Friday Royal Read: Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury

The Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 and the wartime reign of his younger brother and successor, King George VI is well known. In contrast, their two youngest brothers, Henry, Duke of Gloucester and George, Duke of Kent are virtually unknown today.  Members of the public sometimes to struggle to recall how the Queen’s cousins, the current Dukes of Gloucester and Kent, are connected to the rest of the royal family. Edward VIII’s career after his abdication has also received less attention than the tumultuous events of 1936. In Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII, Deborah Cadbury, a BBC documentary producer and author of Chocolate Wars and The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, tells the story of all four royal brothers and the Second World War.

Cadbury’s history of the royal family at war reads like a novel, emphasizing the uncertainty of the early years of the hostilities when the outcome was unknown. While the British press reported the impending Blitz with defiant good humour including headlines like “French sign peace treaty. We’re in the finals!,” Buckingham Palace prepared for the worst. Barbed wire was laid in the gardens and Queen Elizabeth took shooting lessons. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke and Duchess of Kent assumed new leadership positions and traveled extensively, raising morale and welcoming commonwealth forces.

In contrast to the three dutiful younger brothers and their wives, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, spent the early months of the war on a series of European holidays, surrounded by the intrigues of dubious financiers and Nazi informants. The Duke of Windsor was appointed Governor of the Bahamas – a position he accepted with great reluctance – to remove him from Europe for the duration of the war. Cadbury provides a page turning account of the Duke of Windsor’s last minute departure for the Bahamas as British agents persuaded him to leave while German agents implored him to remain on the continent. While George VI, his younger brothers, and their families observed wartime rationing in England, the Duchess of Windsor purchased one hundred dresses per year in the Bahamas.

Throughout the book, Cadbury places the House of Windsor in context, highlighting the harrowing experiences of Europe’s other ruling houses during the Second World War. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands had to flee the Nazi invading force so quickly that she arrived in England in her nightdress covered by a raincoat. King Haakon VII of Norway refused to follow the example of his cousin, King Christian X of Denmark by capitulating to a Nazi occupation and declared “For my part I cannot accept the German demands. It would conflict with all that I have considered to be my duty as King of Norway since I came to this country nearly thirty-five years ago.” Haakon – King George VI’s “Uncle Charles”- spent his final wartime days in Norway in a log cabin near the Arctic Circle with only the local rifle association as a guard before going abroad to form a government in exile. Princess Mafalda of Italy died in a concentration camp. The rulers of the Balkan states found themselves squeezed between the Nazis and the Soviets on either side with devastating consequences.

Cadbury does not only look at the four royal brothers in the United Kingdom but writes about their travels around the Commonwealth including Canada. In his role as Air Commodore, the Duke of Kent toured Canada to inspect the Canadian war effort including the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. While the 1939 tour by George VI and Queen Elizabeth had been a traditional whistle-stop tour, the Duke of Kent crossed the country by air, in the manner of a modern royal visit. The Duke of Kent reported to George VI, “Canada has done a great work and they are 20% ahead of schedule.” The Second World War revitalized the relationship between the monarchy and the Commonwealth nations. Princes at War is a gripping account of a royal family at war and the lasting consequences of the conflict for the modern monarchy.

Next Week: John Guy, The Children of Henry VIII

CTV News Channel Interview: The Reburial of Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, after months of debate concerning both his final resting place and the plans for the ceremony. On the CTV news channel, I discussed Richard III’s contentious reputation from Shakespeare to modern times, the controversy surrounding the funeral plans and what Richard III himself might have thought of the arrangements.

Click here to watch the interview, “Reburial of an English King” on the CTV news channel.

New cover design for my forthcoming book: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada

Magna Carta cover My forthcoming book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights has a new cover design! The new cover features one of the original thirteenth century versions of Magna Carta and an illuminated manuscript image of King John hunting a stag with hounds.

The book launches on May 5, 2015.

In Canada,  Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada is available for pre-order on amazon.ca The book is also available for pre-order at Indigo and directly from Dundurn Press

In the USA, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada is available for pre-order on amazon.com

In the UK, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada is available for pre-order at amazon.co.uk

Hello! Canada Interview: “Fabulous at 50: Sophie of Wessex”

The Earl and Countess of Wessex in Ottawa on September 12, 2012 Photo Credit: Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY

The Earl and Countess of Wessex in Ottawa on September 12, 2012 Photo Credit: Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY

The Countess of Wessex turned 50 on January 20, 2015. I discussed her philanthropy and royal duties with Hello Canada! in “Fabulous at 50: Sophie of Wessex.” The Earl and Countess of Wessex undertake a full schedule of royal engagements  including overseas tours. They visit Canada almost every year.

Click here to read Fabulous at 50: Sophie of Wessex in Hello! Canada

CBC News Interview: Why Buckingham Palace is defending Prince Andrew so stoutly

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York

In my interview with CBC.ca this week, I discuss the recent allegations concerning the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, and Buckingham Palace’s response to this situation. I also talk about the Prince’s reputation. Other junior members of the royal family, such as Andrew’s siblings, Princess Anne and Prince Edward are closely identified with their charity work. In contrast, Prince Andrew’s philanthropy has been overshadowed in the public imagination by his reputation for extravagance.

Click here to read “Why Buckingham Palace is defending Andrew so stoutly” at CBC.ca

The Queen’s Garden: Sunday January 11 at 10pm ET on PBS

Buckingham Palace across the lake

Buckingham Palace Across the Lake

The private garden at Buckingham Palace is best known as the setting for garden parties where the Queen and other members of the royal family meet people from all walks of life. The 2014 documentary The Queen’s Garden, which premieres on PBS this Sunday,  provides a behind the scenes look at the royal gardeners preparing the grounds  for thousands of guests. Trees are trimmed to allow for gentlemen walk under them in top hats, the lawn is carefully raked in case ladies in high heels decide to kick off their shoes and walk barefoot on the grass, and the pond is aerated to ensure that there are no foul smells interfering with enjoyment of the grounds.

There’s also interesting film footage of past events on the lawn including the young Princess Elizabeth attending what may have been her very first garden party, hosted by her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary and Edward VIII giving debutantes permission to flee from the pouring rain at an outdoor reception. Although The Queen’s Garden provides a fresh perspective on garden parties past and present, the documentary also reveals there is more to the Buckingham Palace park than the famous lawn. Over the course of four seasons, the biodiversity of this urban oasis is revealed. In the heart of London, the Queen’s Garden provides a haven for rare plants and animals.

In December, the filming of The Queen’s Garden attracted worldwide press attention because the film crew encountered hallucinogenic fungi – magic mushrooms – on the Buckingham Palace grounds. Although the distinctive red toadstools with white spots in the palace garden are the toxic variety from Alice in Wonderland instead of the better known little brown mushrooms, the news sparked curiosity about what other plants and animals made their home in the Queen’s garden. The documentary includes interviews with royal bee keepers and bird watchers who reveal the little known species live around Buckingham Palace.

Plenty of royal history took place in the Queen’s garden as well. Henry VIII evicted Londoners from the grounds to create a deer park for his hunting parties. James I hoped to turn the garden into a silk production centre by planting mulberry trees to feed silkworms. King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, kept a zebra and an elephant in the garden before her menagerie was moved to the Tower of London and Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert once fell through the ice while skating on the pond.

The Queen’s Garden combines history, science and party planning to provide a unique glimpse of the Buckingham Palace grounds, showing the hidden places beyond the lawn that even garden party guests rarely see.

For more about royalty and gardening, see my previous post, Royals in the Garden that looks at royal personages who have lent their names to flowers -and the occasional vegetable!

Tales from the Royal Bedchamber: Sunday December 21 at 8pm ET on PBS

Lucy Worsley When Victoria became Queen in 1837, she shut the door of the royal bedchamber to the public. The government officials who traditionally attended royal births were relegated to the adjoining room while only the Queen’s consort, Prince Albert, and medical staff were permitted in the bedchamber for the arrival of the royal children. The Queen observed a strict separation between her public life and her domestic life. In Tales from the Royal Bedchamber,  Dr. Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, reveals that the monarch’s bedchamber was a ceremonial space in Tudor and Stuart times where proximity to the monarch meant proximity to political power.

Worsley presents the history of the English royal bedchamber with enthusiasm and energy. She climbs into beds to test just how comfortable they were, showing that it was impossible to lie entirely flat on a hammock-like, collapsible  medieval royal bed frame. She also tries her hand at silk weaving. Sitting on the edge of royal beds, Worsley has interesting discussions about royal marriage, mistresses and childbearing with a broad range of fellow curators, historians and authors such as Anna Whitelock, Tracy Borman and Helen Rappaport.

Perhaps the most engaging part of the documentary is Worsley’s description of the rumours that the son of James II and Mary of Modena, born in 1688, was a “warming pan baby” smuggled into the Queen’s bed to replace a stillborn child. Worsley shows viewers a warming pan, an early form of hot water bottle that was too small to hold a baby,  draws the supposed route the warming pan took through state rooms to the royal bedchamber and describes the crowd that witnessed the actual birth. The warming pan baby story was a convenient fiction to justify the Glorious Revolution&accession of William III and Mary II.

Since Worsley is chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, much of the documentary is filmed in royal bedchambers of the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. There is also a visit to the Isle of Wight to view the memorial to Queen Victoria in the private bedchamber where she died at Osborne House. If the program were longer, a trip across the channel to Versailles would have shown the origins of certain late seventeenth century English court practices. It is no coincidence that the late Stuart monarchs commissioned elaborate state beds after the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. Charles II was first cousin to Louis XIV  and spent part of his exile in France, observing the elaborate ceremonies that took place when the King rose from his bed in the morning or retired in the evening.

Tales from the Royal Bedchamber is a look behind the royal bed curtains of centuries past. Before Queen Victoria shut the door, the whole court thought they had the right to know exactly what took place in the royal bed. The modern fascination with the private life of the royal family is as old as monarchy itself.

My latest Ottawa Citizen column: “The Queen’s reign doesn’t depend on Richard III’s DNA”

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

“The remains of King Richard III continue to yield new information about one of England’s most controversial kings and his family. DNA analysis reveals that Richard’s bones share mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line with the Canadian Ibsen family, but there is no genetic match with his male line relatives. The release of these findings has prompted speculation about the Queen’s right to reign if there was a break in the main royal bloodline. The royal succession, however, was not always determined by seniority in the royal family….”

Click here to read the full column in the Ottawa Citizen: “The Queen’s Reign Doesn’t Depend on Richard III’s DNA”

Curious to learn more about the life and legacy of King Richard III? My University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies course “Richard III: Monstrous or Misunderstood?” begins January 7, 2015. Click here to register!

CBC Interview: Royals or Celebrities? Prince William and Kate Take Manhattan

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a Gala in honour of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a Gala in honour of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in New York City today for a three day American visit that focuses on philanthropy including endangered species conservation and fundraising for the University of St. Andrew’s at a gala dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although the United States is not a monarchy, royalty have received a warm welcome there since Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward (the future Edward VII) toured in 1860. I discussed the history of royal philanthropy and royal visits to the United States with CBC.ca

Click here to read “Royals or Celebrities? Prince William and Kate Take Manhattan.”

My Perspective on Magna Carta in Insights on Law and Society Magazine

Runnymede Meadow where King John reluctantly accepted Magna Carta in 1215

Runnymede Meadow where King John reluctantly accepted Magna Carta in 1215

The Fall 2014 edition of Insights on Law and Society, the Magazine published by the American Bar Association for teachers of civics, history and government and the law, is devoted to the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. I share my perspective on the historical significance of the famous charter in this issue.

Click here to read the Perspectives on Magna Carta feature in Insights on Law and Society Magazine.