Category Archives: Royal Art Patronage

Tales from the Royal Bedchamber: Sunday December 21 at 8pm ET on PBS

Lucy Worsley When Victoria became Queen in 1837, she shut the door of the royal bedchamber to the public. The government officials who traditionally attended royal births were relegated to the adjoining room while only the Queen’s consort, Prince Albert, and medical staff were permitted in the bedchamber for the arrival of the royal children. The Queen observed a strict separation between her public life and her domestic life. In Tales from the Royal Bedchamber,  Dr. Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, reveals that the monarch’s bedchamber was a ceremonial space in Tudor and Stuart times where proximity to the monarch meant proximity to political power.

Worsley presents the history of the English royal bedchamber with enthusiasm and energy. She climbs into beds to test just how comfortable they were, showing that it was impossible to lie entirely flat on a hammock-like, collapsible  medieval royal bed frame. She also tries her hand at silk weaving. Sitting on the edge of royal beds, Worsley has interesting discussions about royal marriage, mistresses and childbearing with a broad range of fellow curators, historians and authors such as Anna Whitelock, Tracy Borman and Helen Rappaport.

Perhaps the most engaging part of the documentary is Worsley’s description of the rumours that the son of James II and Mary of Modena, born in 1688, was a “warming pan baby” smuggled into the Queen’s bed to replace a stillborn child. Worsley shows viewers a warming pan, an early form of hot water bottle that was too small to hold a baby,  draws the supposed route the warming pan took through state rooms to the royal bedchamber and describes the crowd that witnessed the actual birth. The warming pan baby story was a convenient fiction to justify the Glorious Revolution&accession of William III and Mary II.

Since Worsley is chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, much of the documentary is filmed in royal bedchambers of the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. There is also a visit to the Isle of Wight to view the memorial to Queen Victoria in the private bedchamber where she died at Osborne House. If the program were longer, a trip across the channel to Versailles would have shown the origins of certain late seventeenth century English court practices. It is no coincidence that the late Stuart monarchs commissioned elaborate state beds after the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. Charles II was first cousin to Louis XIV  and spent part of his exile in France, observing the elaborate ceremonies that took place when the King rose from his bed in the morning or retired in the evening.

Tales from the Royal Bedchamber is a look behind the royal bed curtains of centuries past. Before Queen Victoria shut the door, the whole court thought they had the right to know exactly what took place in the royal bed. The modern fascination with the private life of the royal family is as old as monarchy itself.

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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 CBC.ca

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

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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 Canada.com 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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