Category Archives: Royal History

Royal Travelogue 2: “400 Years of Legal Piracy” Hamlet’s Castle Kronborg and Denmark’s Sound Dues

Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark

Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark

“But what is your affair in Elsinore?
We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.” - Hamlet, Act 1,Scene 2

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet around 1600, Kronborg Castle in Helsingør (Elsinore), Denmark was the most famous royal residence in Northern Europe. King Frederick II rebuilt Erik of Pomerania’s grim medieval castle of Krogen as a stately Renaissance Palace with an enormous ballroom for lavish court entertainments. When the King proposed a toast, the cannons fired and the trumpets sounded. 

The ballroom at Kronborg

The ballroom at Kronborg

Frederick’s daughter Anna honeymooned at the Castle with her new husband, King James VI of Scotland (the future James I of England) in 1589-1590. The royal couple had already been married by proxy at Kronborg and married in person at the Old Bishop’s Palace in Oslo but they decided to have a third wedding in the Kronborg  ballroom followed by more celebrations. They stayed in what is now known as “the Scottish suite” before traveling to Copenhagen for the wedding of Anna’s sister Elizabeth to the Duke of Brunswick then sailing to Leith, Scotland. Anna’s brother, King Christian IV, continued the building program at Kronborg, making additions to the chapel including a closed royal box so that he could nap unobserved during church services.

The Kronborg Cannons, overlooking "the Sound" between Denmark and Sweden

The Kronborg Cannons, overlooking “the Sound” between Denmark and Sweden

How did Frederick VI and Christian IV finance their building program and royal festivities? From 1423 to 1857, the monarchs of Denmark charged “sound dues” to any vessel passing through the sound between Denmark and Sweden to enter or leave the Baltic Sea. These tolls were the chief revenue source for generations of Danish Kings, allowing them to maintain the most sumptuous court in Northern Europe. 

In 1423, Erik of Pomerania (King Erik VII of Denmark) summoned merchants from the German Hanseatic League and informed them that every ship sailing past Helsingør would henceforth have to lower its flag, strike its topsails and drop anchor so that the captain could go ashore to pay a gold coin to pass in or out of the Baltic. Erik’s control over Scandinavia gave him the power to impose these lucrative shipping controls. His great-aunt and predecessor, Margrethe I, united Sweden, Norway and Denmark in the Kalmar Union, which lasted until 1523. Erik built the original castle on the site of Kronborg to ensure that no passing ship attempted to evade the sound dues. If a ship attempted to pass Helsingør without paying, the castle cannons would fire a shot across the bow, and the cost of the ammunition would be added to the captain’s dues when he finally came ashore,

Statue of Erik of Pomerania in Helsingør

Statue of Erik of Pomerania in Helsingør

Attitudes toward the sound dues varied among Europe’s merchants and sea captains. A 1585-1586 German atlas praised the Kings of Denmark for keeping pirates out of the Baltic stating, “Denmark, which owns no gold mines, does however possess something no less valuable in the Sound, whose waters flow with gold, for all ships must pay toll in gold to the King, who in return, by preventing the ungodly assaults of pirates, reserves the use of the sea for the benefit of merchants. (Quoted in David Hohnen, Hamlet’s Castle & Shakespeare’s Elsinore, p. 10) ” The heads of captured and executed pirates were displayed on the Kronborg battlements.

Kronborg Castle Courtyard

Kronborg Castle Courtyard

Other observers quietly grumbled that the King of Denmark was little better than a pirate himself for insisting that passing ships pay a percentage of the value of their cargo in sound dues. Since the King also had the first right to purchase any goods passing through the Sound, Captains were motivated to state a high value for their cargo to prevent the King from purchasing their goods at a loss. One historian described the system as “400 years of legal piracy. (Hohnen, p. 11).”

The era of sound dues finally came to an end in 1857 when an American merchant vessel refused to the pay the toll. The American government declared that Sound Dues dated from “a remote and barbarous age, even before the discovery of America” and that “they apply exclusively to the nations of Europe (Quoted in Hohnen, p. 109).” The United States’s refusal to pay the Sound Dues, however, encouraged European nations to do the same. Denmark received a final payment from all maritime nations that traded in the Baltic Sea but the monarchy permanently lost its most lucrative source of income. The era of lavish entertainments at the Danish court had come to an end.

Next: Leith, Scotland: The Last Harbour of the Royal Yacht Britannia

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Royal Travelogue 1: Castles of Copenhagen

The Changing of the Guard outside the Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

The Changing of the Guard outside the Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

Denmark is Europe’s oldest monarchy and the seaside capital, Copenhagen is steeped in royal history. Here are Copenhagen’s three most famous past and present royal residences:

1) Amalienborg was once home to four of Copenhagen’s noble families but after the Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794, the royal family moved in. Today, Amalienborg is Queen Margrethe II’s official winter residence and a museum devoted to Denmark’s Kings and Queens of the House of Glucksborg from Christian IX and his consort Queen Louise, who became known as the in-laws of Europe because of the illustrious marriages of their children in the 19th century, to the present day. 

Amalienborg Palace

Amalienborg Palace

The museum reveals the daily lives of Denmark’s recent Kings and Queens, reconstructing their rooms such as Queen Louise’s drawing room and her son Frederick VIII’s study with personal objects. There are photographs from the family gatherings hosted by Christian IX and Queen Louise that brought the Russian, British, Greek, Danish and Norwegian royal families together in the late nineteenth century. Portraits, costumes and royal jewels are also on display. Photography is not permitted without a special permit but richly illustrated exhibition guides are sold in the gift shop, which also stocks royal history books that are difficult to find elsewhere.

The Christiansborg Palace

The Christiansborg Palace

2) The current Christiansborg palace was built between 1907 and 1928 after Thorvald Jørgensen’s design won an architecture contest held to determined the future of the site. Today, Christiansborg is the seat of the Danish parliament and contains the Prime Minister’s Office and Supreme Court in addition to royal reception rooms, the palace chapel and stables. Christiansborg is the only building in the world that houses all three branches of a nation’s government. The royal reception rooms and stables are open to the public and there are guided tours of parliament. The balcony of the castle tower provides a scenic overview of Copenhagen. Since 1924, the ruins of previous palaces that once stood on this site have also been open to the public. The ruins date back to 1167, when Bishop Absalon of Roskilde built his residence on the site. Equestrian statues of Christian IX and his predecessor Frederick VII stand outside Christiansborg.

Rosenborg

Rosenborg

3) Rosenborg Castle was originally a royal summer residence, built in 1606 as part of Christian IV’s extensive building program for the city. Rosenborg remained a royal residence until 1710. After the reign of Frederick IV, Rosenborg only housed royalty in times of crisis such as the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen when Horatio Nelson destroyed much of the Danish and Norwegian fleets. Today, Rosenborg houses Denmark’s Crown Jewels, which date from the eighteenth century, and other regalia. The museum collections are devoted to Denmark’s monarchy between the 16th and 19th centuries. The castle has been open to the public since 1838.

Next: Following in the footsteps of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Kronborg in HelsingørDenmark.

 

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Magna Carta and the Development of Parliament

Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester

Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester

My latest article on the Magna Carta 2015 Canada website discusses the impact of Magna Carta on the development of parliament. A generation after King John affixed his seal to Magna Carta in 1215, his son, Henry III and son-in-law, Simon de Montfort fought over the Great Charter’s legacy. Like his father, Henry III was inclined to disregard Magna Carta when it conflicted his personal interests but Montfort sought to impose checks and balances on the King that would ensure the rights codified by the Charter. By drafting the Provisions of Oxford in 1258 and expanding parliamentary representation to include townspeople, Montfort became a father of representative government with a legacy that continues to the present day.

Click here to read “Magna Carta and the Development of Parliament” at Magna Carta Canada

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Interviews: Prince George of Cambridge’s 1st Birthday

Prince George is one year old today. In his first year, the royal baby has already had a profound impact on how the public views the monarchy. I’ve discussed George’s first year with a number of journalists in the past week. Here are the interviews:

Click here to read “Happy birthday, Prince George — the baby who rescued the monarchy” at Canada.com

Click here to read “Prince George turns 1: ‘Republican slayer’ PR gold for Royal Family” at CBC.ca

Click here to read “Tiny Prince George has Big Impact on the Royal Family” at The Toronto Sun

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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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How Prince George Has Transformed the Royal Family

Prince George of Cambridge at his christening on October 23, 2013. Photo Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire/Press Association via AP Images

Prince George of Cambridge at his christening on October 23, 2013. Photo Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire/Press Association via AP Images

Prince George of Cambridge, son of William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and third in line to the United Kingdom and Commonwealth thrones will celebrate his first birthday on July 22.

Prince George of Cambridge has had a profound effect on public perceptions of the monarchy during his first year. The senior members of the royal family have all received media coverage based on their relationship to the infant prince. Queen Elizabeth II, who is now the great-grandmother of four, is in a similar position to Queen Victoria after the birth of the future King Edward VIII in 1894: a respected elder stateswoman with three generations of direct heirs.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

Recent coverage of the Prince of Wales emphasizes his role as a doting grandfather. During his overseas tours over the past year, he has received numerous gifts for George. In Sri Lanka, in November 2013, Charles visited a tea plantation on the 1,000 acre Labookellie estate, receiving a two silver plated tea caddies, one for himself and one for his grandson. In Canada, in May 2014, Charles received a miniature leather flying jacket with a fur-lined collar from the Stevenson Air Hangar in Winnipeg.

Charles has incorporated his new role as a grandfather into his environmental activism. In a speech delivered in Charlottetown during his recent Canadian tour, Charles stated, “In other words, the health of nature’s life support systems, which are now under such threat, has a direct bearing upon the health and well-being of people…“I have long tried to draw attention to this connection but it has come into even sharper focus now that I am a grandfather.” The Duchess of Cornwall was already the grandmother of five at the time of George’s birth, including William and Catherine’s bridesmaid, Eliza Lopes, but the arrival of Charles’s first grandchild has focused public attention on her warm rapport with young children.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrating Canada Day in Ottawa in 2011

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrating Canada Day in Ottawa in 2011

For William and Catherine, the arrival of their son has focused public scrutiny on their parenting decisions. From the time of George’s birth last year, it has been clear that the royal couple are determined to make their own decisions regarding their son’s upbringing. William drove Catherine and George home from the hospital himself. The new parents spent months in comparative seclusion after the birth, spending time with their baby at  Balmoral Castle and the Middleton family home in Berkshire.

In April 2014, George contributed to the success of William and Catherine’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. While William also traveled with his parents to the same countries as an infant, the 2014 itinerary included engagements specifically designed to showcase George. His public appearances, including visits to a Wellington play group and Sydney zoo were the most anticipated stops on the tour. In Australia, George was nicknamed “the republican slayer” because of the surge in the royal family’s popularity during the tour, just fifteen years after the Australian referendum on the future of the monarchy.

Princess Anne

Princess Anne

The Prince George effect is not confined to the royal baby’s parents, grandfather and great-grandparents. Other members of royal family have also received press coverage based on their relationship with George. Prince Harry’s rapport with children has received extensive attention and there is speculation that he is “desperate” to marry and start a family of his own. Although Princess Anne stated the day after George’s birth that his arrival had “Nothing to do with me, but it’s very good news,” her October 2013 visit to Canada received media attention as a tour by the royal baby’s great-aunt that took place at the same time as his christening. Reports on the christening of Maud Windsor, granddaughter of the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, emphasized that she would be the first to wear the replica Victorian christening gown after George.

In the past year, the arrival of Prince George has changed how the public in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth view the entire royal family. As great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles or cousins of the world’s most famous baby, all the members of the royal family have become the focus of increased popular interest. As George approaches his 1st birthday, he continues to transform how the public connects to the monarchy.

 

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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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Friday Royal Read: John Buchan: Model Governor General by J. William Galbraith

John Buchan was a Scottish journalist, novelist and Member of Parliament. He is most famous for writing the thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which inspired a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film. Lord Tweedsmuir was Canada’s fifteenth Governor General since Confederation and the first to be appointed after the 1931 Statute of Westminster granted Canada and the other Dominions legislative equality with the United Kingdom. Tweedsmuir’s five year tenure as Governor General from 1935 to 1940 encompassed key events in Canada’s history including the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936, the 1939 tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the outbreak of the Second World War.

There are many who are unaware that Buchan and Tweedsmuir were the same person and that his time in office served as a model for subsequent Governors General. The monarch’s representatives in Canada prior to the Second World War are sometimes treated as interchangeable British political figures despite their distinct approaches to the office. In John Buchan: Model Governor General, J William Galbraith, council member of the John Buchan society, analyzes Buchan’s profound impact on Canadian history and lasting influence on the office of Governor General in Canada.

Galbraith’s study of Buchan’s tenure as Governor General provides reveals Canada’s role behind the scenes of key royal events of the late 1930s. The Abdication Crisis of 1936 had an international dimension as there was evidence that the Dominions would not accept the twice divorced Wallis Simpson as Edward VIII’s consort and queen. As Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII was an extremely popular figure in Canada and owned a ranch in Alberta. Buchan interpreted Canadian popular opinion for Edward VIII’s private secretary though he stated it would be, “improper for me to have any view.” Buchan also played a key role in the organization of the 1939 royal tour though he appeared to fade into the background when George VI and Queen Elizabeth were on Canadian soil.

In contrast to past narrative biographies of Buchan, Galbraith focuses almost exclusively on the Canada years and adopts a thematic approach to his five years in office. This structure highlights key aspects of Buchan’s time as Governor General such as his patronage of the arts and extensive travels across Canada. In a few instances, however, the thematic chapters fragment contiguous historical events. For example, there is entire chapter devoted to George VI’s and Queen Elizabeth’s 1939 tour of Canada but their subsequent visit to the United States is covered in a subsequent chapter about Buchan’s role as an intermediary between Great Britain and America. The close focus on Buchan also means that readers must look elsewhere for detailed biographical information on the key figures who influenced Buchan and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, such as political power broker Violet Markham.

John Buchan: Model Governor General restores Buchan to his rightful place in Canadian history. In the foreword,  Canada’s current Governor General, His Excellent the Right Honourable David Johnston states, “John Buchan quietly established a new model for the position of Governor General. His considerable impact on Canada has not been fully recognized.” Galbraith’s book reveal’s the full extent of Buchan’s political and cultural influence on Canada.

Next Friday Royal Read: Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts by James Anderson Winn

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My articles on Magna Carta and The Charter of the Forest in the Canadian Encyclopedia

My latest contributions to the Canadian Encyclopedia are “Magna Carta” and “The Charter of the Forest.” The articles discuss the creation of the two Charters and the lasting historical and legal significance throughout the English speaking world, including Canada.

Click here to read “Magna Carta” in the Canadian Encyclopedia 

Click here to read “The Charter of the Forest” in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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The Truth About Royal Spending

 

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace

My column in today’s Ottawa Citizen corrects some longstanding misconceptions about Royal Finances, discussing the Sovereign Grant and the history of other sources of royal income. I explain why reports that Prince William received a helicopter from the Queen for his 32nd birthday and that renovations to Kensington Palace will be billed to “the taxpayer” are inaccurate.

Click here to read “The Truth About Royal Spending” in the Ottawa Citizen

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