New Podcast Interview: “Marie Antoinette” on History Gems

In the latest episode of the History Gems podcast, I discussed Queen Marie Antoinette and the Affair of the Diamond Necklace with Dr. Nicola Tallis. Themes in the podcast episode including Marie Antoinette’s reputation, fashions and the impact of the Diamond Necklace scandal on perceptions of the monarchy prior to the French Revolution.

Click here to listen to the “Marie Antoinette” episode of History Gems

For more about Marie Antoinette, read my book, Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette (Queenship and Power series)

New Issue of The Royal Studies Journal: Volume 8, Issue 1: Performing Royal Power in Premodern Europe

In 2021, I became the proofreading editor of The Royal Studies Journal, an online and open access academic journal, published with the support of the University of Winchester. The most recent issue of the journal was published this month and is available to read online.

Click here to read Volume 8, Issue 1: Performing Royal Power in Premodern Europe

Spring 2020 Course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies: Peter the Great and the Building of Saint Petersburg

I will be teaching an eight week Tuesday evening course in March-April 2020 about Peter the Great and the Building of Saint Petersburg at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. Click here for more information and to register.

ABOUT THIS COURSE

When Peter became czar in 1682, Europe was foreign to Russia, an insular and tradition-bound nation.  The West fascinated Peter, and he was determined to transform Russia into a great European power. Discover the traditional Russia of Peter’s childhood, his Grand Tour of Europe and his subsequent dream of building St. Petersburg, a new city to match his vision of the country. With images of the city and accounts of his cruel drive to create it, we’ll see how the city emerged as a symbol of his power and of Russia’s hopes. 

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

  • Explore the rise of Russia as a world power in the 18th century.
  • Understand the impact of Peter the Great on Russia’s past and present.
  • Follow the founding of St. Petersburg as the capital of Imperial Russia.
  • Examine the role of St. Petersburg in Russia’s relationship with the West.
  • Appreciate its influence on Russian culture and society.

Click here for more information and to register

New BBC History Magazine Article: Was Queen Mary, wife of George V, a kleptomaniac?

My latest article in the BBC History Magazine examines the reputation of Queen Mary, the wife of King George V, and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. In the new Downton Abbey film, one storyline references a long-standing question: was Mary partial to stealing from the grand houses that she visited? Writing for History Extra, I explore the life of George V’s queen, and her habits as a collector of precious objects.

Click here to read “Was Queen Mary, wife of George V, a kleptomaniac?” in the BBC History Magazine.

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Louise Margaret, Duchess of Connaught

My new article in the Historica Canada Canadiana Encyclopedia is about Princess Louise Margaret Alexandra Victoria Agnes of Prussia, Duchess of Connaught and Strathearn, vice-regal consort of Canada (1911–1916) and philanthropist. The Duchess of Connaught sponsored Red Cross hospitals for the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. The Duchess also sponsored art exhibitions in Canada and supported the work of Canadian artists.

Click here to read “Princess Louise Margaret, Duchess of Connaught” in the Canadian Encyclopedia

I have also written articles for the Canadian Encyclopedia about Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916 as well as the Duke and Duchess of Connaught’s younger daughter, Princess Patricia of Connaught.

Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution: My Spring 2019 course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies

 I will be teaching an eight week course about Queen Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies on Tuesdays in March-April 2019. Click here for more information and to register.

More than 200 years after her execution, Queen Marie Antoinette is still one of the most famous and controversial figures in European history. In late 18th-century France, her reputation influenced debates about the role of women in politics, their families and the arts. Austrian-born, her position at the top of French society fuelled criticism of the monarchy and contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. Her influence on popular culture continues today.

  • Discover the real Queen Marie Antoinette behind centuries of myths in popular culture.
  • Trace the reasons for her controversial reputation.
  • Explore the clashes in the politics, culture and society of royal and revolutionary France.
  • Look behind the legend and examine the controversial queen’s impact on politics, culture and society.

Click here for more information and to register.

Click here to purchase my book Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette

Royal Studies Journal Interview: Canadian Women’s Responses to Royal Tours

I discussed Canadian Women’s Responses to Royal Tours from the Eighteenth Century to the present with the Royal Studies Journal, expanding on my article on the same topic that was published in the journal last year. In the interview, I discuss a variety of themes including the role of royal women as patrons of philanthropic endeavours benefiting women’s education, health and endeavours, changing views of women’s suffrage over the course of the 19th century, and the popular perception of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise as viceregal consort of Canada.

Click here to read “Interview with Carolyn Harris” in the Royal Studies Journal

Click here to read my full article Canadian Women’s Responses to Royal Tours from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day in the Royal Studies Journal

Books I’ve Read This Week: The Court of the Last Czar

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 52: The Court of the Last Czar: In the last few days, I have been reading from morning until evening to complete 365 books by the end of year. The theme of the last seven books in my reading challenge is The Court of the last Czar and includes a historical novel, two memoirs, a collection of scholarly articles, a palace museum guide and an art book. My Book a Day 2018 project concluded at 10:45pm ET on December 31 when I finished reading a collection of documents by and about Russia’s last Imperial family. Thank you to everyone who has provided encouragement and book recommendations in 2018. Happy New Year! Here are this week’s reviews:

#359 of 365 The Winter Station by Jody Shields

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Listened: December 27-28, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: 10 hours and 15 minutes

Review:
The historical events that inspired The Winter Station are interesting ones. During the Winter of 1910-1911, a mysterious plague devastated the Chinese city of Harbin, then an Imperial Russian railway outpost in Manchuria. Both Russian and Chinese doctors struggled to overcome their cultural differences, biases and difficulties understanding the disease. The audiobook was part of Audible’s Hallowe’en audiobook sale so the novel was intended clearly to be chilling. 


Despite the setting, historical context and atmosphere, The Winter Station somehow manages to be an extremely dull book. There is a lot of exposition describing past events and doctors recounting symptoms, death and anxieties over tea and vodka during long meetings and social visits. The information presented in these conversations should have been shown in more dramatic and immediate scenes. The panic and grief that would have been caused by a plague of this magnitude never comes alive in the novel until perhaps the final moments because reactions to the epidemic are usually recounted by other characters rather than shown directly to the reader. A good idea for a historical novel but the power of the story is undercut by the detached writing style.

#360 of 365 Russian Imperial Style by Laura Cerwinske

Date Read: December 30, 2018

Genre: Art History

Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 223 pages

Review:
An attractive coffee table book that provides an overview of the material culture of the Imperial Russian court including fashions, furniture, paintings and objets d’art. There is some background information concerning how Imperial Russian pieces came to be collectors’ items in the USA. The photographs are beautiful and include close images of some of the more obscure Faberge eggs, such as the 1903 Peter the Great egg, which show the details of these pieces. Unfortunately, the overview of Russian history that accompanies these images is a bit simplistic and a few of the captions are inaccurate or inadequate. A gorgeous book that would have been improved by a more detailed and nuanced text to accompany the images.

#361 of 365  The Emperor Nicholas II as I Knew Him by John Hanbury Williams

Genre: History/Memoir

Date Read: December 30, 2018

Acquired: Read online at Archives.org

Format: E-Books, 304 pages

Review:
The diary of Major-General Sir John Hanbury-Williams, head of the British Military Mission to Russian Military Headquarters in Mogliev (now in Belarus) during the First World War, along with his character sketches of Czar Nicholas and Empress Alexandra, their son Alexei, the Grand Duke Nicholas and General Alexeev. In his capacity as British military representative, Hanbury-Williams spent a great deal of time with Czar Nicholas II, and became a close personal friend of the monarch.

The diary focuses on military matters, especially the supply issues that undermined the Russian war effort but Nicholas also spoke to Hanbury-Williams about his family. Hanbury-Williams recorded, “He is evidently very devoted to [his children] and said that sometimes he forgot he was their father, as he enjoyed everything so much with them that he felt more like an elder brother to them.” As Empress Alexandra was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and therefore a fluent English speaker, she also became comfortable speaking with Hanbury-Williams about her children’s education and her war work. 

Before undertaking the Russian mission, Hanbury-Williams had been military secretary to the Governor General of Canada and frequently made comparisons between the Russian and Canadian climates in his diary. For example, Hanbury-Williams wrote “Emperor Nicholas asked me how I stood the cold of the Russian winter, but I told him I had been in some below zero weather in Canadian winters and liked it.” Hanbury-Williams also drew parallels between Canada and Russia in terms of the difficulties transporting goods over long distances and encouraged Nicholas to study the Canadian example to address his own transport difficulties.

The Emperor Nicholas II as I Knew Him provides an interesting perspective on Russia during the First World War and Czar Nicholas II in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Russian Army. Hanbury-Williams is understandably critical of the Russian Revolution because of its impact on Russia’s participation in the war and the diary ends in April 1917.

#362 of 365 Peterhof by Yelena Kalnitskaya

Date Read: December 30, 2018

Genre: History/Museum Guide

Format: Paperback, 127 pages

Acquired: Purchased from the Peterhof Palace Museum gift shop near Saint Petersburg

Review:
An attractive room by room and fountain by fountain guide to the Great Palace at Peterhof outside Saint Petersburg and the Peterhof gardens with information about the surrounding smaller palaces and museums as well. The photographs are gorgeous, especially the aerial perspectives on the palace gardens that show the intricate layout of the various fountains and landscapes. The text and photo captions are informative and include interesting facts about the development of Peterhof under successive Russian rulers. For example, the southernmost fountain in the Upper Garden is still called The Indeterminate Fountain “most likely a result of repeated changes of decoration.” A great souvenir of the Peterhof palace and gardens.

#363 of 365 A Countess in Limbo: Diaries in War & Revolution; Russia 1914-1920, France 1939-1947 by Olga Hendrikoff, edited by Suzanne Carscellen

Date Read: December 31, 2018

Genre: History/Memoir

Acquired: Purchased from Amazon.com

Format: Paperback, 458 pages

Review:
A fascinating series of diaries about the experiences of the Imperial Russian aristocracy during the First World War and Russian Revolution then in exile during the Second World War occupation of Paris. Hendrikoff writes with a great deal of detail and insight, bringing her social circle and times to life. I expected more of the book to be about the Russian Revolution, which is done after just over 50 pages of the 450 page text but Hendrikoff’s account of the Second World War and its aftermath is thoroughly engrossing and I found the book difficult to put down. There are glimpses of exiled members of the extended Russian Imperial family in the text including Czar Nicholas II’s cousin, Grand Duke Boris, who entertained exiled Russian aristocrats with the remnants of his fortune, and Grand Duke Gabriel who retained an excellent memory. The diaries were compiled and edited by Hendrikoff’s grandniece Suzanne Carscallen who provides help annotations.

#364 of 365 Transnational Histories of the ‘Royal Nation’ edited by
 Milinda Banerjee, Charlotte Backerra and Cathleen Sarti

Date Read: December 31, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 372 pages

Review: 

A collection of 15 scholarly articles concerning how monarchs and their governments responded to the challenges of nationalism and the modern state. The chapters also include studies of how non-monarchical governments have addressed the existence of monarchy in their immediate or more distant pasts. In contrast to many other collections of scholarly articles about monarchy, Transnational Histories of the ‘Royal Nation’ does not focus primarily on Europe but also includes research and analysis concerning monarchical government in Japan, Siam, Morocco, Nepal, Brazil, China and central Asia. Highlights include a study of how late 19th and early 20th century rulers in Siam and Japan incorporated Western style fashions into their public image; the patronage and promotion of Modern Art by Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse-Darmstadt (brother of the Czarina Alexandra of Russia); and analysis of how past Queens consort were remembered amidst more restrictive roles for women in 19th century France.

There are two chapters that address the reign and legacy of Czar Nicholas II. First, an analysis of portrayals of the Czar in central Asia draws interesting comparisons with British royal imagery in India. Ulrick Hofmeister notes that”The British Empire served as a permanent point of reference for the Russian administration in Turkestan. Tsarist ideologists and officials closely followed the practices of the British in India and frequently tried to draw lessons from them.” 

Second, Eva Marlene Hausteiner observes how Russian President Vladimir Putin incorporates Czarist elements into his public image, concluding that “These symbolic practices—the official and unofficial depiction of Putin as the nation’s preeminent heroic figure with a benevolent but strong position towards the population and an intimate relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church—are arguably reminiscent, on a surface level, of royal and specifically Tsarist symbolism and ritual.”

Transnational Histories of the ‘Royal Nation’ provides a broad range of perspectives on monarchy and the modern nation around the world showing how monarchies are dynamic institutions that responded to the challenges of statecraft from the early 19th century to the present day.

#365 of 365 In The Steps of the Romanovs: Final two years of the last Russian imperial family (1916-1918) (In their own words) by Helen Azar

Date Read: December 31, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Purchased from Amazon.com

Format: Paperback, 690 pages

Review:
A fascinating collection of diaries, letters, memoirs and photographs by and about Russia’s last Imperial family from January 1916 until their murder in July 1918 compiled to complement the author’s Romanov themed tours of Russia. The material gives an excellent sense of the distinct personalities within the Imperial family and their range of interests and friends in the last years of their lives. Some of the documents will be familiar to readers of the author’s previous edited collections of Romanov documents concerning Czar Nicholas II’s daughters as well as The Last Diary of Tsaritsa Alexandra (with an introduction by Robert K. Massie), The Fall of the Romanovs by Mark Steinberg and Vladimir Khrustalev and A Lifelong Passion by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko. 


In The Steps of the Romanovs , however, also contains a wide range of previously unpublished material available in English translation for the first time. There is extensive material from Czar Nicholas II’s 1917-1918 diary that gives a real sense of just how ill his children were around the time of his abdication, especially Maria and Anastasia, circumstances that precluded a prompt departure from Russia after the March Revolution even if other conditions had been favourable to an escape. Grand Duchess Tatiana’s letters to her Aunt Xenia in the Crimea provide vivid descriptions of life under house arrest in the Governor’s House in Tobolsk. The book also includes the long letter that the Imperial family’s doctor Eugene Botkin is believed to have been writing the same night that the Imperial family, Botkin and three servants were murdered. The illustrations are excellent and include some rare photographs and artwork. An essential read for anyone interested in Russia’s last Imperial family.

Books I’ve Read This Week: Short Royal Books

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 39: Short Royal Books: My reading list in recent weeks has included a variety of short royal books including a children’s book about Queen Charlotte and the history of the Christmas tree in England, four museum guides about the royal palaces of Sweden and Denmark, a novel about what might have happened if Queen Elizabeth II had developed an all consuming passion for reading, and the latest volume in the Penguin Monarchs series. Here are this week’s reviews:

#267 of 365 The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England by Nancy Churnin

Date Read: October 15, 2018

Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction

Acquired: Received a Review Copy

Format: Hardcover, 32 pages

Review: A delightful and well researched children’s book about how Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, brought the first Christmas tree to England. Charlotte was an unconventional princess and queen who preferred spending time in her garden to becoming a leader of fashion at court and the book shows how she made an unique impact on British history with her support for orphanages and hosting children’s parties with Christmas trees. The book includes a historical afterword about Queen Charlotte and her legacy. Beautifully illustrated and highly recommended.

The Royal Palace Stockholm#268 of 365 The Royal Palace Stockholm by Various Authors

Genre: History/Museum Guidebook

Acquired: Purchased from The Royal Palace, Stockholm

Date Read: October 2, 2018

Format: Paperback, 80 pages

Review: A room by room tour of Stockholm’s royal palace including both history and the modern ceremonies that take place there. The book concludes with short biographies of Sweden’s monarchs from Gustaf Vasa to Carl XVI Gustaf, noting key developments in Sweden’s history. Gifts presented to the Swedish royal family from foreign monarchs are discussed in detail, including the Don Quixote tapestries presented to King Gustaf III by King Louis XVI of France in the eighteenth century. I would have been interested to see more reproductions of royal portraits from the palace as well as the paintings by Gustaf VI Adolf’s 1st wife, Crown Princess Margareta. A great souvenir of my summer visit to Stockholm’s Royal Palace!

#269 of 365 The Guide to the Swedish History Museum by Inga Ullen

Genre: History/Museum Guidebook

Date Read: October 3, 2018

Format: Paperback, 96 pages

Acquired: Purchased from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm

Review: A good overview of the history of Sweden from prehistory to modern times, illustrated with objects from the Museum of Swedish History. The Viking Age and medieval art collection are described in the most detail as the museum contains an extensive collection of medieval pieces. The photographs are of the objects as you would see them in the museum and I would have been interested to see more close up views of individual artifacts, especially the historic textiles. An good introduction to both Swedish history and the museum’s collections.

#270 of 365 Christiansborg Palace Guide Book by Amalie Vorting Kristensen

Date Read: October 3, 2018

Genre: History/Museum Guide Book

Acquired: Purchased from the Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen

Format: Paperback, 64 pages

Review: The current Christiansborg palace dates from 1928, and the focus of the book is on modern Danish royal history and court ceremonies but there is also discussion of previous castles that have left ruins on the site dating back to 1167. There are some interesting details about the impact of individual members of the royal family on the Christiansborg including Queen Margarete II’s late husband Prince Henrik’s introduction of French cuisine to the palace kitchens. I would have been interested to read more about the modern Danish history tapestries in the palace. Beautiful illustrations including photographs of the royal apartments, chapel, kitchens, theatre and stables.

#271 of 365 The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Date Read: October 5, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 124 pages

Review: A charming novel about what might happen if Queen Elizabeth II developed an all consuming passion for literature after stumbling upon a traveling library while walking her dogs. At royal walkabouts, she begins asking members of the public what they are reading, assigns books on the Middle East for the Prime Minister to read before making foreign policy decisions and skips Niagara Falls on a visit to Canada to instead read the complete works of Alice Munro. There are some insightful observations about royal life and routines. A little dated now as it is set around the Queen’s 80th birthday but still a delightful read.

#272 of 365 The Treasury: The Regalia and Treasures of the Realm by Ulla Landergren

Date Read: October 10, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from The Royal Palace, Stockholm

Genre: History

Format: Paperback, 52 pages

Review: A fascinating history of Swedish coronation rituals from medieval acclamations at the Mora stone to the accession of Gustav V, who declined to be crowned in 1907. The Regalia were stored in a bank vault for much of the 20th century before being placed on display at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Today, the regalia appears at royal weddings and accessions where it is displayed to convey status but not worn by members of the Swedish royal family. The text is quite detailed and includes descriptions of the individual pieces of regalia but could have been improved by comparisons to royal accession rituals elsewhere in Europe. The illustrations are comprehensive and the book concludes with a timeline of Swedish coronations in Uppsala and Stockholm from 1528 to 1873.

#273 of 365 Henry I: The Father of His People by Edmund King

Date Read: October 21, 2018

Genre: History/Biography

Format: Hardcover, 116 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Review: The latest installment in the Penguin Monarchs series is a short biography of King Henry I, the youngest and most successful son of King William the Conqueror. Both Henry and his elder sister Adela (the mother of Henry’s successor King Stephen) were born after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and may have viewed themselves as having a special status as the children of a reigning King of England. The author discusses the King’s rise to power in detail then focuses on his administration and legacy. His grandson Henry II surrounded himself with long lived advisors who were familar with Henry I’s reign.

The book also provides a detailed analysis of Henry I’s queen, Edith of Scotland, who is described as “a tactile woman” who comforted people who were grieving the loss of family members and washed the feet of lepers (to the disgust of her younger brother, King David I of Scotland). The author notes parallels between Edith’s public image and that of Diana, Princess of Wales in the 20th century. I would have been interested to read more about Henry I’s two dozen illegimate children as only the most historically significant ones are named in the biography. A good introduction to Henry I and Edith of Scotland and their impact on English history and subsequent generations of the royal family.

Baltic Sea Cruise Travel Photos 2018: The Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden

In August, I gave a royal history lecture series on a Baltic sea cruise. The first stop was Stockholm, Sweden, where I visited the royal palace, the official residence of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Sylvia. Here are a few of my photographs from the trip:

Stockholm Palace Chapel

King Carl XVI Gustaf

Paintings by King Carl Gustaf XVI’s grandmother, Crown Princess Margareta (Princess Margaret of Connaught, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria)

In the Meleager Salon of Stockholm Palace. According to the palace guidebook, “The woven tapestries were part of the dowry of Ulrika Eleanora the Elder” Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark (not to be confused with her daughter, a queen regnant) was consort to King Charles XI of Sweden

The King Charles XI gallery

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Sylvia of Sweden

King Gustaf VI Adolf’s 1st wife, Princess Margaret of Connaught

Lady Louise Mountbatten, the 2nd wife of King Gustaf VI of Adolf of Sweden

The Bernadotte Rooms 

Queen Josefina of Sweden, consort of King Oscar I. Born Princess Josephine of Leuchtenberg, she was named for her grandmother, Empress Josephine (consort of Emperor Napoleon I).