Category Archives: Royal Art Patronage

The Royal Paintbox: Friday September 12 at 10pm ET on PBS

HRH The Prince of Wales during the filming of Royal Paintbox
HRH The Prince of Wales during the filming of Royal Paintbox

Royalty have acted as patrons to artists for centuries. Henry VIII and his wives sat for Hans Holbein’s portraits. Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, advanced the careers of numerous seventeenth century painters including Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens and Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. Marie Antoinette encouraged female artists, commissioning over thirty royal portraits by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and inviting wax sculptor Anna Maria Grosholtz, better known as Madame Tussaud, to live at Versailles. George III founded the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. 

Today, royalty continue to support and promote the arts. The National Portrait Gallery in the United Kingdom raised its profile when the Duchess of Cambridge became its patron. What is less well known is how many past and present members of the royal family became prolific amateur artists themselves. In The Royal Paintbox, The Prince of Wales shares paintings by royal artists, demonstrating how kings, queens, princes and princesses have expressed themselves through art since Mary, Queen of Scots created intricate embroideries during her nineteen years of imprisonment in England.

HRH The Prince of Wales sketching in Scotland during the filming of Royal Paintbox
HRH The Prince of Wales sketching in Scotland during the filming of Royal Paintbox

At the heart of the documentary is the Prince of Wales, who discusses his own education as an artist, receiving early lessons in technique from his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, and encouragement to observe the natural world from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The Prince grew up surrounded by paintings at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral and learned to appreciate art from a young age. His overseas tours provide fresh inspiration for new works of art. The Prince explains how he almost missed a plane leaving Morocco to complete a desert landscape in watercolours.

The artwork shown onscreen provides a new perspective on past royalty including key figures from Canadian history. Prince Rupert, 1st Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was an accomplished printmaker, whose most famous mezzotint, The Great Executioner, depicts the beheading of St. John the Baptist. The Prince of Wales explains that Rupert’s choice of subject matter may have been influenced by the beheading of his uncle, Charles I.  Princess Louise, wife of Lord Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883, is described by the Prince of Wales as “a seriously good artist” as he showcases her paintings and sculptures.

In addition to narration by the Prince of Wales, the Royal Paintbox includes commentary from a vast array of historians, biographers, artists, and royal relatives. The Duke of Edinburgh’s cousin, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, shows artwork by her grandfather, Prince Louis of Battenberg, including his drawings for the Illustrated London News. The Queen’s niece, Sarah Armstrong-Jones, discusses her work as a professional artist. “Tour artists” reminisce about painting scenes from the Prince of Wales’s overseas tours , showing examples from Australia to Oman. Historians who have written about Queen Victoria and her family including Jane Ridley, author of Bertie: A Life of Edward VII and Jehanne Wake, author of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Unconventional Daughter reveal the importance of art in the lives of the Queen and her children.

The Royal Paintbox is a fascinating glimpse of the private world of royalty through their artwork. With the Prince of Wales as their guide, viewers see how they expressed themselves through paintings, drawings, embroidery and sculpture. From Mary, Queen of Scots to the present Prince of Wales, the royal family have been both patrons and artists for centuries.

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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

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Shakespeare’s Missing Magna Carta

King John

My latest article on the Magna Carta 2015 Canada website discusses why there is no mention of the the Great Charter in Shakespeare’s history play “King John.” I also review the current staging of “King John” at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, which I had the pleasure of attending this past weekend.

Click here to read Shakespeare’s Missing Magna Carta

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Empress of the Night: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak (Historical Fiction Review)

Since the publication of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl in 2001, the Tudors have dominated English language popular historical fiction. In addition to novels about Henry VIII and his wives, children and parents, obscure figures from the Tudor court have captured the imagination of novelists. Even Henry VIII’s confectioner is a main character in a historical novel, Suzannah Dunn’s The Queen Of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. The publication of Eva Stachniak’s first novel of Catherine the Great, The Winter Palace, reminded historical fiction readers that the Tudors do not have a monopoly on court intrigue and spectacle. In the The Winter Palace, Stachniak told the story of German Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst’s unlikely path to the Russian throne as Catherine the Great through the eyes of her watchful servant, Varvara. Empress of the Night imagines Catherine as a mature ruler.

Readers expecting a conventional sequel to The Winter Palace will be disappointed by Empress of the Night. Stachniak does not resume Catherine’s story in the aftermath of the military coup that made her Empress but in her dying hours. Following a stroke, Catherine looks back on her life and reign. The last third of the novel covers the drama of the last year of Catherine’s life, including her desire to disinherit her unstable son, Paul, her attempts to secure a prestigious royal marriage for her eldest granddaughter, Alexandrine, and her relationship with her final lover, the young Platon Zubov. Stachniak’s  evocative writing shows the tensions within Catherine’s family and court.

While Catherine’s last months and hours unfold in rich detail, earlier periods of her life and reign pass by too quickly in the novel. While swift progress through Catherine’s life before becoming Empress makes sense because this material is covered in The Winter Palace, Catherine’s early reign does not receive enough attention. The creation of her law code takes place over a few pages and the aquisition of her famous art collection is alluded to in short scenes. Stachniak’s talents as a writer ensure that each of Catherine’s favourites emerges as a distinct personality but they seem to come and go at a dizzying pace before her last year.

Stachniak’s Catherine is steeped in Russian folk proverbs from her time learning the language and constantly struggles with conflicts between passion and power.  This interpretation of Catherine’s character evokes the complexities of eighteenth century Russia but does not do the historical Empress justice. In the novel, Catherine refers to her love of reading but does not mention, much less quote, her favourite French Enlightenment philosophers such as Diderot, Voltaire and Montesquieu. There is little sense of Catherine’s place among eighteenth century Europe’s Enlightened despots beyond Austrian Emperor Joseph II’s visit to Russia.

Empress of the Night provides an engaging portrait of Catherine’s Russia and her last year. Stachniak’s first novel, The Winter Palace, however, provided a stronger imagining of Catherine’s character. Her early reign passes by too fast in Empress of the Night to reveal her evolution from enlightened despot to determined reactionary in her final years. Both Stachniak’s novels reveal that Catherine’s Russia is an ideal setting for historical fiction. Hopefully, there will be many more Imperial Russian historical novels to come.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George Arrive in Australia


The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George arrive in Sydney. Photo credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George arrive in Sydney. Photo credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

William, Kate and George arrived in Sydney today for the Australian half of their royal tour.  Upcoming highlights include a visit to Taronga Zoo, where the bilby enclosure is being named after Prince George, a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra and an ANZAC Day March for the centenary of World War One.

I participated in a live chat today about the royal tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Click here to read the chat online 

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Princess Louise and the Founding of the National Gallery of Canada


Princess Louise in Canada, dressed for an Ottawa winter.
Princess Louise in Canada

My column in this weekend’s edition of the Kingston Whig Standard looks at the role of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise in founding of the National Gallery and Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Louise’s husband, Lord Lorne was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883 and the Princess resided at Rideau Hall, Ottawa for long periods during that time. Louise was a trained painter and sculptor and she was eager to develop national institutions where Canadian artists could share their work with the public and attract patrons.

Click here to read “Princess Louise and the Founding of the National Gallery of Canada” in the Kingston Whig Standard.

Interested in learning more about Princess Louise in Canada. See Carolyn Harris, “Royalty at Rideau Hall: Lord Lorne, Princess Louise and the Emergence of the Canadian Crown” in eds. D. Michael Jackson and Philippe Lagassé, Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy (2014)

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When Catherine the Great Invaded The Crimea And Put The Rest of the World On Edge

Portrait of Catherine the Great as a Legislator in the Temple Devoted to the Godess of Justice by Dmitri Levitsky, early 1780s.
Portrait of Catherine the Great as a Legislator in the Temple Devoted to the Goddess of Justice by Dmitri Levitsky, early 1780s.

My article in Smithsonian Magazine, “When Catherine the Great Invaded The Crimea And Put The Rest of the World On Edge” looks at the original annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Empire during the reign of Empress Catherine II in the late eighteenth century. Catherine presented herself to the world as an “enlightened” despot who ruled according to the law, and considered the welfare of her subjects.  Her foreign policy and treatment of internal dissent, however, demonstrated that she saw did not observe any constraints on her power. For centuries the Crimean peninsula and other regions of the modern day Ukraine have been one of Europe’s battlegrounds. Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin is following in a long tradition of Russian leaders expanding their political influence at the expense of Ukrainian autonomy.

Click here to read “When Catherine the Great Invaded The Crimea And Put The Rest of the World On Edge” in Smithsonian Magazine. 

Interested in learning more about Catherine the Great and The History of the Ukraine?

Books about Catherine the Great

Simon Dixon, Catherine The Great (2010).

Isabel de Madariaga, Catherine the Great: A Short History; Second Edition (2002).

Robert K. Massie, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (2011).

Books about the Ukraine

Anna Reid, Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine (2000).

Paul Robert Magocsi, Ukraine: An Illustrated History, (2013).

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The Queen’s Crumbling Palaces


The site of Greenwich Palace, favourite residence of King Henry VIII
The site of Greenwich Palace, favourite residence of King Henry VIII

My column in this weekend’s edition of the Kingston Whig Standard looks at the recent scrutiny of the Queen’s finances. While press coverage focuses on the Queen being “down to her last million” in her reserve fund, the most important issues raised by the UK Treasury report are the urgent repairs necessary for the royal palaces. The disappearance of the Palace of Plancentia at Greenwich, the setting of key events from King Henry VIII’s reign demonstrates that is is possible for neglect to render a palace uninhabitable.  In contrast, the survival of Windsor Castle for nearly a thousand years reflects a succession of visionary plans for the historic royal residence.

Click here to read the full column, “The Queen’s Crumbling Palaces” in the Kingston Whig Standard

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The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley (Review)

The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter, the full first biography of the controversial Princess in more than twenty years, makes an excellent first impression. The handsome cover depicts a colorized photograph of Louise, demonstrating her keen fashion sense. The author, Lucinda Hawksley, is a direct descendant of Charles Dickens and has written extensively about Victorian women and the arts in her previous books including Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel and Charles Dickens’ Favorite Daughter: The Life, Loves, and Art of Katey Dickens Perugini. The introduction presents the compelling argument that the Princess was not an obscure figure in her own lifetime but a celebrity and role model for nineteenth century women who questioned the social conventions of the period.

The Mystery of Princess Louise, however, does not live up to its early promise. While Hawksley presents a vivid portrait of the Victorian artistic milieu frequented by the Princess as a sculptor and painter, her analysis of Queen Victoria’s family dynamics contains inaccuracies and curious omissions. The chapters that cover Princess Louise’s time in Canada as consort of the Governor General also contain inaccuracies that suggest the author did little research regarding Canadian history beyond the public response to the presence of the royalty in the Dominion. The errors and omissions regarding known circumstances make it difficult to accept the author’s theories regarding why access to numerous archival collections related to the Princess remains restricted.

The Mystery of Princess Louise has attracted extensive press attention in the United Kingdom because of Hawksley’s theory that the Princess had an affair with her brother Leopold’s tutor, Walter Stirling, and gave birth to an illegitimate son who was adopted by Queen Victoria’s doctor, Sir Charles Locock. There were certainly cases of eighteenth and nineteenth century Princesses who bore children fathered by male members of the royal household including King George III’s daughter, Princess Sophia, and Princess Thyra of Denmark, who was the sister of Louise’s sister-in-law, the future Queen Alexandra. Both Sophia and Thyra spent their pregnancies in seclusion, the former in Weymouth, Dorset and the latter in Greece.

If Princess Louise had found herself in similar circumstances, it is probable that she too would have been sent away from court and experienced a period of seclusion, Hawksley does not mention the experiences of Sophia and Thyra. Instead, she argues that a pregnant Louise carried out public engagements and danced at a Scottish ball, concealing her condition under a maternity corset and numerous shawls, muffs and dress ruffles. She further posits that the baby remained within the royal household as an infant, cared for by the servants until the adoption by the Lococks. While Hawksley correctly states that there were cases of Victorian servant women who concealed pregnancies while going about their household duties, the seclusion of Sophia and Thyra demonstrates that was not the experience for Princesses. If Louise had borne a child before her marriage with Stirling or anyone else, she would have spent months away from the public eye.

In other sections of the book, there are factual inaccuracies. Alice, Countess of Athlone was the daughter of Prince Leopold not Princess Helena. Louise was not the first “royal” to marry a commoner since 1515 but the first Princess as future James II married Anne Hyde in 1660. There are also questionable interpretations of Queen Victoria’s views. Regarding Louise’s marriage to Lord Lorne, Hawksley states, “The Queen must have had ulterior motives for ‘marrying off’ Louise…to someone of a lower rank to whom the marriage would be an honour.” In fact, there are numerous examples of Victoria supporting the marriage of her children and grandchildren into families that were not considered fully royal, such as the Tecks and the Battenbergs. Hawksley also speculates that Queen Victoria accepted an affair between her daughter and the sculptor, Joseph Edgar Boehm, which is difficult to believe considering the Queen’s disproportionate reaction to her son Albert Edward’s affair with the actress Nellie Clifden.

The chapters concerning Louise’s time in Canada also contain inaccuracies and omissions. As I state in my article, “Royalty at Rideau Hall: Lord Lorne, Princess Louise and the Emergence of the Canadian Crown” in Canada and the Crown: Essays in Constitutional Monarchy, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald did not actually greet the royal couple upon their arrival in Halifax. Hawksley also curiously refers to Quebec as “French owned” on two different occasions, which was certainly not the case in 1878. The need for more Canadian history and politics in the narrative is most evident when the author attributes Lorne’s difficulties as Governor General to his alleged homosexuality and a possible “bitchy feud” between Princess Louise and the Prime Minister’s wife, Lady Macdonald. There is no mention of the key political conflict between Lorne and Sir John A. MacDonald regarding the dismissal of the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Luc Letellier.

The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter ends as well as it started, revealing the full extent of Louise’s charitable activities and public appearances in her old age. Hawksley’s book will bring Louise to the attention of a new generation and provoke plenty of discussion and controversy. The inaccessibility of key archival material means that there are still plenty of unanswered questions about the life of this fascinating historical figure. Unfortunately, the errors and omissions in The Mystery of Princess Louise undermine Hawksley’s attempts to separate fact from scandalous rumour.

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My article, “Royalty at Rideau Hall: Lord Lorne, Princess Louise and the Emergence of the Canadian Crown” published today

My article about Queen Victoria’s daughter and son-in-law in Canada, “Royalty at Rideau Hall: Lord Lorne, Princess Louise and the Emergence of the Canadian Crown” has been published today in the new book Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy, edited by D. Michael Jackson and Philippe Lagassé. This volume is an essential addition to any collection of books about the monarchy and/or Canadian history and politics, containing chapters about the role of the Crown in Canada from numerous perspectives including history,  the media, the constitution, the First Nations and French Canada.

Here is the abstract of my contribution to Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy, “Royalty at Rideau Hall”:

Princess Louise in Canada, suitably dressed for winter weather.
Princess Louise in Canada, suitably dressed for winter weather.

In 1878, Queen Victoria’s son-in-law, John Campbell, Lord Lorne was appointed the fourth Governor General of Canada since Confederation. The arrival of Lord Lorne and his wife, Princess Louise, in Halifax to travel through Quebec City and Montreal to Ottawa to take up residence in Rideau Hall was the first post-confederation royal tour. Princess Louise was the first female member of the royal family to cross the Atlantic and visit North America. Historians often discuss Lord Lorne and the other British born Governors General of the 19th centuries as examples of Canada’s continued British identity after Confederation. The arrival of Lord Lorne and Princess Louise in 1878, however, provided an opportunity for Canadians to assert their nascent national identity by expressing their expectations of the new Vice Regal couple as Canadians. Newspaper coverage, correspondence and popular publications discussing the appointment of Lord Lorne and the arrival of the royal couple highlighted three key aspects of the emerging Canadian identity in 1878.

These cultural trends were loyalty to the crown (in contrast to the United States), a democratic society without class distinctions (in contrast to Great Britain) and a uniquely Canadian engagement with winter sports and the natural world. The enthusiastic welcome provided for the royal couple as they traveled from Halifax to Ottawa combined with the popular concerns that they would expect the same degree of deference accorded to members of the royal family reflected the emergence of a unique national culture in nineteenth century Canada. Lord Lorne and Princess Louise achieved popularity during their first months in Canada by responding to these expectations, holding broadly accessible events at Rideau Hall and embracing Canadian outdoor pastimes such as curling, fishing, skating and tobogganing. The arrival of the royal couple in Canada in 1878 provided the impetus for the articulation of a Canadian identity distinct from both Great Britain and the United States.

Click here to purchase Canada and the Crown: Essays in Constitutional Monarchy from Amazon.

Click here to purchase Canada and Crown directly from McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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