Category Archives: Royal Palaces

The Queen’s Crumbling Palaces


The site of Greenwich Palace, favourite residence of King Henry VIII

The site of Greenwich Palace, favourite residence of King Henry VIII

My column in this weekend’s edition of the Kingston Whig Standard looks at the recent scrutiny of the Queen’s finances. While press coverage focuses on the Queen being “down to her last million” in her reserve fund, the most important issues raised by the UK Treasury report are the urgent repairs necessary for the royal palaces. The disappearance of the Palace of Plancentia at Greenwich, the setting of key events from King Henry VIII’s reign demonstrates that is is possible for neglect to render a palace uninhabitable.  In contrast, the survival of Windsor Castle for nearly a thousand years reflects a succession of visionary plans for the historic royal residence.

Click here to read the full column, “The Queen’s Crumbling Palaces” in the Kingston Whig Standard

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In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger (Review)

If your plans for 2014 include travel in the United Kingdom and France, pack a copy of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn by Tudor history enthusiasts, Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger. As the subtitle states, the book is “The visitors companion to the palaces, castles & houses associated with Henry VIII’s infamous wife” but the book is much more than a travel guide. Morris and Grueninger have written an unconventional biography of Anne Boleyn through the lens of the places she visited and provided a unique snapshot of Tudor court life by retracing Henry VIII’s and Anne Boleyn’s 1535 progress. In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn is also a unique architectural history of Great Britain and France and an enjoyable travelogue about the authors searching for long lost Tudor palaces and abbeys.

Admirers of Anne Boleyn usually imagine the controversial Queen in three settings: Hever Castle, where she spent part of her childhood, Hampton Court Palace, where she presided over the Tudor Court with Henry VIII, and the Tower of London where she spent her last days before her execution. All three of these places are tourist attractions that attract thousands of visitors every year, who often forget that the sites no longer look the same as they did in Anne’s lifetime. Morris’s and Grueninger’s research reveals that Anne may have visited more than seventy places scattered throughout England, France and Belgium over the course of her short life.

By examining Anne’s life through its settings, the authors bring often overlooked aspects of the Queen’s character to the fore. Her time as a member of the household of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and Queen Claude of France meant that she was far more well traveled than Henry VIII, who never saw the Chateaux of the Loire Valley. Anne’s travels also revealed that she had a wide network of social and political connections and was clearly comfortable engaging with everyone from Kings, Queens and Duchesses to humbler clergymen or gentlefolk who hosted the royal party on their progresses. Most biographies of Anne Boleyn focus on her relationship with Henry VIII or her Boleyn and Howard relatives. Morris and Grueninger bring the full extent of Anne’s experiences and social circles to the fore, including key primary sources along with descriptions of palace and abbeys.

The travelogue aspects of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn are just as interesting as the source material about Anne Boleyn’s life and Tudor times. In the modern age, any house where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed during their courtship and marriage is worthy of preservation in its original state but that was not the view in past centuries. The dissolution of the monasteries during the English reformation that permitted the marriage of Henry and Anne, resulted in the destruction of abbeys that the couple once visited together. Casualties of the English Civil Wars in the 1640s included key Tudor historic sites and Napoleon III’s transformation of Paris in the 19th century destroyed much of the medieval city. The settings of Anne’s life that survived into the 18th and 19th centuries often experienced “improvements” by Romantics or Victorians designed to evoke the feeling of a bygone age rather than the precise architecture. As a result, a book like In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn is necessary for tourists to distinguish original Tudor buildings from modern innovations.

Morris and Grueninger include their own impressions of each site in the narrative including frank comments about whether each the various obscure settings of Anne’s life are worth visiting. I have visited many of the palaces in the book, following the footsteps of Queen Henrietta Maria rather than Anne Boleyn and it’s great to read the impressions of other travelers who have walked around the ruins of Wolvesey Castle in Winchester and journeyed to Saint-Germain-en-Laye outside Paris to find traces of royal life in the rooms that now house the National Museum of Archaeology. I have noted some places in the book for my next visit to the United Kingdom and France this August.  In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn will appeal to a wide audience of readers interested in Anne herself, the times she lived in, how the architecture of England and France has changed over the centuries and planning a trip to historic sites off the beaten path.

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Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin by Catherine Merridale (Review)

The Moscow Kremlin is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. The imposing red brick walls and towers surrounding five cathedrals and four palaces appear to represent stability, enduring through Russia’s turbulent history. In Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin, Catherine Merridale, professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary University in London and critically acclaimed author of Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945, reveals that it is a miracle that the Kremlin is still standing in the twenty-first century.

The fortress endured a medieval Mongol invasion, a foreign occupation during the seventeenth century Time of Troubles, neglect after Peter the Great moved his court to St. Petersburg, a city wide fire following Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and bombardment during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Merridale’s exhaustive research, including visits to sections of the Kremlin rarely seen by the public, reveals that the how the Fortress and its significance has changed over the centuries. Whole buildings behind the walls have disappeared and other have been absorbed into new structures. With each new Russian ruler, the structure and symbolism of the Kremlin changed to reflect new ideas about the Kremlin’s place in Russian history and government.

Red Fortress is filled with fascinating details about the Russian leaders who left their mark on the Kremlin. In many English language works about the history of Russia, the personalities of the Grand Dukes of Muscovy and Czars of all the Russias who ruled prior to Peter the Great blend together, with the exception of the famous Ivan the Terrible, Merridale depicts each ruler as a unique individual with his own vision for the Kremlin. Ivan the Terrible’s grandfather, Ivan the Great (r. 1462-1505), who commissioned the modern red brick walls was “reputed to be so terrifying that his glance alone made women faint.”

Ivan the Great met his match in his second wife, Sophia, the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor. Members of Sophia’s household spread the rumour that “she nagged him twice a week” while an Italian poet described her as “a mountain of fat.” Sophia’s extensive knowledge of Renaissance European art and architecture transformed the Kremlin as she persuaded her husband to appoint Italian engineers, architects, cannon-founders and silversmiths to contribute to new buildings and defenses.

The founding of the Romanov dynasty in 1613 brought new Czars with new interests to the Kremlin. Peter the Great’s grandfather, Mikhail Romanov, the founder of the new dynasty may have been illiterate and dependent on his father in matters of state but he was fascinated by western technology such as mechanical clocks. Mikhail also commissioned the Terem Palace, which is now part of the official residence of the President of Russia. Peter the Great’s father, Aleksei I imported European science books for his library and installed a palace laboratory for science and alchemy experiments. Peter the Great himself had little use for the Kremlin as a seat of government but he recognized that it was the site of immense public interest, becoming the first Russian ruler to charge sightseers admission to tour the grounds.

Merridale’s narrative slows in the middle as the Imperial Russian court moved to St. Petersburg from 1713 to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in 1917. During this period, Russia’s Czars were visitors to the Kremlin for major events such as coronations instead of permanent residents. When the capital returned to Moscow in 1918, the Kremlin was once again at the centre of events. Although Merridale does not draw direct comparisons between fifteenth and sixteenth century Muscovy and the twentieth century Soviet Union, readers will notice a number of parallels between the court of Ivan the Terrible and Stalin’s inner circle.

Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin ends with the Kremlin bells ringing to greet Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during their unprecedented state visit to Moscow in 1994. The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in a new era for Russia’s most famous landmark. The Kremlin continues to change with the times, serving as the seat of President Vladimir Putin’s government and the most popular tourist attraction in Russia.

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Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang (Review)

There was no place in mid nineteenth century China’s political hierarchy for the sixteen year old concubine chosen by Emperor Xianfeng in 1852. The young woman, renamed Lan or “Orchid” by the Emperor belonged to the low ranking sixth level of the eight tier hierarchy of the Imperial harem. Although she had the poise and bearing expected of a member of the Imperial household, Lan soon irritated the Emperor with her suggestions about how he should address the peasant revolts and financial crises that followed the First Opium War. Xianfeng pronounced Lan “crafty and cunning” and ordered Empress Consort Zhen to discipline her. It seemed that Lan was condemned to a monotonous life in the Forbidden City with little influence beyond her household of maids and eunuchs.

Instead, Lan formed a political alliance with Empress Zhen. When Xianfeng died, leaving the throne to his young son with Lan, Tongzhi, the two women staged a coup, overthrowing the regency council and ruling China in the name of the boy Emperor.  Lan, concubine of the sixth rank, became Dowager Empress Cixi, the most powerful person in her son’s kingdom. Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Cixi would rule on behalf of three Emperors, introducing a sweeping series of reforms that bridged the divide between medieval and modern China. In Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China and Mao: The Unknown Story restores the controversial Dowager Empress to her rightful place in Chinese history.

Since her death in 1908, Cixi has suffered from bad press. Her ill judged support for the violent, anti-foreigner Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 and conflicts with prominent figures such as “Wild Fox” Kang Youwei resulted in the circulation of anecdotes that depicted Cixi as a ruthless despot. The Dowager Empress became known as a figure who did not hesitate to poison her nephew, Emperor Guangxu or order his favourite concubine, Pearl, to be thrown down a well by her eunuchs. Since she ruled from the seclusion of the Imperial harem in the Forbidden City, Sea Palace and Summer Palace, it was easy for her opponents to give her ministers credit for her engagement with the west and reforms to Chinese society.

Portrayals of Cixi in popular culture outside China have been mixed. At the beginning of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 film The Last Emperor, the elderly Cixi personifies the crumbling Chinese monarchy as she chooses the toddler Pu Yi to be last Emperor. In contrast, Anchee Min presented a sympathetic account of Cixi’s rise in power and rule in her two novels Empress Orchid and The Last Empress, showing the Empress an intelligent woman constrained by the archaic conventions of the Imperial court.

Chang draws upon sources previously unknown to both Cixi’s admirers and detractors to paint a complex portrait of the Empress and her reforms. While Xianfeng deplored any contact with the west, Cixi was interested in adopting Western practices and technologies that would contribute to a stronger China. She sent the first Chinese envoys abroad and was willing to work with Europeans and Americans who respected China’s sovereignty. In the last decade of her life, Cixi introduced reforms that improved the lives of women such as the abolition of foot binding, allowed the development of a free press and laid the groundwork for a constitutional monarchy that might have succeeded if she had lived further into Pu Yi’s reign.

In Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, Cixi emerges as a figure with boundless curiosity, interested in learning from other cultures while preserving her own. Chang also reveals the Empress’s considerable political acumen and flexibility, especially compared to Tongzhi and Guangxu who were both ineffective Emperors for different reasons. At the same time, Chang does not absolve Cixi of political murders including the deaths of Guangxu and his concubine, Pearl but instead places these events within the larger political context of the time.

While Cixi was interested in modernizing the rest of China, her court remained as it had been for centuries with eunuchs addressing the Dowager Empress on their knees. The conflict and contrast between the insular world of the court and rapidly changing China beyond the Forbidden City during Cixi’s time in power is fascinating reading. Chang’s groundbreaking biography reveals the life and times of one of the most influential figures in Chinese history who attempted to strike a balance between tradition and modernity.


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The 7 Most Controversial Royal Christenings

The Duchess of Cambridge with the newborn Prince George of Cambridge in July, 2013

The Duchess of Cambridge with the newborn Prince George of Cambridge in July, 2013

The christening of Prince George of Cambridge on October 23 in the Chapel of Royal of St. James’s Palace will be private occasion attended by family, close friends and the royal baby’s godparents. From Saxon times until well into the reign of Queen Victoria, however, royal christenings were often public occasions. When the christening of a royal baby went according to plan, the ceremony effectively symbolized the close relationship between the Crown and the Church and presented the next generation of royal heirs to the world. Unfortunately, royal christenings also had the potential to showcase unfortunate omens, religious discord and conflicts within the royal family regarding names, godparents and child rearing. Here are the 7 most controversial British royal christenings:

1) King Aethelred the Unready (c. 968-1016) According to the medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury, the life of the future King Aethelred the Unready began inauspiciously when the infant defecated in the font at his christening. Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury exclaimed angrily to the assembled guests, “By God and his mother, this will be a sorry fellow!” Aethelred grew up to become one of the most ineffective Kings of Saxon England, losing his throne to King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark from 1013 to 1014.

The twenty five year old Elizabeth I in her coronation robes, embroidered with Tudor roses

The twenty five year old Elizabeth I in her coronation robes, embroidered with Tudor roses

2) Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) The future Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was the first royal baby received into the newly created Church of England. Since the ceremony in the Church of Observant Friars in Greenwich proclaimed both the legitimacy of the King’s second marriage and the new religious settlement, there was critical commentary from supporters of the repudiated Queen Catherine of Aragon and the old papal supremacy. Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, one of Catherine’s most prominent supporters wrote, “the christening has been like her mother’s coronation, very cold and disagreeable, both to the Court and to the city, and there has been no thought of having the bonfires and rejoicings usual in such cases.”

3) Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612) The eldest son of King James VI of Scotland (the future James I of England) and Anna of Denmark received a lavish christening at Stirling Castle. The King intended to make his son’s ceremony stand out from all previous royal celebrations by surprising the guests with a lion pulling a chariot into the christening banquet. At the last moment, this plan was cancelled as there were concerns that the lion might “forget himself.” Guests had to settle for viewing the King’s lions from a distance as the animals remained in their courtyard enclosure. Prince Henry died at the age of eighteen and his younger brother Charles succeeded James as King Charles I.

4) Princess Catherine Laura (1675) When the future James II’s second wife, Mary of Modena gave birth to her first child, the Roman Catholic royal couple arranged for a secret christening by Mary’s Catholic chaplain. James’s children from his first marriage, the future Queens Mary II and Anne, were Protestants and he wanted the children of his second marriage to share his Roman Catholic faith. When Charles II found out about Catherine Laura’s secret baptism, he ordered a second, Church of England, christening for his niece against the wishes of the baby’s parents. The infant princess died of convulsions at the age of nine months.

Prince George William, second son of the future King George II

Prince George William, second son of the future King George II

5) Prince George William (1717-1718) Arrangements for the christening of the future King George II’s second son led to a lasting rift between the Prince of Wales and his father, King George I. The Prince and Princess of Wales – the future King George II and Queen Caroline – wanted to name their son Louis and suggested the Queen of Prussia and Duke of York as godparents. George I promptly took charge of the christening planning, choosing “George William” as the name for his grandson and asking the Lord Chamberlain, the Duke of Newcastle to be one of the godparents. The Prince of Wales detested Newcastle and confronted him at the ceremony, declaring, “You are a rascal, but I shall find you out!” Due to the Prince’s thick German accent, Newcastle heard “I’ll fight you!” and assumed he had been challenged to a duel. George I banished his son and daughter-in-law from court because this incident, retaining custody of their children. When baby George William died at the age of three months, the Prince of Wales blamed his father for the tragedy because he had separated the child from his parents. The relationship between George I and the future George II never recovered from the circumstances surrounding George William’s christening and death.

6) Queen Victoria (1819-1901) The christening of the future Queen Victoria was the setting of an argument between the baby’s father, the Duke of Kent and her Uncle, the future King George IV, regarding suitable names. The Duke and Duchess intended to name their daughter Victoria Georgiana Alexandrina Charlotte Augusta after her mother and godparents. The King rejected these choices and told his brother and sister-in-law that he would inform them of the baby’s name at the christening. At the ceremony, The Archbishop of Canterbury held the baby over the font until the King decided, after some deliberations, that she would be named Alexandrina for her godfather, Czar Alexander I. The Duke of Kent requested a second name for the baby and suggested Elizabeth. George refused this idea, declaring, “Give her the mother’s name also then but it cannot precede that of the Emperor.” With the name settled, the future Queen was finally christened Alexandrina Victoria.

A group photograph from Prince William's christening in 1982

A group photograph from Prince William’s christening in 1982

7) Prince William (1982) After the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles, Princess Diana stated that she had been excluded from the planning of her elder son’s christening. Diana stated in a taped interview with James Colthurst published in Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words, “I was treated like nobody else’s business. Nobody asked me when it was suitable for William – 11 o’clock could not have been worse. Endless pictures of the Queen Mother, Charles and William. I was excluded totally that day.” Diana’s biographer, Tina Brown dismissed Diana’s account in The Diana Chronicles, writing, “The christening was a dynastic ceremony involving all the Royal Family, not a “Mommy and Me” class.”

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The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace from King Henry VIII to Prince George of Cambridge

St. James's Palace in London

St. James’s Palace in London

Prince George of Cambridge will be christened by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at St. James’s Palace on October 23. The choice of venue took the public by surprise because both Prince Charles and Prince William were christened in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace, which became a favourite venue for royal christenings after the palace chapel suffered bomb damage during the Second World War. The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace, however, has been the setting for key royal occasions since the reign of King Henry VIII. The upcoming christening will follow in a long tradition of royal events unfolding within the Chapel Royal.

Today, St. James’s Palace is the administrative centre of the monarchy and the senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. The Accession Council meets at the palace to proclaim each new sovereign and British Ambassadors represent “The Court of St. James.” The palace did not enjoy this prominence when Henry VIII ordered its construction in the 1530s. Henry’s principal residence in London was Whitehall Palace and he intended for St. James’s Palace to be a secondary residence. Much of the palace was constructed on the site of a leper hospital dedicated to St. James the Lesser. The palace chapel was originally part of a nearby convent acquired by the King during the dissolution of the monasteries.

Portrait of Henry VIII's 4th wife, Anna of Cleves by Hans Holbein

Portrait of Henry VIII’s 4th wife, Anna of Cleves by Hans Holbein

St. James’s Palace was completed in 1536. In 1540, Henry commissioned the artist Hans Holbein to decorate the chapel in honour of his fourth marriage to the German Princess, Anna of Cleves. Holbein had been a key figure in the marriage negotiations, painting the famous portrait of Anna that prompted the King’s proposal of marriage. Although the marriage ceremony itself took place at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, the adornments to St. James’s Palace were intended to celebrate the new Queen.

Unfortunately for Holbein’s career, Henry was not attracted to the actual Anna as he was to her portrait and the marriage was annulled that same year. Holbein continued to work as an artist at court but he received fewer royal commissions after the failure of the King’s 4th marriage.

St. James’s Palace continued to be a significant royal residence during the Tudor period. Two of Henry VIII’s children, Henry Fitzroy and Queen Mary I, died in the palace and the heart of the Queen is buried under the choir stalls. Elizabeth I reputedly prayed for the success of her fleet against the Spanish Armada in the Chapel Royal in 1588.

The Queen's Chapel, designed by Inigo Jones for Charles I's consort, Queen Henrietta Maria.

The Queen’s Chapel, designed by Inigo Jones for Charles I’s consort, Queen Henrietta Maria.

In 1623, construction began on a new chapel at St. James’s Palace. Negotiations were underway for King James I’s heir, the future Charles I, to marry Princess Henriette-Marie of France and marriage contract ultimately stated, “. . . in all the said King’s Palaces in which the said Madam shall remain or be she shall have a Roman church or chapel capable and large with sufficient commodious entrances not only for the use of Madam and the better sort but also for the meanest of families. And this church or chapel shall be decently adorned according to the rites and customs of the Roman church.”

Inigo Jones, a favourite architect of James I’s late wife, Anna of Denmark designed the new Roman Catholic place of worship and Charles I’s bride brought her own chapel furnishings from France. Although there was widespread public concern that Henrietta Maria would encourage her husband to convert to Roman Catholicism, Charles I remained a devout member of the Church of England and received in his last Communion in the original Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace before his execution at Whitehall in 1649.

During the interregnum, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell made clear what he thought of Henrietta Maria and her religion by using the Queen’s Chapel as a stable. Henrietta Maria’s chapel became a royal chapel once more in 1938 and the remains of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother remained there during the preparations for her lying-in-state in Westminster Hall after her death in 2002.

George Frederic Handel

After Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire in the reign of King William III, in 1698, St. James’s Palace assumed its current role as the administrative centre of the monarchy. Although William preferred to live at Kensington Palace because of his asthma, George I, George II and George III all used St. James’s Palace as their principal residence in London during the eighteenth century. At this time, the Chapel Royal became a significant cultural centre. George Frederic Handel was appointed ‘Composer of Musick of His Majesty’s Chappel Royal’ in 1723 and he composed the music for the coronation of King George II in 1727.

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in 1840. The chapel has been renovated in 1836 to include oak paneling and a high ceiling. The overjoyed bride wrote in her journal, “His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! … to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!” In addition to ensuring the Queen’s happiness, the wedding also had worldwide social significance as Victoria’s choice of a white wedding gown with fresh flowers has influenced bridal fashions to the present day.

George Hayter's painting of the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert

George Hayter’s painting of the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert

In contrast to the Georgian monarchs, Victoria did not use St. James’s Palace as her residence, preferring Windsor Castle and the newly enlarged Buckingham Palace as official homes for her growing family.  Nevertheless, the Palace continues to be the setting for royal events to the present day. The children of Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, Lord Frederick and Lady Gabriella Windsor, were christened in the Chapel Royal in 1979 and 1981 respectively. The Queen’s granddaughter, Princess Beatrice was also christened there in a ceremony conducted by John Habgood, Archbishop of York, in 1988.

The Duchess of Cambridge leaving the hospital with Prince George of Cambridge that day after his birth

The Duchess of Cambridge leaving the hospital with Prince George of Cambridge the day after his birth

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have chosen a setting for the christening of their son Prince George that has a long and colourful royal history. For Prince William, the choice of the Chapel Royal also has profound personal significance. In September 1997, the coffin of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales was placed before the altar of the Chapel Royal so that family and friends could pay their respects before the funeral at Westminster Abbey. By choosing the Chapel Royal as the setting for Prince George’s christening, William and Catherine are honouring the late Princess of Wales in addition to their son’s destiny as heir to a thousand year old monarchy.

Click here to read my interview with Ruth Dunley of about the christening arrangements for Prince George of Cambridge.

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Why The Royal Family Should Take A Canadian Vacation

My most recent column in the Kingston Whig-Standard discusses why the current royal family should take a break from Balmoral one year and go on a Canadian vacation. There have been numerous past instances of royalty vacationing in Canada from Princess Louise’s camping trips in Quebec to the future Edward VIII’s ranch in Alberta. These Canadian sojourns brought Canada and the royal family closer together.

Click here for the full article: “Why the Royals Need A Canadian Vacation

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What to Expect at Prince George of Cambridge’s Christening

The Duchess of Cambridge leaving the hospital with Prince George of Cambridge on July 23, 2013 the day after his birth.

The next big event in the life of the newborn Prince George of Cambridge will be his christening. The ceremony will probably take place in September or early October, after Queen Elizabeth II returns from her summer holiday at Balmoral.The baby’s gown, the christening font and the location will follow tradition but the choice of godparents may reflect the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s personal preferences.

The newborn prince will wear a replica of the 172 year old Honiton lace and white satin gown designed for the christening of Queen Victoria’s eldest child, Princess Victoria in 1841. Royal babies from Princess Victoria  to Lady Louise Windsor in 2004 wore the original gown before it was deemed too delicate for further use and a replica was created for subsequent christenings.

The Lily Font

Prince George’s christening will also follow the precedent set by Queen Victoria by including the Lily font. From the Restoration in 1660 to the christening of the future Queen Victoria herself in 1819, the silver-gilt font and basin commissioned by Charles II was a fixture of royal christenings and continued to be in use as a secondary font for Victoria’s three eldest children. Victoria reputedly disliked the Restoration font because it had beenused for the christenings of her illegitimate cousins and Prince Albert designed the new “Lily Font” as the primary font for their children.

Since the reign of Queen Victoria most royal christenings have taken place at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. The private chapel at Buckingham Palace was damaged during the Blitz and both Prince Charles and Prince William were baptized in the Music Room, which has become a familiar setting for royal christenings. A number of nineteenth and twentieth century royal parents chose non-traditional venues for christenings.

Queen Victoria holding the future Edward VIII at his christening, flanked by her son, the future Edward VII and her grandson, the future George V on July 16, 1894

The future Edward VIII was christened at White Lodge in Richmond Park in 1894 and Princess Eugenie of York became the first member of the royal family to receive a public christening as part of a regular service at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham in 1990. Due to Prince George’s place in the line of succession, his christening will probably take place in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace, following the precedent set by his father and grandfather.

While the setting, gown and font for Prince George’s christening will follow tradition, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may personalize the ceremony through their choice of godparents. There has been speculation that Prince William, Prince Charles and the Queen may select all the godparents because there were no representatives of the Spencer family chosen as godparents to Prince William in 1982. William’s godparents were The Prince of Wales’ second cousins, Constantine II, King of the Hellenes and Norton Knatchbull, Baron Romsey, Prince Charles’s favourite author, Sir Laurens van der Post, the Queen’s cousin Princess Alexandra, the Duchess of Westminster, and the Queen’s Woman of the Bedchamber, Lady Susan Hussey.

Princess Elizabeth with Prince Charles at his christening in 1948

The exclusion of family or friends of the Princess of Wales from the list of William’s godparents actually broke with tradition as previous generations of royal babies had sponsors chosen by both their father and mother. Prince Charles’s own godparents included Queen Mary and the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, the surviving grandmothers of the future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Uncle, Prince George of Greece and cousin, the former Lady Patricia Mountbatten were also godparents, in addition to Princess Margaret, King George VI, the honourable David Bowes-Lyon and King Haakon VII of Norway.

Just as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have welcomed the involvement of Catherine’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, in the upbringing of their son, it is likely that they will select a godparent from the Middleton family in addition to royal cousins, such as Peter or Zara Phillips and mutual friends. The royal couple may also choose a godparents from the Duke of Cambridge’s numerous Spencer cousins, which include a George, an Alexander and a Louis. Where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may break with tradition is the selection of foreign royalty. While there may be a member of the Greek royal family chosen in honour of Prince Philip, it is unlikely that there will be same array of foreign royal godparents that were present at the christenings of previous generations of British royal babies.

The autumn christening of Prince George of Cambridge will follow traditions established by Queen Victoria. The baby Prince will wear a replica of the 1841 honiton lace robe and the Lily Font will be the centrepiece of the ceremony, which will probably take place in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may personalize there ceremony through their choice of godparents, selecting more Spencer and Middleton relatives and family friends and fewer members of Europe’s royal houses.

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The Medieval Book Reviews 8: The Gothic King: A Biography of Henry III by John Paul Davis

Henry III (r. 1216-1272) is one of England’s least known Kings. Despite reigning for fifty-six years – the majority of the thirteenth century – there are few people today who can list the main achievements and accomplishments of his reign. Henry III’s father, King John, is famous as the villain of the Robin Hood legends and his son, Edward I “Longshanks” became part of popular culture through the Oscar winning film, Braveheart. Henry III, however, remains an enigma.

The chronicles written in the King’s own lifetime provide a mixed account of his character, praising his private virtues but critiquing his statesmanship. In The Gothic King: A Biography of Henry III, the first popular biography of this obscure King since the nineteenth century, John Paul Davis, author of Robin Hood: The Unknown Templar and Pity for The Guy: A Biography of Guy Fawkes reveals the full impact of Henry III’s reign on thirteenth century England – and the royal palaces and cathedrals that still stand today.

Henry III’s most lasting legacies were his building projects and Davis’s chapter on the King’s architectural interests, “Henry the Builder” is the strongest section of the book. A devotee of Edward the Confessor, Henry commissioned the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey from a Saxon monastery to the soaring Gothic church that is the setting of royal weddings and coronations today. Henry III also made improvements to numerous palaces including Windsor Castle and the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. Like Edward the Confessor, Henry III was renowned for his piety and was inspired by the architecture of his time.

The best known political events of Henry III’s reign were the battles of the Second Barons Revolt led by his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester which are dramatized in Sharon Kay Penman’s historical novel, Falls the Shadow. As a founder of the modern system of parliamentary democracy, Montfort is far more famous than Henry III, and his wife, the King’s sister, Eleanor, was recently the subject of an engaging biography by Louise Wilkinson.

Another one of Henry III’s famous opponents was Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales, who remains a legendary figure in Wales and the subject of historical novels such as Penman’s Here Be Dragons. Describing these conflicts from Henry III’s perspective, Davis turns a critical eye to both Montfort and Llywelyn, revealing the Welsh Prince’s ruthlessness in the border regions and the reforming Earl’s lack of support from his fellow barons and critical junctures. The result is a more balanced account of both the long conflict between thirteenth century England and Wales and the numerous disputes between Henry III and his barons.

The Gothic King is not simply a biography of Henry III but a complex portrait of his times. The King ruled an England that was increasingly intertwined with the rest of Europe and the wider world. Davis describes how fish merchants in Yarmouth were bankrupted when demand for pickled herring in what is now Russia collapsed because of the turmoil created by the invasion of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Hordes. The King’s long and happy marriage to Eleanor of Provence made him part of a vast royal extended family as the queen’s sisters married rulers of France and Sicily. Henry III’s own sisters married the King of Scotland and Holy Roman Emperor, increasing the links between thirteenth century England and the rest of Europe.

While Davis provides a detailed account of the political events of Henry III’s reign and the King’s extensive building program, he devotes far less attention to the social history of the era. Since Henry III is relatively unknown to popular audiences, more details about the flavour of his court would have made the biography more engaging. There are repeated references to the places the King held his Christmas celebrations with little description of what these festivities entailed or the King’s role as leader of such grand occasions. The reader is also left to wonder how the royal family dressed, what they ate and the nature of thirteenth century English court etiquette. Henry III’s mother, Isabella d’Angouleme also receives little attention in the narrative.

In The Gothic King: A Biography of Henry III, John Paul Davis brings one of England’s most obscure monarchs to life. Henry III reigned during a time of unprecedented change, which saw the birth of England’s parliamentary democracy, new links between the British Isles and the rest of the world and changes to palaces and churches that still stand today.

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The Duchess of Cambridge to Give Birth at St. Mary’s Hospital in London: A Short History of the Royal Delivery Room

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the balcony of Buckingham Palace After Trooping the Colour 2013, the Duchess's last public appearance before the birth of their child

This week, new details emerged about the upcoming birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child. The baby will be born in St. Mary’s hospital in Paddington, London, where Prince William and Prince Harry were born in 1982 and 1984 respectively. The royal parents-to-be have chosen not to find out the baby’s gender before the birth. The Queen’s former gynecologist, Dr. Marcus Setchell, will come out of retirement to deliver the baby, assisted by the Queen’s current gynecologist Alan Farthing. Catherine plans to have a “natural” birth rather than an elective cesarean section and William will take two weeks paternity leave after the baby arrives.

These announcements have ended speculation that Catherine intends to give birth at the Royal Berkshire Hospital near the Middleton family home and shown the emergence of new traditions regarding the setting and medical staff at royal births. Prince William was the first direct heir to the British throne to be born in hospital and St. Marys may remain the location of royal deliveries for the next few generations. Over the centuries, the royal delivery room has transformed from a secluded female space, to a comparatively public space monitored by government officials to the current hospital setting.

Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII

Before the reign of the first Tudor King, Henry VII, there was no written protocol governing royal delivery rooms, nurseries and christening ceremonies. Queens of England secluded themselves with their ladies-in-waiting and midwives during the weeks prior to the birth. Since dukedoms – or even titles such as Prince or Princess – were rarely granted to younger royal children before the reign of Edward III (r. 1327-1377), the newborn child would be known by their name and birthplace. Before becoming King, Edward III was called Edward of Windsor and his siblings were John of Eltham, Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower.

King Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, established the first formal ordinances “against the deliverance of a queen”  for the arrival of her grandson, Prince Arthur, in 1486. Margaret drew upon precedents set by previous royal births to create a formal protocol that would govern all Tudor royal births. The ordinances stated, “Her Highness’s pleasure being understood in what chamber she will be delivered in, the same must be hanged with rich cloth of Arras, sides, roof, windows and all, except one window, which must be hanged so as she may have light when it pleaseth her.”

Despite the darkness of the Tudor delivery room, Margaret’s ordinances decreed that the decorative tapestries must show only pleasant scenes to prevent the Queen and her child from being “affrighted by figures which gloomily stare.” The Queen’s birth attendants remained exclusively female during Tudor times.

Charles I, Henrietta Maria and their two eldest children

The introduction of male physicians in the royal delivery room began during the reign of Charles I as the King insisted that his doctor, Theodore de Mayerne, attend his consort, Queen Henrietta Maria, for her births. The Queen herself preferred the care of her French midwife, Madame Peronne and these two figures therefore worked together to deliver the nine royal children. Henrietta Maria’s partiality for her midwife did not reverse the trend toward male physicians presiding over royal births and the royal delivery room became increasingly medicalized from the seventeenth century.

English and Scottish royal babies were born in comparatively privacy until the reign of James II. James and his second wife, Mary of Modena had lost all their children in infancy until the arrival of their son, James Edward Francis in 1688. Throughout the pregnancy, the Roman Catholic King expressed confidence that the child would be a healthy boy, prompting rumours in Protestant circles that a baby would be smuggled into the delivery room in the event of a daughter or stillbirth.

Mary of Modena

James responded to these rumours by allowing more than forty courtiers into the delivery room. Despite the presence of witnesses, the infant Prince was rumoured to have been smuggled into the bed in a warming pan. The King’s daughter from his first marriage, the future Queen Anne, was instrumental to these rumours by publicly claiming that her stepmother had never allowed her feel the baby kick inside the womb. James Edward Francis lost his succession rights during the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and became known as “The Old Pretender” in exile. For all future births of royal heirs until the arrival of Prince Charles in 1948, a government official had to be present to certify that an authentic royal birth had taken place.

Queen Victoria and her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice

Queen Victoria made further changes to the royal delivery room. Her consort, Prince Albert was the first British royal father to be present for the birth of his children. Victoria also popularized the use of childbirth anesthetic by requesting the newly invented chloroform for the arrival of the eighth of her nine children, Prince Leopold. The Queen was pleased by the comparably comfortable births of her two youngest children and sent bottles of chloroform to her daughters and granddaughters when they were expecting children of their own, transforming royal delivery rooms across Europe.

The birth of the future Queen Elizabeth II marked a further advance in royal delivery room medical procedures. The baby was breech, necessitating a cesarean section at 17 Bruton Street, the London home of the Bowes-Lyon family where the birth took place. The surgeon’s report did not detail the circumstances, stating only that “a certain line of treatment was successfully adopted.” The future Queen’s younger sister, Princess Margaret also arrived in complicated conditions. The Princess was two weeks late, requiring the Home Secretary to spend much of August, 1930 in Scotland, awaiting the birth at Glamis Castle. The future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were advised by their doctors not to have further children after these two difficult births.

The Prince and Princess of Wales with their son, Prince William

With the arrival of Prince Charles in 1948, King George VI abolished the requirement that the Home Secretary certify royal births. Queen Elizabeth II decided to give birth to all four of her children at home, to allow greater privacy for mother and child. In 1982, Diana, Princess of Wales, changed the setting of the royal delivery room by insisting that her child be born in hospital. Diana had been married to the Prince of Wales for less than a year at the time of William’s arrival and was uncomfortable giving birth in a palace setting. Prince Charles made his own contribution to the changes to the royal delivery room by being present for the sixteen hour labour, the first royal father to witness the birth of his child since Prince Albert.

The innovations introduced by Charles and Diana created new traditions for the royal births. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child will be born at St. Mary’s like the previous generation of royal children. William will undoubtedly follow the example of his father and be present in the delivery room. There is currently speculation that the Duchess’s mother and sister may be present for the birth just as Elizabeth of York’s female relatives supported her in Tudor times. The revival of the custom of female relatives gathering for the birth may be the Duchess of Cambridge’s contribution to the continuing transformation of the royal delivery room.

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