Category Archives: The Monarchy in Canada

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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CBC Interview: Royal visit: Princess Anne’s Ottawa tour will honour ‘everyday heroes’

Princess Anne
Princess Anne

Princess Anne will pay an official visit to Ottawa on November 10 and 11 to mark Remembrance Day. I discussed the history and significance of Princess Anne’s visits to Canada with Janet Davision of

Click here to read “Royal visit: Princess Anne’s Ottawa tour will honour ‘everyday heroes'” at 

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What’s in store for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s second child? A short history of “the spare.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George

Clarence House announced today that “Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child. The Queen and members of both families are delighted with the news.” The announcement follows months of speculation concerning William and Catherine’s plans to expand their family. Various media outlets have already dubbed the forthcoming royal baby, “the spare” after Consuelo Vanderbuilt’s famous phrase “the heir and the spare,” coined to describe her two sons, born in her loveless first marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

Portrait Consuelo Vanderbuilt, Duchess of Marlborigh with her husband and two sons, whom she dubbed, "the heir and the spare."
Portrait Consuelo Vanderbuilt, Duchess of Marlborough with her husband and two sons, whom she dubbed, “the heir and the spare.”

The designation, “spare” suggests that a second royal child, or second son prior the current succession reforms, always exists in the shadow of his or her elder sibling, experiencing constant comparisons to “the heir.” For the past three generations, “the spare” has presented in the media as the fun loving sibling, a royal rebel eager to challenge the boundaries of court protocol. Before the present reign, however, there was a strong change “the spare” would become a sovereign and have as many responsibilities as “the heir.”

When photographs of Prince Harry playing strip billiards in Las Vegas were leaked to the press in 2012, his partying was compared to his elder brother William’s work as a Search and Rescue pilot in Wales. William performed rescues the same week as Harry’s Las Vegas trip, emphasizing the apparent contrast between a responsible, dutiful “heir” and a carefree, thoughtless, “spare.”

Harry’s public image initially improved when served a subsequent active tour of duty in Afghanistan but when he spoke frankly of the need to “take a life to save a life,” the press compared his outspokenness to William’s more guarded approach to the media. Harry will be thirty next week and continues to attract speculation regarding his future role in the royal family.  He has received praise for his successful charitable endeavors and overseas tours His past girlfriends, most notably Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, have been the focus of intense media attention. With the arrival of William and Catherine’s second child, he will be fifth in line to the throne.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at The 2011 Sun Military Awards at Imperial War Museum in London.  (Photo by Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at The 2011 Sun Military Awards at Imperial War Museum in London. (Photo by Arthur Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Both the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, and her late younger sister, Princess Margaret were judged unfavorably by the public in comparison to their elder siblings. While Prince Charles and Princess Anne are praised for their charity work, their younger brother Andrew has been dubbed “Air Miles Andy” for his extensive travels during his time as a British trade envoy.  When Andrew was Harry’s age, he had a similar reputation to the current “spare.” Like Harry, Andrew was praised for his military service but his relationships attracted press attention, earning him another nickname, “Randy Andy.”

In 1952, Princess Margaret appeared carefree compared to her dutiful elder sister, the new Queen, but her status as “the spare” did not allow her freedom from the royal conventions of the time. In 1955, Margaret ended her relationship with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend, stating, “Mindful of the Church’s teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others.” Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a society photographer, in 1960, and became a divorceé herself in 1978. Revelations regarding Margaret’s extramarital affairs and spending attracted considerable negative attention and there were calls from UK Labour MPs for her to be removed from the Civil List.

King George VI, the most recent second son to become King
King George VI, the most recent second son to become King

The experiences of Harry, Andrew and Margaret suggest that William and Catherine’s second child will face a lifetime of comparisons to older brother Prince George and a struggle to balance personal fulfillment with expected royal duties. This pattern, however, is a comparatively recent one. Prior to the present Queen’s reign, there was a strong chance that “the spare” would become the sovereign. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles I, Anne, George V and George VI were all second sons or second daughters who unexpectedly became Kings and Queens. (When the future George V became a direct heir in 1892, his “spare” was his sister Louise, Duchess of Fife, the most recent brother/sister “heir and spare.”) Royal “spares” with living elder siblings sometimes found opportunities to rule outside Britain. Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, became Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. King John’s second son, Richard, was elected ruler of Germany “King of the Romans” in 1256. The life of “the spare” contained as much responsibility as the life of “the heir.”

The popular perception that the “spare” has fun while “the heir” performs extensive royal duties is a recent one, dating from the present reign. The 2012 Diamond Jubilee Thames river pageant emphasized the direct royal line – the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – rather than the extended royal family. In a streamlined royal family that precludes extensive engagements for royal cousins, William and Catherine’s second child may one day face a busy schedule of royal engagements with little time to act as the fun loving counterpart to a dutiful older sibling.


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Royal Travelogue 3: The Royal Yacht Britannia’s Last Harbour

“The yacht was now permanently beside a quay in Leith, outside Edinburgh. Tourist attraction. Such a pity, really. She loved that ship. She’d fly out to the Caribbean, meet some governors, tour the hospital wards, look at the new sewers, and then they could all retire to Britannia for a few days, having justified the expense of sailing her out by holding some official dinners on board. How lovely, she looked, white and buff and blue, rising out of the haze on a hot afternoon. And when she became too old, too expensive to run, well the Government absolutely refused to build another yacht.” – From the novel, Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

IMG_2329The Queen’s former yacht, Britannia, decommissioned in 1997, is not only a tourist attraction today but was voted a top tourist attraction in the United Kingdom by Trip Advisor, receiving 300,000 visitors per year. The Britannia’s last harbour cannot be described as majestic. The ship is docked behind the Ocean Terminal shopping mall in Leith, accessible via escalator to the second floor and a walk through the mall food court. The view from the bridge is of a cruise ship docked in the harbour and the shuttle buses on the pier to transport the passengers into Edinburgh.

Royal Family on the YachtThere are complimentary audio tours, an onboard tea room and an exit through a gift shop selling Britannia t-shirts. Families from around the world arrive by the double decker bus load from the Royal Mile, allowing their children to take their turn at the helm. Parties of cruise ship passengers make their way around the pier, clutching the enormous umbrellas from their staterooms, emblazoned with name of their cruise line. When wind and rain make the journey into Edinburgh  uninviting, they visit the Britannia.

The Queen's drawing room aboard Britannia
The Queen’s drawing room aboard Britannia

Inside Britannia’s royal apartments, the modern world is forgotten. The Queen launched the ship in 1953 and the interiors reflect the aesthetic of the early decades of her reign. In the state drawing room, where the Queen entertained foreign dignitaries in port and gathered with her family at sea, there is a set of furniture that was a gift from the Swedish royal family in 1956. The Queen personally selected the chintz sofa and armchair covers. Off duty, the royal family gathered here to play cards and board games and Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra and Princess Diana all took their turn at the piano. The state dining room seated thirty two people with extra tables available from the previous royal yacht, Victoria and Albert III, for especially large banquets.

The Queen's bedroom
The Queen’s bedroom

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh occupied simple private cabins on the Britannia, two adjoining bedrooms on the starboard side with twin beds. The Queen preferred floral decoration while Prince Philip favoured dark timber furniture and requested pillows that did not have lace borders. The bedrooms across the hall were originally occupied by Prince Charles and Princess Anne as children but when Charles and Diana spent their honeymoon onboard the Britannia, his former bedroom was transformed into a honeymoon suite, complete with the yacht’s only double bed.

Gift from the people of Pitcairn Island in 1971 signed by all adult islanders
Gift from the people of Pitcairn Island in 1971 signed by all adult islanders

The focus of the exhibition is the role Britannia played in the past but there are hints of how the absence of a royal yacht affects the Queen’s royal engagements in the present. The gifts from the Commonwealth nations that now adorn the walls of the dining room reveal how a royal yacht helped the Queen engaged with a worldwide maritime family of nations. The sixteen Commonwealth realms where the Queen is Head of State all have maritime traditions. The yacht allowed the Queen to visit her Pacific and Caribbean realms more frequently, stopping at several islands in a single tour.

Narwhal tusk presented to the Queen by Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Frobisher Bay, 1970
Narwhal tusk presented to the Queen by Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Frobisher Bay, 1970

When the Queen decommissioned the Britannia, she observed, “Looking back over forty-four years we can all reflect with pride and gratitude upon this great ship which has served the country, the Royal Navy and my family with such distinction. Britannia has provided magnificent support to us throughout this time, playing such an important role in the history of the second half of the century.” There is still a case to be made for the importance of a royal yacht to a global Commonwealth.


Next: The Palace of HolyroodHouse in Edinburgh

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Magna Carta and the Development of Parliament

Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester
Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester

My latest article on the Magna Carta 2015 Canada website discusses the impact of Magna Carta on the development of parliament. A generation after King John affixed his seal to Magna Carta in 1215, his son, Henry III and son-in-law, Simon de Montfort fought over the Great Charter’s legacy. Like his father, Henry III was inclined to disregard Magna Carta when it conflicted his personal interests but Montfort sought to impose checks and balances on the King that would ensure the rights codified by the Charter. By drafting the Provisions of Oxford in 1258 and expanding parliamentary representation to include townspeople, Montfort became a father of representative government with a legacy that continues to the present day.

Click here to read “Magna Carta and the Development of Parliament” at Magna Carta Canada

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Interviews: Prince George of Cambridge’s 1st Birthday

Prince George is one year old today. In his first year, the royal baby has already had a profound impact on how the public views the monarchy. I’ve discussed George’s first year with a number of journalists in the past week. Here are the interviews:

Click here to read “Happy birthday, Prince George — the baby who rescued the monarchy” at

Click here to read “Prince George turns 1: ‘Republican slayer’ PR gold for Royal Family” at

Click here to read “Tiny Prince George has Big Impact on the Royal Family” at The Toronto Sun

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How Prince George Has Transformed the Royal Family

Prince George of Cambridge at his christening on October 23, 2013. Photo Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire/Press Association via AP Images
Prince George of Cambridge at his christening on October 23, 2013. Photo Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire/Press Association via AP Images

Prince George of Cambridge, son of William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and third in line to the United Kingdom and Commonwealth thrones will celebrate his first birthday on July 22.

Prince George of Cambridge has had a profound effect on public perceptions of the monarchy during his first year. The senior members of the royal family have all received media coverage based on their relationship to the infant prince. Queen Elizabeth II, who is now the great-grandmother of four, is in a similar position to Queen Victoria after the birth of the future King Edward VIII in 1894: a respected elder stateswoman with three generations of direct heirs.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

Recent coverage of the Prince of Wales emphasizes his role as a doting grandfather. During his overseas tours over the past year, he has received numerous gifts for George. In Sri Lanka, in November 2013, Charles visited a tea plantation on the 1,000 acre Labookellie estate, receiving a two silver plated tea caddies, one for himself and one for his grandson. In Canada, in May 2014, Charles received a miniature leather flying jacket with a fur-lined collar from the Stevenson Air Hangar in Winnipeg.

Charles has incorporated his new role as a grandfather into his environmental activism. In a speech delivered in Charlottetown during his recent Canadian tour, Charles stated, “In other words, the health of nature’s life support systems, which are now under such threat, has a direct bearing upon the health and well-being of people…“I have long tried to draw attention to this connection but it has come into even sharper focus now that I am a grandfather.” The Duchess of Cornwall was already the grandmother of five at the time of George’s birth, including William and Catherine’s bridesmaid, Eliza Lopes, but the arrival of Charles’s first grandchild has focused public attention on her warm rapport with young children.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrating Canada Day in Ottawa in 2011
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrating Canada Day in Ottawa in 2011

For William and Catherine, the arrival of their son has focused public scrutiny on their parenting decisions. From the time of George’s birth last year, it has been clear that the royal couple are determined to make their own decisions regarding their son’s upbringing. William drove Catherine and George home from the hospital himself. The new parents spent months in comparative seclusion after the birth, spending time with their baby at  Balmoral Castle and the Middleton family home in Berkshire.

In April 2014, George contributed to the success of William and Catherine’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. While William also traveled with his parents to the same countries as an infant, the 2014 itinerary included engagements specifically designed to showcase George. His public appearances, including visits to a Wellington play group and Sydney zoo were the most anticipated stops on the tour. In Australia, George was nicknamed “the republican slayer” because of the surge in the royal family’s popularity during the tour, just fifteen years after the Australian referendum on the future of the monarchy.

Princess Anne
Princess Anne

The Prince George effect is not confined to the royal baby’s parents, grandfather and great-grandparents. Other members of royal family have also received press coverage based on their relationship with George. Prince Harry’s rapport with children has received extensive attention and there is speculation that he is “desperate” to marry and start a family of his own. Although Princess Anne stated the day after George’s birth that his arrival had “Nothing to do with me, but it’s very good news,” her October 2013 visit to Canada received media attention as a tour by the royal baby’s great-aunt that took place at the same time as his christening. Reports on the christening of Maud Windsor, granddaughter of the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, emphasized that she would be the first to wear the replica Victorian christening gown after George.

In the past year, the arrival of Prince George has changed how the public in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth view the entire royal family. As great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles or cousins of the world’s most famous baby, all the members of the royal family have become the focus of increased popular interest. As George approaches his 1st birthday, he continues to transform how the public connects to the monarchy.


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Interview on Royal Finances: “Two-kitchen Kate’ stirs royal spending ruckus”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and family dog Lupo in the window of their apartment at Kensington Palace.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and family dog Lupo at Kensington Palace.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s finances have become the focus of public scrutiny in recent months. The extensive renovations to their apartment in Kensington Palace and erroneous reports that Prince William received a helicopter for his 32nd birthday prompted criticism of the usually popular royal couple. I discussed William, Kate and Royal Finances with Janet Davison at

Click here to read “‘Two-kitchen Kate’ stirs royal spending ruckus” at

For more of my thoughts on royal finances see the recent article I wrote for the Ottawa Citizen, “The Truth About Royal Spending” and the 2013 article I wrote for Bloomberg View, “How Big an Inheritance Awaits Kate and William’s Baby”


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Friday Royal Read: John Buchan: Model Governor General by J. William Galbraith

John Buchan was a Scottish journalist, novelist and Member of Parliament. He is most famous for writing the thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which inspired a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film. Lord Tweedsmuir was Canada’s fifteenth Governor General since Confederation and the first to be appointed after the 1931 Statute of Westminster granted Canada and the other Dominions legislative equality with the United Kingdom. Tweedsmuir’s five year tenure as Governor General from 1935 to 1940 encompassed key events in Canada’s history including the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936, the 1939 tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the outbreak of the Second World War.

There are many who are unaware that Buchan and Tweedsmuir were the same person and that his time in office served as a model for subsequent Governors General. The monarch’s representatives in Canada prior to the Second World War are sometimes treated as interchangeable British political figures despite their distinct approaches to the office. In John Buchan: Model Governor General, J William Galbraith, council member of the John Buchan society, analyzes Buchan’s profound impact on Canadian history and lasting influence on the office of Governor General in Canada.

Galbraith’s study of Buchan’s tenure as Governor General provides reveals Canada’s role behind the scenes of key royal events of the late 1930s. The Abdication Crisis of 1936 had an international dimension as there was evidence that the Dominions would not accept the twice divorced Wallis Simpson as Edward VIII’s consort and queen. As Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII was an extremely popular figure in Canada and owned a ranch in Alberta. Buchan interpreted Canadian popular opinion for Edward VIII’s private secretary though he stated it would be, “improper for me to have any view.” Buchan also played a key role in the organization of the 1939 royal tour though he appeared to fade into the background when George VI and Queen Elizabeth were on Canadian soil.

In contrast to past narrative biographies of Buchan, Galbraith focuses almost exclusively on the Canada years and adopts a thematic approach to his five years in office. This structure highlights key aspects of Buchan’s time as Governor General such as his patronage of the arts and extensive travels across Canada. In a few instances, however, the thematic chapters fragment contiguous historical events. For example, there is entire chapter devoted to George VI’s and Queen Elizabeth’s 1939 tour of Canada but their subsequent visit to the United States is covered in a subsequent chapter about Buchan’s role as an intermediary between Great Britain and America. The close focus on Buchan also means that readers must look elsewhere for detailed biographical information on the key figures who influenced Buchan and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, such as political power broker Violet Markham.

John Buchan: Model Governor General restores Buchan to his rightful place in Canadian history. In the foreword,  Canada’s current Governor General, His Excellent the Right Honourable David Johnston states, “John Buchan quietly established a new model for the position of Governor General. His considerable impact on Canada has not been fully recognized.” Galbraith’s book reveal’s the full extent of Buchan’s political and cultural influence on Canada.

Next Friday Royal Read: Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts by James Anderson Winn

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My articles on Magna Carta and The Charter of the Forest in the Canadian Encyclopedia

My latest contributions to the Canadian Encyclopedia are “Magna Carta” and “The Charter of the Forest.” The articles discuss the creation of the two Charters and the lasting historical and legal significance throughout the English speaking world, including Canada.

Click here to read “Magna Carta” in the Canadian Encyclopedia 

Click here to read “The Charter of the Forest” in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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