The winner of the first CCCU RSJ Book Prize, Dr. Carolyn Harris, is a historian, author and royal commentator (and isn’t this a great job title) from Toronto, Canada. She completed her PhD in spring 2012 at Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada), and has been very busy since then. Her prize-winning book Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette (Palgrave Macmillan: Queenship and Power Series) is already her second published monograph, the first one being Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law and Human Rights (Dundurn Press 2015), and the third is scheduled for 2017: Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting (Dundurn Press). Besides obviously spending her days researching and writing, she also teaches at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, and is a guest lecturer for museums, libraries, universities, and educational organisations. Occasionally, she even gives lectures at sea for cruise ship enrichment programs.
We got together with Carolyn to ask more about her research.
Cathleen: Hi Carolyn! Thanks for doing this interview!
You recently won the Royal Studies Journal Book Prize, sponsored by Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) for your monograph Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette. Congratulations!
Could you first tell us a bit more about this book, especially for our readers who haven’t yet a chance to take a look inside?
Carolyn: Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe analyzes Queen Henrietta Maria, queen to King Charles I and Queen Marie Antoinette, queen to King Louis XVI in their roles as wives, mothers and heads of royal households during the years preceding the English Civil Wars and French Revolution respectively. I compare the two queens and the political cultures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The book is structured thematically, examining the contrast between how each queen viewed her domestic role and the expectations of her husband’s subjects. The final chapter compares the impeachment of Henrietta Maria by the House of Commons in 1643 with the Trial of Marie Antoinette by the Revolutionary Tribunal in 1793 then the book concludes with the lasting impact of the debates concerning each queen’s place in her family during periods of political turmoil.
Cathleen: While the comparison between Charles I and Louis XVI has often been made, their wives were usually a bit marginalized in the political history of the English and the French Revolution. How did you develop an interest in these two queens?
Carolyn: I have always been interested in the position of royal women in court culture and how these figures have been perceived by the public. My article for Canadian Slavonic Papers, The Succession Prospects of Grand Duchess Olga, examines the public role of Emperor Nicholas II’s daughters during the years prior to the Russian Revolutions of 1917. I also wrote a chapter about how Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter Princess Louise was perceived during her years as vice regal consort of Canada in the book Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy.
Examining Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette, I found the parallels between their experiences fascinating. They were both youngest daughters in large royal families where their mother’s wielded political power. As queens consort, they were judged as wives, mothers and mistresses of royal households and scrutinized as foreign influences over their respective ruling husbands. Henrietta Maria was impeached by the House of Commons during the English Civil Wars and Marie Antoinette was executed during the French Revolution after being tried and sentenced by the Revolutionary Tribunal. I wanted to explore the parallels between these two queens and how they conducted their lives in the public eye during periods when the role of women in society was debated during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Cathleen: You certainly emphasize the role of public opinion in the treatment of these queens. Could you please expand a bit more on this?
Carolyn: Criticism of the queen was a method of critiquing the king’s policies without direct criticism the king himself. Both Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette were women and foreigners and there was enormous popular anxiety about the potential for them to exert political influence. Critics of the queen could present themselves as loyal subjects who wanted to neutralize foreign influences. There was a long tradition in both England and France of critiquing advisors to the monarch and criticism of Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette became part of this tradition.
Critiquing the queen as a wife and mother was also a means for people of diverse social backgrounds including women to engage with the political process. High politics was the preserve of the elites but people of all social backgrounds could discuss the queen through their own experiences and observations of marriage and motherhood. Henrietta Maria’s critics included female writers who questioned the sincerity of harmonious imagery of the queen’s marriage and women arrested for seditious speech who spoke aloud of how they influence the king if they were the queen. Marie Antoinette was a patron of female writers and artists but women were divided in their opinions of the queen as a wife and mother. During the childless early years of her marriage, Marie Antoinette was criticized by Parisian market women because she had not given France a Dauphin. During the French Revolution, Olympe de Gouges dedicated the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen to the queen but the historian Louise de Karalio placed Marie Antoinette within a centuries long tradition of supposed crimes committed by Queens of France.
Cathleen: After having read your book, it seems quite clear that between the times of Henrietta Maria (mid-seventeenth century) and of Marie Antoinette (end of eighteenth-century) not only the role of women in society was debated, but also quite a few changes happened concerning the role of women in their families and marriages as well as a different political culture in regards to (informal) counsel at court. How does this relate to these two queens?
Carolyn: Both Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette became wives and mothers in the public eye during times periods of ideological debate concerning the role of women in their families. During Henrietta Maria’s lifetime, there was enormous concern among Protestants in England and Scotland regarding recusant wives and mothers who might influence their families toward Roman Catholicism. Henrietta Maria was a Roman Catholic princess married to a Protestant king and the terms of her marriage contract gave her both her religious freedom and authority over her children. Henrietta Maria therefore became the highest profile example of this phenomenon of recusant wives and mothers.
In late eighteenth century France, Enlightenment scholars debated the role of women within their families, especially whether the position of women arose from laws created by man or the conditions found in nature. Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that women were naturally inclined to the domestic sphere while the public sphere was a male realm. Marie Antoinette adopted certain elements of the late eighteenth century conception of natural childrearing including breast feeding and allowing her young children freedom of movement but she also expected to exert political influence in the public sphere. Marie Antoinette therefore became part of wider French debates about the proper role for women in their families and society.
Cathleen: This interest in early modern English and French queens seems quite different from your first book on the Magna Carta, especially its reception in Canada. Could you also tell a bit more about this?
Carolyn: Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette arose from my PhD research at Queen’s University. The manuscript was under development when I began working with Magna Carta Canada, writing historical articles about King John and Magna Carta for the exhibition that toured in Canada for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015. In 2014, the co-chairs of Magna Carta Canada invited me to write the companion book for the Magna Carta Canada exhibition, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada. The two book projects came together around the same time: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada was published by Dundurn Press in May 2015 and Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe was published by Palgrave Macmillan in November 2015. There is common ground between the two books: the legacy of Magna Carta informed both the English Civil Wars and the French Revolution.
Cathleen: That is true – Magna Carta had a renaissance in seventeenth-century England as well as inspiring revolutionaries from all times. Besides writing prize-winning books, you are also quite active giving lectures and interviews as well as teaching and writing – honestly: how do you manage all this? What got you started?
Carolyn: The past five years have been extremely busy. During my PhD at Queen’s University, one of my professors recommended me to the media for interviews about royal history during weeks prior to the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton in 2011. I became the university’s royal expert, undertaking a diverse range of media work in print, online, radio and TV. In 2012, the year I completed my PhD and began teaching at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies, I established my website royalhistorian.com and twitter account @royalhistorian and continued to expand my media work. I am involved in a variety of projects in addition to teaching and providing royal history commentary for the media. I write regularly for the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia, fact check documentaries and consult on museum exhibitions. I have guest lectured about history and royalty in a variety of settings including universities, libraries, retirement residences and cruise ships!
Cathleen: This sounds amazing! And you still find time for your own research! What are you working on right now?
Carolyn: I’m currently working on my third book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, which will be published by Dundurn Press in 2017. The book will profile 25 sets of royal parents and the challenges they faced from fending off Viking attacks to fending off the paparazzi! I am also working on a scholarly article about Queen Henrietta Maria’s reputation during her widowhood. She continued to be an active and controversial political figure for twenty years after Charles I’s death but this period in her life has received comparatively little attention.
Cathleen: That is true. Much like for other queen consorts, there also seems a lot to learn about Henrietta Maria. Best luck for your new projects and thanks so much for doing this interview!
For more see our upcoming issue where you can read about why Carolyn’s book was selected and read Courtney Herber’s review of her prize winning book.