I discussed the history of royal parenting with Rebecca Perrin on canada.com this week. We covered a lot of ground including how breastfeeding by royal mothers dates back to Marie Antoinette, why Prince William will almost certainly be in the delivery room when his child is born and why “Edward” was once an unusual name for a royal baby.
With the Duchess of Cambridge – better known as Kate Middleton – in her third trimester, there is intense speculation about the arrangements for the birth of the royal baby and the choices the royal couple will make as parents. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are known for combining their own innovations with royal traditions. For example, they were married in Westminster Abbey, where the weddings of the future Elizabeth II and George VI took place, but they introduced a charity gift registry and English field maple trees to decorate the aisle.
There is every reason to assume that the royal couple will adopt a similar blend of tradition and modernity in their approach to parenting. Nevertheless, a number of recent articles about royal parenting have assumed that since William and Catherine are a modern, twenty-first century royal couple, every single decision they plan to make as parents is either their own innovation or was introduced into the royal family by Princess Diana. These assumptions ignore the long history of royal parenting . I explained in a previous post that a number of royal parenting innovations attributed to Princess Diana are actually revivals of nineteenth century practices.
Despite clear evidence of nurturing royal parenting before Princess Diana, there a number of royal commentators who credit the late Princess of Wales with introducing “modern” royal parenting trends that were supposedly unknown to previous royal mothers.
A recent article by Rob Wallace of ABC news incorrectly claimed that Princess Diana was the first royal mother to breastfeed, allow her children to socialize with non-royalty and take her infant on an overseas tour. Another article published this month erroneously states that Prince William plans to “break with tradition” and become the first royal father in the delivery room.
There are numerous supposedly “modern” royal parenting trends that are actually centuries old and certainly long predate either the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or Princess Diana. Here are 5 examples:
1) Breastfeeding The stereotype about royal mothers before Diana is that they handed their infants over to a wet nurse at birth. Royal commentators often cite Queen Victoria’s distaste for breastfeeding as evidence that royal mothers before Diana did not nurse their own children. The reason we know so much about Victoria’s views on breastfeeding, however, is because her daughters ignored her advice on this matter and nursed their own children.
When Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, known as “Vicky” to her family, began nursing her own children, the Queen wrote a disapproving letter on the subject to her own half-sister, Princess Feodora of Leningen. The reply demonstrated that Queen Victoria’s distaste for breastfeeding was far from universal in royal circles, even in the nineteenth century. Feodora wrote, “I am sorry to find that Vicky’s determination to nurse makes you so angry…the Queen of Prussia feels the same as you. I have no opinion…as I have always felt it a duty for a mother to nurse a child if she can and if the doctors approve (See Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman, p. 215).”
2) Royal Fathers in the Delivery Room Queen Victoria may have disapproved of breastfeeding but she was more than willing to break with tradition by having her husband, Prince Albert by her side for the births of her children. Childbirth unsettled the Queen, who owed her crown to the death of her cousin, Princess Charlotte, following the birth of a stillborn son.
The Queen described Albert’s presence at the birth of her eldest daughter, Vicky, in her 1840 journal, The Queen recorded, “Just before the early hours of the morning of the 21st I felt again very uncomfortable & with difficulty aroused Albert . . .Tried to get to sleep again, but by 4, I got very bad & both the Doctors arrived. My beloved Albert was so dear and kind. . . Dearest Albert hardly left me at all, & was the greatest support and comfort (Reprinted in Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman, p. 27-28).” When William was born in 1982, Charles followed Albert’s example and was present for Diana’s entire 16 hour labour.
3) Royal Babies on Tour Long before Diana insisted that the infant William accompany his parents on a tour of Australia in 1983, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra of Russia and her husband, Czar Nicholas II traveled with their ten month old daughter, Grand Duchess Olga, on their 1896 coronation tour of Europe. Nicholas II wrote to his brother, Grand Duke Georgy, after his coronation, “This year seems to be a year of hard labour with Alix and me as the martyrs: Moscow in the Spring, and now soon all these intolerable foreign visits. First of all we are going to Austria, then Kiev, Germany, Denmark, England, France and finally Darmstadt . . .On top of it, we shall have to drag our poor little daughter with us, as all the relatives want to see her. I can imagine what the French will get up to in Paris – maybe they really will rename her Napoleondra, or something like it! (Translated and Reprinted in Maylunas and Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, p. 151).” Like Nicholas II, Diana discovered that a royal tour with an infant was difficult and William remained in the United Kingdom when the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Canada later in 1983.
4) Involvement of Non-Royal Grandparents in a Royal Baby’s Upbringing The Duchess of Cambridge’s mother, Carole Middleton, has received extensive scrutiny from the British press for her rumoured plan to live with her daughter for the weeks following the royal baby’s birth. In past centuries, British royalty often married foreign royalty, circumstances that frequently prevented royal children from having a close relationship with their maternal grandparents. When monarchs of England or Scotland married members of the nobility, however, the queen consort’s family were closely involved in the upbringing of the royal children.
For example, when King Edward IV’s consort, Elizabeth Woodville, went into labour with her first child, Elizabeth of York, in 1466, the new baby’s maternal grandmother, Jacquetta Woodville, and maternal aunts were present. One of the reasons Richard III seized the throne from Edward IV’s and Elizabeth Woodville’s son Edward V in 1483 was to protect his own interests because he feared young Edward was too much under the influence of his Woodville relatives. For more information about the role of the Woodvilles in the upbringing of Edward IV’s children, see Amy Licence’s biography of Elizabeth of York.
5) Royal Children Experiencing Life Outside Palace Walls
Richard III’s own upbringing was a classic example of a royal child living and learning alongside non-royal peers centuries before Diana sent William to kindergarten. During the Middle Ages, children of English, Welsh and Scottish royalty often spent part of their childhood in a noble household, socializing with young people outside the royal family and receiving their education in a group setting.
The future King Richard III spent part of his childhood in the household of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, where he met his lifelong friend, Francis Lovell, and future wife, Anne Neville. In Warwick’s household, young Richard learned the techniques of medieval warfare alongside other boys from the English nobility. The pressure to match the abilities of his peers may have helped the future King to master horseback riding and the heavy medieval broadsword in spite of his scoliosis. For more information about the childhood of Richard III, see David Baldwin’s biography of the controversial King.
Bringing Them Up Royal: How the Royals Raised Their Children from 1066 to the Present Day is a topical book considering the current circumstances within the royal family. With the announcement in December, 2012 that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will become parents in 2013, there is intense interest how they will raise their child. Potential answers to questions regarding the baby’s name, the influence of parents vs. nannies over the child’s early years and the eventual education of a future monarch may be found in the precedents set by previous members of the royal family. There are centuries of well documented examples of royal parenting that had a profound influence on the characters of successive monarchs.
David Cohen, a psychologist and the author of Diana: Death of a Goddess combines his interests in royalty and child psychology to assess the impact of generations of royal parenting on the monarchy. He places the parenting decisions of successive Kings and Queens in context, discussing changing parenting trends to discern whether a monarch was the product of his or her times or influenced by the unique conditions of a royal upbringing. The majority of the book is devoted to the Hanover dynasty, which was notorious for its quarrels between monarchs and their heirs, and the modern royal family, which has slowly changed its approach to royal child rearing.
Cohen concludes that Queen Victoria’s upbringing was particularly different from the parenting norms of the early nineteenth century as eighteenth century enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau encouraged greater freedom for children. In contrast, the “Kensington system” devised by Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent and her comptroller, John Conroy, strictly regulated all aspects of the princess’s life, refusing to allow her any time alone. Cohen’s psychological approach to royal history informs some interesting insights about past royal parents. Cohen speculates that Prince Albert’s difficulty assimilating into British court society may have contributed to his strictness with his son, the future Edward VII. The Prince Consort may have wanted to ensure his son’s success in an environment that he himself did not entirely understand.
Cohen’s original approach to the material and unique insights, however, are undermined by a number of factual inaccuracies in the text. For example. the Gloucester affair of 1654, when the exiled Queen Henrietta Maria attempted to convert one of her sons to Catholicism concerned her youngest son, Henry, Duke of Gloucester not her second son, the future James II as Cohen states in the text (p. 78-79). Inaccuracies of this kind should be corrected for future editions of the text and the inclusion of genealogical tables would clarify the birth order of large groups of royal siblings for general readers. There are also a number of surprising omissions from the bibliography. Cohen does not appear to have consulted Charles I: Personal Monarch, Charles Carlton’s psychological biography of the ill fated Stuart monarch, which includes in depth analysis of King James I and Anna of Denmark as parents, and their influence over the future King.
There are no footnotes in Bringing Them Up Royal: How the Royals Raised Their Children from 1066 to the Present Day and Cohen comes to some conclusions that do not match existing data and historical analysis. In his discussion of King George V’s place in the extended European royal family, Cohen states, “The irony is that Lenin was a pragmatist and would probably have been quite prepared to let the Tsar sail out of St. Petersburg on a British warship (p. 220).” This statement contradicts evidence, including recent analysis by Helen Rappaport in The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg, that Lenin was directly involved in the decision to murder the entire Imperial family. Cohen also appears to still support conspiracy theories regarding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, which have been firmly refuted by numerous investigations and inquests into the circumstances surrounding the Paris car accident.
Bringing Them Up Royal: How the Royals Raised Their Children from 1066 to the Present Day is an excellent subject for a royal history book during a time of intense interest in how a new generation of royal children will be raised. Cohen places the upbringing of successive royal children within the context of their times, analysing royal parenting trends over the past thousand years. The author’s credibility, however, is undermined by factual inaccuracies, surprising omissions from the bibliography and certain conclusions that are not supported by reliable evidence. Hopefully, a second edition will address these issues and expand on the centuries of precedents for the parenting of royal children.
When Prince William was born in 1982, the press observed that Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales seemed determined to change recent trends in royal parenting. Charles was present in the hospital delivery room throughout Diana’s difficult sixteen hour labour. Although the royal couple employed nannies, they both participated in nursery activities, bathing and feeding their new baby.
When William reached school age, his parents enrolled him at the Wetherby School in Notting Hill, allowing him to meet other children from different backgrounds at a young age. Most significantly, Charles and Diana accepted Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s suggestion that the nine month old William accompany them on their six week tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1983. In contrast to Prince Charles and his mother, the future Queen Elizabeth II, who spent protracted periods of time in the care of their grandparents and nannies while their parents undertook commonwealth tours, William traveled to Australia with his parents. The baby Prince stayed on a sheep farm in New South Wales with his nanny, receiving visits from his parents every few days instead of experiencing the long separation from his parents experienced by his father and grandmother.
All these innovations in royal parenting were the focus of intense public interest. The press in the 1980s was correct to observe that Prince William was being raised differently than his immediate predecessors. The majority of reporters, however, perpetuated two significant misconceptions about the young Prince’s childhood. Diana was assumed to be the sole influence over the modernization of William’s upbringing and the changes she introduced had never occurred in the royal household before.
While Charles’s close relationship with his sons has come to the public attention since Diana’s death in 1997, his presence in the delivery room and the inclusion of William on the 1983 Australian tour are still described as “unprecedented.” Charles’s and Diana’s approach to child-rearing instead bore a close resemblance to the innovations introduced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during the nineteenth century, which continued until the outbreak of the First World War.
Contrary to popular belief, Prince Charles was not the first royal father to be present in the delivery room when his children were born. When Queen Victoria went into labour with her first child, Princess Victoria, in 1840, Prince Albert was by her side. The Queen recorded in her journal, “Just before the early hours of the morning of the 21st I felt again very uncomfortable & with difficulty aroused Albert . . .Tried to get to sleep again, but by 4, I got very bad & both the Doctors arrived. My beloved Albert was so dear and kind. . . Dearest Albert hardly left me at all, & was the greatest support and comfort (Reprinted in Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman, p. 27-28). Prince Albert’s presence in the delivery room was unusual for a member of the nineteenth century British aristocracy and was widely attributed to his German background.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were the first British royal couple to take family holidays together with their children. Postcards showing the royal family together at Balmoral in Scottish tartans or enjoying the seaside near Osborne House on the Isle of Wight were sold throughout the British Isles, reinforcing the public perception that the Queen and Prince Albert shared British middle class domestic values including close involvement in the education and leisure activities of their children.
During Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), overseas visits were comparatively rare and usually undertaken by male members of the royal family alone, leaving royal mothers to remain closely involved in the upbringing of their children. The first British Princess to cross the Atlantic with her husband, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter Princess Louise, was childless and therefore did not have to balance her responsibilities as Vice Regal Consort of Canada with motherhood.
Visits by members of the British royal family to Europe’s royal courts took place much more frequently than overseas visits in the nineteenth century and were often family affairs. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France in 1855, they brought their two eldest children, fourteen year old Princess Victoria and thirteen year old Prince Albert Edward. The children greatly enjoyed their time in Paris and the special attention they received from the French Imperial couple. Queen Victoria recorded in her journal, “The Emperor kindly took Bertie out in his curricle, which he drove himself . . .and drove him about Paris (Reprinted in Giles St. Aubyn, Edward VII, Prince and King, p. 37).”
As the nineteenth century progressed and the royal marriages of Queen Victoria’s children and grandchildren created close ties between Europe’s royal houses, the difference between a state visit and family visit with all the children was present was often imperceptible. When Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Alexandra of Hesse and her husband Emperor Nicholas II of Russia planned their 1896 coronation tour of Europe, the Queen regarded the visit as an opportunity to meet her ten month old great-granddaughter, Olga.
Nicholas did not look forward to the prospect of undertaking an exhausting European tour with his young child. He wrote to his brother, Grand Duke Georgy, “This year seems to be a year of hard labour with Alix and me as the martyrs: Moscow in the Spring, and now soon all these intolerable foreign visits. First of all we are going to Austria, then Kiev, Germany, Denmark, England, France and finally Darmstadt . . .On top of it, we shall have to drag our poor little daughter with us, as all the relatives want to see her. I can imagine what the French will get up to in Paris – maybe they really will rename her Napoleondra, or something like it! (Translated and Reprinted in Maylunas and Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, p. 151).
Nearly ninety years before Prince William visited Australia with his parents, the infant Grand Duchess Olga became a European celebrity as part of Nicholas II’s coronation tour. Royal children continued to accompany their parents on state visits until the First World War, which disrupted the close family links between Europe’s royal houses. The parenting innovations introduced by Diana, Princess of Wales in the 1980s were not unprecedented but instead mirrored the values of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who included their children in holidays and state visits alike. The modern royal family has revived the domestic atmosphere of the nineteenth century, facilitating close relationships between royal parents and children.
A few months before her death in August, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales visited Angola as a supporter of the the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Both Diana’s choice of a politically sensitive cause and her physical engagement with children who had lost their limbs to these hidden, explosive devices were characteristic of her approach to the traditional royal practice of philanthropy. In common with medieval and early modern royalty popularly believed to possess “the healing touch,” Diana held hands with AIDS patients and embraced ill and injured children. Fifteen years after her death, the public expects royalty to personally engage with the beneficiaries of their philanthropy, demonstrating the Princess of Wales’ continuing influence over the monarchy.
When Diana held hands with patients in hospitals, she was not introducing a new way for royalty to engage with ordinary people but instead reviving the ancient practice of the royal healing touch, which persisted until the eighteenth century. In his religious history of the monarchy, Ian Bradley states, “Alongside her role as a celebrity and media superstar, Diana took on an iconic and spiritual status which at one level resembled nothing so much as the sacred aura of medieval monarchy with its magical healing touch (Bradley, God Save the Queen: The Spiritual Heart of the Monarchy, p. 204).”
Medieval monarchy was intensely personal. Kings and Queens reinforced their authority by connecting with their subjects on a physical level. Royalty dispensed alms directly to the poor outside churches or palaces and washed the feet of underprivileged parishioners during Maundy Thursday services. The monarch’s touch was believed to cure the disfiguring symptoms of scrofula, a form of tuberculosis of the neck glands now known to arise from consuming unpasteurized milk.
Both the monarchs of England and France held ceremonies where scrofula sufferers were presented at court to have their swollen neck glands touched by the sovereign. These ceremonies were comparatively rare by the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649), who also reduced the number of royal progresses and other opportunities for personal engagement between the monarch and his subjects. The circumstances of the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660 revived the healing ceremonies as Charles II sought to reinforce the personal relationship between the ruling dynasty and its subjects. Charles II’s niece, Queen Anne, was last British monarch to touch scrofula sufferers as her second cousin and successor, King George I, deemed these ceremonies to be “too Catholic.”
The emergence of the philanthropic monarchy occurred during the eighteenth century and therefore reflected the sensibilities of the Hanoverian monarchs rather than their more tactile predecessors. King George III, Queen Charlotte and their children dutifully opened hospitals and donated to charitable causes but did not embrace the patients. George III’s and Queen Charlotte’s approach to philanthropy informed what is now perceived as the traditional approach to royal charitable patronage. Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter, Princess Anne, is one of the most active members of the current royal family in the charitable sector but she is never photographed holding the children who benefit from her patronage of Save the Children.
Although the majority of royal philanthropy prior to Diana’s activities reflected the sensibilities of the Georgian monarchs, the older tradition of personal contact between royalty and the less fortunate did not entirely disappear. Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt (1864-1918), who married Emperor Nicholas II of Russia’s uncle, Grand Duke Sergei, founded an order of working sisters that personally engaged with the poor of Moscow during her widowhood.
There are numerous parallels between Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Diana, Princess of Wales. In her youth, Elizabeth was considered one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe and was the focus of popular speculation regarding her percieved unhappy marriage to Sergei.
As Head Abbess of the Order of St. Mary and St. Martha, Elizabeth combined hands on charity work in the poorest slums of early twentieth century Moscow with a continued interest in fashion. In contrast to the dark robes worn by other orders of Russian Orthodox nuns, Elizabeth commissioned religious artist Michael Nesterov to design soft grey baize robes for her order with wimples and veils. The Grand Duchess’s own robes were created by the House of Pacquin in Paris (King and Wilson, The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp, Power and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II, p. 81).
Like Diana, Elizabeth’s image and charity work inspired a broad range of responses from the admiration and gratitude of the poor women and children assisted by her convent to the scepticism of the traditional nobility and clergy who questioned the Grand Duchess’s personal image and innovations within the traditional hierarchy of religious orders. Elizabeth was murdered by Russian revolutionaries in 1918 and was eventually canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. Her example inspired the philanthropy of her niece, Princess Alice of Greece, the mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Diana, Princess of Wales’ personal engagement with the recipients of her philanthropy appeared to be a entirely new way for royalty to connect with ordinary people but actually mirrored medieval conceptions of the royal healing touch. Various members of the extended royal family, including Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia and Princess Alice of Greece continued to have physical contact with the less fortunate after more detached expressions of royal philanthropy became prevalent.
Diana’s willingness to hold hands with AIDS patients and embrace children injured by land mines brought this older form of royal humanitarian work back into the mainstream. When the Duchess of Cambridge embraced six year old cancer survivor Diamond Marshall in Calgary in 2011, she continued Diana’s example of reaching out and touching ill and underprivileged children.
Next Week: Diana, Princess of Wales and the Public Perception of Royal Parenting
Lawyers representing the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge began legal proceedings today against Closer, a French tabloid that published photographs of the Duchess sunbathing topless on the terrace of a private estate in Provence. The royal couple is seeking an injunction to prevent the tabloid from reselling the images, lodging a criminal complaint with French prosecutors and seeking damages from Closer and the photographer who captured the images with a long lens.
Both French privacy law and public sympathy are on the side of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are currently in the Solomon Islands as part of a tour celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. These legal proceedings have not prevented Irish and Italian tabloids from publishing the photographs but they send a powerful message that members of the royal family are willing to go to court to defend their right to a privacy.
Both of Prince William’s parents have experience defending their interests within the legal system. Prince Charles has been subjected to numerous invasions of his privacy concerning his relationships with Diana, Princess of Wales and the now Duchess of Cornwall. The Prince was even photographed through a window getting into the shower while staying a French chateau in Avignon, in 1994. The case that prompted legal proceedings from Prince, however, was the unauthorized publication of excerpts from his journals by The Mail on Sunday. These journals, which were leaked to the press by a former member of Prince Charles’ staff, contained personal observations of the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong to China in a volume entitled, “The Handover of Hong Kong, or The Great Chinese Takeaway.”
In contrast to the embarrassing personal revelations concerning Prince Charles, which had surfaced in previous decades, the publication of the journal entries called into question the heir’s ability to succeed to the throne as a politically impartial constitutional monarch. The Mail on Sunday was aware of the political significance of the documents in its possession and argued that the public had the right to know the Prince of Wales’ opinions on international affairs. In 2006, Prince Charles won his privacy suit against the Mail in Sunday as the judge ruled that the Prince’s presence at the handover of Hong Kong was a public event but the journals had not been written for public consumption. In common with the current legal proceedings initiated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the case involving Prince Charles’ journals attempted to establish the royal family’s right to a personal life outside their public role as representatives of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.
Diana, Princess of Wales attempted to defend her privacy in 1993, when Bruce Taylor, the owner of her gym, LA Fitness, sold unflattering photographs of the Princess exercising to The Mirror. The Princess had already received a high court injunction against Taylor and the Mirror Group of Newspapers preventing further publication of the pictures and sought to prevent the sale and publication of the photographs outside the United Kingdom.
The BBC reported at the time, “Princess Diana’s decision marks a new approach by the royal family, which has traditionally resisted using the law to hit back. She could become the first member of the royal family to testify in a courtroom since 1891 when the then Prince of Wales gave evidence for a friend in a libel action.” The case was ultimately settled out of court with Diana receiving an apology from the Mirror Group of Newspapers and an undisclosed the settlement that included her legal fees and donations to her charities.
While the BBC was correct to note that the royal family rarely initiated legal proceedings against the press, Diana’s case was not entirely unprecedented in the twentieth century. King George V began his reign in 1910 by initiating legal proceedings against a French journalist, Edward Mylius, who wrote that the King was guilty of bigamy, having reputedly secretly married the daughter of an Admiral in Malta two years before his public marriage to Princess Mary of Teck. Since this allegation threatened the royal succession, the King initiated proceedings against Mylius for criminal libel.
The prosecutor successfully argued that Mylius’s story was entirely fictional and the journalist was sentenced to twelve months in prison. Although the King expressed his willingness to take the stand to disprove the rumour, his attorney-general, Sir Rufus Issacs, advised that it would be unconstitutional for the King to give evidence in his own court. The monarch’s presence in the courtroom ultimately proved to be unecessary.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s current legal proceedings in France are the most recent example of the royal family defending its reputation in a courtroom setting. Both Prince William’s parents attempted to establish their right to private activities and opinions through the legal system, setting a precedent for subsequent cases involving the relationship between the monarchy and the press.
When Diana, Princess of Wales died in 1997, the mourners who left flowers outside Kensington Palace commented on her unique rapport with people of all backgrounds. She was perceived as “The People’s Princess” with the ability to transcend her privileged position to empathize with children, the underprivileged and the unwell. Diana’s public reputation for empathy and concern developed from both her charity work and her participation in royal walkabouts. The Princess of Wales’ approach to the royal walkabout, which had been part of royal tours since 1939 had a lasting effect on how members of the royal family interact with the public at official engagements.
The first modern royal walkabouts took place during the 1939 tour of Canada by King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth, one of the most well received royal visits in Canadian history. On May 20, the King and Queen visited Ottawa where George VI dedicated the National War Memorial in front of a crowd of 10,000 war veterans. After the ceremony, the royal couple spontaneously jointed the crowd, personally greeting the assembled onlookers and spending 30 minutes speaking with the soldiers. Further walkabouts occured at various points during the tour including the couple’s departure from Victoria, British Columbia.
Queen Elizabeth II revived the royal walkabout during her 1970 tour of Australia and New Zealand. During the first decades of her reign, access to the monarch was carefully regulated by the Royal Household, ensuring that only “suitable” persons were permitted to meet their sovereign. The walkabout was reborn in New Zealand when the Queen departed from the official program to greet a group of schoolchildren eager to meet the monarch. She shook hands with the children and accepted flowers and other small presents from them. Photographs of this walkabout were published by the press worldwide and the Queen received widespread praise for her willingness to respond to personally engage with the enthusiastic crowds on the tour. The walkabout was once again a staple aspect of a royal visit.
When Lady Diana Spencer married Charles, Prince of Wales in 1981, participating in royal walkabouts was an essential elements of her new royal duties. The young bride had been dubbed “Shy Di” because of her unwillingness to speak to the press during her engagement and public interest in how she would interact with onlookers during royal walkabouts was intense. The new Princess of Wales quickly developed her own unique approach to structure of public engagements refined by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II.
One of Diana’s biographers, Tina Brown, attended an early royal engagement undertaken by the Prince and Princess of Wales, a black tie dinner at the American embassy in London. Brown observed, “I was struck by how odd it must be to be always coming upon silent people who stand there waiting to be addressed. But even at this early stage, Diana had evolved a perfect way to deal with it. In a light, airy way, she broke through by offering a shared little experience of her own that immediately communicated she was human (Brown, The Diana Chronicles, p. 223). When Brown commented that she had traveled to Venice by train, Diana volunteered, “I can never sleep on trains, can you?”
Diana’s engaging approach to royal walkabouts charmed audiences worldwide. Prior to her marriage, she had worked as a kindergarten assistant and nanny and had an instant rapport with children, crouching to their level when speaking with them. The Princess learned greetings in the local languages of the places she visited, greeting onlookers in Welsh on her first trip to Wales in 1982. Diana also connected with ill and disabled onlookers at her walkabouts, holding their hands and expressing an interest in their health. In Canada in 1983, Diana was even seen picking up a camera for an onlooker who accidentally dropped in in her path, further breaking down the barriers between royalty and those who gathered to meet them during their walkabouts.
Diana’s approach to royal walkabouts has had a lasting effect on how royalty engages with the public. Twenty-first century royal tours are marked by longer conversations between royal visitors and members of the public than earlier royal walkabouts. During their 2011 tour of Canada, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took the time to interact extensively with ordinary Canadians, extending their walkabouts to allow for lengthier conversations with members of the public. The most recent royal tours have also been filled with spontaneous moments that provide new opportunities for royalty to engage with the public. Earlier this year, Prince Charles joined a game of street hockey in New Brunswick, scoring a goal to the delight of onlookers. Prince Harry danced in the streets during his tour of the Caribbean. The informality and spontaneity that Diana, Princess of Wales brought to royal walkabouts has had a lasting impact on the relationship between the royal family and the public.
Next Week: Diana, Princess of Wales and Her Charities
I will be discussing the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales Saturday, September 1 at 10:30am EST on CKNW AM 980 radio Vancouver. Click here to listen live through CKNW’s website or access their audio archive.
Diana, Princess of Wales, mother of Prince William and Prince Harry died in Paris car accident fifteen years ago today, on August 21, 1997. Over the next few weeks, I will look at Diana’s place in the history of the monarchy and her enduring influence over the current monarchy.
Queen of Fashion For most of English history, royal women set the fashions for ladies of the nobility. A visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London reveals rows of paintings of noblewomen dressed and coiffed to resemble their queen. During King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, modest gable hoods that completely covered the hair were in vogue. Catherine introduced Spanish black work embroidery to the English court, a style that Henry VIII preferred for his shirts to end of his life.
Fashions changed when Anne Boleyn became a possible queen in waiting. Anne introduced numerous fashion innovations to the English court including more revealing French hoods that showed the hair and long sleeves that covered the hands. A court lady’s choice of hood might be a political statement in the late 1520s and 1530s as Henry VIII sought to annul his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne. The King’s third wife, Jane Seymour notably returned to the modest gable hood favoured by Catherine. One of the reasons for Anne of Cleves’s failure to successful perform the role of queen consort was the English court perception that her high waisted German style dresses were unflattering and she could not act as a leader of fashionable society.
Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I were expected to rule England in the manner of their male predecessors and set the fashion at court as their mothers had done. When Elizabeth I adopted farthingale skirts, wide neck ruffs and bejewelled wigs in the late sixteenth century, her ladies did the same. The distribution of printed images of the queen during the same period meant that women outside the court also knew how their monarch dressed and wanted to look just as fashionable. Elizabeth I insisted on the enforcement of sumptuary laws, fearing the breakdown of the social order and her subjects incurring large debts if women of all social backgrounds aspired to dress like the queen.
Stuart queens continued to play the role of fashion trendsetters during the seventeenth century. The ladies portrayed in the court portraiture of of Anthony Van Dyck in the 1620s and 1630s all resemble Charles I’s consort, Queen Henrietta Maria with tight curled hair, wide lace collars and full sleeves. When Charles II married Catherine of Braganza in 1661, one of his first gifts to his bride was a dress in the flowing, sensual style favoured by his mistress, Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland to replace the farthingale skirts still fashionable in new queen’s native Portugal.
Royal wives and mistresses began to lose their exclusive influence over elite fashion trends after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. To shape fashion, it was necessary to be seen by the public, and the late Stuart and early Hanoverian royal families lived in increasing seclusion. William III and Mary II lived a quiet life at Kensington Palace because of the King’s asthma and discomfort in English society. Queen Anne’s health was shattered by her seventeen pregnancies. The first two King Georges could not speak English and the third was nicknamed “Famer George” for his love of country living at Kew Palace.
By the reign of George III, no lady of fashion claimed to be inspired by Queen Charlotte, the King’s homely and perpetually pregnant consort. The seclusion of the royal court and emergence of rival noble factions dictated by party politics brought new trendsetters to prominence. One of Diana’s Spencer predecessors, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire led fashionable English society in the late 1700s, inspiring the dresses worn by wealthy women.
The Duchess was a friend of Queen Marie Antoinette of France and helped popularize the white muslin dresses and floral embellishments favoured by the French queen during her “Petit Trianon” phase in the 1780s. As sumptuary laws had been repealed by the eighteenth century, anyone with the necessary funds attempted to imitate the Duchess’s style.
The Regency and Victorian periods occasionally revived the role of leader of fashion that had been the privilege of Tudor and Stuart royal women. Queen Victoria had a lasting impact on bridal fashions when she chose a simple white wedding dress and floral bouquet for her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobourg. When Victoria retreated into mourning after Albert’s death in 1861, her daughter Princess Louise and daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra became known as the most stylish members of the royal family, setting trends in late nineteenth century ladies fashion.
By the twentieth century, however, royal women’s fashion had become synonymous with tradition instead of trend setting. Until the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer, the clothes worn by royal women often seemed to hearken back to styles no longer worn by many of their subjects. Since George V disapproved of post World War One changes to ladies’ fashion, Queen Mary continued to wear floor length dresses in the hourglass style, as she had done during Queen Victoria’s reign.The conservative fashions favoured by the future George VI’s wife, Elizabeth were the antithesis of the trendy 1930s backless dresses worn by Wallis Simpson. In the 1960s, the Scotch tartans worn by Queen Elizabeth II and her children at Balmoral seemed very traditional within a fashion climate dominated by miniskirts and bell bottoms.
When Diana Spencer became Princess of Wales, in 1981, a royal woman once again set fashion as had been the case during the Tudor and early Stuart periods. In contrast to Elizabeth I or Henrietta Maria, Diana’s fashion choices were shown worldwide through photography and film.
At the annual State Opening of Parliament in the United Kingdom, the press eagerly photographed the princess and commented on her attire. Diana popularized the “princess style” wedding gowns of the 1980s with full skirts and sleeves. Her diverse fashions on official occasions ranged from the wide shouldered “Dynasty Di” ensembles of the 1980s, to elegant off shoulder evening gowns, to the form fitting sheath dresses of the 1990s. Diana’s admirers also imitated her casual wear, which included jeans with blazers and sleeveless tops with khakis.
The emergence of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as a twenty-first century fashion trendsetter reveals that Diana’s style had a lasting influence on the perceived role of royal women. As in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the public once again looks to princesses to influence the world of fashion.
The eager anticipation of Catherine’s choice of wedding dress in 2011 and and the sale of inexpensive versions of her outfits for women who wish to emulate her style reflects Diana’s enduring influence over popular expectations of royal women. Since Diana Spencer joined the royal family in 1981, royal women have once again assumed the Tudor-Stuart role of leader of fashionable society.
Next Week: Diana and the Royal Walkabout