Category Archives: Royal News

Interview: Who will be Monaco’s newest heir? What Prince Albert II, Princess Charlene’s twins mean for throne

Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco

Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco

Princess Charlene, consort of Prince Albert II of Monaco is expecting twins by the end of the year. I discussed the succession in Monaco with Eun Kim at today.com. In contrast to most other European ruling houses, Monaco has not introduced gender neutral succession policies. If the twins are a boy and girl, the boy will be heir regardless of which twin is born first. The most recent succession reforms in Monaco, passed in 2002, allowed Albert’s siblings and their children to succeed in the event that Albert remained childless. Albert’s sister. Princess Caroline, is the current heir until the arrival of the twins.

Click here to read Who will be Monaco’s newest heir? What Prince Albert II, Princess Charlene’s twins mean for throne at today.com

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Interview: Why a Large Family Makes Sense For The Royals

The Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony after the 2012 Trooping the Colour Parade

The Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony after the 2012 Trooping the Colour Parade

I am quoted in Patricia Treble’s article “Why a large family makes sense for the royals” in Maclean’s Magazine. Despite falling birth rates in much of Europe, European royal couples continue to have two, three or four children. When the public thinks of a royal family, they think of a large  extended family as demonstrated by the iconic photographs of the Queen and her relatives on the Buckingham Palace balcony following Trooping the Colour each year.

Click here to read “Why A Large Family Makes Sense for the Royals”

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The Royal Paintbox: Friday September 12 at 10pm ET on PBS

HRH The Prince of Wales during the filming of Royal Paintbox

HRH The Prince of Wales during the filming of Royal Paintbox

Royalty have acted as patrons to artists for centuries. Henry VIII and his wives sat for Hans Holbein’s portraits. Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, advanced the careers of numerous seventeenth century painters including Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens and Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. Marie Antoinette encouraged female artists, commissioning over thirty royal portraits by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and inviting wax sculptor Anna Maria Grosholtz, better known as Madame Tussaud, to live at Versailles. George III founded the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. 

Today, royalty continue to support and promote the arts. The National Portrait Gallery in the United Kingdom raised its profile when the Duchess of Cambridge became its patron. What is less well known is how many past and present members of the royal family became prolific amateur artists themselves. In The Royal Paintbox, The Prince of Wales shares paintings by royal artists, demonstrating how kings, queens, princes and princesses have expressed themselves through art since Mary, Queen of Scots created intricate embroideries during her nineteen years of imprisonment in England.

HRH The Prince of Wales sketching in Scotland during the filming of Royal Paintbox

HRH The Prince of Wales sketching in Scotland during the filming of Royal Paintbox

At the heart of the documentary is the Prince of Wales, who discusses his own education as an artist, receiving early lessons in technique from his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, and encouragement to observe the natural world from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The Prince grew up surrounded by paintings at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral and learned to appreciate art from a young age. His overseas tours provide fresh inspiration for new works of art. The Prince explains how he almost missed a plane leaving Morocco to complete a desert landscape in watercolours.

The artwork shown onscreen provides a new perspective on past royalty including key figures from Canadian history. Prince Rupert, 1st Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was an accomplished printmaker, whose most famous mezzotint, The Great Executioner, depicts the beheading of St. John the Baptist. The Prince of Wales explains that Rupert’s choice of subject matter may have been influenced by the beheading of his uncle, Charles I.  Princess Louise, wife of Lord Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883, is described by the Prince of Wales as “a seriously good artist” as he showcases her paintings and sculptures.

In addition to narration by the Prince of Wales, the Royal Paintbox includes commentary from a vast array of historians, biographers, artists, and royal relatives. The Duke of Edinburgh’s cousin, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, shows artwork by her grandfather, Prince Louis of Battenberg, including his drawings for the Illustrated London News. The Queen’s niece, Sarah Armstrong-Jones, discusses her work as a professional artist. “Tour artists” reminisce about painting scenes from the Prince of Wales’s overseas tours , showing examples from Australia to Oman. Historians who have written about Queen Victoria and her family including Jane Ridley, author of Bertie: A Life of Edward VII and Jehanne Wake, author of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Unconventional Daughter reveal the importance of art in the lives of the Queen and her children.

The Royal Paintbox is a fascinating glimpse of the private world of royalty through their artwork. With the Prince of Wales as their guide, viewers see how they expressed themselves through paintings, drawings, embroidery and sculpture. From Mary, Queen of Scots to the present Prince of Wales, the royal family have been both patrons and artists for centuries.

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Will a New Royal Baby Decide the Future of Scotland?

Mary of Modena, consort of James II, with her son James, known as the warming pan baby or "the Old Pretender"

Mary of Modena, consort of James II, with her son James, known as “the warming pan baby “or “the Old Pretender”

My column in the Ottawa Citizen this week discusses the long history of Scotland’s independence being influenced by the arrival of a royal baby. Mary, Queen of Scots succeeded to throne at only six days old and speculation that James II’s son was a spurious, “warming pan baby” contributed to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and eventual Act of Union in 1707. With the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence on September 18, there is speculation in the British press that the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will have a second child next year may influence Scottish voters to elect to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Click here to read “Will a New Royal Baby Decide the Future of Scotland?”

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Interview: Scotland’s referendum: How the next royal baby could sway it

My interview with CBC.ca discusses the potential impact of this week’s royal birth announcement on the upcoming Scottish referendum. There is speculation in the British press that excitement about a new royal baby will encourage Scottish voters to elect to remain part of the United Kingdom. I also discuss the experiences of past royal second children.

Click here to read “Scotland’s referendum: How the next royal baby could sway it

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What’s in store for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s second child? A short history of “the spare.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George

Clarence House announced today that “Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child. The Queen and members of both families are delighted with the news.” The announcement follows months of speculation concerning William and Catherine’s plans to expand their family. Various media outlets have already dubbed the forthcoming royal baby, “the spare” after Consuelo Vanderbuilt’s famous phrase “the heir and the spare,” coined to describe her two sons, born in her loveless first marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

Portrait Consuelo Vanderbuilt, Duchess of Marlborigh with her husband and two sons, whom she dubbed, "the heir and the spare."

Portrait Consuelo Vanderbuilt, Duchess of Marlborough with her husband and two sons, whom she dubbed, “the heir and the spare.”

The designation, “spare” suggests that a second royal child, or second son prior the current succession reforms, always exists in the shadow of his or her elder sibling, experiencing constant comparisons to “the heir.” For the past three generations, “the spare” has presented in the media as the fun loving sibling, a royal rebel eager to challenge the boundaries of court protocol. Before the present reign, however, there was a strong change “the spare” would become a sovereign and have as many responsibilities as “the heir.”

When photographs of Prince Harry playing strip billiards in Las Vegas were leaked to the press in 2012, his partying was compared to his elder brother William’s work as a Search and Rescue pilot in Wales. William performed rescues the same week as Harry’s Las Vegas trip, emphasizing the apparent contrast between a responsible, dutiful “heir” and a carefree, thoughtless, “spare.”

Harry’s public image initially improved when served a subsequent active tour of duty in Afghanistan but when he spoke frankly of the need to “take a life to save a life,” the press compared his outspokenness to William’s more guarded approach to the media. Harry will be thirty next week and continues to attract speculation regarding his future role in the royal family.  He has received praise for his successful charitable endeavors and overseas tours His past girlfriends, most notably Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, have been the focus of intense media attention. With the arrival of William and Catherine’s second child, he will be fifth in line to the throne.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at The 2011 Sun Military Awards at Imperial War Museum in London.  (Photo by Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at The 2011 Sun Military Awards at Imperial War Museum in London. (Photo by Arthur Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Both the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, and her late younger sister, Princess Margaret were judged unfavorably by the public in comparison to their elder siblings. While Prince Charles and Princess Anne are praised for their charity work, their younger brother Andrew has been dubbed “Air Miles Andy” for his extensive travels during his time as a British trade envoy.  When Andrew was Harry’s age, he had a similar reputation to the current “spare.” Like Harry, Andrew was praised for his military service but his relationships attracted press attention, earning him another nickname, “Randy Andy.”

In 1952, Princess Margaret appeared carefree compared to her dutiful elder sister, the new Queen, but her status as “the spare” did not allow her freedom from the royal conventions of the time. In 1955, Margaret ended her relationship with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend, stating, “Mindful of the Church’s teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others.” Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a society photographer, in 1960, and became a divorceé herself in 1978. Revelations regarding Margaret’s extramarital affairs and spending attracted considerable negative attention and there were calls from UK Labour MPs for her to be removed from the Civil List.

King George VI, the most recent second son to become King

King George VI, the most recent second son to become King

The experiences of Harry, Andrew and Margaret suggest that William and Catherine’s second child will face a lifetime of comparisons to older brother Prince George and a struggle to balance personal fulfillment with expected royal duties. This pattern, however, is a comparatively recent one. Prior to the present Queen’s reign, there was a strong chance that “the spare” would become the sovereign. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles I, Anne, George V and George VI were all second sons or second daughters who unexpectedly became Kings and Queens. (When the future George V became a direct heir in 1892, his “spare” was his sister Louise, Duchess of Fife, the most recent brother/sister “heir and spare.”) Royal “spares” with living elder siblings sometimes found opportunities to rule outside Britain. Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, became Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. King John’s second son, Richard, was elected ruler of Germany “King of the Romans” in 1256. The life of “the spare” contained as much responsibility as the life of “the heir.”

The popular perception that the “spare” has fun while “the heir” performs extensive royal duties is a recent one, dating from the present reign. The 2012 Diamond Jubilee Thames river pageant emphasized the direct royal line – the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – rather than the extended royal family. In a streamlined royal family that precludes extensive engagements for royal cousins, William and Catherine’s second child may one day face a busy schedule of royal engagements with little time to act as the fun loving counterpart to a dutiful older sibling.

 

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Royal Travelogue 5: Caernarfon Castle and the Princes of Wales

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

In 1538, King Henry VIII of England received a report that Caernarfon Castle in Wales was “moche ruynous and ferre in decaye for lackke of tymely reparations.” With the Tudor dynasty on the throne, descendants of Henry V’s widow, Katherine of Valois and her Welsh steward, Owen Tudor, there was less need for fortifications to keep the English and Welsh apart, as a conquering Edward I intended in the late thirteenth century. By the reign of King James I (1603-1625), only the Eagle Tower and King’s Gate still had roofs and the buildings inside the castle were “all quite faln down to the ground and the Tymber and the rest of the materialls as Iron and Glasse carried away and nothing left that [is] valiable.”

The King's Gate

The King’s Gate

The magnificent ruins of Caernarfon Castle still bear the evidence of centuries of neglect. Reaching the top of the Well Tower, which once housed the the massive castle cistern, requires a long climb up a stone spiral staircase into the darkness above. The narrow steps are uneven from centuries of use and exposure to the elements. (The Well Tower was still unfinished in the 14th century and did not receive a roof until the 19th century restoration of the castle). There are ropes to assist visitors up the medieval steps to see Edward I’s view of the village of Caernarfon and waterfront. Once at the top, Edward I’s plans for his new castle become clear. There is space for an entire royal household in the turrets as well as massive fortifications designed to enforce England’s conquest of Wales.

In 1282, Llywelyn “the Last,” the final Welsh ruler from the House of Gwynedd died in battle against English forces. Edward I seized the opportunity for a complete conquest of Wales. The King sent Llywelyn’s only child, Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn, to a distant Lancashire convent and began construction of a series of castles around Wales. Edward I’s queen, Eleanor of Castile, accompanied the King on the 9th Crusade and she was also present for his occupation of Wales. In 1284, the royal couple’s son, the future Edward II, was born in Caernarfon during the construction of the Castle.

 

View of Caernarfon Castle from Eagles Tower

View of Caernarfon Castle from Eagles Tower

According to a legend dating from the 16th century, Edward I promised the Welsh a prince, “borne in Wales and could speake never a word of English,” beginning the practice of the King’s eldest son serving as Prince of Wales. While some of these Princes, including Henry VIII’s elder brother, Arthur, spent time in Wales learning the business of kingship, more than half of the “Princes of Wales” never visited Wales. Caernarfon Castle rarely served its intended purpose as a Welsh residence for the Prince of Wales. Instead, the castle became a local prison and storage facility for armaments, gradually falling into disrepair.

Statue of David Lloyd George in Caernarfon

Statue of David Lloyd George in Caernarfon

The castle returned to prominence in the 20th century when it became the site of investiture for Princes of Wales. In 1911, David Lloyd George, the future Prime Minister and member of parliament for Caernarfon Burroughs, was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he favoured  a Welsh investiture ceremony for the future Edward VIII as Prince of Wales. The ceremony, which took place in Caernarfon Castle, sped the restoration work.

In 1969, the current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was also invested as Prince of Wales in the castle. In contrast to previous Princes of Wales, Charles made efforts to learn the language and customs of Wales before his investiture, completing part of his university education in Aberystwyth. The current royal family continues to maintain close links with the region.

Following their wedding in 2011, William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, resided in Anglesey while William worked as a Search and Rescue pilot. Edward I arrived in Wales as a conqueror but William and Catherine arrived as residents eager to blend into their surroundings, finding a degree of privacy and normalcy in the early years of their marriage. Caernarfon Castle is now a World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Wales.

Next: Cornet Castle in Guernsey, the last Royalist stronghold during the English Civil Wars

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Royal Travelogue 4: The Queens Who Shaped Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in Scotland. Every year, the Queen resides at the Castle for “Royal Week,” hosting garden parties on the Holyroodhouse grounds and inducting new members into the ancient Order of the Thistle. If Scotland votes to secede from the United Kingdom in September, the Queen’s successor may have a separate Scottish coronation at Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral.

The Queen has a close affinity for Scotland. She spent her childhood summers visiting both sets of grandparents there: King George V and Queen Mary at Balmoral and the Earl and Countess of Strathmore at Glamis Castle. Elizabeth II is not the only Queen who has made her mark on the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Here are 5 Scottish and English queens who contributed to the development of the modern palace:

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey

1) St. Margaret (1045-1093) Malcolm III’s queen, Margaret, chose Edinburgh as Scotland’s capital, persuading her husband to move his court there from Dunfermline. Margaret was renowned for her piety and education and transformed the Scottish court into a centre of learning. One of the holy relics in her possession was a fragment of the “holy rood” or true cross. In 1128, Margaret’s son, David I, founded Holyrood Abbey to house the relic.

2) Margaret Tudor (1489-1541) When James IV negotiated his marriage to Henry VII’s elder daughter, Margaret, he decided to transform to royal apartments at Holyrood Abbey into a Renaissance Palace between 1501 and 1505. James IV was well versed in history and spoke multiple languages. The construction of  the Palace of Holyroodhouse was intended to impress the King’s English bride and proclaim to the world the Scottish court was the equal of other European royal establishments.

1833 artist's depiction of the murder of David Rizzio in 1566

1833 artist’s depiction of the murder of David Rizzio in 1566

3) Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) When Mary, Queen of Scots returned to Scotland from France in 1561 at the age of eighteen, she introduced French style decorations to her apartments in Holyroodhouse. Mary spent her youth in France as the future wife of King Francois II and found Holyroodhouse shabby in comparison to the Louvre and the Chateaux of the Loire Valley. In 1566, a heavily pregnant Mary, Queen of Scots witnessed the murder of her secretary, David Rizzio, in her private apartments at Holyroodhouse by a faction of Scottish nobles led by her second husband, Lord Darnley. After the murder, Mary left Holyroodhouse and gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland/James I of England at Edinburgh Castle.

Holyroodhouse Gardens, where the Queen hosts Scottish garden parties today.

Holyroodhouse Gardens, where the Queen hosts Scottish garden parties today.

4) Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) Charles II’s Portuguese queen, Catherine of Braganza, never visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Following the restoration of the English and Scottish monarchies in 1660, however, Charles II ordered extensive improvements to the palace for himself and his bride including new apartments for the queen. The King appointed architect Sir William Bruce to oversee additions to the palace including the modern quadrangle. Catherine also had a strong cultural impact on Britain - she popularized tea drinking at a time when coffee was the preferred beverage of the aristocracy.

5) Queen Victoria (1819-1901) Queen Victoria discovered Scottish culture through the novels of Sir Walter Scott and developed a strong affinity for Scotland. While her predecessors largely neglected Holyroodhouse, Victoria spent part of her year in Scotland, attending official engagements in Edinburgh and holidaying at her private residence, Balmoral. While in Scotland, Victoria immersed herself in Scottish culture, dressing her children in tartans, listening to readings of Robert Burns poems and even assuming a Scottish accent. The relationship between the monarchy and Scotland has remained close since Victoria’s reign.

Further Reading on the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Scotland’s Palaces and Scottish Monarchs

History:

Elizabeth Patricia Dennison, Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Years of History
John Dunbar, Scottish Royal Palaces: The Architecture of the Royal Residences During the Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Periods

John Guy, Queen of Scots: Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart

Historical Fiction:

Sir Walter Scott, Waverley

Nigel Tranter, Robert the Bruce Trilogy

Jean Plaidy, The Thistle And The Rose

ReayTannahil, Fatal Majesty: A Novel of Mary Queen of Scots

Next: The Investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle in Wales

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Royal Travelogue 3: The Royal Yacht Britannia’s Last Harbour

“The yacht was now permanently beside a quay in Leith, outside Edinburgh. Tourist attraction. Such a pity, really. She loved that ship. She’d fly out to the Caribbean, meet some governors, tour the hospital wards, look at the new sewers, and then they could all retire to Britannia for a few days, having justified the expense of sailing her out by holding some official dinners on board. How lovely, she looked, white and buff and blue, rising out of the haze on a hot afternoon. And when she became too old, too expensive to run, well the Government absolutely refused to build another yacht.” – From the novel, Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

IMG_2329The Queen’s former yacht, Britannia, decommissioned in 1997, is not only a tourist attraction today but was voted a top tourist attraction in the United Kingdom by Trip Advisor, receiving 300,000 visitors per year. The Britannia’s last harbour cannot be described as majestic. The ship is docked behind the Ocean Terminal shopping mall in Leith, accessible via escalator to the second floor and a walk through the mall food court. The view from the bridge is of a cruise ship docked in the harbour and the shuttle buses on the pier to transport the passengers into Edinburgh.

Royal Family on the YachtThere are complimentary audio tours, an onboard tea room and an exit through a gift shop selling Britannia t-shirts. Families from around the world arrive by the double decker bus load from the Royal Mile, allowing their children to take their turn at the helm. Parties of cruise ship passengers make their way around the pier, clutching the enormous umbrellas from their staterooms, emblazoned with name of their cruise line. When wind and rain make the journey into Edinburgh  uninviting, they visit the Britannia.

The Queen's drawing room aboard Britannia

The Queen’s drawing room aboard Britannia

Inside Britannia’s royal apartments, the modern world is forgotten. The Queen launched the ship in 1953 and the interiors reflect the aesthetic of the early decades of her reign. In the state drawing room, where the Queen entertained foreign dignitaries in port and gathered with her family at sea, there is a set of furniture that was a gift from the Swedish royal family in 1956. The Queen personally selected the chintz sofa and armchair covers. Off duty, the royal family gathered here to play cards and board games and Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra and Princess Diana all took their turn at the piano. The state dining room seated thirty two people with extra tables available from the previous royal yacht, Victoria and Albert III, for especially large banquets.

The Queen's bedroom

The Queen’s bedroom

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh occupied simple private cabins on the Britannia, two adjoining bedrooms on the starboard side with twin beds. The Queen preferred floral decoration while Prince Philip favoured dark timber furniture and requested pillows that did not have lace borders. The bedrooms across the hall were originally occupied by Prince Charles and Princess Anne as children but when Charles and Diana spent their honeymoon onboard the Britannia, his former bedroom was transformed into a honeymoon suite, complete with the yacht’s only double bed.

Gift from the people of Pitcairn Island in 1971 signed by all adult islanders

Gift from the people of Pitcairn Island in 1971 signed by all adult islanders

The focus of the exhibition is the role Britannia played in the past but there are hints of how the absence of a royal yacht affects the Queen’s royal engagements in the present. The gifts from the Commonwealth nations that now adorn the walls of the dining room reveal how a royal yacht helped the Queen engaged with a worldwide maritime family of nations. The sixteen Commonwealth realms where the Queen is Head of State all have maritime traditions. The yacht allowed the Queen to visit her Pacific and Caribbean realms more frequently, stopping at several islands in a single tour.

Narwhal tusk presented to the Queen by Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Frobisher Bay, 1970

Narwhal tusk presented to the Queen by Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Frobisher Bay, 1970

When the Queen decommissioned the Britannia, she observed, “Looking back over forty-four years we can all reflect with pride and gratitude upon this great ship which has served the country, the Royal Navy and my family with such distinction. Britannia has provided magnificent support to us throughout this time, playing such an important role in the history of the second half of the century.” There is still a case to be made for the importance of a royal yacht to a global Commonwealth.

 

Next: The Palace of HolyroodHouse in Edinburgh

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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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