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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Tudor Book Reviews: The King’s Pearl by Melita Thomas and So High a Blood by Morgan Ring

The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas

The childhood of Queen Mary I has long been viewed through the perspective of her adolescence and adulthood. As Melita Thomas, observes, Mary was known for centuries as “Bloody Mary” because of the executions of Protestants during her short reign and has recently been rediscovered as “Tragic Mary” because of the devastating impact of the divorce of her parents, King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on her life. As a result, Mary is viewed as her mother’s daughter and the dynastic marriage negotiations of her childhood are often treated as doomed to failure from the beginning.

In The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary, Thomas re-evaluates the relationship between Henry VIII and Mary I, emphasizing Mary’s political and personal significance to her father. The dynastic marriage negotiations of Mary’s childhood are taken seriously as Henry attempted to increase his prominence in European politics by securing prestigious marriage for Mary. Henry’s relations with Catherine’s nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, are particularly well analyzed by Thomas as the prospect of having a grandson who would rule most of Europe seemed to reconcile Henry to the prospect of a female heir.

Thomas makes clear that popular opinion within England and the rest of Europe deemed Mary to be Henry’s heir until the birth of a younger brother, despite the efforts of Henry and Anne Boleyn to assert their daughter’s Elizabeth’s seniority in the succession through the Act of Supremacy. After Anne’s execution, there were doubts concerning whether Henry would have subsequent children with his third wife, Jane Seymour. Mary therefore remained politically significant event after she had been declared illegitimate.

Thomas devotes less attention to the personal bond between Henry and Mary beyond their shared love of music, gardens and courtly display as well as willingness to take risks to achieve their political ambitions but this imbalance reflects the available source material. There is more evidence of Mary’s personal relations with her successive stepmothers from her antipathy toward Anne Boleyn to her warm friendship with Katherine Parr. Mary’s determination to be an active rather than passive participant in Tudor politics is evident throughout the book. The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary is an interesting and well researched counterpoint to prevailing image of Mary I as a “Bloody” or “Tragic” figure. Like her half-siblings, Elizabeth I and Edward VI, she was a child of Henry VIII and his influence had a lifelong impact on her politics and personality.

So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot by Morgan Ring

One of Queen Mary I’s closest friends was her Scottish cousin Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of King Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor and her second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Douglas was a prominent figure at the Tudor court during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Through her grandson, King James VI of Scotland/James I of England, she is an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II. Despite her importance during the sixteenth century and the dramatic circumstances of her life – she was imprisoned in the Tower of London on more than one occasion – Margaret Douglas is little known today. Her long residence at the Tudor court resulted in her being marginalized in histories of sixteenth century Scotland while her Scottish ancestry meant that she received little attention in histories of England during the same period.

In So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot, Morgan Ring presents Margaret Douglas a strong and adaptable personality, a key figure in the religious and political upheaval of Elizabeth I’s reign and a consummate survivor. Margaret enjoyed the rare ability of reconciling with Henry VIII after incurring his displeasure on more than one occasion because of her romances with members of the Howard family. The exclusion of the Scottish line from Henry VIII’s will, however, suggests that they were in conflict at the time of his death and Ring provides a convincing analysis of these circumstances in her book.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Margaret, a devout Roman Catholic who had enjoyed a close friendship with Mary I, opposed the Queen’s Protestant religious settlement. Margaret also favoured the marriage of her elder son, Lord Darnley, to Mary, Queen of Scots in opposition to Queen Elizabeth I’s wishes. After Darnley’s death, Margaret blamed Mary, Queen of Scots and enjoyed an improved relationship with Elizabeth that lasted until Margaret’s younger son married without the Queen’s permission. As the mother of two sons who survived to adulthood (a circumstance that was rare among the Tudors) and then as the grandmother of the King of Scotland, Margaret was an important political figure throughout Elizabeth I’s reign. Ring restores a little known member of the Tudor dynasty to her rightful place in sixteenth century history.

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen

The Earl of Aberdeen

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about the Earl of Aberdeen, Governor General of Canada from 1893 to 1898.

As governor general, the Earl of Aberdeen and his wife, Lady Aberdeen, focused on social welfare and engaging with Canadians of various backgrounds and cultures, setting precedents for the philanthropic initiatives of future governors general. Aberdeen also owned an estate in the Okanagan Valley and pioneered commercial fruit growing in the region.

Click here to read my article about the Earl of Aberdeen

Click here to read my article about Lady Aberdeen

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National Post Interview: What does the governor general do all day? A National Post investigation

Lord Dufferin

I discussed the history of the role of the Governor General of Canada with the National Post. In contrast to the United Kingdom, where the Prime Minister and the Queen meet on a weekly basis, there is no set precedent in Canada for regular meetings between the Prime Minister and Governor General. As explained in the National Post:

“However, prime ministers and governors general might become best friends anyway. Royal historian Carolyn Harris told the National Post that Sir John A. Macdonald and Lord Dufferin were so close that Macdonald became godfather to the governor general’s son.”

Click here to read “What does the governor general do all day? A National Post investigation” 

Click here to read my article on Lord Dufferin in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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Global News Interview: How Meghan Markle has broken almost every rule for royal girlfriends

I discussed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with Global News. The couple, who appeared in the public together for the first time this week at the Invictus Games in Toronto, are conducting their relationship on their own terms, breaking from longstanding traditions concerning royal courtships, engagements and marriages.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been so open about the fact that they are dating, and have spoken about their relationship in this way,” noted Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting“(They) are conducting this relationship on their own terms.”

Click here to read “How Meghan Markle has broken almost every rule for royal girlfriends” at Global News

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Canadian Press Interview: Prince Harry, Meghan Markle make first official public appearance together

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the Invictus Games (Photo Credit: The Canadian Press)

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle attended the Invictus Games wheelchair tennis event at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on September 24, their first official appearance together. I discussed the significance of this event with the Canadian Press. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

“Some royal watchers had earlier suggested the couple would hold off on a public appearance together for fear of stealing the spotlight away from the Games, but Harris said their presence has, in fact, brought more attention to the event.

She said it is interesting that they chose to attend wheelchair tennis together, noting that tennis courts have been “the setting for royal events since the Middle Ages.”

Click here to read “Prince Harry, Meghan Markle make first official public appearance together”

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