On April 29, 2013, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrated their second anniversary. While the royal couple were almost universally praised during their first year of marriage, Catherine has been the target of criticism during the past year despite the happy news that the royal couple’s first child will arrive in July. Recent critiques and invasions of the couple’s privacy suggest that William and Catherine are still negotiating their relationship with the press.
My article in today’s Kingston Whig-Standard, “All Eyes on the New King” discusses the challenges facing the new King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who succeeded his mother, Queen Beatrix upon her abdication today. While the House of Orange-Nassau enjoyed near universal popularity during the Second World War, as a symbol of Dutch resistance and independence, there are now concerns that the royal family has become the most expensive in Europe and is more popular with older generations. It will be up to King Willem-Alexander, the first of Europe’s current generation of heirs to ascend to the throne to demonstrate the importance of the Dutch monarchy in the 21st century.
I will also be discussing the Dutch monarchy on CJAD 800 AM radio Montreal on April 30 at 1:30pm
My article in today’s Toronto Sun discusses the long relationship between Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the City of Toronto.
Queen Elizabeth II’s consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, arrived in Toronto today, (April 26, 2013). The Duke of Edinburgh was named a Companion of the Order of Canada and will be presenting new colours to the 3rd Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment tomorrow, (April 27, 2013) I will be discussing the royal visit on CBC’s The National the evening of April 27.
Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 87th birthday today, April 21, 2013. The Queen is spending the day privately with her family at Windsor Castle. Tomorrow, the Queen’s birthday will be marked by the traditional 41-gun salute from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at noon tomorrow in London’s Green Park. The comparatively modest celebrations in honour of the Queen’s actual birthday contrast with the fireworks, parades and public holidays that accompany the sovereign’s official birthday, which takes place on various dates in different regions of the Commonwealth. The celebration of a monarch’s official birthday on a different date that the actual birthday dates from 1748 when the annual Spring Trooping the Colour became a celebration of the monarch as well as the military.
The earliest versions of the Trooping the Colour parade date from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. At this event, regiments displayed their flags enabling all soldiers to recognize their regimental colours for use as a rallying point in battle. While the Trooping the Colour parade usually occurred during the warmer months of the year, the sovereign’s actual birthday varied, sometimes taking place at times that were less suitable for outdoor public celebrations. When the War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1748, the British Government decided to combine the celebration of the sovereign’s official birthday with the Trooping the Colour Parade.
The King at the time, George II, had led the troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 and was closely associated in the popular imagination with his role as Commander-in-Chief. The parade took place again with the ascension of King George III in 1760 and became an annual tradition with the ascension of George IV in 1820.
In 1901, King Edward VII, whose actual birthday was November 9, decreed that the Trooping the Colour should always take place in June, when the weather was more likely to be appropriate for an outdoor parade. Edward VII was also the first monarch to personally review the troops during the Trooping the Colour, attracting large crowds eager to see the sovereign parade down the Mall from Buckingham Palace after the decades of seclusion observed by the King’s mother, Queen Victoria.
The commonwealth nations have their own royal birthday traditions that often occur on different dates from both the sovereign’s actual birthday and the official celebrations in the United Kingdom. While the Trooping the Colour parade does not occur on a public holiday in the United Kingdom, a number of commonwealth nations observe the monarch’s birthday with a statutory holiday.
In 1845, the parliament of the Province of Canada declared Queen Victoria’s birthday, May 24, a public holiday. On the Queen’s 35th birthday in 1854, 5,000 residents of Canada West (now the province of Ontario) gathered outside Government House, (near King and Simcoe streets in modern day Toronto) to raise three cheers for Queen Victoria. After confederation in 1867, Victoria Day celebrations expanded to encompass picnics, fireworks, athletic events and torchlight parades. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, the Monday before May 24 remained a public holiday to honour the late sovereign for her role in Canada’s confederation. Victoria Day became Canada’s celebration of the reigning monarch’s official birthday with the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.
In Australia, the monarch’s birthday has been a public holiday since 1788. Australian celebrations took place on the monarch’s actual birthday until the death of King George V when all Australian provinces but one agreed to celebrate on the second Monday in June each year. The province of Western Australia is the exception, celebrating the Queen’s birthday on either the last weekend of September or the first weekend of October to avoid conflict with Western Australia day in June. Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands celebrate the Queen’s birthday at the same time as most of Australia while New Zealand observes the occasion on the first Monday in June.
Changes to the observance of the sovereign’s birthday have been a source of controversy. When Fiji became a Republic in 1987, following a military coup d’etat, the new government bowed to popular opinion and retained the Queen’s birthday as a public holiday. In 2012, the military government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama abolished this occasion. Labour ministry spokesman Jone Usamate explained the unpopular decision to remove a public holiday, stating, “The Queen’s birthday’s importance disappeared from Fiji when we became a republic and now our status is an independent nation. There is a focus on more productivity and growth, so as a result the decision was made to cut down on the number of holidays in Fiji, as holidays can be a burden on business and government.”
In Bermuda, the Progressive Labour Party government announced plans in 2008 to eliminate the June Queen’s Birthday holiday and replace it with a National Heroes’ Day in October. The decision resulted in 2,000 of Bermuda’s 65,000 residents signing an online petition to save the public holiday. “Clearly, the removal of our sovereign’s birthday as a public holiday is inexcusable,” stated petition creator Cameron Hollis, calling the decision “a blatant insult to Her Majesty.” Despite the protests, the Queen’s birthday was abolished as a public holiday in Bermuda in 2009.
The Queen’s actual birthday is today, April 21, but celebration of her official birthday varies across the Commonwealth. While the Trooping the Colour does not occur on a public holiday in the United Kingdom, the monarch’s official birthday is a statutory holiday in many commonwealth nations. Attempts to change the status of the Queen’s birthday in British overseas territories, such as Bermuda, or former commonwealth realms, such as Fiji, have sparked controversy as the holiday honouring the monarch is popular in numerous regions of the world.
My article in today’s edition of Bloomberg Echoes, the Bloomberg News economic history blog, discusses the role of the South Sea Bubble of 1720 in the creation of the modern constitutional monarchy. King George I’s mistress, Melusine von der Schulenberg and half sister Sophia Charlotte von Platen were both received shares from the South Sea Company, circumstances that prevented the King from assuming a leadership role in the financial collapse that followed the Bubble. Instead, Robert Walpole, the First Lord of the Treasury assumed the role of “Prime Minister” to resolve the crisis, setting a precedent for the modern constitutional monarchy.
I will be participating in a Postmedia online chat about the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy and other significant royal news items from 2013 tomorrow (March 19) at 2pm EST. Click here March 19 at 2pm to follow the discussion at canada.com
On May 20, 1802, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte reinstated slavery in the French Empire. Following the French Revolution, the National Convention abolished slavery in all French territories in 1794. When Napoleon and his fellow consuls came to power in 1799, they swore to uphold revolutionary ideals including abolitionism, stating in a proclamation to the people of Sainte-Domingue (Modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic), “The Consuls declare that the sacred principles of the liberty and equality of the black peoples will never undergo any threat or modification among you . . .if there are any who maintain relations with the enemy powers, remember brave blacks, that the French people alone recognize your freedom and the equality of your rights.”
Just three years later, following the 1802 Treaty of Amiens between France and Great Britain, Napoleon abruptly changed his public stance regarding abolitionism. He justified the reinstatement of slavery by stating, “How could I grant freedom to Africans, to utterly uncivilized men who did not even know what a colony was, what France was?” Napoleon’s decision to reverse the French Revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity was undoubtedly influenced by his desire to revive the lucrative Caribbean sugar trade and solidify his political authority in addition to his own prejudices.
Napoleon’s contemporaries, however, blamed the influence of his wife, Josephine. Like Napoleon, who was raised on the island of Corsica, Josephine grew up outside mainstream French society as the daughter of slave owning sugar planters on the Caribbean island of Martinique. She recognized that Napoleon sought the support of wealthy planters on the island, which he had recently regained from the British.
Josephine wrote to her mother, Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois, in 1803, “Bonaparte is very attached to Martinique and is counting on the support of planters of that colony; he will use all means possible to preserve their position.” While Martinique and Guadeloupe remained French possessions, Saint-Domingue declared independence as the Republic of Haiti in 1804, preserving the freedom of the previously enslaved population of this island. As the most prominent representative of Martinique’s planter aristocracy in French society, Josephine was scrutinized for her influence on Napoleon’s policies toward the French Caribbean.
Josephine was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie in Trois-Ilets, Martinique in 1763. She was known as Rose until her marriage to Napoleon in 1796. Her mother, Rose-Claire, was the daughter of an established planter family that had owned land in Martinique for generations. In contrast, her father Joseph Gaspard Tascher de La Pagerie, was an impecunious member of the French nobility who traveled to the island to make his fortune.
Martinique had a reputation as the jewel of the French Caribbean. In 1732, Captain Robert Durand of the slave ship, The Diligent, wrote, “Martinique is the American Island that carries the most beautiful commerce as judged by the large number of vessels that always abound here and by the fertility of its land, which produces beautiful sugar, cotton, coffee etc. This island furnishes all the other windward isles of America and gives them an outlet for all they produce.”
Despite the island’s overall prosperity, Josephine’s parents struggled to turn a profit on their sugar plantation. All the buildings on their estate except for the stone sugar refinery were destroyed by a hurricane in 1766 and Joseph’s lack of business experience slowed the family’s efforts to rebuild. Despite her parents’ precarious finances, Josephine and her two younger sisters, Catherine and Manette had a happy childhood. As Empress, Josephine recalled, “I ran, I jumped, I danced, from morning to night; no one restrained the wild movements of my childhood.”
Before emigrating to Martinique, Joseph had been a page at the court of King Louis XV and Josephine was eager to see France. She had her chance in 1779 when her Aunt Desiree requested that Joseph send one of his daughters to France to become the wife of Alexandre de Beauharnais, the son of her lover, Francois, Vicomte de Beauharnais. Fifteen year old Josephine fell in love with both Parisian society and her betrothed.
According to Josephine’s biographer, Andrea Stuart, “Alexandre was exactly the sort of young man that [Josephine] and her school friends had fantasized about back at the convent. He was a type that was regarded as exceptionally attractive during the period. Not particularly tall, he was nonetheless “handsomely built” with wide-set, intense blue eyes, a long curved nose and full lips. His hair, meticulously coiffed and powdered, was pulled back into a neat bow at the nape. In an age when the most romantic of all occupations was the army, he was a soldier. His natural assets were heightened by his captain’s uniform: white with silver grey buttons and facings. Most impressive of all was his manner. At nineteen, Alexandre was already an impressively worldly young man, supremely confident and supernaturally elegant . . .”
Despite Josephine’s instant attraction to Alexandre, her marriage was unhappy. Alexandre was disappointed that his bride’s family was not wealthy, as he had been led to believe. He was also critical of Josephine’s limited education and lack of experience with fashionable society. The birth of their son Eugene in 1781 and daughter Hortense in 1783 did not improve the couple’s relationship. After visiting Martinique to ascertain the extent of her family’s assets, Alexandre obtained a legal separation from his wife in 1785. Following a brief career as a general and political figure during the French Revolution, Alexandre was guillotined in 1794, at the height of the Terror, leaving Josephine a widow.
By the time Josephine met Napoleon in 1795, she was no longer an outsider to French society. Her connections with France’s political elite contributed to Napoleon’s rise to power as French consul. Modern historians have discovered little evidence that Josephine actively encouraged Napoleon reinstate slavery but the fact that her mother still presided over a Martinique sugar plantation in the 1790s fuelled the popular perception that she dictated the consul’s policies in the French Caribbean. Napoleon became Emperor in 1804 and crowned Josephine his Empress at his coronation but the couple divorced in 1810 because she did not have any more children. Napoleon lost his throne in 1815 but slavery would not re-abolished in the French Caribbean until 1848.
The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephineby Andrea Stuart
Napoleon: His Wives And Womenby Christopher Hibbert
The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds Of The Slave Tradeby Robert Harms
Next weekend: The Royal Rumours Surrounding the Wreck of the Ten Sail
Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world on February 11, 2013 when he resigned from the papacy. Although Pope John Paul II affirmed as recently as 1995 that a Pope could resign, as is permitted by canon law, every pontiff in the past 598 years has died in office. Even in Roman and Medieval times, the resignation of a Pope was an unusual event. Of the six Popes who resigned between 235 and 1415, one was too saintly for Vatican power politics, one was so sinful that he was paid to leave and the others were surplus Popes, asked to leave office because another candidate had been found.
For the seventy-nine year old Celestine V, the papacy was a dangerously worldly office after decades of pious seclusion. As a young man, Celestine had founded a monastic order characterized by solitary prayer and self-denial. His followers were known as the Hermits of St. Diamano. When he became Pope in the summer of 1294, Celestine made mistakes quickly. He lived in Naples instead of the Vatican and was manipulated by the local ruler. Celestine also attempted to leave three cardinals in charge while he fasted in seclusion for advent.
Before the year was over, Celestine wanted nothing more than to return to life as a hermit. In his resignation letter, the departing Pope wrote that he was leaving because of “The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life.” Sadly, Celestine was denied an old age of quiet contemplation. His successor, Boniface VIII feared that his easily influenced predecessor would be set up as a rival Pope. Boniface ordered that Celestine be hunted down, dragged from his place of seclusion and imprisoned in a castle. Celestine died ten months later and was canonized in 1313.
At the other end of the spectrum, Benedict IX was such an immoral Pope that he was paid to leave the Vatican. Benedict became Pope when he was only 18 or 20 through the influence of his wealthy father Alberic III, Count of Tusculum, and immediately became a disgrace to the papacy. Bishop Benno of Piacenza accused Benedict of “many vile adulteries and murders” and one of his successors, Victor III wrote about “his rapes, murders and other unspeakable acts,” concluding, “His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.”
The Cardinals decided this sinful Pope had to leave office and the best way to get him out of the Vatican was a sizable sum of money. Benedict’s godfather bought the papacy, becoming Pope Gregory VII. Unfortunately, the sale wasn’t the last the Vatican heard from Benedict. The former Pope decided he wanted to regain the papacy and invaded Rome. It took the intervention of Holy Roman Emperor Henry III at the Council of Sutri to ensure Benedict’s permanent removal. Benedict spent the rest of his life in the Abbey of Grottaferrata. According to his abbot, he repented his misdeeds as Pope and did penance for his sins.
Four other Popes left office when the political situation abruptly changed and they found themselves redundant. St. Pontian became Pope in 230 under the enlightened rule of Roman Emperor Severus Alexander. Unlike most pagan Roman Emperors, Alexander found other religions fascinating and allowed freedom of worship. Unfortunately, his successor, Maximinus I was a ruler who executed Christians instead of debating their theology. By 235, Pontian had fled Rome, resigning his office in exile.
Pope Silverius also lost the papacy when there was a sudden change in ruler. In 536, the Ostrogoths were in charge of Rome and Silverius duly bought his elevation from King Theodahad. But the very next year, a Byzantine army was at the gates. Silverius had no choice but to abdicate in favour of Emperor Justinian’s candidate. In 1009, Pope John XVIII probably resigned for the same reason as the powerful Crescentii family found a preferable replacement.
The most recent papal resignation took place near the end Great Western Schism of 1378-1417. At this time, there were three men calling themselves the Pope. Gregory XII ruled from the Vatican, Benedict XIII had a rival court in Avignon and a third contender called himself John XXIII. Rather than choose between these three Popes, the Council of Constance decided that they should all resign so a new Pope could be elected. Gregory XII left office in these extraordinary circumstances and spent the rest of his life in peaceful obscurity.
I leave for Barcelona today and will be away for the next two weeks, delivering lectures about royalty and the Atlantic World on a trans-Atlantic cruise from Barcelona to Miami via the Canary Islands and St. Maarten. I will be offline until I return to Toronto on December 21 and will therefore be unable to approve comments, respond to e-mail or post new articles here in my absence.
There will be lots of interesting material on royalhistorian.com in 2013. I have Jane Ridley’s biography of Edward VII, Bertie: A Life of Edward VII, Justin Vovk’s study of Europe’s prominent royal consorts during the First World War, Imperial Requiem: Four Royal Women and the Fall of the Age of Empiresand David Cohen’s Bringing Them Up Royal: How the Royals Raised Their Children from 1066 to the Present Day packed for the voyage and will post my reviews in the New Year. Other royal history books on the way!
I am planning a 2013 blog series based on my cruise ship lectures about royalty in the Atlantic World so check back here for posts on such fascinating historical figures as Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Empress Josephine of France and King Edward VIII. I will also post the “royal histories” of the places of my itinerary complete with photos of any historic sites I encounter in my travels!
And, of course, I will continue to post material on the history of royal confinements and childrearing in anticipation of the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child in 2013.