Book Reviews: The Penguin Monarchs Series: Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II

Edward VII: The Cosmopolitan King by Richard Davenport-Hines is filled with fascinating details about the King’s life including his enthusiasm for games (he had a bowling alley installed at the Marlborough Club) and popularity across Europe (there is still a park named for the King in Lisbon, Portugual) Davenport-Hines captures the atmosphere of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras as the Prince of Wales set the tone for the country house parties of “the smart set.” The author is less successful at describing the king’s personal relationships and engages in needless criticism of the physical appearance of Edward VII’s wife, Queen Alexandra, daughter-in-law, Queen Mary and daughters, Princesses Louise, Victoria and Maud. The 1860 tour of Canada and the United States, Edward’s first overseas tour as Prince of Wales, is almost entirely ignored. ***

Further Reading:

Bertie: A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley

George V: The Unexpected King is the best of the biographies of 20th century monarchs in the series. David Cannadine strikes the right balance between the King’s personal life and political views and presents his reign as a turning point when the royal family turned their personal attention from the extended family of European monarchs to the wider British Empire. George’s decision to deny asylum to his cousin, Czar Nicholas II in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, which had tragic consequences, is presented in this context of gradual withdrawal from the close bonds that united Europe’s royal houses before the First World War. Cannadine also discusses how the reign of George V saw the invention or revival of modern royal traditions including the Windsor name, the monarch’s annual Christmas broadcast and royal weddings in Westminster Abbey. *****

Further Reading:

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan

Edward VIII: The Uncrowned King attempts to provide a balanced portrait of the controversial king who abdicated in 1936 to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. Piers Brendon describes Edward’s accomplishments as Prince of Wales including raising morale on the Western Front during the First World War and successful tours of the British Empire and Dominions during the 1920s and 1930s. Brendon also examines Edward’s difficult relationship with his parents, limited education, self-centered outlook on life, and the frequent contrast between his public and private behaviour as Prince of Wales and King. Edward’s unsavoury political activities including his enthusiasm for Nazi Germany and interference in a murder case in the Bahamas do not receive enough attention and the tone of the biography is sometimes overly sympathetic to the King. ***

Further Reading:

The Woman Before Wallis by Andrew Rose

That Woman by Anne Sebba

 George VI: The Dutiful King presents Queen Elizabeth II’s father as a monarch who spent most his life overcoming his personal inclination for a quiet, retiring life to do his duty as King after the abdication of his elder brother, Edward VIII. Philip Ziegler, who previously wrote a full length biography of Edward VIII,  provides a nuanced portrait of George VI as a political figure, especially his popularity during the Second World War. Ziegler pays less attention to the King’s personal life. George VI’s successful marriage to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) receives some attention but the example and training that George VI provided for his daughter and successor should have received greater attention in this otherwise insightful biography. ****

Further Reading:

Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury

Elizabeth II: The Steadfast is a warm tribute to Queen Elizabeth II by Douglas Hurd, who has spent time with the Queen as British Home Secretary then Foreign Secretary. The preface is by the Queen’s grandson, HRH The Duke of Cambridge (Prince William). The Queen is the most well traveled monarch in history and Hurd captures the atmosphere of royal tours. Hurd also discusses the Queen’s approach to her role, which combines caution and reserve with a willingness to embrace new technologies from television for the coronation in 1953 to social media for royal tours today. The scope of the Queen’s long reign, however, cannot be summarized in a short biography and there are whole aspects of the Queen’s reign, including her stewardship of the Royal Collection of art and subtle political influence in her role as Head of the Commonwealth, which are discussed in much greater detail in other books.  ***

Further Reading: 

Monarchy and the End of Empire by Philip Murphy

Our Queen by Robert Hardman

The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr

Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith

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Updated Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Prince Charles (HRH The Prince of Wales)

The Prince of Wales

I have updated my article about Prince Charles in the Canadian Encyclopedia to include the 2017 tour of Nunavut, Ontario and the National Capital region in honour of the 15oth anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Charles and Camilla spent Canada Day in the National Capital Region. Charles first met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and then was invested as Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada. He later made a speech on Parliament Hill, which included extensive remarks in French and a warm tribute to Governor General David Johnston, whose term ends in September 2017. During their time in the National Capital Region, the royal couple also helped open the Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History, unveiled the Queen’s Entrance at Rideau Hall and reopened the newly renovated National Arts Centre.”

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

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National Post Interview: Light everything on fire: What would have happened had the Nazis invaded Britain

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in British Columbia in 1939

I discussed the royal family during the Second World War with Tristin Hopper at the National Post. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their children, the future Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret were determined to remain together in Britain but there were contingency plans in the event of a German invasion, including the purchase of Hatley Castle in British Columbia by Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King as a possible wartime residence for the royal family.

Click here to read “Light everything on fire: What would have happened had the Nazis invaded Britain” in the National Post

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Canada’s History Magazine Feature Article: The Queen’s Land

My latest feature article for Canada’s History Magazine is entitled “The Queen’s Land: The colourful stories behind the royal names embedded in Canada’s geography.” I discuss the royal personages who gave their names to Canada’s cities and landscapes, revealing the fascinating historical figures behind Canadian places such as Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia; Fredericton, New Brunswick; Prince Edward Island; Lake Louise, Alberta; and Prince George, British Columbia.

The August-September issue of Canada’s History Magazine will be available on newsstands in the coming weeks.

Click here to read the Table of Contents of the August-September Issue of Canada’s History Magazine

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Toronto Sun Interview: Canada and the royals during the wars

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Toronto City Hall in 1939

I discussed the history of the monarchy in Canada during the First and Second World Wars with Antonella Artuso from the Toronto Sun. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

“Historian Carolyn Harris, who has just released her third book, Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting, said the monarchy retained tight links with Canada throughout both world wars, from 1914-18 and from 1939-45.

The Earl of Athlone (seated right) with the Allied leaders at the Quebec Conferences.

“What’s very striking about the First and Second World Wars is that the governor general was a member of the royal family, that Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, was governor general for much of WWI … and his daughter, Princess Patricia, became extremely popular during her time in Canada, that her image was on the $1 bill for a year during the First World War and she also became patroness of the Princess Patricia’s (Canadian) Light Infantry,” Harris said. “There was a lot of engagement with Canadian troops.”

Alexander Cambridge, Earl of Athlone, served as governor general from 1940 to ’46, and he and his wife, Princess Alice of Albany, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, hosted European royalty fleeing the Nazis during WWII.”

Click here to read “Canada and the royals during the wars” in the Toronto Sun

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CBC News Interview: Is Prince Charles misunderstood?

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

I discussed the Prince of Wales’s reputation and philanthropy with Janet Davison at CBC News, in advance of his tour of Canada with the Duchess of Cornwall, which will include Nunavut, Prince Edward County and Ottawa for the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“In Canada, there’s also a feeling the public perception of Charles has been changing. “I have the sense that it’s much more positive now than it has been in the past,” says Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based author and royal historian.

“Some of the causes Prince Charles has been engaging with have become very topical and raised the profile of these tours,” says Harris, whose book Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting was recently published.”

Click here to read “Is Prince Charles Misunderstood at CBC News”

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CBC News Interview: ‘Bit of a loose cannon’: Why Prince Harry’s musings on the monarchy may not be so surprising after all

Prince Harry at the official press launch of Walking with the Wounded in 2010.

I discussed Prince Harry’s recent remarks about the monarchy with Janet Davison at CBC News. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Harry’s comments about how the Royal Family is “involved in modernizing the British monarchy” and how “we are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people” also conjured up memories of his grandfather.

“I think there are very striking similarities to Prince Philip’s comments in Canada in the 1960s about how monarchy exists for the people rather than for the monarch,” says Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author of the recently published Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting.”

Click here to read the full interview: “‘Bit of a loose cannon’: Why Prince Harry’s musings on the monarchy may not be so surprising after all” at CBC.ca

I also discussed Prince Harry with 610CKTB radio St. Catharines. Click here to listen to the interview.

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Maclean’s Interview: Canadians adore Queen Elizabeth. Her son? Not so much

The investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales at Caenarvon Castle in 1969

My recent interview in Maclean’s Magazine concerns how Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, are perceived in Canada. Canadians turning 100 are eligible to receive birthday greetings from the monarch. As journalist Aaron Hutchins and I discussed, the current generation of Canadian centenarians would prefer to receive congratulations from the current Queen rather than her successor for a variety of reasons including the shared experience of the Second World War.

Click here to read “Canadians adore Queen Elizabeth. Her son? Not so much” in Maclean’s Magazine

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New Review of Raising Royalty in History of Royals Magazine

My 3rd book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, has received a full page review  in History of Royals Magazine in the UK.

“The book is a fascinating source of well researched information and a great addition to the shelves of royalists and historians alike. Trying to cram 1,000 years worth of knowledge into one book is no mean feat and Harris does it with flair, making the information easily digested.”

Click here to read the review of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting in History of Royals Magazine

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How Kings and Queens Raised Their Children – An Interview with Carolyn Harris

 My latest interview about my new book Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting examines how royal parenting gained a negative reputation, why the book examines royal parenting over the course of a thousand years and what the biggest difference is between royal parenting in medieval times and modern times.

Click here to read “How Kings and Queens Raised Their Children” at Medievalists.net

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