Interview: What does ‘Occupation: Princess’ mean? Here’s what the royals actually do

The Duchess of Cambridge celebrates Canada Day in Ottawa, July 1, 2011

The Duchess of Cambridge celebrates Canada Day in Ottawa, July 1, 2011

My latest interview for Yahoo Shine Canada discusses the wide range of official duties performed by royalty today. Since the reign of King George III, philanthropy has been a key role for royalty, especially princesses. Queen Victoria’s five daughters all assumed charitable patronages, many of which were devoted to the health and education of women and girls. Today, representing Queen Elizabeth II at official engagements is also an important role for members of the royal family. The Queen and Prince Philip have reduced their overseas travel in recent years and their children and grandchildren often represent them outside the United Kingdom.

Click here to read “What does ‘Occupation: Princess’ mean? Here’s what the royals actually do” at Yahoo Shine Canada

CBC Interview: Royal baby names: What’s likely for William and Kate’s 2nd child?

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – William and Kate – are expecting their second child this month. I discussed possible royal baby names with Janet Davison at There are numerous predictions that “Alice” will be chosen for a girl. Alice was one of Queen Victoria’s favourite names for girls and the name of a number of her descendants including Prince Philip’s mother. I also discuss the impact of royalty on baby name choices in Canada, including the reason “Louise” and “Lorne” became popular Canadian baby names by the early twentieth century.

Click here to read Royal baby names: What’s likely for William and Kate’s 2nd child?

CBC Interview: Royals or Celebrities? Prince William and Kate Take Manhattan

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a Gala in honour of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a Gala in honour of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in New York City today for a three day American visit that focuses on philanthropy including endangered species conservation and fundraising for the University of St. Andrew’s at a gala dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although the United States is not a monarchy, royalty have received a warm welcome there since Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward (the future Edward VII) toured in 1860. I discussed the history of royal philanthropy and royal visits to the United States with

Click here to read “Royals or Celebrities? Prince William and Kate Take Manhattan.”

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Celebrate Their 9th Anniversary

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on the balcony of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton during their 2009 tour of Canada.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on the balcony of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton during their 2009 tour of Canada.

After nine years of marriage to Prince Charles, the former Camilla Parker Bowles has been accepted by the public as a respected member of the royal family. I discussed how the Duchess’s image has improved over the course of her marriage in an interview with Eun Kim at

Click here to read “Prince Charles, Camilla celebrate 9 years of marriage — and an improved image” at

The Monarchy in Canada: HRH The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles)

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

My article in the Canadian Encyclopedia about the Prince of Wales was published today. The piece focuses on the Prince’s time in Canada as well his philanthropy and philosophy on the natural world.

Click here to read Prince Charles (HRH The Prince of Wales) in the Canadian Encyclopedia

The Monarchy in Canada: HRH The Duke of Cambridge (The Prince William)


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Canada in 2011

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Canada in 2011

My article for the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia on Prince William is a short biography of the Duke of Cambridge that emphasizes his time in Canada and how the Canadian public responded to the royal wedding and his tours of Canada. The article also includes information on the birth of Prince George in 2013 and the succession reform debate in Canada.

Click here to read HRH The Duke of Cambridge (The Prince William) in the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia.

Next: HRH The Prince of Wales (The Prince Charles)

My Thoughts on Diana: A Film by Oliver Hirschbiegel

diana_ver3 The 2013 film Diana begins the evening that Diana, Princess of Wales died in a Paris car accident. Diana, played by Naomi Watt,s is walking around her hotel suite alone. Over the course of the film, which covers incidents from the last two years of the Princess’s life, she is often shown on her own. She goes jogging on the Kensington Palace grounds, drives around London in her butler’s car, rehearses her BBC interview in front of the mirror and makes a few attempts at cooking/reheating dinner in the palace kitchen.

There’s a element of truth to this approach. In his book, On Royalty, journalist Jeremy Paxman described being invited to lunch at Kensington Palace by Diana the year before her death. Paxman concluded, “She just wanted someone to talk to, and, unlike other lonely people, was in the happy position of being able  to invite anyone she liked and being reasonably confident that they would turn up.” In the film, a lonely Diana invites London heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan, played by Naveen Andrews, over to the palace  and a two year affair ensues.

The problem with the screenwriter’s decision to focus on Diana’s lonely life behind closed doors is that the film provides little sense of why she became an iconic figure who enthralled the public worldwide. Throughout the film, Diana attracts admiring crowds and is pursued by paparazzi but there is little sense of why she “the most famous woman in the world” as Khan frequently observes onscreen. The Princess attends a single charitable event in the first half of the film and her gift for connecting with people of all backgrounds receives little attention until the months immediately before her death. By that time in the film, her activism on behalf of land mine victims and compassion for bereaved mothers appears to be a response to her love and admiration for Dr. Khan rather than her innate empathy for the less fortunate.

The affair with Khan so dominates the film that there is little sense of the person Diana was before they met. Although there are allusions to her parents’ divorce, her love for her sons and her own failed marriage, she seems curiously incomplete before beginning of the affair. Despite the actual Diana’s years of charity work on behalf of AIDS victims, the fictional Diana has difficulty finding her way around a hospital and goes “snooping” to learn more about how she help patients in need. She tells Khan that her royal duties have resulted in her knowing a little bit about every subject but there is little evidence of this knowledge in her actions. Diana’s bodyguards and the paparazzi come and go in the film. Neither are onscreen when her relationship with Khan breaks down and the film portrays Diana shouting “Ha-a-a-sna-a-t” in front of his apartment in the middle of the night.

Apart from a brief last meeting with William and Harry before going on vacation with Dodi Al Fayed, members of the royal family do not appear onscreen and are rarely mentioned. Unfortunately, the script perpetuates the historical Diana’s own view that “the palace” was conspiring against her. The fictional Diana complains that the royal family is keeping her from her sons, only allowing her to see them every fifth week. While laws dating from the reign of King George I dictated that the Queen had custody of her grandchildren, William and Harry actually spent equal time with each parent after the marriage ended. It was not the royal family but the boarding school education of the two princes that limited Diana’s time with her sons.

The makers of Diana missed an opportunity to explore why millions believed that they had suffered a personal loss when the Princess of Wales died in 1997. The film is so focused on her affair with Khan that all other aspects of her life including her charity work, motherhood and relationship with the royal family do not receive the attention they deserve. The stilted script with lines like, “I am a heart surgeon, you are the most famous woman in the world” provide few clues about how Diana really behaved behind closed doors. With talented actors such as Watts and Andrews, Diana should have been a much stronger film.



My Interview with about the Iconic Image of Diana, Princess of Wales

I am quoted in an article by Janet Davison of about the enduring, iconic image of Diana, Princess of Wales The Diana film starring Naomi Watts opens in North American theatres today.

Click here to read “The Diana Movie: Icon Worship or Tacky Biopic?”

The 7 Most Controversial Royal Christenings

The Duchess of Cambridge with the newborn Prince George of Cambridge in July, 2013

The Duchess of Cambridge with the newborn Prince George of Cambridge in July, 2013

The christening of Prince George of Cambridge on October 23 in the Chapel of Royal of St. James’s Palace will be private occasion attended by family, close friends and the royal baby’s godparents. From Saxon times until well into the reign of Queen Victoria, however, royal christenings were often public occasions. When the christening of a royal baby went according to plan, the ceremony effectively symbolized the close relationship between the Crown and the Church and presented the next generation of royal heirs to the world. Unfortunately, royal christenings also had the potential to showcase unfortunate omens, religious discord and conflicts within the royal family regarding names, godparents and child rearing. Here are the 7 most controversial British royal christenings:

1) King Aethelred the Unready (c. 968-1016) According to the medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury, the life of the future King Aethelred the Unready began inauspiciously when the infant defecated in the font at his christening. Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury exclaimed angrily to the assembled guests, “By God and his mother, this will be a sorry fellow!” Aethelred grew up to become one of the most ineffective Kings of Saxon England, losing his throne to King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark from 1013 to 1014.

The twenty five year old Elizabeth I in her coronation robes, embroidered with Tudor roses

The twenty five year old Elizabeth I in her coronation robes, embroidered with Tudor roses

2) Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) The future Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was the first royal baby received into the newly created Church of England. Since the ceremony in the Church of Observant Friars in Greenwich proclaimed both the legitimacy of the King’s second marriage and the new religious settlement, there was critical commentary from supporters of the repudiated Queen Catherine of Aragon and the old papal supremacy. Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, one of Catherine’s most prominent supporters wrote, “the christening has been like her mother’s coronation, very cold and disagreeable, both to the Court and to the city, and there has been no thought of having the bonfires and rejoicings usual in such cases.”

3) Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612) The eldest son of King James VI of Scotland (the future James I of England) and Anna of Denmark received a lavish christening at Stirling Castle. The King intended to make his son’s ceremony stand out from all previous royal celebrations by surprising the guests with a lion pulling a chariot into the christening banquet. At the last moment, this plan was cancelled as there were concerns that the lion might “forget himself.” Guests had to settle for viewing the King’s lions from a distance as the animals remained in their courtyard enclosure. Prince Henry died at the age of eighteen and his younger brother Charles succeeded James as King Charles I.

4) Princess Catherine Laura (1675) When the future James II’s second wife, Mary of Modena gave birth to her first child, the Roman Catholic royal couple arranged for a secret christening by Mary’s Catholic chaplain. James’s children from his first marriage, the future Queens Mary II and Anne, were Protestants and he wanted the children of his second marriage to share his Roman Catholic faith. When Charles II found out about Catherine Laura’s secret baptism, he ordered a second, Church of England, christening for his niece against the wishes of the baby’s parents. The infant princess died of convulsions at the age of nine months.

Prince George William, second son of the future King George II

Prince George William, second son of the future King George II

5) Prince George William (1717-1718) Arrangements for the christening of the future King George II’s second son led to a lasting rift between the Prince of Wales and his father, King George I. The Prince and Princess of Wales – the future King George II and Queen Caroline – wanted to name their son Louis and suggested the Queen of Prussia and Duke of York as godparents. George I promptly took charge of the christening planning, choosing “George William” as the name for his grandson and asking the Lord Chamberlain, the Duke of Newcastle to be one of the godparents. The Prince of Wales detested Newcastle and confronted him at the ceremony, declaring, “You are a rascal, but I shall find you out!” Due to the Prince’s thick German accent, Newcastle heard “I’ll fight you!” and assumed he had been challenged to a duel. George I banished his son and daughter-in-law from court because this incident, retaining custody of their children. When baby George William died at the age of three months, the Prince of Wales blamed his father for the tragedy because he had separated the child from his parents. The relationship between George I and the future George II never recovered from the circumstances surrounding George William’s christening and death.

6) Queen Victoria (1819-1901) The christening of the future Queen Victoria was the setting of an argument between the baby’s father, the Duke of Kent and her Uncle, the future King George IV, regarding suitable names. The Duke and Duchess intended to name their daughter Victoria Georgiana Alexandrina Charlotte Augusta after her mother and godparents. The King rejected these choices and told his brother and sister-in-law that he would inform them of the baby’s name at the christening. At the ceremony, The Archbishop of Canterbury held the baby over the font until the King decided, after some deliberations, that she would be named Alexandrina for her godfather, Czar Alexander I. The Duke of Kent requested a second name for the baby and suggested Elizabeth. George refused this idea, declaring, “Give her the mother’s name also then but it cannot precede that of the Emperor.” With the name settled, the future Queen was finally christened Alexandrina Victoria.

A group photograph from Prince William's christening in 1982

A group photograph from Prince William’s christening in 1982

7) Prince William (1982) After the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles, Princess Diana stated that she had been excluded from the planning of her elder son’s christening. Diana stated in a taped interview with James Colthurst published in Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words, “I was treated like nobody else’s business. Nobody asked me when it was suitable for William – 11 o’clock could not have been worse. Endless pictures of the Queen Mother, Charles and William. I was excluded totally that day.” Diana’s biographer, Tina Brown dismissed Diana’s account in The Diana Chronicles, writing, “The christening was a dynastic ceremony involving all the Royal Family, not a “Mommy and Me” class.”

The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace from King Henry VIII to Prince George of Cambridge

St. James's Palace in London

St. James’s Palace in London

Prince George of Cambridge will be christened by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at St. James’s Palace on October 23. The choice of venue took the public by surprise because both Prince Charles and Prince William were christened in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace, which became a favourite venue for royal christenings after the palace chapel suffered bomb damage during the Second World War. The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace, however, has been the setting for key royal occasions since the reign of King Henry VIII. The upcoming christening will follow in a long tradition of royal events unfolding within the Chapel Royal.

Today, St. James’s Palace is the administrative centre of the monarchy and the senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. The Accession Council meets at the palace to proclaim each new sovereign and British Ambassadors represent “The Court of St. James.” The palace did not enjoy this prominence when Henry VIII ordered its construction in the 1530s. Henry’s principal residence in London was Whitehall Palace and he intended for St. James’s Palace to be a secondary residence. Much of the palace was constructed on the site of a leper hospital dedicated to St. James the Lesser. The palace chapel was originally part of a nearby convent acquired by the King during the dissolution of the monasteries.

Portrait of Henry VIII's 4th wife, Anna of Cleves by Hans Holbein

Portrait of Henry VIII’s 4th wife, Anna of Cleves by Hans Holbein

St. James’s Palace was completed in 1536. In 1540, Henry commissioned the artist Hans Holbein to decorate the chapel in honour of his fourth marriage to the German Princess, Anna of Cleves. Holbein had been a key figure in the marriage negotiations, painting the famous portrait of Anna that prompted the King’s proposal of marriage. Although the marriage ceremony itself took place at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, the adornments to St. James’s Palace were intended to celebrate the new Queen.

Unfortunately for Holbein’s career, Henry was not attracted to the actual Anna as he was to her portrait and the marriage was annulled that same year. Holbein continued to work as an artist at court but he received fewer royal commissions after the failure of the King’s 4th marriage.

St. James’s Palace continued to be a significant royal residence during the Tudor period. Two of Henry VIII’s children, Henry Fitzroy and Queen Mary I, died in the palace and the heart of the Queen is buried under the choir stalls. Elizabeth I reputedly prayed for the success of her fleet against the Spanish Armada in the Chapel Royal in 1588.

The Queen's Chapel, designed by Inigo Jones for Charles I's consort, Queen Henrietta Maria.

The Queen’s Chapel, designed by Inigo Jones for Charles I’s consort, Queen Henrietta Maria.

In 1623, construction began on a new chapel at St. James’s Palace. Negotiations were underway for King James I’s heir, the future Charles I, to marry Princess Henriette-Marie of France and marriage contract ultimately stated, “. . . in all the said King’s Palaces in which the said Madam shall remain or be she shall have a Roman church or chapel capable and large with sufficient commodious entrances not only for the use of Madam and the better sort but also for the meanest of families. And this church or chapel shall be decently adorned according to the rites and customs of the Roman church.”

Inigo Jones, a favourite architect of James I’s late wife, Anna of Denmark designed the new Roman Catholic place of worship and Charles I’s bride brought her own chapel furnishings from France. Although there was widespread public concern that Henrietta Maria would encourage her husband to convert to Roman Catholicism, Charles I remained a devout member of the Church of England and received in his last Communion in the original Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace before his execution at Whitehall in 1649.

During the interregnum, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell made clear what he thought of Henrietta Maria and her religion by using the Queen’s Chapel as a stable. Henrietta Maria’s chapel became a royal chapel once more in 1938 and the remains of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother remained there during the preparations for her lying-in-state in Westminster Hall after her death in 2002.

George Frederic Handel

After Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire in the reign of King William III, in 1698, St. James’s Palace assumed its current role as the administrative centre of the monarchy. Although William preferred to live at Kensington Palace because of his asthma, George I, George II and George III all used St. James’s Palace as their principal residence in London during the eighteenth century. At this time, the Chapel Royal became a significant cultural centre. George Frederic Handel was appointed ‘Composer of Musick of His Majesty’s Chappel Royal’ in 1723 and he composed the music for the coronation of King George II in 1727.

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in 1840. The chapel has been renovated in 1836 to include oak paneling and a high ceiling. The overjoyed bride wrote in her journal, “His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! … to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!” In addition to ensuring the Queen’s happiness, the wedding also had worldwide social significance as Victoria’s choice of a white wedding gown with fresh flowers has influenced bridal fashions to the present day.

George Hayter's painting of the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert

George Hayter’s painting of the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert

In contrast to the Georgian monarchs, Victoria did not use St. James’s Palace as her residence, preferring Windsor Castle and the newly enlarged Buckingham Palace as official homes for her growing family.  Nevertheless, the Palace continues to be the setting for royal events to the present day. The children of Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, Lord Frederick and Lady Gabriella Windsor, were christened in the Chapel Royal in 1979 and 1981 respectively. The Queen’s granddaughter, Princess Beatrice was also christened there in a ceremony conducted by John Habgood, Archbishop of York, in 1988.

The Duchess of Cambridge leaving the hospital with Prince George of Cambridge that day after his birth

The Duchess of Cambridge leaving the hospital with Prince George of Cambridge the day after his birth

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have chosen a setting for the christening of their son Prince George that has a long and colourful royal history. For Prince William, the choice of the Chapel Royal also has profound personal significance. In September 1997, the coffin of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales was placed before the altar of the Chapel Royal so that family and friends could pay their respects before the funeral at Westminster Abbey. By choosing the Chapel Royal as the setting for Prince George’s christening, William and Catherine are honouring the late Princess of Wales in addition to their son’s destiny as heir to a thousand year old monarchy.

Click here to read my interview with Ruth Dunley of about the christening arrangements for Prince George of Cambridge.