Before the announcement that Prince Philip would be retiring from public life at the end of the summer, there was widespread speculation on social media that Buckingham Palace would be announcing his death on the morning of May 4 as members of the royal household gathered for an “eleventh hour” meeting.
How royal parents dealt with raising their children over the past thousand years, from keeping Vikings at bay to fending off paparazzi.
William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are setting trends for millions of parents around the world. The upbringing of their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, is the focus of intense popular scrutiny. Royalty have always raised their children in the public eye and attracted praise or criticism according to parenting standards of their day.
Royal parents have faced unique challenges and held unique privileges. In medieval times, raising an heir often meant raising a rival, and monarchs sometimes faced their grown children on the battlefield. Conversely, kings and queens who lost their thrones in wars or popular revolutions often found solace in time spent with their children. In modern times, royal duties and overseas tours have often separated young princes and princesses from their parents, a circumstance that is slowly changing with the current generation of royalty.
In January and February 2016, I will be teaching an eight week course on Wednesday afternoons about Artists and Their Royal Patrons at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. Click here to register
For centuries, artists sought out royal patrons to advance their careers. European monarchs were eager to fill their courts with artists to demonstrate their own acumen and prestige. Through lectures, images and discussions, Carolyn Harris will lead you through a lively exploration of the relations between great artists and their royal patrons. These include Hans Holbein and Henry VIII, Leonardo da Vinci and François I, Anthony van Dyck and Charles I, Peter Paul Rubens and Marie de Medici, and Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun and Marie Antoinette. We will look at Catherine the Great, who helped found the Hermitage Museum, and Queen Elizabeth II, who is appreciated as a “curator monarch” for her part in opening the British Royal Collection to the public. You’ll learn more about the collaboration and tension between royalty and artists that produced some of Europe’s most famous works of art and established collections now featured in great museums around the world.
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.
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.
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 Today.com 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.