New York Post Interview: Thank queen of ‘Victoria’ for this Oval Office centerpiece

Portrait of the nineteen year old Queen Victoria on her coronation day in 1838.

Portrait of the nineteen year old Queen Victoria on her coronation day in 1838.

My thoughts about Queen Victoria and her opposition to women’s suffrage have been quoted in the New York Post as part of a list of facts about the famous Queen, who is currently being portrayed by Jenna Coleman in the Victoria TV series on PBS. The quotes are an excerpt from a longer interview with the University of Alberta Faculty of Law blog about Queen Victoria, her family and women’s rights.

Click here to read Thank queen of ‘Victoria’ for this Oval Office centerpiece in the New York Post.

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CBC News Interview: Now Victoria comes to TV: Why Queens are ‘dramatic dynamite’

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

The ITV series Victoria premieres on PBS on January 15 at 9pm ET. My interview with CBC.ca discusses Queen Victoria, the Netflix series The Crown and why the Stuart queens Mary II and Anne would be ideal candidates for a dramatic treatment of this kind.

Click here to read “Now Victoria comes to TV: Why Queens are ‘dramatic dynamite'”

For more information about Queen Victoria, click here to read my article about Queen Victoria and Canada in the Queen’s Alumni Review and my profile of Queen Victoria in the Canadian Encyclopedia 

My forthcoming book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting includes a chapter about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and how they parented their nine children.

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Globe and Mail and Mashable Interviews about “The Crown” TV series on Netflix

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh kneeling before his wife, the Queen at her coronation in 1953 as portrayed by Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown on Netflix.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh kneeling before his wife, the Queen at her coronation in 1953 as portrayed by Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown on Netflix.

In the past few weeks, I have had a couple more interviews published about the portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth II in season 1 of “The Crown” on Netflix.

I discussed the Queen’s image with Elizabeth Renzetti at the Globe and Mail. In addition to “The Crown,” Queen Elizabeth II has been the subject of numerous works of fiction from novels such as Mrs Queen Takes the Train and The Uncommon Reader to films such as The Queen and Royal Night Out  and plays such as The Audience.

One of the reasons why Elizabeth II appeals to novelists, screenwriters and playwrights is that her appearance and demeanor is known to the world but as an impartial constitutional monarch, she is expected to remain above politics. Fictional portrayals of the Queen are opportunities to speculate about what she is really thinking when performs public engagements or meets with her Prime Ministers.

One of the key themes in “The Crown” is conflict between the young Queen Elizabeth II’s position as sovereign and the prevailing gender roles in Britain in the 1950s. I discussed how “‘The Crown’ is a low-key guide to outfoxing the men in your way” with Rachel Thompson of Masahable.com. Although women over 30 had been able to vote in Britain since 1918 and all adult women received the franchise in 1928, there were few female members of parliament in the 1950s and a female Prime Minister would not be elected anywhere in the world until Sirimavo Bandaranaike became Head of Government in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1960.

In “The Crown,” the Queen has to negotiate a role for her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and insist that her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, treat her according to her position as sovereign rather than her age and gender. She also reflects on her education, which included a thorough grounding in the constitution from the Provost of Eton College but paid little attention to subjects considered unimportant for women of her social background at the time such as mathematics or science.

Season 2 of the Crown is expected to be released in November 2017.

Click here to read “Despite attempts to decipher her, Queen Elizabeth II remains a mystery”  in the Globe and Mail.

Click here to read “‘The Crown’ is a low-key guide to outfoxing the men in your way” at Mashable.com

 

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Mashable Interview: How accurate is Netflix’s ‘The Crown’?

Claire Foy and Matt Smith as the Queen and Prince Philip in the  Netflix series, The Crown

Claire Foy and Matt Smith as the Queen and Prince Philip in the Netflix series, The Crown

I have been enjoying watching The Crown series on Netflix, which dramatizes the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. I have been posting comments about the major themes and historical events in each episode on twitter @royalhistorian .

I also discussed the first four episodes of The Crown with Rachel Thompson for her article on Mashable.com, How accurate is Netflix’s ‘The Crown’? My interview covered portrayals of King George VI’s temperment, Prince Philip’s adjustment to life as the Queen’s consort and the Duke of Windsor’s place in the royal family.

Click here to read the interview with Rachel Thompson at Mashable.com

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Friday Royal Read: Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner

Edward II and Richard III, who will be laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, have made a similar journey through popular culture. In both cases, the story of a flawed monarch who lost his throne to an invading force inspired an Elizabethan playwright. Both Richard III by William Shakespeare and  Edward II by Christopher Marlowe created a received wisdom about their title characters that was accepted by the public for centuries. Shakespeare’s Richard III was a hunchbacked villain who ruthlessly eliminated his family members and died offering his kingdom for a horse. Marlowe’s Edward II was foolish, dominated by his male “minions,” and met a gruesome end by being disemboweled with a red hot poker.

In the 20th century, popular perceptions of Richard III and Edward II diverged. The founding of the Richard III society in 1924 began the process of reevaluating Richard III’s reputation and Shakespeare’s portrayal has been thoroughly critiqued. The discovery of Richard III’s remains revived popular interest in the king’s reputation and there is now a range of more sympathetic portrayals of Richard in historical fiction and popular biography alike. In contrast, Marlowe’s portrayal of Edward II has become even more accepted and entrenched in popular culture. For example, the 1995 Oscar winning film Braveheart, portrayed the future Edward II as frivolous, focused entirely on his male favourites and easily cuckolded by his estranged wife.

In the foreward to Kathryn Warner’s book, Edward II: The Unconventional King, historian Ian Mortimer observes that there is an “Edward II routine” accepted by the public and numerous historians. Warner, one of the foremost experts on Edward II, scrutinizes the accepted narrative of Edward II’s life and death, finding the complex historical figure behind the Elizabethan legend.

Warner demonstrates that while Edward II rarely an effective monarch, especially compared to his father, Edward I, and son, Edward III, he was a much more complicated figure than his depiction in popular culture. The strongest sections of the book are Warner’s thoughtful revaluation of Edward II’s marriage to Isabelle of France. The match began badly with Edward ignoring his 12 year old wife to socialize with his favourite, Piers Gaveston, during the wedding celebrations, and ended badly with Isabelle overthrowing her husband with the help of her own favourite, Roger Mortimer. During the intervening years, however, Warner reveals an effective working relationship between the king and queen with evidence that they cared for each others’ welfare. The existence of four children, all of whom were clearly fathered by Edward, is clear evidence that the royal couple were not estranged for their entire marriage as they are in Marlowe’s play.

I was not convinced by the final chapter of Edward II: The Unconventional King on Edward II’s possible life in exile after his presumed death in 1327. While accounts of Edward II’s death by red hot poker are as fictionalized as Richard III offering his kingdom for a horse at the Battle of Bosworth field, the possibility that Edward II managed to fake his own death and live out his life in obscurity seems unlikely. Edward II did not simply disappear in the manner of Richard III’s nephews, the Princes in the Tower, but had a funeral in Gloucester Abbey attended by dozens of people close to him. The existence of circumstantial evidence for Edward II’s survival, however, reveals that there remain unanswered questions about this controversial king. Like Richard III, Edward II continues to be a historical enigma with a contested reputation.

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

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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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New book chapter “King John and Magna Carta in Popular Culture” in Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor

I have contributed a chapter to Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor, edited by Randy J. Holland, the book that complements the Magna Carta Muse and Mentor exhibition at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. My chapter, “King John and Magna Carta in Popular Culture” examines the cultural impact of the famous charter and the king who reluctantly accepted it in 1215. Princess Anne will be attending the gala opening of Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor at the Library of Congress during her visit to Washington on November 6.

Click here to purchase Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor on Amazon.com

Click here to view the Table of Contents for Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor.

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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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My Thoughts on Diana: A Film by Oliver Hirschbiegel

diana_ver3 The 2013 film Diana begins the evening that Diana, Princess of Wales died in a Paris car accident. Diana, played by Naomi Watt,s is walking around her hotel suite alone. Over the course of the film, which covers incidents from the last two years of the Princess’s life, she is often shown on her own. She goes jogging on the Kensington Palace grounds, drives around London in her butler’s car, rehearses her BBC interview in front of the mirror and makes a few attempts at cooking/reheating dinner in the palace kitchen.

There’s a element of truth to this approach. In his book, On Royalty, journalist Jeremy Paxman described being invited to lunch at Kensington Palace by Diana the year before her death. Paxman concluded, “She just wanted someone to talk to, and, unlike other lonely people, was in the happy position of being able  to invite anyone she liked and being reasonably confident that they would turn up.” In the film, a lonely Diana invites London heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan, played by Naveen Andrews, over to the palace  and a two year affair ensues.

The problem with the screenwriter’s decision to focus on Diana’s lonely life behind closed doors is that the film provides little sense of why she became an iconic figure who enthralled the public worldwide. Throughout the film, Diana attracts admiring crowds and is pursued by paparazzi but there is little sense of why she “the most famous woman in the world” as Khan frequently observes onscreen. The Princess attends a single charitable event in the first half of the film and her gift for connecting with people of all backgrounds receives little attention until the months immediately before her death. By that time in the film, her activism on behalf of land mine victims and compassion for bereaved mothers appears to be a response to her love and admiration for Dr. Khan rather than her innate empathy for the less fortunate.

The affair with Khan so dominates the film that there is little sense of the person Diana was before they met. Although there are allusions to her parents’ divorce, her love for her sons and her own failed marriage, she seems curiously incomplete before beginning of the affair. Despite the actual Diana’s years of charity work on behalf of AIDS victims, the fictional Diana has difficulty finding her way around a hospital and goes “snooping” to learn more about how she help patients in need. She tells Khan that her royal duties have resulted in her knowing a little bit about every subject but there is little evidence of this knowledge in her actions. Diana’s bodyguards and the paparazzi come and go in the film. Neither are onscreen when her relationship with Khan breaks down and the film portrays Diana shouting “Ha-a-a-sna-a-t” in front of his apartment in the middle of the night.

Apart from a brief last meeting with William and Harry before going on vacation with Dodi Al Fayed, members of the royal family do not appear onscreen and are rarely mentioned. Unfortunately, the script perpetuates the historical Diana’s own view that “the palace” was conspiring against her. The fictional Diana complains that the royal family is keeping her from her sons, only allowing her to see them every fifth week. While laws dating from the reign of King George I dictated that the Queen had custody of her grandchildren, William and Harry actually spent equal time with each parent after the marriage ended. It was not the royal family but the boarding school education of the two princes that limited Diana’s time with her sons.

The makers of Diana missed an opportunity to explore why millions believed that they had suffered a personal loss when the Princess of Wales died in 1997. The film is so focused on her affair with Khan that all other aspects of her life including her charity work, motherhood and relationship with the royal family do not receive the attention they deserve. The stilted script with lines like, “I am a heart surgeon, you are the most famous woman in the world” provide few clues about how Diana really behaved behind closed doors. With talented actors such as Watts and Andrews, Diana should have been a much stronger film.

 

 

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