In the first episode of the 2022 Royal Studies Podcast, I discussed the history of royal jubilees with Dr. Elena Woodacre, editor-in-chief of The Royal Studies Journal, including the Golden Jubilee of King George III in 1809-1810, the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria in 1887 and 1897 and the Silver, Golden, Diamond and Platinum Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, 2002, 2012 and 2022.
My new eight week online course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies starts Wednesday January 12, 2022. Click here for more information and to register.
ABOUT THIS COURSE
The year 2022 marks Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne. It’s an opportunity to look back on the social, political and cultural changes during her long reign. The personal lives of royalty are a popular subject for fiction in novels, films and TV series but the real history is more interesting. Each generation of royalty must respond to the challenges of their times to keep the monarchy relevant and engaged with public opinion. Join Carolyn Harris, historian, commentator and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting for a lively discussion of the history, politics and cultural significance of the monarchy in the UK and Canada.
February 6, 2017 is Queen Elizabeth II’s Sapphire Jubilee. The Queen is the first British monarch to celebrate a 65 year reign though there have been longer reigns elsewhere in the world. (King Louis XIV of France reigned for 72 years, the longest reign in European history so far). As I discussed with Eun Kim at Today, the Queen plans to mark this historic date quietly as it is also the anniversary of her father King George VI’s death.
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.
On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest reigning monarch in Britain’s history. Her 63 year reign has encompassed so many distinct phases (See the series of articles that I wrote in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012: The Young Queen of Canada, The Controversial Queen of Canada, The Celebrity Queen of Canada and The Jubilee Queen of Canada) that it’s easy to forget that when she ascended to the throne in 1952, she faced all the expectations that were directed toward British women in the 1950s in addition to nearly a thousand years of royal tradition.
In Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s, Virginia Nicholson, author of Millions Like Us: Women’s Lives in the Second World War and Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived without Men After the First World War, provides a social history of women’s lives in Britain in the 1950s. Popular culture expected them to be Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes but whether the women profiled in Nicholson’s book lived in palaces or council houses, their homes rarely conformed to ideals. Throughout the decade, the two most prominent women in Britain were Queen Elizabeth II, whose marriage and motherhood appeared to conform to 1950s expectations and Princess Margaret who struggled in the face of overwhelming pressure to “settle down” with a suitable husband.
The Queen’s coronation in 1953 was one of the most memorable events of the decade and Nicholson presents a vivid account of women’s engagement in the ceremony, from the Queen herself at the centre of events, to the women involved in the coverage and planning to spectators of all social backgrounds including peeresses in the galleries of Westminster Abbey, Londoners camped on the sidewalk in the rain and the thousands of women who watched the ceremony on their first television set. Although the monarch was female, the BBC journalists who covered the event were male with the exception of one female commentator and four “back-up girls” in charge of providing human interest stories. There were plenty women involved in the preparations, however, including Constance Spry, who created the floral decorations and Rosemary Hume, who invented “coronation chicken.”
Nicholson also provides a fresh perspective on Princess Margaret’s relationship with Peter Townsend and her ultimate decision not to give up her royal position to marry a divorced man. The Princess’s relationship with Townsend took place less than two decades after King Edward VIII abdicated to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson but attitudes toward divorce, remarriage and royal duty were already undergoing a gradual change. Nicholson discusses how English women, from Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting Iris Peake to working class women who read about the relationship in the press hoped the Princess would be able to marry the man of her choice. In contrast, the male establishment, some of whom had been involved in divorce cases themselves, were adamant that Townsend was unsuitable. The Queen supported the establishment and Margaret ultimately married the photographer Antony Armstrong Jones in 1960, divorcing in 1978.
There’s far more to Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s than royalty. Through the stories of individual women, Nicholson reveals the adversity faced by those women whose aspirations included other goals besides marriage, home and family. As late as 1959, only one in a hundred British women pursued post-secondary education and Oxford and Cambridge had only begun granting degrees to women in 1920 and 1947 respectively. Most British women of the period left school at fifteen and worked in jobs that provided little hope of career advancement until they married. Nicholson analyzes the context for women’s roles in the period including the desire to return to pre-Second World War life and slow adoption of modern conveniences within British households.
Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s is a fascinating history of how British women lived at the beginning of Elizabeth II’s record breaking reign. The cultural climate has changed immeasurably over the past sixty-three years but Nicholson presents convincing case that the attitudes toward women from the 1950s still cast a long shadow over modern life.
Next Week: Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran
My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Queen Victoria (who reigned from 1837–1901) was the first monarch to celebrate 60 years on the throne. Celebrations to honour the grand occasion — the first Diamond Jubilee — showcased the Queen’s role as “mother” of the British Empire and its Dominions, including Canada. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier led the Canadian delegation to the London ceremonies, while communities across Canada held their own civic celebrations in honour of the Queen.
I will be delivering a guest lecture about the Queen in Canada on June 21 at 2pm at the Don Mills Public Library in Toronto.
Buckingham Palace announced this week that the Prince of Wales will represent his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this fall in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Queen is committed to her role as Head of the Commonwealth and has attended every one of these biennial meetings since 1971. The decision to send the Prince of Wales to Sri Lanka as the Queen’s representative in 2013 demonstrates that the 87 year old monarch is gradually reducing her overseas travel. In 2012, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh toured the United Kingdom in honour of the Diamond Jubilee while their children and grandchildren visited all the commonwealth realms to mark the occasion. The Prince of Wales’s representation of the Queen at the 2013 CHOGM is part of the broader pattern. Click here for my interview with Janet Davison of CBC about the significance of the Prince of Wales attending CHOGM on the Queen’s behalf.
The Prince of Wales’s visit to Sri Lanka is also an example of the Queen carefully preparing her heir, and public opinion in both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms, for a seamless transition between this reign and the next one. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother lived to age of 101 and there is no reason to believe that the current Queen will not continue to reign for years to come but there is evidence that the Prince of Wales’s public role will continue to expand in the coming years in anticipation of his eventual ascension to the throne.
Prince Charles has participated in a number of high profile public engagements and commonwealth tours in 2012 and 2013. The role of Head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary. The Prince’s successful Diamond Jubilee tours of Canada, Australia and New Zealand in 2012 and attendance at CHOGM in 2013 affirm his commitment to eventually assuming this role and increase the likelihood that the Commonwealth Heads of Government will choose him as Elizabeth II’s successor as Head of the Commonwealth
Today, May 8, the Prince of Wales accompanied the Queen to the State Opening of Parliament at Westminster with the Duchess of Cornwall, the first time he has attended this event in 17 years. While the attendance of the Prince and Princess of Wales at State Openings of Parliament in the 1980s received public attention because of Diana’s fashions, the 2013 event showcases Charles in his role as future King.
Although Prince Charles’s reputation has improved considerably in recent years with greater public interest in his philanthropic and environment initiatives, successive opinion polls demonstrate that his mother, the Queen, and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry remain more popular with the general public in both the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. The Prince of Wales’s second marriage to the former Camilla Parker-Bowles, his willingness to express his political opinions publicly and his increasing age have all prompted concerns about his suitability to become King. Prince Charles’s presence at high profile events such as the 2013 CHOGM and the State Opening of Parliament are all opportunities to demonstrate to the public that he has the experience and stature to serve as Head of State for sixteen nations in the twenty-first century.
As a young Princess, the current Queen experienced a similar “apprenticeship” from her father, King George VI that showcased her ability to effectively reign as a constitutional monarch through public engagements, wartime service and commonwealth tours. As Prince William explained to Robert Hardman in the 2011 book, Our Queen, “Back then there was a different attitude toward women. Being a young lady at twenty-five – and stepping into a job which many men thought they could probably do better – it must have been very daunting. And I think there was extra pressure for her to perform.”
George VI ensured that his elder daughter had the necessary training to overcome any skepticism about her ability to fulfill her constitutional role. Beginning in 1939, the thirteen year old Princess studied the history and structure of the British political system with Henry Marten, the Vice Provost of Eton College. During the final year of the Second World War, Elizabeth served at the Mechanical Transport Training Centre run by the Auxiliary Transport Service.
Princess Elizabeth completed her first commonwealth tour with the King and Queen in South Africa in 1947 then represented her father in Canada in 1951 and Kenya in 1952. If King George VI had not died in 1952 at the comparatively young age of fifty-six, this period of apprenticeship would have continued for decades in the manner of the current Prince of Wales’s preparation for his eventual ascension.
The Prince of Wales’s attendance at the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as the Queen’s representative is part of a broader program of public events that present him to the public in his role as future King. Charles’s recent Diamond Jubilee Commonwealth Tours and presence at the 2013 State Opening of Parliament all demonstrate that he has been carefully prepared for the role of future monarch and that the Queen is planning for a seamless transition between her reign and that of her eldest son.
The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People was one of the first books published in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Andrew Marr, a British journalist and political commentator, wrote it as a companion to a landmark BBC documentary series about the Queen’s life and reign. Marr is also the author of The Making Of Modern Britain and other works about the recent history of the British Isles. The Diamond Queen is therefore steeped in the historical context of both the twentieth century monarchy and broader political and social change in the United Kingdom and the rest of the commonwealth. Marr’s work complements the other Diamond Jubilee books about the Queen, providing a fresh perspective on Elizabeth II’s sixty year reign.
While Robert Hardman focuses on the Queen’s household and duties, Sally Bedell Smith looks at the Queen’s personality, and Ian Bradley analyzes her role within the Church of England, Marr looks at the people and broader historical trends who have shaped Elizabeth II’s approach to her reign. The first hundred pages are the story of her parents, paternal grandparents and other relatives who made their mark on the twentieth century monarchy and the education of the young princess and queen.
Marr’s analysis of Queen Mary’s influence over the first twenty-five years of Elizabeth’s life is particularly fascinating as George V’s consort is often portrayed by her biographers as a pillar of tradition rather than an influence over an evolving twentieth century monarchy. Elizabeth II’s paternal grandmother broadened her education by taking the young princess to museums and art galleries, contributed to the development of the philanthropic monarchy, and, in the last years of her life, influenced the debate concerning Prince Philip’s role within the royal family.
I would have been interested to see Marr extend his discussion of Queen Elizabeth II’s family to include the influence of her Bowes-Lyon relatives. As the correspondence reprinted in William Shawcross’s Queen Elizabeth: The Official Biography Of The Queen Mother demonstrates, the young princess spent time with her mother’s parents while George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the commonwealth and her Bowes-Lyon cousins remain among her closest friends.
When Elizabeth II ascended to the thrones of Great Britain and fifteen other Commonwealth realms in 1952, her relationships with her Prime Ministers defined the political climate of her reign. In contrast to biographers who often present the Queen’s interest in the commonwealth through the chronology of her royal tours, Marr looks at her interactions with political figures throughout the commonwealth, devoting a chapter to the monarchy’s role in the decolonization of Africa. In her role as Head of Commonwealth, the Queen continues to exert quiet political influence, encouraging dialogue between the world’s English speaking nations. Canadian readers will be particularly interested in Marr’s analysis of the Queen’s rapport with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and her role in the repatriation of the constitution.
One of the fascinating themes of The Diamond Queen is the relationship between the monarchy and the social and cultural changes that have occurred during the six decades of the Queen’s reign. In different decades, various members of the royal family appeared to reflect the ideals of the times from the Queen herself to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the 21st century. In the 1950s, the Queen and Prince Philip appeared to be the most modern members of the royal family, agreeing to televise the coronation and traveling across the Atlantic by airplane.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Princess Margaret seemed to capture the mood of the times, with her vibrant social life and unconventional marriage to society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Marr presents a sympathetic account of the Princess’s difficulties living in the shadow of her reigning elder sister and is deeply critical of what he describes as the “archaic” Royal Marriages Act, and its role in preventing her from marrying her first love, Group Captain Peter Townsend.
In my review of Penny Junor’s recent biography of Prince William, I observed that any biography of a living person is necessarily a work in progress. This conclusion applies as much to the Queen at 86 as it does to Prince William at 30. Since The Diamond Queenwas published in 2011 and Marr concludes his narrative with the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, he predicts a bleak future for the monarchy in Canada. If an updated version of the book were published today, Marr’s ideas on this subject might be different as the Diamond Jubilee and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s successful tour have contributed to a revival of interest in the Canadian crown.
Andrew Marr’s The Diamond Queen was the original account of Elizabeth II’s six decade reign and remains a vital component of any Diamond Jubilee library. Marr places the Queen within the political and social context of her times, analyzing the people and events that shaped her character and reign.