Category Archives: Royal History

Friday Royal Read: Hereward by Peter Rex

The Norman Conquest did not end with William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. There was an older vision of England that remained stubbornly persistent in the decade following the coronation of William I in Westminster Abbey. During the reign of King Canute (1016-1035), England was part of a vast Anglo-Scandinavian Empire, ruled by the same monarch as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. There was an Anglo-Danish elite with a vested interest in the connections between Saxon England and Scandinavia rather than a new Norman regime. In Hereward, the late Peter Rex, author of William the Conqueror: The Bastard of Normandy, The English Resistance and Edward the Confessor reconstructs the life and rebellion of Hereward, who led the best known rebellion against William the Conqueror.

Source material for Hereward’s life beyond the revolt on the Isle of Ely in 1071 is fragmentary. The first line of the book is, “While it is not possible to produce a full biography of the Lincolnshire thegn called Hereward, the main threads of his career can be recovered, at least in outline.” Nevertheless, Rex reaches informed conclusions about who Hereward was and who he was not. There is no evidence that  the outlaw known as Hereward was the son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia and the famous Lady Godiva and therefore a descendant of Alfred the Great. There is also no evidence that Hereward had surviving children despite unsubstantiated claims that the Wakes are descendants in the female line and the Harwoods are descendants in the male line.  Rex argues that that Hereward’s patrimony and lineage were inflated by early chroniclers and later novelists to make him seem a more worthy adversary for a King.

Instead, Hereward appears to have been from a comparatively modest gentry family, an Abbot’s nephew who spent time gaining military experience in Flanders before leading his rebellion. The most dramatic chapters of the book concern the rise and breakdown of Hereward’s insurrection. Hereward counted on Danish support to reverse the Norman Conquest and bring back the Anglo-Scandinavian world of his youth Instead, the Danes abandoned him and he held the Island of Ely with the support of northern Earls before a final defeat and flight from the Normans. The struggle between William and Hereward became personal as the outlaw came to personify the Saxon resistence that the Conqueror was determined to crush at all costs.

As a Harwood descendant, I was disappointed to learn from Hereward that I am probably not descended from Hereward “the Wake,” let alone Alfred the Great. There are many questions about William the Conqueror’s best known English adversary that will always remain unanswered. Rex provides the most complete and accurate account of Hereward’s life and rebellion to date and sheds light on a different path that English history could have taken. If the Danes had supported Hereward and his rebellion had been successful, Scandinavia might have shaped England’s political future and language. A lasting Norman Conquest was only one of many possible outcomes in the aftermath of 1066.

Next week: John Buchan: Model Governor General by J. William Galbraith

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Monday Royal News Roundup: King Felipe VI’s Installation, Prince Philip’s 93rd birthday and Prince William’s New Initiative

Felipe, Prince of Asturias in Ecuador in 2013

1) King Felipe VI of Spain’s Installation to Take Place on June 19, 2014

The History: King Juan Carlos of Spain announced his intention to abdicate on Monday June 2, 2014. The installation of his son as King Felipe VI will take place on June 19 in a joint session of Spain’s Congress and Senate in Madrid. Since Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 televised coronation ceremony is so well known, a number of journalists have described the upcoming ceremony as a “coronation.” Felipe will not be crowned but instead sworn into office in the same manner as his father, Juan Carlos, in 1975. There will not be any foreign royalty or other heads of state in attendance at the ceremony because of the short notice and shortage of seating room in Spain’s parliament.

The surrounding festivities, however, will differ between the two reigns. Juan Carlos attended a celebratory Mass following his installation. There will not be any religious component to Felipe’s succession to throne. The focus will be on Felipe VI’s role as leader of Spain’s armed forces with the new King attending the installation in uniform and full military honours taking place outside Congress. The King’s military leadership played a crucial role in recent Spanish history. In 1981, Juan Carlos prevented a coup against Spain’s nascent democratic government by ordering the troops to stand down in a televised address as Commander-in-Chief.

For more on King Juan Carlos and Spain’s royal history, click here to read my column from January, “The Reign in Spain of King Juan Carlos”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in Canada in 2010

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in Canada in 2010

2) Prince Philip will celebrate his 93rd birthday on June 10, 2014

The History: Queen Elizabeth II’s consort Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh will turn 93 on June 10, 2014. Despite health problems in recent years, Philip maintains a busy schedule of royal engagements and continues to support the Queen in her duties. Philip is the oldest and longest serving royal consort in British and Commonwealth history.

There have only been four other men married to undisputed reigning Queens over the course of English history. Philip II of Spain, consort of Mary I, and William III, consort of Mary II were both reigning monarchs in their own right. George of Denmark, consort of Anne, and Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, consort of Victoria, were both junior members of foreign royal houses like Prince Philip. From the beginning of the Queen’s reign, Philip made clear that he intended to re-imagine his role to support a modern monarchy. He explained to his biographer, Gyles Brandreth, “Queen Victoria was an executive sovereign, following in a long line of executive sovereigns. The Prince Consort was effectively Victoria’s private secretary. But after Victoria the monarchy changed. It became an institution. I had to fit in with the institution.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Canada in 2011

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Canada in 2011

3) Prince William to launch new United for Wildlife Campaign on Monday June 9, 2014

The History: The Duke of Cambridge will announce his new initiative for United for Wildlife, the online  #WhoseSideAreYouOn campaign, at London’s Google town hall on Monday June 9, 2014. At the launch, William will be joined by soccer star David Beckham. As part of the campaign, high profile athletes will encourage opposition to trade in illegal wildlife products by engaging with young people on social media.

The #WhoseSideAreYouOn campaign combines three key assets that royalty have brought to philanthropy for decades: personal engagement with problems that require multi-generational solutions, a willingness to promote their message through new technologies and the public profile to bring different groups together in support of a single cause. By founding United for Wildlife, which combines the resources of seven global conservation organisations and the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, William is following in the footsteps of his father, Prince Charles and grandfather, Prince Philip who both champion environmental conservation efforts.

For more of my thoughts on royalty, philanthropy and the environment, click here to read my column from 2013, “Royalty, Environment, A Natural Partnership”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Friday Royal Read: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

The last Imperial family of Russia are one of the best documented families in history. Czar Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra, their four daughters, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia and their son, Grand Duke Alexei lived at a time when photography and newsreels captured the royal image and they all kept diaries and wrote numerous letters. The Russian Revolutions of 1917 and the murder of the entire family in 1918 resulted in an exodus of courtiers from Russia who wrote books about their time with the Romanovs.

Despite all these sources, the distinct personalities and achievements of Nicholas and Alexandra’s daughters are little known. In official photographs, the Grand Duchesses dresses alike, appearing interchangeable in public. Their murder when the eldest was twenty-two and the youngest was seventeen resulted in the public viewing them collectively as “the children” or martyrs rather than as individuals. In The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra, Helen Rappaport, author of The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile and A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy, reconstructs the lives Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia led behind palace walls.

Books about the Grand Duchesses are often dominated by their last days, deaths and the numerous claimants who captured the popular imagination. Rappaport keeps the focus firmly on the young women’s lives. (Readers interested in their deaths should consult her previous book, The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg). There is plenty of material from newspapers, letters and diaries revealing how the four young women were viewed during their lives.

Alexandra may have hoped to shield her daughters from what she perceived as the corrupting influence of court society but society was intensely curious about them. The years leading up to the First World War saw intense speculation about the princes they would marry and the potential for change to Russia’s semi-Salic succession laws.  The Grand Duchesses’ writings reveal that they had their own, more modest goals. Olga confided to a friend during the war that she hoped, “To get married, live always in the countryside summer and winter, always mix with good people, and no officialdom whatsoever.”

The most fascinating chapters of Rappaport’s book cover the war years because these sections reveal the full scope of the Grand Duchesses’s war work and impact on Russia. Like other young women of their social station, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia found leadership opportunities during wartime that expanded their horizons. While other works on the Romanovs focus on how Olga and Tatiana trained as nurses alongside their mother, Rappaport also looks at their committee work and fundraising opportunities in detail. Tatiana, in particular, excelled at these activities. She chaired a committee for the aid of displaced refugees, wrote a newspaper article to increase awareness of this issue, collected donations from an international array of donors and did administrative work for her charities.

Rappaport devotes much of the first third of the book to Alexandra’s upbringing and the influence she had over her daughters. While this material is crucial to understanding the worldview of the Grand Duchesses, more material on Nicholas II’s childhood would have been useful here. The last Czar was an involved father who spent a great deal of time with his daughters and was undoubtedly also a strong influence over their lives.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra restores the individuality of Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. They were among the most famous royal personages of their early twentieth century and continue to fascinate people around the world today. Rappaport has written the definitive biography of four young women who made a profound impact on their family and country during their short lives.

Next Week: Hereward: The English Outlaw who Rebelled Against William the Conqueror by Peter Rex

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Interview: The Abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain

King Juan Carlos of Spain announced today that he will abdicate in favour of his son Felipe, Prince of the Asturias, who will reign as King Felipe VI.

I was interviewed by Bloomberg News about the Spanish royal family prior to today’s announcement. Click here to read Spain’s King Juan Carlos Abdicates to Make Way for Youth

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Upcoming Royal Chat: Will Queen Elizabeth abdicate?

I will be participating in a Postmedia online royal chat this Wednesday, June 4 at 2pm ET on King Juan Carlos of Spain’s plans to abdicate, whether the continental European trend toward abdication will have any influence on Queen Elizabeth II, royal attendance at  the D-Day 70th anniversary ceremonies , Prince Philip’s 93rd birthday and the Duke of York’s upcoming visit to Canada.

Click here to read the chat and submit your questions!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Monday Royal News Roundup: Coronation, Commemoration and Charlene

Coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. June 2, 1953

Coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. June 2, 1953

1) June 2 is the 61st anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation at Westminster Abbey, London.

The History:  The ceremony did not only mark the beginning of one of the longest reigns in British and Commonwealth history. The Queen’s decision to allow the BBC Television Service to bring their cameras into the Abbey to film the coronation transformed the television from a curiosity to a household item. Hundreds of thousands of people purchased their first television set in the months preceding the broadcast. The friends and neighbours of these early adopters were introduced the new technology by attending coronation viewing parties, prompting a further spike in television sales in the months following the ceremony.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II transformed the television set from a technological curiosity to a consumer staple, revolutionizing the television industry worldwide. At 88, the Queen remains a strong influence over public perceptions of emerging technologies and industries. When the official British monarchy Facebook page went online in 2010, it received 40,000 likes within its first hour and introduced new users to social media.

Princess Elizabeth Serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War.

2) From June 5 to June 7, three generations of royalty: Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will participate in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France.

The History: Queen Elizabeth II is the only current Head of State who served in the uniform during the Second World War. In 1945, eighteen year old Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a mechanic at the Mechanical Transport Training Centre. As Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, the future Queen learned to drive a truck, strip down engines and change tires. More than two decades later, the Queen recalled to Labour MP Barbara Castle that her wartime service was the only time in her life when she was able to measure her progress against that of her contemporaries.

Prince Philip served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. In 1942, he became a Lieutenant  at 21 and was appointed second-in-command of the HMS Wallace, which took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. Philip then became second-in-command of  the HMS Whelp, and joined the 27th Destroyer Flotilla of the British Pacific Fleet. The HMS Whelp was present in Tokyo Bay when Japan formally surrendered to the Allies on 2 September 1945.

Princess Charlene of Monaco at the wedding of Princess Madeleine and Christopher O'Neill in June, 2013

Princess Charlene of Monaco at the wedding of Princess Madeleine and Christopher O’Neill in June, 2013

3) Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco are expecting their first child at the end of this year.

The History: 56 year old Prince Albert of Monaco’s prolonged bachelorhood and childlessness prompted Princely Law 1.249, which defined the current order of succession in 2002. Between 1918 and 2002, the throne could only pass to direct descendants of the reigning Prince or Princess. As a result of the 1918 succession crisis, the Prince could adopt a child as heir. Albert’s grandmother, Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois, was the illegitimate daughter of Prince Louis II. Louis adopted Charlotte and made her his heir to prevent the principality from being inherited by his German cousin Wilhelm, a member of the House of Württemberg. According to the 1918 succession rules, if Albert neither fathered legitimate children nor adopted a child, Monaco could lose its independence and become part of France.

The 2002 succession reforms safeguarded Monaco’s autonomy. According to the most recent law of succession, the ruler’s siblings and their descendants are eligible to become reigning Princes and Princesses of Monaco. Albert’s heir became the elder of his two sisters, Princess Caroline. The 2002 succession reforms removed the provision for adoption of heirs. When Albert’s and Charlene’s child in born, the baby will be first in line for the principality. Since Monaco’s line of succession follows male preference primogeniture, a daughter has the potential to be superseded by any younger brothers who follow.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Friday Royal Read: Censoring Queen Victoria by Yvonne Ward

There is a famous portrait of Queen Victoria and her ministers on the day of her accession in 1837. In “Victoria holding a Privy Council meeting,” Sir David Wilkie depicted Victoria as a childlike young woman in white, surrounded by her older, more experienced ministers in dark suits and dress uniforms. The eighteen year old Queen appears ready to be instructed in the business of government by the elder statesmen. The published volumes of the Queen’s correspondence, edited by Viscount Esher and Arthur Benson, seem to confirm the impression created by Wilkie’s art. Just as the painting is not entirely accurate – the new Queen was actually wearing black to mourn the passing of her uncle, King William IV – the edited correspondence presents a distorted portrait of the Queen’s reign. In Censoring Queen Victoria, Yvonne Ward demonstrates how Esher and Benson shaped the Queen’s image, influencing generations of her biographers.

Victoria holding a Privy Council meeting by Sir David Wilkie

The censorship imposed on Queen Victoria’s journals is well known: her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice rewrote most of the entries and destroyed the originals. The choices made by Esher and Benson in the publication of selections from the Queen’s correspondence are more obscure. Ward convincingly argues that some of Victoria’s most influential biographers treated the published letters as representative first hand sources without considering what was missing.  After biographical chapters on Esher and Benson, Ward turns to analysis of the Queen’s original letters, in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, revealing how much the editors omitted from their final publication.

Ward demonstrates that Benson and Esher had little interest in “women’s business.” The depiction of Victoria in Wilkie’s painting as a lone female political figure surrounded by powerful men suited the worldview of the editors. The full range of the Queen’s correspondence, however, reveals that Victoria had numerous female friends and relatives who influenced her decisions. She reached out to other female political figures in her correspondence, most notably Queen Maria II of Portugal. Since Edwardian mores did not allow for the publication of letters discussing pregnancy and childbirth, Victoria’s experiences as a mother were equally censored for public consumption.

Esher and Benson also concealed the full scope of Victoria’s activities as a political figure. In addition to their own biases and Edwardian views of respectability, Benson and Esher also had to contend with the expectations of King Edward VII. The King was not a prolific reader and the editors knew it was unlikely that he would read the full volumes of edited correspondence before publication. Benson and Esher therefore attempted to anticipate the King’s concerns. Since Edward VII was content to be a comparatively impartial constitutional monarch within Britain, the editors omitted letters that revealed the full extent of Victoria’s political opinions and actions as Queen. Victoria the monarch, like Victoria the mother was obscured by the scope of the published correspondence.

Censoring Queen Victoria is fascinating look at the real Queen Victoria and her editors. 113 years after the Queen’s death, the last word on the longest reigning British monarch has yet to be written.

Next week’s Friday Royal Read: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather