My latest article in the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia is about the 4th Earl of Minto, Governor General of Canada from 1898 to 1904, including his early career in Canada as military secretary to a previous Governor General, Lord Lansdowne, his appointment as Governor General in 1898, his attitudes towards Canadian participation in the Boer War and his role in hosting the 1901 Royal Tour by the future King George V and Queen Mary.
I discussed the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding veil with the Daily Express. Meghan chose floral symbols from the Commonwealth nations for the embroidery on her veil. While the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge have both worn fern brooches during their visits to New Zealand, the Duchess of Sussex chose a different emblem to symbolize New Zealand: the kowhai bloom, considered to be the country’s unofficial flower.
My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!
Week 28: Travel Literature: My summer reading this year includes travel literature (reviewed below), the Extraordinary Canadians biography series (to be reviewed in the next few days) and history books about Queens and Empresses (to be reviewed next week). I have taken an expansive definition of “Travel Literature” to include a book about what it would like to live in Tudor times, a richly descriptive novel about cooking in different countries and an unsettling novel set in rural Yorkshire. Otherwise, I read books about road trips, long hikes, passports and train journeys, some from the 1980s and some more recent. Here are this week’s reviews:
#190 of 365 Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon
Genre: Travel Literature
Date Listened: July 14-18, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com
Format: Audiobook, 17 hours and 55 minutes
Review: A travelogue with some interesting chapters and compelling descriptions but not the humour of Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent, which has a similar premise. William Least Heat-Moon drove around the United States, avoiding the interstate highways to visit remote small towns such as “Nameless” and “Frenchman’s Station” and interesting characters including the residents of a trappist monastery in Georgia who vote on books to be read aloud at mealtimes. They had just finished Nicholas and Alexandra when the author visited them.
The book was written in 1982 but some of the concerns expressed by inhabitants of rural America, such as declining job prospects remain topical today. The author was going through a difficult period in his life when he wrote the book and both the author and the audiobook narrator have a crotchety tone that sometimes suits the material but eventually becomes repetitive. An interesting but overly long work of travel literature.
#191 of 365 How To Be A Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life by Ruth Goodman
Genre: Social History
Date Read: July 18, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Acquired: Purchased from Book City, Toronto
Review:A fascinating study of daily life in Tudor times. While modern popular culture focuses on life at the court of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, Ruth Goodman reconstructs a day in the life for people from a variety of social classes from waking up at four in the morning to milk the cows to sleeping on your right side for health reasons at night. She examines Tudor fashions for all occasions (from ploughing the fields to searching for the northwest passage), the daily chores required to run a Tudor farm or shop, and the variety of leisure pursuits from archery to dancing. What makes the book stand out is the author has tried a variety of Tudor pursuits herself including cheesemaking, sleeping on floor rushes and dancing the volta. She even bravely tried the various levels of Tudor personal hygiene and describes the results in the book. An informative and entertaining read.
#192 of 365 AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller
Genre: Travel Literature
Date Listened: July 18-19, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com
Format: Audiobook, 10 hours and 34 minutes
Review: I was expecting a memoir in the tradition of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson or Wild by Cheryl Strayed but AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is more of a travel log, listing distances and foot injuries in repetitive detail. The author is more interested in the various aspects of thru-hiker culture including shelters, nicknames, hitchhiking into town and finding food rather than the landscapes and histories of the different regions of the trail. There is little humour, even in the conversations with interesting characters the author met along the trail. The book provides a good overview of the hiking experience for anyone interested in hiking the Appalachain Trail from end to end but does not provide enough context for general readers looking for a sense of the landscape. The audiobook is read in a cheerless monotone.
#193 of 365 Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Date Listened: July 20-21, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com
Format: Audiobook, 7 hours and 37 minutes
Review: A beautifully written and deeply unsettling novel about a family living at the margins of society in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Elmet is named for the last Celtic kingdom in England and the central characters live outside modern society until its realities intrude on their isolated existence. Mozley evokes the setting of a Yorkshire thicket where “For a blissful year,there had been a home” as a place of great natural beauty but also an isolated part of the world where terrible things can happen far beyond the reach of the rule of law. The plot is not as compelling as the setting and characters and there are loose ends remaining at the end of the story but the novel was absorbing throughout.
#194 of 365 The Passport: The History of Man’s Most Travelled Document by Martin Lloyd
Date Read: July 21, 2018
Acquired: Found at Home
Format: Hardcover, 282 pages
Review: The Passport is filled with interesting facts about the history of travel. Lloyd notes that the Old Testament figure Nehemiah, the Governor of Persian Judea, required travel documents in c. 450 BCE to journey between regions that are now part of Israel and Iraq. France developed an internal passport system that was formalized at the time of the French Revolution while British passports were viewed as courtesy rather than a necessity until the First World War.
Unfortunately, the wealth of knowledge does not come together into a cohesive narrative as facts related to one another, such as League of Nations passports for refugees and the United Nations documents that replaced them, are discussed in completely different sections of the book. As the subtitle suggests, there are only passing references to the unique experiences of women travelers over the centuries. Lloyd mentions that married women were listed on the passports of their husbands in the early 20th century but does not analyse the implications of this practice for women’s mobility or when passports for individual women became widespread.
The book includes illustrations, comparing passports throughout history and around the world. There is even an example of a distinctive royal passport. The content of the book includes many interesting facts that should be better organized and analyzed for readers. The book would also benefit from a stronger conclusion than “I rather like passports.”
#195 of 365 The Hundred-Foot Journey: A Novel by Richard C. Morais
Date Read: July 23-26, 2018
Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto
Format: Paperback, 245 pages
Review: A novel that is not quite as good as the film it inspired. Morais provides delicious descriptions of gourmet cuisine and allows readers to picture obscure ingredients such as the Kohlrabi “a bridge between the cabbage and the turnip.” The characters are not as likable in the novel as they are in the film, however, and the novel unfolds over too long a period of time to keep the story-line cohesive from beginning to end. Madame Mallory is suitably imperious when portrayed by Helen Mirren but comes across as just petty and unpleasant in the novel and her mentorship of Hassan appears to be an abrupt change in character. The film also emphasizes that Hassan creates fusion Indian/French cuisine as a restaurateur, while his distinct approach to cooking receives less attention in the novel. I recommend the film over the book.
#196 of 365 The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain by Paul Theroux
Genre: Travel Literature
Date Read: July 26, 2018
Acquired: Found at Home
Format: Hardcover, 353 pages
Review: I have read a number of travelogues written by Americans in Britain and I had high expectations of this one as Theroux is a prolific travel writer. From the beginning, I was disappointed by Theroux’s approach to exploring the United Kingdom. Despite stating that he lived in London for ten years without exploring much of the rest of the country, he decides from the beginning of his travels around the coast, “No sightseeing; no cathedrals, no castles, no churches, no museums. I wanted to examine the particularities of the present.” History is essential to understanding the present and the deliberate exclusion of historic buildings and exhibitions from his travels seems literally shortsighted.
The tone of the book was also disappointing. A travelogue of this kind benefits from an author with a self-deprecating sense of humour and a certain degree of humility in unfamiliar situations. Instead, Theroux takes himself fairly seriously but is relentless critical of “working class” people and “people on the dole” on their holidays and “the lower middle class” proprietors of bed and breakfasts who are not interested in his complaints. He eviscerates “caravan” holidays in Wales as though he has never seen a mobile home in the United States.
The book was written in 1983 and provides a good snapshot of how the big events of 1982, including the Falklands War and the birth of Prince William, were received by the British public. There are some very well written passages and reflections about the nature of travel and changing landscapes. Overall, however, the book would have benefited from more humour and willingness to go sightseeing!
My review of Crowns and Colonies: European Monarchies and Overseas Empires, edited by Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery has been published in the December 2017 issue of the Royal Studies Journal.
The Royal Studies Journal is available online. Click here to read Aldrich & McCreery (eds.), Crowns and Colonies: European Monarchies and Overseas Empires (Manchester University Press, 2016), reviewed by Carolyn Suzanne Harris
“Royal children on tour influence popular perceptions of the monarchy in two ways. First, they create a personal bond between royal parents and the public – parenting provides common ground between royalty and people of all backgrounds.
Second, royal children personify the future of the monarchy. Like Queen Victoria during the last years of her reign, Elizabeth now has three generations of direct heirs. At various points over the course of her long reign, there has been debate about the future of the monarchy. The presence of George and Charlotte in the coming royal visit demonstrates the potential for the monarchy to enjoy public support in Canada and the wider Commonwealth for generations to come.”
Medieval royalty were always on the move. The monarchs from the House of York who ruled England in the late fifteenth century (Edward IV, Richard III and the short lived “Prince in the Tower” Edward V) traveled around their kingdom dispensing justice and asserting their authority. Royal children were fostered in noble households then young men traveled on military campaigns, sometimes accompanied by their wives. Royal women who made dynastic marriages to foreign princes traveled far from home to their new households.
The Wars of the Roses resulted in unexpected travels for royalty who were forced to flee abroad or into places of religious sanctuary when events turned against them. In On the Trail of the Yorks, Kristie Dean, author of The World of Richard III, follows in the footsteps of the House of York, visiting the sites of castles, cathedrals and towns associated with Richard III as well as his parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews.
On the Trail of the Yorks is both a series of short biographies of the key figures from the House of York and a guidebook detailing the history and visitor information for the places familiar to them. Dean begins with Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville, parents of Edward IV and Richard III, examining how their sudden changes of fortune during the Wars of the Roses sent them as far afield as Ireland and France.
The travels of the famous Yorkist kings and their siblings are then discussed in detail. While numerous books about the Yorks end with Richard III’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth field, Dean continues into the reign of Henry VII, visiting the places significant to the first Tudor queen consort, Elizabeth of York and her book will be of interest to those interested in Henry VIII’s childhood.
In addition to providing a fresh perspective about the House of York, On the Trail of the Yorks reveals how the House of Plantagenet acquired properties over the course of successive reigns and what eventually happened to these estates. With the notable exception of Margaret of York’s marriage to the Duke of Burgundy, Yorkist royalty married members of the English nobility and acquired properties inherited by landed heiresses such as Cecily, Isabel and Anne Neville. Members of the landed gentry convicted of treason often forfeited their estates to the Crown and these new lands were integrated into the royal domains.
There is a popular perception that the British Isles are filled with medieval castles but On the Trail of the Yorks reveals how few of the buildings familiar to fifteenth century royalty are still standing. The dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII, the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, The Great Fire of London in 1666 all contributed to the destruction of medieval royal residences and places of worship.
The only trace of Palace of Placentia at Greenwich beloved by Elizabeth of York is a plaque commemorating the birth of her son Henry VIII and granddaughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The medieval St. Paul’s cathedral burned down in the Great Fire and was replaced by the modern cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren. There is now a Travelodge hotel on the site of the Blue Boar Inn where Richard III reputedly spent the night before the Battle of Bosworth Field and the Duke of Buckingham is reputed to haunt the Debenhams department store near the site of his execution. On the Trail of the Yorks bridges the divide between how these sites appear to a modern visitor and how they would have looked to the House of York.
There are two kinds of readers who will be interested in On the Trail of the Yorks: armchair travelers interested imagining the settings of the Yorkist court and actual travelers looking for information about which sites are open to visitors and whether parking or transit connections are available. Dean provides a wealth of information for both kinds of readers. On the Trail of the Yorks brings the settings of the Yorkist court alive and encourages readers to follow in the footsteps of Richard III and his family during their own travels to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
Click here to purchase On the Trail of the Yorks from Amazon.
Next week: The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
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:
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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