My book “Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette” is now available for purchase

My book, Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette, has been published by Palgrave MacMillan as part of the Queenship and Power series.

Review: “Harris’ richly detailed comparative study of Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette offers fresh perspective on how both queens understood their roles as heads of households, wives, and mothers and how, in turn, those roles were interpreted by their husbands’ subjects. Combining a rigorous review of the literature with new research and original analytical insights, Harris has crafted an eminently readable and engaging work that effectively illuminates the complex nature of early modern queenship and revolution.” –Michelle White, UC Foundation Professor of History, University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, USA

About the book: Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England were two of the most notorious queens in European history. They both faced accusations that they had transgressed social, gender and regional norms, and attempted to defend themselves against negative reactions to their behavior. Each queen engaged with the debates of her time concerning the place of women within their families, religion, politics, the public sphere and court culture and attempted to counter criticism of her foreign origins and political influence. The impeachment of Henrietta Maria in 1643 and trial and execution of Marie Antoinette in 1793 were also trials of monarchical government that shaped the English Civil Wars and French Revolution.

In Canada, Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette is available from and variety of other booksellers.

In the USA,Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette (Queenship and Power) is available from and directly from Palgrave Macmillan

In the UK, Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette (Queenship and Power) is available from and directly from Palgrave Macmillan

In the USA and UK, order directly from Palgrave Macmillan by December 31 with the discount code PM15THIRTY to receive 30% off. View the Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe flyer here for more information.

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Toronto Public Library Talk on September 24: Peter the Great and the Building of St. Petersburg

Peter the Great in 1698

Peter the Great in 1698

I will be giving a lecture at Deer Park Library in Toronto (40 St. Clair Avenue East) about Peter the Great of Russia and the Building of St Petersburg on September 24 at 2pm. 

Czar Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725) wanted to open up Russia to the rest of Europe. In 1703, he ordered the building of a new capital on the Baltic Sea that was unlike any other Russian city. St. Petersburg would be Peter the Great’s window to the west and the setting for some of the most dramatic moments in Russian history. The lecture will include images of Imperial Russian art and architecture as well as photographs from my 2013 visit to St. Petersburg.

Tickets may be reserved by phone or in person on Sept 23. Click here for more information.


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Interview: Could she be queen? See where the new royal baby fits in line to the throne

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 Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a baby girl at 8:34am (BT) on May 2. The baby weighs 8lbs 6oz and the Duke of Cambridge was present for the birth in the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital. My interview with discusses the experiences of past royal second children. In the past century,  the press has often portrayed ‘the spare’ as the more spontaneous royal sibling, enjoying wealth and privilege without the responsibilities of kingship. Over the long course of royal history, however, there has always been the distinct possibility that a second royal child might succeed to the throne. The most recent “spare” to become the reigning monarch was Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI.

Click here to read “Could she be queen? See where the new royal baby fits in line to the throne”

The interview also mentions my first book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, which was published today!

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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!

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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.

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Toronto Star Interview: Shabby Toronto apartment was once home to Russia’s Grand Duchess Olga

Grand Duchess Olga painting in her Cooksville home

Grand Duchess Olga during her last years in Canada

Grand Duchess Olga, younger sister of Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II, lived in Canada from 1948 until her death in 1960. Olga’s last home in Toronto has recently gone up for sale, demonstrating the changes she experienced over the course of her life, from her birth at the Peterhof Palace outside St. Petersburg, to her last months in a Toronto apartment.

I am quoted in an article about Grand Duchess Olga’s time in Canada in today’s Toronto Star. Click here to read “Shabby Toronto apartment was once home to Russia’s Grand Duchess Olga

For more on Grand Duchess Olga, see my article on this site, “From St. Petersburg to Toronto: The Life of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna”

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Royal History Q&A: Sara Cockerill, author of Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

Eleanor of Castile, consort to King Edward I of England, traveled further than most medieval queens, living in five different countries and going on crusade. She exerted political and cultural influence over the English court and was part of one of the most successful marriages in royal history. Despite her varied life, achievements and forceful personality, Eleanor of Castile is little known today. Sara Cockerill has written the first full length popular biography of this enigmatic medieval queen, Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen. Here, Cockerill discusses how she discovered Eleanor of Castile and how she brought this little known queen out of the shadows:

Eleanor of Castile

Eleanor of Castile

Carolyn Harris: You have been researching Eleanor for Castile in your spare time for 10 years. How did you become interested in this particular queen?

Sara Cockerill: It was really via her husband, Edward I.  I had read the romantic Victorian accounts of Eleanor, and thought that, if they were true, it seemed a bit odd that Edward I should have been so devoted to her.  Then, as I started to read more about Edward, the odd bits of information that cropped up about Eleanor actually raised more questions than they answered.  As I started to delve into the material on Eleanor herself, I just got hooked, and started to think it was outrageous that no-one had written a biography of her for a general readership before.

Eleanor of Aquitaine's effigy in Fontevraud Abbey

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s effigy in Fontevraud Abbey

CH: Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most famous women in history but her descendant Eleanor of Castile is little known. Why is Edward I’s consort so obscure?

SC: Well, my own view is that this was entirely deliberate.  The English crown had passed through a very difficult period in the mid 1200’s during which a very assertive queen, Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Provence, had become so unpopular that the citizens of London made a bit of a stab at lynching her.  An overtly assertive queen was therefore never going to go down well – and an overtly assertive foreign queen, in a climate where “aliens” had become the target of much political hostility, still less so.

Edward I

Edward I

Edward and Eleanor therefore decided that it was best that she didn’t make her influence or her assertiveness too generally known. For public consumption she was simply the devoted queen who accompanied Edward everywhere.  Which of course was, usefully, a strand of the truth.  The fact that she was an intellectual powerhouse, whose business drove quite a lot of Edward’s movements around the country, was something people didn’t need to know – and would probably never work out.  The only hints at the truth came in contemporaneous letters and documents concerning the inquest into her property, first really considered in the nineteenth century, which showed that Eleanor ran a property empire – and ran it with an extremely firm hand.

CH: Agnes Strickland thought Eleanor was meek and retiring. Lisa Hilton thought she was bad tempered and unpleasant. Why are the few biographical sketches of Eleanor so different from each other? Who is the real Eleanor?

 Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest

Agnes Strickland, author of Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest

SC: Most certainly Hilton is nearer the mark than the Victorians who had Eleanor down as a bit of a sap – but I think she is also quite far from the truth.  The reason for the different views of Eleanor is really a succession of historical accidents.  The romantic side, fed by the survival of the Eleanor Crosses, came from some poetic exaggerations about Eleanor after her death – sometimes fueled by a political agenda.  The more modern view of Eleanor amongst scholars has equally been fueled by the fortuitous survival of the records concerning the inquest into the running of her properties after her death, and a few rather trenchant letters by the Archbishop of Canterbury about – again – her business practices.  Since these are rather negative, and make up the bulk of the surviving direct testimony, it is not surprising that a negative view of her developed.

The real woman that I have found is rather different.  She was a vibrant, energetic woman with many interests, and a woman who was considerate of those around her and generous to those she loved.  But at the same time, she was a very competent, successful businesswoman who very much disliked inefficiency, or being thwarted; and was capable of really letting rip when she was displeased.  All in all, I find her a very real, and surprisingly modern, figure.

The Queen Eleanor Cross at Northampton

The Queen Eleanor Cross at Northampton

CH: Edward I reissued the Magna Carta during his reign. Did your law background inform your research about Eleanor’s life and times?

SC: Yes and no.  I didn’t come to the story as a lawyer, looking for the legal spin.  However I did find things which resonated with me as a lawyer.  I found the legal aspect of the transition from dower to dowry and the treatment of dower fascinating – and revelatory. And the parallels between the Castilian approach to legal structures in resettling new territories and that adopted by Edward in Wales also struck me forcibly. But I think there is still much work to be done on looking to see if Eleanor’s fingerprints are to be seen in other aspects of Edward’s legislative programme.

CH: What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Eleanor of Castile?

SC: I’m tempted to say just how much more substantial and forceful a person she was than I expected; and that certainly was a big surprise.  I was ready to find that the woman who won Edward I’s devotion was no milk and water girl, but the sheer range of her accomplishments, her energy, her vibrancy, her force – that, I was not prepared for.  But actually really the most surprising thing to me in the end, was given that range of interests and achievements, how successfully she had kept the traces of this dynamism from public knowledge.  It is one of the reasons that I have called her “The Shadow Queen” – she has deliberately obscured herself and hidden out of sight, so that only glimpses of different aspects of her personality can be seen.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

CH: Where did your research take you? To what degree did you follow in Eleanor’s footsteps?

SC: Sadly, with research having to be fitted around my job, I didn’t get to do the full tour of the places Eleanor knew from childhood, or follow her on crusade.  A number of her properties were familiar to me from holidays – and romantic weekends in the Cotswolds – and I had also visited a number of the Gascon venues as an Edward I fan.  Dover Castle and the properties in Kent are close by for me – I often cycle past Wallett’s Court, known to Eleanor as the manor of Westcliffe, and caught some great photos there just the other day.  Mostly, though, my research was confined to the British Library, with the occasional foray to the National Archives.  But I had a wonderful trip to pay homage at the surviving crosses, and I have paid a few visits to Eleanor at Westminster Abbey.

CH: What are your plans for future books?

SC: There is nothing absolutely firm yet, but I have a fairly substantial list of things which I would like to do.  One day I would like to know another medieval queen as well as I have go to know Eleanor.  But I am not planning to commit to another big biography quite yet – because I can’t work at it full time, I need to be very sure about a project of that size.

At the moment I’m looking at a rather shorter book concerning the development of knighthood and chivalry, showing the forces which brought it into being, and shaped it into what it became and also showcasing some amazing people and their stories as illustrations of those themes.  I got interested in the idea while writing about Eleanor.  I was very struck by the looming figures of William Marshal and Jean de Brienne who became respectively the greatest man in England and the King of Jerusalem and Emperor of Constantinople through their knightly prowess.  And Eleanor’s own contact with the institution showcases a number of aspects of the developing institution – the fading of the social mobility theme, alongside the changing nature and role of tournaments, the increasing Arthurian and literary links,  and also the administrative importance which the institution acquired, and which Edward and Eleanor promoted.  Whether I can pull it together in a way which will appeal to anyone but myself is the question, though!

Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen” by Sara Cockerill is available now in bookstores and direct from Amberley Publishing. ISBN: 9781445635897 

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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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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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