Canadian Women’s Responses to Royal Tours from the Eighteenth Century to the Present
Dr. Carolyn Harris is a historian, author and royal commentator. She obtained her PhD in history at Queen’s University at Kingston and is currently teaching history at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.Carolyn is the author of several successful books and articles. Her most recent book is Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting. She is also a prolific guest lecturer and works as a historical consultant, writer, presenter and contributor to television, radio, print and online media. Carolyn is the winner of the first CCCU Book Prize on which occasion we published another interview with her on our blog.
RSJ Blog: Welcome Carolyn and thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with us.
Carolyn: Thank you, I am delighted to discuss the long and interesting history of Canadian women’s responses to royal tours.
RSJ Blog: You have written a very fascinating article highlighting Canadian woman’s reactions and points of view regarding British royal presence in their country over a period of about 200 years.
In your opinion, how much personal impact did those royal visitors and representatives have on swaying Canadian women’s impressions and views on British Monarchy and rule?
Carolyn: The presence of members of the royal family in Canada, especially for extended periods of residence, contributed to the perception of the monarchy as distinctly Canadian. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (the father of Queen Victoria) gave his name to Prince Edward Island and was one of the first public figures to describe both French and English inhabitants of British North America as Canadians. Princess Louise, along with her husband Lord Lorne was instrumental to the founding of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Her niece Princess Patricia of Connaught became honourary Colonel-in-Chief of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry. Long before the 1931 Statute of Westminster laid the groundwork for a Canadian Crown that was politically distinct from the British Crown, the Canadian monarchy was already culturally distinct from the British monarchy because of the presence of royalty in Canada for extended periods of residence as well as shorter tours.
For Canadian women, royal tours of Canada were not only rare opportunities to catch a glimpse of members of the royal family but opportunities to express their concerns and seek patronage for philanthropic institutions that benefit women’s health, education and professional development. When the future King William IV visited what is now the province of Newfoundland in the late 18thcentury both men and women brought their grievances to his attention and sought legal redress. When Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise arrived in Canada as vice regal consort in 1878, one of the first requests that she received was to become the patron of the Montreal Ladies’ Educational Association. Louise’s sister-in-law the Duchess of Connaught was the patron of the first solo exhibition by the Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton in 1912.
The association of female members of the royal family withcauses benefiting women continues to the present day. When William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited British Columbia and the Yukon in 2016, their itinerary included a visit to Sheway, an organization that benefits vulnerable mothers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. The marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, attracted particular attention in Canadian media because Meghan had resided in Toronto for a number of years during her career as an actress and was involved in local charities such as World Vision Canada. The Duchess of Sussex describes herself as a feminist and has a long history of speaking up for women’s equality, which will shape her philanthropic endeavours in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth.
RSJ Blog: Despite the differences between the portrayal of women’s participation in Canada and the USA, the romantic notion is apparent on both sides. Would it be too big a cliché to say that women just liked that aspect very much?
Carolyn: There are distinctive differences between Canadian and American press coverage of royal tours that have remained constant from the 19thcentury to the present day. Royal tours of Canada often prompt discussions of the future of the constitutional monarchy in Canada and the involvement of members of the royal family in Canadian philanthropy and institutions in addition to coverage of royalty as famous people and leaders of fashion. In the United States, however, the celebrity aspect of the royal family’s public image dominates the press coverage. In 1860, when Queen Victoria’s son Albert Edward toured British North America and the United States, there was some acknowledgement of the political significance of King George III’s great-grandson enjoying a successful American tour but the majority of commentary, especially coverage intended for women readers emphasized the fairy tale aspect of the presence of a Prince on American soil, dancing with American women at balls in his honour. American women were encouraged to view the Prince as a romantic figure rather than a political personage.
In his landmark work The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot assumed that the spectacle of royal weddings was of more interest to women than the political role of the constitutional monarch, noting that “The women — one half of the human race at least — care fifty times more for a marriage than a ministry.” Bagehot’s analysis ignores the wider social context for the intense scrutiny by 19thcentury women of royal weddings and other events in the life cycle of the royal family. The wedding of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the future Edward VII, which Bagehot singled out as a particular focus of women’s’ interest, meant the arrival of Princess Alexandra of Denmark, a young woman who would become the second most prominent female member of the royal family after her wedding. Alexandra’s interests, friendships, background and approach to public engagements, especially at a time when Queen Victoria was living in comparative seclusion as a widow, would influence which charities benefiting women would receive royal patronage and which women would be appointed to the royal household. The new Princess of Wales was not simply being welcomed as a fashionable young princess but as one of the most prominent women in the United Kingdom at a time when roles for women in public life were becoming increasingly circumscribed.
RSJ Blog: You are mentioning that the 1791 Constitutional Act provided an unusual amount of political autonomy for property-owning women. Could you perhaps elaborate on the origin of this Act and why it was later abolished? Did the personal, more conservative views of Queen Victoria have any influence?
Carolyn: Prior to the nineteenth century, there were individual examples of propertied women voting throughout the English-speaking world. These women were generally unmarried women or widows as until the married women’s property acts of the 19thcentury, the property of married women was owned and controlled by their husbands and they therefore did not meet the requirements for the franchise. The position of married women in propertied households differed under the Coutume de Paris, which had formed the basis of the law in New France. Property was jointly owned by both spouses under the administration of the husband, circumstances that allowed married women in propertied households to be voters in theory if not always in practice. Under the Quebec Act of 1774, French civil law continued to be in force in Lower Canada (modern day Quebec) following the British conquest of New France. Women voted in 15 districts of Lower Canada between 1791 and 1854, when a specific law was passed prohibiting female suffrage in all circumstances. A similar process had occurred under English common law where the rare cases of widows and single women voting were proscribed by law in the 19thcentury. The prohibition of all forms of women’s suffrage at the same time as the expansion of the male franchise provided an impetus for the late 19thand early 20thcentury campaign for women’s suffrage.
Queen Victoria served a role model for women seeking a greater role in public life, including the Canadian suffragist Nellie McClung, but the Queen did not support women’s suffrage. Her daughters were more interested in increased roles for women outside the home. Princess Helena supported the professionalization of nursing as a career for women while Princess Louise encouraged education and vocational training for women of all social backgrounds. Louise’s sister-in-law supported women’s suffrage publicly and Louise met privately with suffragists but did not champion their cause in the public arena out of respect for the views of her mother Queen Victoria.
RSJ Blog: For some, Princess Louise as viceregal consort and daughter of the ruling monarch signified too much royal presence in Canada. What was the reaction of Canadian women to this particular criticism? Did it have any importance at all?
Carolyn: Louise became viceregal consort in 1878, just eleven years after Canadian Confederation at a time when Canada was defining its place in the world in comparison to Britain and the United States. Canadians prided themselves on their loyalty to the monarchy as this was a key political and cultural trait that differentiated them from Americans. Queen Victoria’s birthday was a popular holiday and it remains a statutory holiday and the monarch’s official birthday in Canada today. Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, wrote about how images of Queen Victoria were displayed at home and the Queen was viewed as a role model for young women to emulate. A number of her literary heroines express admiration for royal women. Queen Victoria’s public image emphasized her role as a loving wife then a grieving widow and the mother of nine children. She was frequently photographed in comparatively simple attire, wearing a bonnet instead of a crown, even on grand occasions such as her Golden Jubilee in 1887. This domestic image allowed women from a variety of social backgrounds to view the Queen as a woman with a great deal in common with themselves as well as the sovereign.
Although Queen Victoria was held in high personal regard in Canada and loyalty to the monarchy was a key aspect of Canadian culture during her reign, royalty who visited Canada, especially those who resided there for extended periods of time were expected to behave differently than they did in the United Kingdom. Royalty in Canada were expected to cultivate an approachable manner toward people of a variety of social backgrounds and relax the customary court etiquette. The news that Princess Louise would reside in Canada prompted concerns that Canadians would be expected to wear court dress in her presence or back out of rooms when royalty was present. Louise’s refusal to insist on ceremony in this manner attracted widespread approval in Canada. Like previous viceregal couples, Lord Lorne and Princess Louise were also expected to embrace Canadian pastimes, especially outdoor activities. The couple were praised in the newspapers for taking up skating, curling, tobogganing and sleigh riding in the winter and camping and fishing in the summer.
RSJ Blog: What was the reaction among Canadian women to Princess Louise’s philanthropic engagements especially concerning her progressive views? Did they generally embrace them or were there any critical voices?
Carolyn: There is circumstantial evidence that Princess Louise received some quiet disapproval from certain members of the English Canadian elite in Canada. There were persistent rumors of feud between the Princess and the Canadian Prime Minister’s wife, Lady Macdonald. Both women were bothered by these rumors and were determined to present a show of unity in public and express their regard for one another. During the term of the previous Governor General, Lord Dufferin, English and French-Canadian high society often socialized separately but Louise, who spoke fluent French, befriended French Canadians and these friendships attracted comment within English Canadian society who expected the Princess to socialize within their own ranks rather than branching out in this manner.
Louise’s philanthropy and views regarding women’s place in society received a variety of responses. In her role as viceregal consort, she was expected to become patron of charities that benefited women. Louise’s encouragement of women pursuing professional careers as artists certainly stood out at a time when art for women was often viewed as a feminine accomplishment rather than a professional endeavor. In her promotion of women’s education, however, some of Louise’s views were considered not progressive enough in certain circles. In her patronage of the Montreal Ladies’ Educational Association, she emphasized the importance of domestic science and vocational training, which disappointed some women who hoped that she would champion higher academic standards in women’s education.
The majority of the criticism concerning Princess Louise’s time as vice regal consort, however, concerned her extended absences from Canada during her husband Lord Lorne’s time in office. Louise was injured in a sleigh accident in 1880, which prevented her attendance at the inaugural Royal Canadian Academy of Arts exhibition, which eventually formed the basis for the National Gallery of Canada. Lorne minimized the extent of Louise’s injuries and so her extended periods of convalescence in Europe and Bermuda attracted widespread speculation. There were rumours that she disliked Canada or that her marriage was in jeopardy. The perception that Louise neglected her duties because of her lengthy absences continues to be the most prominent critique of her time as viceregal consort.
RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for this deeper insight into your topic. What other projects are you pursuing at the moment? Are you perhaps working on a new book?
Carolyn: I am currently writing articles for a variety of publications including the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia and the BBC History Magazine. Links to my writing are available on my website royalhistorian.com
Regarding my next book project, I am co-editing a forthcoming four volume book series, English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynasty with Joanna Laynesmith, Danna Messer, Aidan Norrie, and Elena Woodcare as part of the Palgrave Macmillan Queenship and Power series. The English Consorts series aims to provide short, focused, well-researched, and refereed biographies of all of the English consorts since the Conquest.
The Call for Contributors for English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynastyis available here.