephew who spent time gaining military experience in Flanders before leading his rebellion. The most dramatic chapters of the book concern the rise and breakdown of Hereward’s insurrection. Hereward counted on Danish support to reverse the Norman Conquest and bring back the Anglo-Scandinavian world of his youth Instead, the Danes abandoned him and he held the Island of Ely with the support of northern Earls before a final defeat and flight from the Normans. The struggle between William and Hereward became personal as the outlaw came to personify the Saxon resistence that the Conqueror was determined to crush at all costs.

As a Harwood descendant, I was disappointed to learn from Hereward that I am probably not descended from Hereward “the Wake,” let alone Alfred the Great. There are many questions about William the Conqueror’s best known English adversary that will always remain unanswered. Rex provides the most complete and accurate account of Hereward’s life and rebellion to date and sheds light on a different path that English history could have taken. If the Danes had supported Hereward and his rebellion had been successful, Scandinavia might have shaped England’s political future and language. A lasting Norman Conquest was only one of many possible outcomes in the aftermath of 1066.

Next week: John Buchan: Model Governor General by J. William Galbraith