The private garden at Buckingham Palace is best known as the setting for garden parties where the Queen and other members of the royal family meet people from all walks of life. The 2014 documentary The Queen’s Garden, which premieres on PBS this Sunday, provides a behind the scenes look at the royal gardeners preparing the grounds for thousands of guests. Trees are trimmed to allow for gentlemen walk under them in top hats, the lawn is carefully raked in case ladies in high heels decide to kick off their shoes and walk barefoot on the grass, and the pond is aerated to ensure that there are no foul smells interfering with enjoyment of the grounds.
There’s also interesting film footage of past events on the lawn including the young Princess Elizabeth attending what may have been her very first garden party, hosted by her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary and Edward VIII giving debutantes permission to flee from the pouring rain at an outdoor reception. Although The Queen’s Garden provides a fresh perspective on garden parties past and present, the documentary also reveals there is more to the Buckingham Palace park than the famous lawn. Over the course of four seasons, the biodiversity of this urban oasis is revealed. In the heart of London, the Queen’s Garden provides a haven for rare plants and animals.
Plenty of royal history took place in the Queen’s garden as well. Henry VIII evicted Londoners from the grounds to create a deer park for his hunting parties. James I hoped to turn the garden into a silk production centre by planting mulberry trees to feed silkworms. King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, kept a zebra and an elephant in the garden before her menagerie was moved to the Tower of London and Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert once fell through the ice while skating on the pond.
The Queen’s Garden combines history, science and party planning to provide a unique glimpse of the Buckingham Palace grounds, showing the hidden places beyond the lawn that even garden party guests rarely see.
For more about royalty and gardening, see my previous post, Royals in the Garden that looks at royal personages who have lent their names to flowers -and the occasional vegetable!
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.
“The remains of King Richard III continue to yield new information about one of England’s most controversial kings and his family. DNA analysis reveals that Richard’s bones share mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line with the Canadian Ibsen family, but there is no genetic match with his male line relatives. The release of these findings has prompted speculation about the Queen’s right to reign if there was a break in the main royal bloodline. The royal succession, however, was not always determined by seniority in the royal family….”
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
The Fall 2014 edition of Insights on Law and Society, the Magazine published by the American Bar Association for teachers of civics, history and government and the law, is devoted to the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. I share my perspective on the historical significance of the famous charter in this issue.
Grand Duchess Olga, younger sister of Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II, lived in Canada from 1948 until her death in 1960. Olga’s last home in Toronto has recently gone up for sale, demonstrating the changes she experienced over the course of her life, from her birth at the Peterhof Palace outside St. Petersburg, to her last months in a Toronto apartment.
Princess Anne will pay an official visit to Ottawa on November 10 and 11 to mark Remembrance Day. I discussed the history and significance of Princess Anne’s visits to Canada with Janet Davision of CBC.ca.
I have contributed a chapter to Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor, edited by Randy J. Holland, the book that complements the Magna Carta Muse and Mentor exhibition at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. My chapter, “King John and Magna Carta in Popular Culture” examines the cultural impact of the famous charter and the king who reluctantly accepted it in 1215. Princess Anne will be attending the gala opening of Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor at the Library of Congress during her visit to Washington on November 6.
My forthcoming book “Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada” will be published in 2015 by Dundurn Press to complement the Magna Carta Canada 2015 touring exhibition. The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Great Charter imposed on King John by his barons in the thirteenth century to ensure he upheld traditional customs of the nobility. Though it began as a safeguard of the aristocracy, over the past 800 years, the Magna Carta has become a cornerstone of democratic ideals for all.