Imperial Spain: My March-April course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies

Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile

I will be teaching an eight week course about the history of Imperial Spain at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies on Tuesdays from March 6 until April 24 at 11am. Click here for more details and to register.

Course Description:

Ferdinand and Isabella transformed Spain into a world power. They sponsored Columbus’s voyages to the Americas and formed alliances with other European kingdoms. This new imperial Spain had a dark side in the rise of the Inquisition, the expulsion of Spain’s Jews and the exploitation of the colonies’ native peoples. Gold and silver from the Americas made Spain’s rulers the richest in Europe until the Golden Age came to an end with the wars of the 18th century. Join Carolyn Harris for illustrated lectures and lively discussion about the rise, fall and enduring influence of imperial Spain.

What You’ll Learn:

Click here for more details and to register

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NBC Interview: ‘The Crown’: Did Jackie Kennedy really badmouth the Queen?

Jacqueline Kennedy

I discussed the portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, Jacqueline Kennedy and the Commonwealth in the Crown on Netflix with Daniel Arkin at NBC News.

Episode 8 of Season 2 of The Crown “Dear Mrs. Kennedy” employs a story structure that appears frequently over the course of the series: dramatizing two historical events and creating a fictional connection between them. In the case of “Dear Mrs. Kennedy,” the Crown portrays two events from 1961: John and Jacqueline Kennedy visiting Buckingham Palace (including reports that Jacqueline Kennedy was critical of both the palace and the queen) and the Queen’s visit to Ghana and creates a direct connection between them. I discussed fact and fiction in The Crown on Netflix with NBC News.

Click here to read ‘The Crown’: Did Jackie Kennedy really badmouth the Queen? at NBC News

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Books I’ve Read This Week: January 8-14, 2018

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 2: The Big Books: During week 2 of my Book a Day 2018 project, I searched for books and articles by authors who had also spent  a year reading a book each day. I noticed a common theme: an emphasis on short to medium length books. In  Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Nina Sankovich discusses searching for books in the library that were 250-300 pages to allow for time to read each day and write her daily review. A 2012 article in Slate Magazine by Jeff Gray entitled “366 Days, 366 Books” states that “Read Short Books” is rule number 2, after the importance of not allowing the reading challenge to take over all aspects of your life.

“Read Short Books” is not a helpful guideline for my 2018 Book a Day project because there are some enormous books on my to-read shelf. My book club is reading Hamilton, which is more than 700 pages long, for the beginning of February and I have long been interested in reading the 422 page Diary of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples (Marie Antoinette’s sister). I have tailored my approach to reading a book a day to ensure that I complete the long books as well as short and medium books. After I finish each day’s book, I also read a few chapters of a longer book, to be completed in subsequent weeks. Long books as well as short and medium length books will be reviewed here in the coming months. Here are the books I finished this week:

#8 of 365: Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth Century Europe by Sarah Gristwood

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 351 pages

Read: January 8, 2018

Acquired: Review Copy

Review: I enjoyed Sarah Gristwood’s book about royal women during the Wars of the Roses, Blood Sisters, and looked forward to reading her book about the connections between the ruling queens of sixteenth century Europe, a topic that I address in my Women in Power course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

Game of Queens is an excellent introduction to the powerful women of 16th century Europe. The book will be of interest to readers of biographies of Tudor queens who are interested in learning more about their counterparts in France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Gristwood places Anne Boleyn in a European context, examining the influence of Margaret of Austria and Marguerite of Navarre over Anne’s approach to queenship as the second wife of Henry VIII. The book contains an extensive list of suggestions for further reading, highlighting recent scholarship in the field of queenship in Early Modern Europe.

#9 of 365: The Ring and the Crown by Alison Weir, Tracy Borman, Sarah Gristwood and Kate Williams.

Genre: Royal History

Format, Audiobook, 4 hours and 53 minutes

Listened: January 9, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from

Review: The Ring and the Crown was published at the time of Prince William’s marriage to Catherine Middleton in 2011 and readers interested in more recent developments in the history of royal marriage, (such as the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle or the repeal of the Royal Marriages Act) will not find them here.

Nevertheless, The Ring and the Crown, provides a good overview of the history of royal wedding ceremonies and celebrations including the origins of street parties (the Tudors), the white wedding dress (Queen Victoria) and the kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony (Charles and Diana). The book provides a particularly detailed account of the weddings from Princess Patricia of Connaught in 1919 (the first modern royal bride to be married in Westminster Abbey) to Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005.

#10 of 365 The Man Behind the Queen: Male Consorts in History edited by Charles Beem and Miles Taylor

Genre: Royal History

Format: e-book, 270 pages

Read: January 10, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Review: The scope of the scholarly articles in The Man Behind the Queen: Male Consorts in History is impressive from the kings consort of medieval Navarre to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh today. Among the highlights of this volume are Elena Woodacre’s thoughtful examination of the different approaches adopted by the husbands of the Queens of Navarre, Michael Bittner’s analysis of the role of Empress Anna Ivanovna of Russia’ favourite, Johann von Biron, in Anglo-Russian relations and the favorable account of Francis Stephen of Lorraine’s role as Empress Maria Theresa’s consort by Derek Beales.

There are two chapters about Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert and a detailed analysis by Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska of Prince Philip’s promotion of athletics and youth leadership during the early years of his marriage. There comparatively few studies available in English about the present day European royal houses and the chapters about the different styles of the consorts of the three successive 20th century Dutch Queens, and the grievances of Queen Margrethe of Denmark’s husband, Prince Henrik are therefore especially interesting. Highly recommended!

#11 of 365: Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

Genre: Non-Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 11 hours and 30 minutes

Listened: January 7-11, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from

Review: An engaging history of cooking and kitchen implements from ancient times until today. The book is divided into thematic chapters, examining the changing roles of various aspects of cooking and eating such as cold storage, fire, tableware and weights and measurements. The author, Bee Wilson, is a food writer for the BBC and there is a strong British focus to the book. For example, the section about fire discusses the history of roasting meat in detail as well as the modern phenomenon of chip pan fires. Wilson places British culinary history in a wider global context, however, discussing the reasons why refrigeration was far more prevalent in the United States than the United Kingdom until recently and the impact of forks vs. chopsticks on how meals are prepared and eaten.

#12 of 365: Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Genre: Classic Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 4 hours and 27 minutes

Listened: January 11-12, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from

Review: The audiobook of Eugene Onegin (translated by James E. Falen and read by Raphael Corkhill) is excellent. Falen captures the rhyme and metre of Pushkin’s original and Corkhill reads with enthusiasm. The famous scenes in the epic poem including Tatiana’s letter, Tatiana’s dream and the duel unfold amidst beautiful descriptions of the Russian winter, (and the boredom experienced by the Russian aristocracy at their country estates during this season), as well as the nature of 19th century Russian literature. Pushkin is critical of how French had supplanted Russian in fashionable society and the poem captures the flavour of his times.

#13 of 365: Victoria: Queen, Matriarch, Empress (Penguin Monarchs Series) by Jane Ridley

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 160 pages

Read: January 13, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Review: Jane Ridley, the author of Bertie: A Life of Edward VII, provides a solid overview of Queen Victoria’s life and reign, providing new analysis of the Queen’s restrictive upbringing, her marriage to Prince Albert, her relationship with her children, her attitudes toward her Prime Ministers, and her controversial friendship with John Brown. Ridley is especially critical of the romantic narrative of Queen Victoria’s marriage, popularized in the film The Young Victoria (and now the Victoria series on PBS), noting that Albert undermined Victoria’s self-confidence and that she had to relearn how to reign alone after his death. Victoria’s interest in her own public image is also discussed in the book, including her letters to newspapers that were critical of her extended period of mourning as a widow.

#14 of 365 Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

Genre: Memoir

Format: Paperback, 256 pages

Read: January 13, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Chapters/Indigo online

Review: A memoir about finding joy and solace in reading. The author, Nina Sankovitch, read a book a day for a year while grieving the loss of her sister. Her impressions of the books are interwoven in a wider memoir about her family. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair includes a full list of the books she read during her book a day challenge.

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5 Key Figures from Prince Philip’s Childhood Who Are Missing from Season 2 of The Crown on Netflix

In Season 1 of The Netflix series, The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II succeeds to the throne in 1952, at the age of 25, and there are flashbacks and discussions of the challenges of her father’s reign: The Abdication Crisis of 1936 which brought George VI to the throne and the Second World War. In Season 2, the series explores Prince Philip’s childhood, dramatizing his family and education. In Season 2, Episode 2, a fictional Australian journalist asks him about his family’s exile from Greece, his mother’s nervous breakdown, his father’s abandonment of the family and his sisters’ connections to the Nazi party, prompting Philip to end the interview abruptly.

In Season 2 Episode 9, a remarkably well informed classmate at the Gordonstoun boarding school in Scotland bullies Philip about his family, stating most of the same details as the Australian journalist. Episode 9 also features flashbacks showing the death of Philip’s sister Cecile in a plane crash en route to a family wedding (there is no evidence that Philip’s father blamed him for this family tragedy as dramatized in the series) and the emotional support provided by Philip’s maternal uncle, Lord Mountbatten.

The Crown presents a particular image of Prince Philip as an exile and an outsider to elite society in Great Britain. This interpretation, as well as the time constraints of the series, necessitates leaving out other key figures from Prince Philip’s childhood, who would demonstrate that he moved in royal circles – both British and European – throughout his life. Here are 5 key figures from Prince Philip’s childhood who do not appear in The Crown on Netflix:

1 — Philip’s grandmother, Princess Victoria of Battenberg, the Marchioness of Milford Haven (1863-1950)

One of the most prominent figures in Prince Philip’s childhood was his maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Battenberg the Marchioness of Milford Haven. Victoria was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and was born at Windsor Castle (as was her eldest child, Prince Philip’s mother, Alice of Battenberg in 1885). While Philip was at school at Gordonstoun, Victoria’s apartments at Kensington Palace (dubbed “the aunt hill” by King Edward VIII because of the number of older members of the royal family who lived there), acted as a home for Philip, where he sometimes spent school holidays and kept his possessions. Victoria was a friend of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary and both women became godmothers to their great-grandson Prince Charles in 1948.

2– George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (1892-1938)

The best known of Philip’s maternal uncles is Lord Louis Mountbatten, who also enjoyed a close relationship with Prince Charles, making him an ideal figure of continuity in The Crown series. During Philip’s childhood, however, another maternal uncle, George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, also took an interest in Philip’s upbringing. George was a naval officer and mathematician with a strong interest in science and technology, which likely influenced Philip’s own intellectual curiosity. In Season 2 of The Crown, Philip demonstrates his own scientific interests by giving the Queen a detailed description of the workings of Suez Canal over dinner.  George’s son, David Mountbatten was Prince Philip’s best man at his wedding, not Mike Parker, as shown in Season 1 of The Crown.

Queen Elizabeth II and Pamela Mountbatten in Brisbane, Australia in 1954

3&4–Patricia (1924-2017) and Pamela Mountbatten (1929-) Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina have a brief scene together in Season 2 of The Crown but their daughters, Patricia and Pamela do not appear onscreen. They were childhood friends of both Philip and Elizabeth and frequently appear in documentaries about the royal family. Patricia belonged to the palace girl guide troop where Elizabeth was a guide and Princess Margaret was a brownie. Pamela was a bridesmaid at Elizabeth and Philip’s wedding and accompanied the royal couple on Commonwealth tours in the 1950s as a lady-in-waiting. Pamela’s memoir, Daughter of Empire, provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on the overseas tours took place in Season 1 of the The Crown.

Wedding picture of King Michael of Romania and Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma

5 –King Michael of Romania (1921-2017) In Episode 10, Prince Philip’s cousin, Princess Marina of Greece, Duchess of Kent (the widow of Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle, the Duke of Kent) makes a brief appearance to complain about the noisy renovations to Princess Margaret’s apartment in Kensington Palace. Marina’s wedding is probably where the Queen and Prince Philip first met, before the famous 1939 tour of the Dartmouth Naval College.

Aside from the Duchess of Kent, Philip vast extended family from Greece and Denmark, which connected him to Europe’s other royal houses, is missing from the series. One of Philip’s cousins and childhood friends was King Michael of Romania (the son of Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark). Philip and Michael played together as children and Philip spent part of his Christmas holiday with Michael in 1936. Michael met his future wife Anne of Bourbon-Parma, who had been one of Philip’s kindergarten classmates, at Philip and Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947. Photos of Philip and Michael as children together are available to view on Marlene Koenig’s Royal Musings website.

Further Reading About Prince Philip’s Childhood:

Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life by Philip Eade

Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Marriage by Gyles Brandreth

Further Reading About The Crown on Netflix

The Crown: The Official Companion: Volume 1 by Robert Lacey

Patricia Treble also discusses the portrayal of Prince Philip in The Crown on her Write Royalty website.

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My review of Crowns and Colonies (eds. Aldrich and McCreery) in the Royal Studies Journal

My review of Crowns and Colonies: European Monarchies and Overseas Empires, edited by Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery has been published in the December 2017 issue of the Royal Studies Journal.

The Royal Studies Journal is available online. Click here to read Aldrich & McCreery (eds.), Crowns and Colonies: European Monarchies and Overseas Empires (Manchester University Press, 2016), reviewed by 

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CBC News Interview: “This feels very modern’: How Meghan Markle could nudge the House of Windsor into the future

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (photo credit: Hello! Magazine)

Further details regarding the upcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were released today. The couple will be married at St. George’s chapel, Windsor Castle in mid-May. On the day the engagement was announced, I discussed Meghan Markle with Janet Davison at CBC News. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“One thing that Harry and Meghan have in common is their passion for humanitarian work,” said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian.

Harry, 33, is involved in causes ranging from support for mental health to his Invictus Games for wounded, injured and sick soldiers and veterans. Markle has worked with World Vision and the United Nations. She has travelled to Rwanda and advocated for issues ranging from clean water to rights for women and girls.

“As a member of the Royal Family, her philanthropic work will expand and she will be in demand to become a patron of various charities,” said Harris. “She will fit very well into the Royal Family in terms of her passion for philanthropy.”

Click here to read ‘This feels very modern’: How Meghan Markle could nudge the House of Windsor into the future” at CBC News

I am also quoted in this National Post article “Why a grown prince asked his grandmother permission to get married and other burning Harry, Meghan questions”

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The Engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Clarence House announced today that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are engaged and will marry in the Spring of 2018. I was interviewed about the big news by a variety of media outlets including CBC News and Global News (above).

I discussed the impact of the engagement on Meghan Markle’s daily life, career and charity work with University of Toronto News. The interview is online here.

I also discussed royal titles and surnames with Town and Country Magazine. Here is the interview.

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My lectures about Royal Tours of Toronto at Market Gallery on November 17 and 24

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh leaving the Royal York hotel in Toronto on a tour of Canada in 2010.

I will be giving two Friday afternoon lectures later this month at Market Gallery in Toronto about royal tours of Toronto, complementing the Maple Leaf Forever exhibition currently on display there. Afternoon tea will be served at both events and my books Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada and Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting will be for sale.

On November 17, I will be discussing the 1860 royal tour of Canada by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), which set key precedents for subsequent royal tours. More details about the talk are available here.

On November 24, I will be discussing Queen Elizabeth II’s visits to Toronto from 1951 to 2010. More details about the talk are available here.

Tickets for each lecture and afternoon tea are $20 and are available from Market Gallery.

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My January-February 2018 course at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies: Family Life from Medieval to Modern Times

On Wednesday afternoons in January and February 2018, I will be teaching an eight week history course about Family Life from Medieval to Modern Times.

Click here for more information and to register.

Course Description:

Our views on marriage and childrearing would seem very strange to families of past centuries. We’ll see the influence of romanticism on the current understanding of family life, the changing role of grandparents in relation to family traditions, and the emergence of a distinct children’s culture including the birth of children’s literature, due in part to the expansion of formal education. Join us for a look at marriage and parenting customs and advice through the centuries, and the surprising influence of history on family life today.
Learning Outcomes:
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Imperial Russia Book Reviews: 1913 Diary of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna and Maria and Anastasia: The Youngest Romanov Grand Duchesses in Their Own Words

Grand Duchess Maria (1899-1918) is the least well known of the four daughters of Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II and his consort, Empress Alexandra. Her two older sisters, Grand Duchess Olga (1895-1918) and Grand Duchess Tatiana (1897-1918) came of age and made their debut in Russian high society before the outbreak of the First World War and continued to be prominent public figures in wartime as nurses and heads of charitable organization. Maria’s younger sister, Grand Duchess Anastasia (1901-1918) became famous after her death as she was impersonated by numerous women who claimed to have survived the massacre of the Imperial family in 1918. In the context of her family, Maria was overshadowed by her sisters and younger brother, the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Alexei (1904-1918) and there is evidence that she sometimes felt overlooked in her own lifetime.

 In recent decades, the publication of new primary source material concerning the imprisonment and murder of the Romanovs has done little for Maria’s reputation and historical legacy. A 1918 interview with Vassili Yakolev, the Bolshevik Commissar who escorted Nicholas, Alexandra and Maria from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg (their final place of imprisonment), translated and reprinted in The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution dismisses Maria in a few lines: “Maria, the Romanovs’ daughter, is completely immature for her years. She has no understanding at all of life in the broad sense of the word. She is under the strong influence of her mother.” The 2005 book The Fate of the Romanovs, quotes extensively from biased Bolshevik sources and presents the teenaged Maria as a flirt who was censured by her family because of her friendly relations with the soldiers who kept the Romanovs under guard in 1917 and 1918.  Helen Rappaport’s books about the Imperial family are kinder to Maria but Rappaport still emphasizes Maria’s perceived flirtations, concluding that “Gauche and naive, she was an innocent abroad in the company of men” in The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg.

Two new volumes of Maria’s letters and diaries,1913 Diary of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna: Complete Tercentennial Journal of the Third Daughter of the Last Tsar and Maria and Anastasia: The Youngest Romanov Grand Duchesses In Their Own Words: Letters, Diaries, Postcards, edited by Helen Azar, finally allow the Grand Duchess to speak for her herself and demonstrate that she was not fully understood by those who met her in passing during the final months of her life. Klavdia Bitner, a tutor employed in 1917 noted that the Grand Duchesses were unfamiliar with certain contemporary authors and concluded that they were indifferently educated but Maria’s 1913 diary reveals that at the age of thirteen and fourteen, Maria’s days were dominated by lessons. On February 5, 1913, she wrote, “Had lessons in the morning…[In the afternoon] Had a dance lesson. Had a music lesson…Then did homework.” A report card from that year demonstrates that Maria received top marks from all of her tutors and that she experienced a wide variety of educational opportunities from frequent visits to theatre and ballet to physics lessons in the science lab of a secondary school near the Alexander Palace.

During the First World War, Nicholas II spent months at a time at military headquarters as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army and his daughters wrote him frequent letters. Of the four sisters, Maria may have been the most descriptive letter writer, providing detailed and thoughtful accounts of the hospital where she volunteered with her sister Anastasia. On May 29, 1916, Maria wrote to her father, “This afternoon we rode around then went to our infirmary. Almost all the wounded are lying in the tent…Those who are able, walk to the Catherine Park and sail around the lake in row boats. They really enjoy this and always ask the nurses to go with them.”

Both Maria’s 1913 diary and her wartime letters demonstrate how closely she and her sisters were integrated into their father’s close relationship with the military: all four of the Grand Duchesses became honourary Colonels-in-Chief of regiments from the age of fourteen, attended military reviews, organized social events for military personnel and volunteered in military hospitals. This routine meant that Maria was comfortable socializing with soldiers from a young age. Her interest in the daily lives of soldiers and ability to create a friendly rapport would be interpreted as flirtation by Bolshevik observers after her family was placed under guard following Nicholas’s abdication in March 1917.

Maria’s diaries and letters also provide insights concerning the daily routine and social circle of the Russian Imperial family during the 1913 tercentennial of the Romanov dynasty and the First World War. The involvement of two of Czar Nicholas II’s relatives, his cousin Grand Duke Dmitri and nephew by marriage Prince Felix Yusupov, in the 1916 murder of Grigori Rasputin seems to demonstrate a longstanding estrangement between Nicholas and his extended family but Maria’s letters and diaries demonstrate that Nicholas, Alexandra and their children had a warm relationship with numerous members of the Romanov extended family. Maria appears to have been particularly close to the “Ai-Todorsky,” the children of her Aunt, Grand Duchess Xenia, including Princess Irina, who married Felix Yusupov.

Maria was murdered with the rest of her family on the night of July 16-17, 1918, soon after her nineteenth birthday. Her final letters demonstrate that she was the most hopeful member of her family in their final months. In a letter written just two months before her death, Maria wrote, “It is difficult to write anything pleasant, because there is very little of it here to report, but on the other hand, God does not abandon us, the sun shines and the birds sing.” The publication of Maria’s letters and diaries provide valuable new insights about life within Russia’s last Imperial family from 1913 to 1918 and show Maria to be an intelligent and thoughtful observer of her family’s experiences during the Romanov tercentennial, First World War and Russian Revolution.

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