Category Archives: Journal Interviews

Interview with Erin Jordan

Erin Jordan is Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Honors College at Ohio University. She has written numerous articles on Cistercian women and elite women’s religious patronage. She is the author of Women, Power and Religious Patronage in the Middle Ages and is currently at work on The Woman of Antioch: Gender, Power and Political Culture in the Latin East.  Her article “Corporate Monarchy in the Twelfth-Century Kingdom of Jerusalem” was published in the Royal Studies Journal, Volume 6, Issue 1.

fulko_melisenda

Coronation of Melisende and Fulk from Paris, BN MS Fr. 779, accessed via Wikimedia Commons

RSJ Blog: Hello, Erin! Thank you for talking with us! Your article on Melisende was great. How did you come to study her?

Erin: Thanks. I’m glad you liked it. I actually became interested in Melisende when I taught a course on the Crusades a few years ago. Until then, I’d studied women and authority in Western Europe, but hadn’t realized how prominent ruling women were in the Latin East. At the time, it seemed contrary to prevailing scholarly wisdom about the ability of women to exercise authority in the Middle Ages, especially in a particularly volatile region. I was hoping to figure out what was “in the water” so to speak in the Crusader States to produce so many women who believed in their right to wield power.

RSJ Blog: Your article is about corporate (or plural) monarchy and how the idea of rule by more than one royal can help us understand rulership in the kingdom of Jerusalem. Do you think corporate monarchy applies to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem for the entirety of its history?

Erin: My research on Jerusalem does not extend beyond the life of Melisende, but based on what I’ve seen in the literature, I would say no. I definitely think the model applies in the early years, but there is a distinct shift after the death of Baldwin III. King Amalric does not seem to have included his wives in governing in a way that would align with the model of corporate monarchy in place prior, nor does Baldwin IV.  There does seem to be a brief revival during the rule of Sybilla and Guy, but that doesn’t seem to survive past the death of Sybilla in spite of the fact that women continued to inherit the throne. The later queens seemed to have played a minimal role in actual governance.

RSJ Blog: Your article also mentions that corporate monarchy is especially applicable to the Latin East and the medieval Mediterranean. Why do you think this is?

Erin:  I think a corporate approach to ruling fit the medieval Mediterranean and the Latin East for a number of reasons. Monarchy in these areas faced external pressures along their frontiers that resulted in nearly constant military conflict during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Someone needed to assume responsibility for the daily business of governing during the king’s absence in the field. The type of bureaucracy that assumed such responsibilities in the West had yet to develop in the region at this stage, providing an opportunity for family members to step in and assist in governing. I also believed that corporate monarchy appealed to the dynastic ambitions of King Baldwin II, who, in the absence of a male heir, wanted to be sure that his daughter succeeded him. Providing a capable consort would increase the likelihood that the nobility of the kingdom would consent to this arrangement.

RSJ Blog: Melisende’s family sounds fascinating. Could you tell us more about her sister, Alice, who had designs on Antioch but was thwarted?

Erin: I find all four of Baldwin’s daughters fascinating, though next to Melisende, we know the most about Alice. After the death of her husband Bohemond II of Antioch, she attempted to exert control over the principality on three separate occasions. It is striking that in doing so, she was willing to challenge her own father, King Baldwin I, as well as her brother-in-law, Fulk. Unfortunately, it is difficult to piece together the exact course of events due to the limitations of the sources. The most detailed narrative account is that provided by William of Tyre, who clearly had strong feelings about her actions, dismissing her ambitious as dangerous and her actions illegitimate. Yet the support she had among other powerful nobles in the region, including the Count of Tripoli and Hugh of Le Puiset, suggests that not everyone shared William’s views.

RSJ Blog: One of your major sources is the chronicle of William of Tyre. What are your impressions of this source? Is William reliable? What are his biases?

Erin: As I indicated in reference to Alice in the previous question, William of Tyre’s narrative can be a bit tricky. The detail and insight it provides into events is obviously a strength, and explains why so many scholars rely so heavily on it in their investigations into the Latin East. However, the account is rife with his opinions and his personal sentiment which require careful navigation. Literary scholars have noted his admiration and personal affinity for Amalric, which seems to influence his presentation of Amalric’s predecessors, particularly Melisende. I do think there is an interesting gender dynamic at play, though have not spent enough time with the complete text to make any concrete determinations.

RSJ Blog: What are you working on now? Are you doing more with Melisende or moving on to someone else?

Erin:  The original plan was to write a book about all four of Baldwin’s daughters-Melisende, Alice, Hodierna and Iveta-that examined gender and female authority in the Latin East in order to explain the prominence of women in this region. Unfortunately, the sources on the four sisters are so uneven that any study I produced would have been skewed in favor of Melisende, who has already been the subject of several studies. I did publish an article on the youngest sister, Iveta, who became the abbess of Bethany and the article on Melisende that appeared in the RSJ. I have since shifted my focus North and am working on political culture in the Principality of Antioch. This book examines the experiences of four prominent women associated with the principality-Constance I, Alice, Constance II, and Maria-in order to understand the attitudes and ideas prevalent in the region that determined who was able to exercise authority. It will also examine their respective experiences in order to explain why some of them succeeded in their bid to wield power while others failed.

RSJ Blog: Thank you so much! Best of luck with your work. We look forward to reading it!

 

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Interview with Brendan Cook and Jennifer Mara DeSilva

Brendan Cook is a Senior Instructor in Humanities and Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida who wrote his PhD on Thomas More’s Utopia and Lorenzo Valla’s On Pleasure. Working on Renaissance texts, especially neo-Latin literature, is one of his research foci. His translation of the correspondence of the Roman humanist Lorenzo Valla was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. 

Jennifer Mara DeSilva is well known to the readers of this blog and of the Royal Studies Journal thanks to her work on ceremonial entries and on cardinals. She is an Associate Professor of History at Ball State University (Indiana, USA), and has written several articles about the papal Masters of Ceremonies and edited collections examining the reformist behaviour of early modern bishops and the coercive process of sacralizing of space in the premodern world.

RSJ Blog: Hi Brendan and Jennifer, it’s great to talk with you about your recent article in the Royal Studies Journal which constitutes also somewhat of a first for the journal: it’s a source edition. More specifically, you have translated the funeral oration for Cardinal Pietro Riario by Nikolaus of Modruš in 1474, and compared this also to the Latin transcription. Can you tell us a bit more about this source?

NIKOLA MODRU¦KI, Oratio in funere?, Rim, 1474. Source 

Brendan & Jennifer: A translation seemed especially valuable to us because this text is interesting from more than one perspective. Obviously, there is the insight it provides into the institutional culture of the fifteenth-century Catholic Church. We have a summary of the life and achievements of one of the most important figures in Rome, a cardinal and a nephew of the pope. And this story is presented by someone who is also an important part of that same institutional structure, and who is sets out very deliberately to celebrate his virtues and apologize for his perceived shortcomings. So we see how the elites in this particular organization want to present themselves. But even apart from this, the oration is fascinating as an example of how humanist rhetoric is becoming established within the Catholic hierarchy. Modruš is making remarkable use of the different elements of humanist Latin, be it diction, syntax, or rhetorical tropes. And in that sense, the text belongs to the history of Neo-Latin literature as much as to the history of the papacy. That is why we included a Latin transcription as well as the English translation. We hope that the English version can serve as a sort of commentary on the Latin for those who want to study it, giving a sense not just of Modruš’ meaning, but his style. It is a translation that tries to reproduce the effect of the original, even it sometimes employs different means.

RSJ Blog: The oration was given by the Croatian bishop Nikolaus of Modruš for the funeral of the cardinal Pietro Riario. First of all, who were these men, and why did a Croatian bishop give an oration for an Italian cardinal? What was their connection? And second, was this oration ever really given, probably at the funeral, or was it “just” written and published? What was the purpose of this speech or text?

Brendan & Jennifer: Great questions! Nikolaus of Modruš (c.1425/7-1480) was one of many educated European men, who moved from regional diplomacy to Roman curial administration over the course of his career. Through the early modern period well-traveled, educated, and intelligent royal or noble agents often found that their skills and energy suited working as a papal governor, in the court of the Rota, or in the College of Cardinals. Like many other successful humanists, lawyers, and ambassadors, he took clerical vows in order to be of further use to the pope, whose interests spanned Eurasia, and receive income streams under papal control. Although Nikolaus ended up as the bishop of Senj and then Modruš, he lived and worked in the Italian peninsula, as a familiar of both Pope Sixtus IV and his nephew Cardinal Pietro Riario, remaining close to the centre of power.

Pietro Riario’s wall tomb in the church of SS. Dodici Apostoli in Rome
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As with many publications, this oration had several purposes: memorialization of a generous patron, encouragement of future patrons, and identity-building. Undoubtedly, these three purposes were interconnected and functioned on behalf of, and were directed towards, far more people than just Pietro Riario and Nikolaus of Modruš. While the author was a witness to spectacular diplomacy and a mourner of great men, he was also a campaigner on behalf of educated men who needed income and depended on large curial households. We know that Niccolò Perotti, the bishop of Siponto and another member of Riario’s household, also wrote a eulogy that he performed during the obsequies. As there is no similar evidence for this text, we suspect that Nikolaus’ oration was meant to be a public statement, rather than a printed account of an act.

RSJ Blog: This oration was one of the earliest prints, officially still counting as incunabulum since it was printed before 1501. Can you tell us a bit more about the genre of the source, e.g. how it relates to the later funeral sermons; and about the circumstances of its publication? Italy was one of the earliest printing centres – of course after Mainz in Germany where Cathleen’s university is – but was it still somewhat unusual that the papacy took to print so quickly? In some ways, the new printing technology was a rival to traditional text production in the church.

Brendan & Jennifer: Rome has always been interested in activities that could increase authority and reputation, be it print, lavish spending, public ceremonies, or art. As you know, from the late fifteenth century the printing press played an important role in facilitating knowledge and cultural dissemination in Rome. With both a large resident population and a large transient population, print offered a way to inform and affect people whose attention was dispersed across many areas, factions, and national or institutional identities. Print could condemn schismatic cardinals, mourn a papal nephew, and encourage a new saint’s cult. While this did not entirely replace manual copyists or more expensive illuminators, it could spread a variety of information faster and farther than before.

Unfortunately, little is known about the circumstances surrounding the publication of Pietro Riario’s funeral sermon. As our introduction shows, Nikolaus of Modruš’ work was part of a larger interest in memorializing Roman elites in the late fifteenth century. However, since there are so few studies or catalogues of Roman printers’ output it is difficult to be certain about the impact of this type of text, or even its popularity among print shop customers. Nevertheless, at this time there were enough elite households with fledgling libraries and literate individuals with an interest in either Riario, Sixtus, or Nikolaus, that we might expect this sort of cultural memorialization.

RSJ Blog: Just out of curiosity – do you have any idea who read these eulogies?

Brendan & Jennifer: The oration was published seven times in twenty-five years: in Rome (five times, 1474-1500), in Padua (once, 1482), and in Rostock (once, 1476). While Rome was a diplomatic and curial hub, both Padua and Rostock were university towns and centres of regional administration. A quick internet search turns up two dozen copies preserved in libraries across Europe, the Americas, and Australia. Stefan Plannck’s reprinting in the 1480s is especially well represented. This suggests that the oration’s subject and its author had a much larger attraction than we imagine. Moreover, the fact that comparatively many copies of the text have survived, leads us to believe that the type of text (both oration and biography) and the quarto format (cheap and portable) appealed to contemporaries.

RSJ Blog: Pietro Riario was a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484). Can you introduce us to this system of papal relatives as counsellors during the Renaissance? Why did popes choose to surround themselves with family instead of with people from within the church?

Brendan & Jennifer: Worldwide right now the topic of family support in leadership, and nepotism more broadly, is experiencing a revival of interest, but for scholars of the early modern Catholic Church it has always been a talking point. Although taking clerical vows was considered to cut one off from blood relatives, the reality was that reciprocal familial support was the bedrock of early modern society, both secular and ecclesiastical. The election of a new pope, roughly once a decade, could herald a change of leadership, strategy, and personnel. This administrative disruption coupled with an increase in wide responsibility demanded a cohort of unquestionably loyal counsellors and agents who could implement and oversee the pope’s agenda. While kinsmen attract the greatest attention, new popes depended heavily on members of their former household to fill offices, and raised up relatives to form households of their own that could recruit reliable men, who in turn would form similar bonds of loyalty that could work on the pope’s behalf. In the end, as this oration shows us, the family rose and fell together, which is why the household that supported the pope or cardinal is described as a familia (“family”) in Latin.

RSJ Blog: Editing a source, especially when translation is also part of this edition, means getting really close to it – doing a close reading, if you will. Was there anything you were surprised by, or is this oration a typical case of its genre?

Brendan & Jennifer: In some ways, it is surprising just how typical this oration is. It is surprising how completely a bishop, and a Croatian at that, has mastered so many elements of humanist rhetoric. And this is not just a matter of the presence of many familiar tropes, but even of the texture of the language itself. On a word-by-word and on a sentence-by-sentence level, this is a great example of the kind of classicizing prose that had become the standard in Rome at this time. And in one sense, we could expect that Modruš would make an effort to produce an oration like this. When you belong to an institution like the Curia, you take your cues from those above you, and Sixtus IV embraced the humanist agenda like no pope before him. But it is still a surprise to see how widely accepted certain ways of thinking and speaking have become. Modruš seems to take it for granted that this oration is partly an exercise in impressing his audience through his mastery of what would have been called the elegantiae, the graces of good Latin style. In other words, he treats elegant writing as an end in itself. He takes great care in balancing his periods in a variety of ways, and he leans on devices, such as chiasmus, that feel very natural in Latin, even if they are often hard to reproduce in a language such as English. And he calls attention to what he’s doing. All throughout the oration, he communicates his awareness of the conventions of the form with these metatextual references to the choices he has made in shaping his structure. So it is clear, on internal evidence alone, that his readers are also immersed in these conventions. This oration is the product of a culture where the conventions of humanist oratory are accepted to the point of being taken for granted.

RSJ Blog: Thank you again for you time and participation! What is next for you?

Brendan: As a full-time instructor, I publish very little. I have translated a very interesting epistle, sort of a long, autoapologetic oration by the Roman orator Lorenzo Valla (1407-57), and I would like to publish that. It would make sense to include the kind of lengthy introduction/commentary that we’ve included here.

Jennifer: My current work focuses on another papal family, the Borgia, which provided Popes Calixtus III and Alexander VI to the throne of St. Peter (1455-1458 and 1492-1503). Issues of support network and public positioning were integral to the family’s rise and continue to play a role in how we understand the Borgia today. This work expands the research that I presented at the Royal Studies Network’s Kings & Queens 7 conference in Winchester (UK) last summer.

RSJ Blog: Both projects sound very interesting and promising to uncover more about Renaissance culture. Hopefully, we get to read some of these results soon! Let us know when it’s published, and we’ll announce it in our Facebook group!

Interview with Stephen Lucey

Dr. Stephen Lucey is a professor of art history at Keene State College (New Hampshire, US), and teaches premodern as well as non-Western art history. His research focuses on the medieval Mediterranean world. His recent article in the Royal Studies Journal The Royal Chapel at Pyrga: Art, Agency, and Appropriation in Fourteenth Century Cyprus is an example of this.

RSJ Blog: Thank you for giving us this interview. In your article for the Royal Studies Journal, you write about the royal chapel at Pyrga on Cyprus – an architectural relic from the Lusignan rule over the island (1192-1474). Can you please introduce us (and our readers) to the problem connected with the dating of this chapel?

Stephen: I was first introduced to the chapel in a seminar at Princeton many years ago. At that time, there was very little bibliography associated with the monument and most was quite outdated. So too, I had only limited access to photographs, so it was difficult to get a sense of the fresco program as a whole. I slogged through writing a research paper upholding the 1421 date that was based on a now missing foundation inscription (recorded by a single source in the late nineteenth century) and “authoritative” stylistic studies that framed the chapel’s decoration as a “outsider” unrelated to better known and earlier examples of Cypriot painting.

Still, it was clear to me back then that there was a funerary context involved (see my argument in the article), but it was (is!) difficult to connect that with the death of Queen Charlotte de Bourbon (1388-1421/2). Though the date of her death might seem to support a connection, she is shown very much alive in the frescoes on the east wall. The dating was only one of the many unsatisfying “facts” about the chapel that appeared in the literature (and continued to be perpetrated for years to come). I am happy that I remained both vexed and tenacious – it has certainly been a long road but worth the endeavor.

RSJ Blog: So, even as a student, something about the historiographical work on this chapel struck you as somehow wrong! What struck us as most peculiar was how the mis-dating of the chapel to the early fifteenth century resulted in a completely different interpretation and assessment of the chapel’s art historical “worth” than the dating to the mid-fourteenth century. This also shows in many ways how subjective – despite all attempts otherwise – our interpretations can be, and the problem of objective judgement. Could you please expand a bit on this historiographical debate, and its meaning?

Stephen: I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as an issue of art historical worth (for me at least) so much as affording it a meaningful context that can be supported by significant evidence – evidence that was simply lacking for the 1421 dating. So little artistic comparanda survives from early fifteenth-century Cyprus, and what there is is quite different in terms of artistic style. Scholarly interest in the chapel simply langoured until Jens Wollesen’s monograph of 2010 (see bibliography). He was the first to question the status quo. I attribute much of the apathy towards Pyrga to its Latin context – the key scholars working in Cyprus in the 1990s and 2000s were chiefly Byzantinists – and Wollesen was not of that ilk. So too, Pyrga’s ruinous state and the miserable assessment of its artistic merits were off putting – do recall that it is not part of the UNESCO set of Cypriot cultural heritage monuments.

It was a few years after the Princeton seminar that I was able to visit Cyprus and see the chapel firsthand. My immediate impression was that Pyrga’s frescoes were not at all as had been described though they are quite distressed. I have often felt that in art history it is the reading of style that can be the most subjective and misleading. So-called authoritative critiques of Pyrga’s frescoes began to seem both hyperbolic and dismissive. Even then, I was struck by how closely related the dominant style of Pyrga’s frescoes were to the great and earlier “warhorses” of Cypriot mural art – the churches at Asinou and Pelendri. Again, it took Wollesen’s work on style some years later to convince me that Pyrga was worth looking at yet again – and a number of years and numerous visits to familiarize myself with the artistic heritage of the island.

RSJ Blog: So, in a way, both the experience of your student-self that something didn’t really add up as well as the hands-on experience in Cyprus were essential for pushing this research forward, and to reach new insights. As an art historian, is it your experience that it is often the opportunity to see artworks “live” in their context that brings forth more questions and answers?

Stephen: There is no question that one must experience the actual object/monument in order to do serious research. As a teacher of global art, I am also impelled to travel and see artworks firsthand. Only then am I able to “recreate” through images (still and moving) and speech a vicarious experience for my students (with the hope that one day they too will seek to explore the breadth of human aesthetic achievement). Indeed, I am off to Peru this summer to garner “fresh” material for my “Indigenous America” lectures in my introductory art history course.


Stephen Lucey gathering material for research and teaching – it begs no question where he is this time 🙂

Back to the question at hand… I would also attribute my ability to reassess the Pyrga material to a growing bibliography on medieval Cyprus – in many ways the questions I was asking of Pyrga and Latin patronage were becoming au courant in the literature. And while I may be a scholar of the medieval Mediterranean, my “focus” is pre-second millenium CE. Still, I believe that my research on the early medieval church of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome was a key factor in my interest in Cyprus. SMA’s fresco decoration is also in a poor state of preservation, and both the art and its audience bespeak a blending of Roman and Byzantine traditions.

RSJ Blog: What do the frescoes of the chapel, and the architecture of the chapel itself show us about Cyprus’ history?

Stephen: I think the chief lesson of the Pyrga chapel lies within the consideration of modes of “colonial” cultural appropriation as it applies to the late Middle Ages in the eastern Mediterranean. Early modern parallels (buzzword “colonial”) are difficult to sustain given the complexities of the history of the period and the cultures involved. Still, and beyond a doubt, the Lusignan court culture of Cyprus was acquisitive, varied in taste, but nonetheless very much aware of the import of its choices. I believe that the example of Pyrga presents some of the best information we have in that regard. Given a pan-Cypriot problem (plague), the rulers invoke both their own Latin Christianity and its ritual forms in conjunction with the intercessory power of indigenous, and ancient, prophylaxis and its visual manifestations à la maniera Cypria. We, or the social historians, still need to unpack how this can/cannot be framed in a larger “colonial” milieu of Crusader culture.

RSJ Blog: It is always great to end our interviews with a call to arms for more research! And in this case, there really seems to be much done in terms of de-constructing and re-constructing based on your new insights! Thank you for introducing us to some more of your research! As a final question, what are your new projects?

Stephen: For me, it’s back to early medieval Rome and a consideration of narrative cycles and their import for ritual activity: an invited chapter in Anne Heath and Gillian Elliott, eds. Art, Architecture, and the Moving Viewer: Unfolding Narratives ca. 300-1500 (Art and Material Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Europe Series) Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.

RSJ Blog: This does sound exciting, although quite a bit different than what you did in Cyprus. I really like how you also include the broader context and framing into your work. Good luck with early medieval Rome, and we are looking forward to reading it!

 

 

Interview with Kyly Walker

Kyly Walker completed a MA (Research) at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Monash University in 2018, investigating how bishops asserted their authority during the reign of King Stephen of England. She is active on Twitter (@kyly­_walker), especially during conferences, and enjoys baking when she gets the time! Kyly has recently written the article “Westminster Abbey, King Stephen, and the Failure to Canonize King Edward in 1139,” which you can read in the Royal Studies Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2 (2018).

Westminster Abbey, London

Westminster Abbey. Photo by Kristen Geaman

RSJ Blog: Thanks for talking with us, Kyly! Many of us associate Westminster Abbey so closely with Edward the Confessor that it can be surprising to learn the house was not founded by him. Can you give us a little more information on the abbey’s early history?

Kyly: Thanks so much for having me! Well, when it comes to Westminster Abbey’s history, there’s the legend and then there are the facts. According to Sulcard, who wrote a history of Westminster in the eleventh century, a church was founded on the Abbey site by an unknown rich man—Osbert of Clare said it was King Sæberht of Essex—and his wife during the reign of King Æthelberht of Kent (reigned 589–616). Sulcard tells a fantastic tale of how St Peter came down from heaven and consecrated the church in the middle of the night, usurping the Bishop of London, with only a fisherman as witness. This episode was probably invented to assert that Westminster was exempt from the bishop’s authority.

There’s actually little evidence of Westminster in the historical record before the tenth century. King Offa of Essex allegedly restored the church in the early eighth century and King Offa of Mercia—of Offa’s Dyke fame—possibly granted some land. The monastery was founded in the 960s–70s, during the time of King Edgar (reigned 959–75) and St Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury. Edgar sold the land to Dunstan, who founded a monastery on the site. Edgar and Æthelred Unræd—better known as Ethelred the Unready—granted and confirmed various lands to the new monastery. It looks like the Abbey became quite successful in the early eleventh century and King Harold Harefoot (reigned 1035–40) was buried there, showing that it had become important and was connected to royalty. But Harold’s corpse was later dug up, beheaded, and thrown into a fen near the Thames on the orders of his half-brother and successor Harthacnut. So, although Westminster promoted itself as an ancient house, the Abbey would have been less than 200 years old during Stephen’s reign.

RSJ Blog: Your article mentions that some of Osbert’s devotions were very Anglo-Saxon. What were some other notable differences between Anglo-Saxon and Norman religious practices at this time?

Kyly: Wow, that’s a big question! Well, William the Conqueror justified his invasion of England—at least partially—because the English Church was degenerate. What the exact problem was isn’t certain, but it probably had a lot to do with the recent renewal that the Norman Church had undergone. The Normans had abandoned some practices that the English had not. For example, pluralism—the practice of overseeing more than one diocese or monastery—was very common in England. Stigand, the archbishop of Canterbury, was also bishop of Winchester, and Abbot Leofric of Peterborough ruled four other monasteries. Stigand kept his post for a few years, but his position was precarious, and he was deposed in 1070. Leofric died soon after the Battle of Hastings, which probably prevented him suffering a similar fate.

Until recent years, one of the major differences was seen to be attitudes towards sanctity. For a long time, it was assumed that the Normans were very skeptical about the holiness of many English saints and rejected several cults. As Susan Ridyard has shown, this was far from true, and English saints’ cults were adapted to suit a monastery’s particular situation. Nationality wasn’t an issue: the new religious hierarchy would use any tool at their disposal—including an Anglo-Saxon saint’s cult—to protect and improve their church. Some churchmen were initially cautious about certain saints venerated in their churches, the most famous being Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury. There is a story in Eadmer’s Life of St Anselm that Lanfranc doubted that one of his predecessors, St Alphege, was a saint, and had to be convinced by another future archbishop, St Anselm, that Alphege was indeed a saint, as he’d been martyred by the Danes. Lanfranc accepted Anselm’s arguments and supported and promoted the cult of Alphege and other Anglo-Saxon saints from then on.

Other differences were organizational. Under the Normans, several sees moved from rural areas to towns. The canons who served the cathedrals were organized into formal chapters and were given particular roles to perform within the chapters, such as treasurer. Small parish churches were also established at the expense of larger churches, called minsters, which had controlled larger areas (this had already begun before 1066, but the process accelerated after the Norman Conquest).

RSJ Blog: Can you tell us a little more about the forgeries that were created to help Westminster Abbey enhance its status in the early 1100s? How many were there? How similar were Westminster’s actions to that of other medieval abbeys?

Kyly: The exact number of forgeries is difficult to pin down, as scholars disagree over whether some are genuine or not, and others appear to be based on genuine documents that have been altered at a later date. There is evidence that around 40 pre-Conquest charters—mostly in Edward’s name—were either forged or tampered with. There are definitely forgeries in the names of Kings Edgar (at least one), Edward the Confessor (at least three), William I (up to ten), Henry I (around four), and even Stephen (six). Most date to the twelfth century, but a few were forged in the 1200s. Other charters were allegedly issued by Archbishop Dunstan and Pope Paschal II, and possibly by Pope Innocent II as well. Westminster’s forgers fabricated charters for other monasteries too, such as Ramsey and Coventry Abbey, so it seems their skills were well-known in monastic circles, and it was not an unusual practice. Several monasteries, with longer histories than Westminster, also created impressive portfolios of forged documents. These included Worcester Cathedral Priory, St Augustine’s Abbey at Canterbury, and Gloucester Abbey. They all faced the same problem: many of their lands and rights had been granted in the distant past, and documents confirming the monasteries’ possession of them had either never existed or had been destroyed by the passage of time. The monasteries therefore remedied this lack through forgery. Ideas about forgery were very different in the twelfth century, and the monks didn’t see their activities as wrong. They believed they were creating documents that had or should have existed. As I mention in my article, the monks were dealing with the change from “oral to written testimony,” and they did it the only way they could, by re-creating documents.

RSJ Blog: Westminster Abbey very much wanted to be seen as the premier royal site in England at this time. Were there other avenues Osbert and the monks could have pursued to accomplish this or was getting Edward the Confessor canonized the only viable option?

Kyly: Well, to gain the position it wanted as the royal site in England, Westminster needed to obtain the undivided attention of the monarchy. The Abbey was certainly understood to be the place for royal coronations, and some other occasions. Coronations were rather infrequent though and the location of Christmas events etc. was not fixed. So, it was difficult for the Abbey to develop firm ties to the king.

Establishing the Abbey as a royal dynastic mausoleum was a path that Westminster tried to follow. The monks went to a lot of effort in 1118 to have Henry I’s first wife, Matilda of Scotland, buried at Westminster Abbey. There was a family connection, as she was Edward the Confessor’s great-great niece, and at the time her son was the heir to the throne. Linking the dynasty to Edward and Westminster probably seemed like a good idea. But according to the Augustinian Priory of Holy Trinity Aldgate in London, Westminster’s monks bribed King Henry—who was out of the country—to ensure that Matilda was buried at the Abbey, which was quite possibly against her wishes. Matilda had founded Holy Trinity and so she may have wanted to be interred there; according to the Priory’s account, her body had been moved there before Westminster took possession of it. It was quite common for royal persons to be buried in the church of monasteries they had founded: William the Conqueror was interred at his foundation of St Stephen’s Abbey at Caen in Normandy and similarly Henry I was buried at Reading Abbey. Unfortunately for Westminster, Holy Trinity told the king about what the monks had done, and he wasn’t particularly happy about it. Additionally, Matilda and Henry’s son died tragically two years later, throwing the succession into question. Any plans Westminster Abbey had had to link their fortunes to Henry’s dynasty thus came to naught, and the monks’ next plan to raise the Abbey’s status was Edward’s attempted canonization.

RSJ Blog: Your article mentions that the cardinals were divided, with some supporting Matilda and some Stephen. Why did some of the cardinals support Matilda? Was it connected to her time as Empress?

Kyly: Yes, the support Matilda received from some cardinals is at least partially linked to her time as Empress in Germany. The persuasive abilities of her envoys probably had something to do with it too. Matilda’s first husband, Emperor Henry V, was involved in a huge dispute with the papacy over who had the right to appoint bishops during the 1110s–20s. The resolution of this quarrel would have involved a lot of diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing, and Matilda probably met several papal representatives at this time, whom she may have later lobbied for support against Stephen. At least two future popes—Honorius II and Innocent II—spent time in Germany as papal representatives trying to resolve the dispute. John of Salisbury’s comment that Pope Celestine II was elected with her favor suggests that Matilda kept in close contact with the papal court, to keep her hopes of ruling England alive.

RSJ Blog: Despite the failure of Edward’s canonization in 1139, did Osbert manage to increase Westminster Abbey’ status anyway?

Kyly: Yes, I think he did, but not to the extent that he planned. By linking Westminster, Edward, and the idea of a royal church, Osbert put an idea in peoples’ minds about the Abbey’s importance in London and the kingdom. Although Osbert’s actions didn’t lead to an immediate increase in the Abbey’s fortunes, they created a catalyst that later generations could capitalize on when circumstances were better.

RSJ Blog: What are you working on now?

Kyly: At the moment I’m employed outside of academia, which leaves very little time for scholarly pursuits! I’m adapting part of my MA thesis for this year’s International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. All going well, I’ll be starting a PhD at the University of Leeds in October, working with Professor Julia Barrow. My project looks at written expressions of authority in twelfth century bishops’ charters. I’m interested in discovering what influenced the development of this language and how it evolved throughout the century.

RSJ Blog: Thank you for talking with us!

Interview with Christopher Mielke

Christopher Mielke is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Al-Quds Bard College for Arts and Sciences in East Jerusalem. In 2017 he was awarded a PhD in Medieval Studies from Central European University receiving a “magna cum laude” for his dissertation “Every hyacinth the garden wears: the archaeology of medieval queens of Hungary, 1000-1395.” Prior to this, he had received an MA in Medieval Archaeology from the University of Reading in 2011 and an MA in History from the University of Maryland, College Park. From 2012 to 2017, he was the host, organizer, and lead correspondent for CEU Medieval Radio (www.medievalradio.org), having interviewed over 70 guests for the biweekly program “Past Perfect!” His article “From Her Head to Her Toes: Gender Bending Regalia in the Tomb of Constance of Aragon, Queen of Hungary and Sicily,” recently appeared in the Royal Studies Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2 (2018).

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The Crown of Constance of Aragon. In the public domain. © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

 

RSJ Blog: Hello, Chris, and thanks for talking with us! Your article on Constance’s crown was fascinating! For those of us who don’t know much about crowns, could you give us a primer on the difference between eastern/Byzantine crowns and western European crowns?

Chris: I’ll do my best! For the medieval period, royal crowns in the west tended to consist of open circlets. These circlets were usually a metal band across the brow that could be plain, studded with gemstones, or topped with decorative devices such as crosses or lilies. There are both male and female examples of this in the west. Crowns of Byzantine emperors tended to be enclosed, by contrast – there would be a circlet as a base with two bands meeting in the center.  That being said, imperial crowns do appear in the west, such as the eleventh century Reichskrone which has one band across a tall circlet. Crowns for Byzantine empresses tended to be an open band topped by triangular and circular pinnaces. These are general rules, and there are examples here and there which will contradict them no doubt, but for the thirteenth century these seem to be the main differences.

RSJ Blog: Since it seems this Byzantine-style crown was Constance’s, do you think she obtained it when she was queen of Hungary? Or were crowns of this type popular throughout the Mediterranean?

Chris: Byzantine style crowns did appear in Hungary in the 11th century (for instance the Holy Crown of Hungary) but it is very doubtful that the crown Constance was buried with came from there. By the time Constance became queen of Sicily, Byzantium’s influence in the Mediterranean was considerably reduced, but traditions die hard – there are Greek influences on other royal artifacts from this time period, such as in seals and coins. Medieval crowns in general very rarely survive in their original format, but artistic depictions of crowns from the Mediterranean world (particularly Sicily) show a strong Byzantine influence.

RSJ Blog: Why was Constance exhumed in 1491? Any hints why the people who completed that exhumation might have moved her crown?

Chris: I have no idea, in all honesty! The 1491 exhumation was done at the behest of the Vice-Regent of Sicily ruling on behalf of the King, Ferdinand II of Aragon. It could have had something to do with an Aragonese connection between the current King of Sicily and Constance’s roots, or the removal of the body could have been precipitated by something more practical, like the need for a repair. It was a grand spectacle in 1491 though, with all of the leading patricians and nobles of Sicily in attendance, and upon opening the tomb, the sight of the dazzling crown could have sparked a lot of curiosity. It is a magnificent piece and very unusual and my suggestion is that after they examined the crown, they did not wish to disturb the Queen’s body, which is why they might have later placed it in the wooden box at her feet.

RSJ Blog: Your article describes Déer’s theory as romantic. Is there any evidence left offering any clues to Constance’s and Frederick II’s marriage? Would Déer have had anything to base his romantic interpretation on (other than the crown’s placement)?

Chris: The marriage between the two was unusual for a few reasons. In the first place, the bride was at least ten or fifteen years older than the groom (who would have been about fourteen) and she had already lost a husband and a son. Frederick II had lost his mother very young as well, and many secondary historians have surmised that Constance filled an almost maternal role as his wife. Constance’s strong role in the government as regent of Sicily shows that he placed a great amount of trust in her; none of Frederick’s other wives seem to be so favored. Unfortunately, most of the details about their marriage that survive relate more to either financial or political issues, but those few details show that Frederick did rely on her in a singular manner.

RSJ Blog: Your footnotes hint that Constance’s son Henry (VII) lived an interesting life. Could you tell us more about him?

Chris: I’ll try! Henry (VII) was the eldest son of Frederick II and Constance, and he has been a difficult character to analyze. When he was in his early 20s, the younger Henry became involved in a series of wars with the other German princes and eventually against his father. By 1235, Henry had been bested by his father. He was stripped of his titles and imprisoned for the next seven years. In 1242, Henry fell off his horse – some contemporary chronicles suggested that it was a suicide. He was buried with full honors and his skeleton was exhumed in the late 1990s. An osteoarchaeological analysis revealed evidence of leprosy on his face and his feet. This raises the question as to whether or not Frederick II imprisoned his son due to acts of rebellion or whether it was the result of Henry’s illness – for symptoms of leprosy to be present on his skeleton shows that it was a very severe case which required isolation.

RSJ Blog: What are you working on now?

Chris: I have a few projects that I’m finalizing at the moment. I am in the process of publishing several interviews from my time as host of CEU Medieval Radio. I am also co-editing a volume focusing primarily on medieval women involved in the sex trade in Central and Eastern Europe. This article here on Constance was originally a part of my doctoral dissertation that never made it into the final version – but at the moment I am working on a manuscript of my dissertation to be made into a book.

Regarding work projects, I was fortunate enough to spend last year at Al-Quds Bard College in Jerusalem as a CEU Global Teaching Fellow. This year I am working at a museum in West Virginia called the Beverly Heritage Center as the Head of Programming. This year I am planning a total renovation of the exhibit we have up there in the original Randolph County Courthouse.

RSJ Blog: Thank you for talking with us!

 

Interview with Carolyn Harris

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.

princess_louise_and_lorne_engagement

The engagement photo of Princess Louise and John, Marquess of Lorne and 9th Duke of Argyll

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.

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Edward, Prince of Wales with two Ojibwe guides, canoe on the Nipigon River during his 1919 royal tour.

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.

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The Marquess of Lorne, accompanied by Princess Louise, opening the Canadian Parliament in 1879

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. 

 

Interview with Barbara J. Messamore

Barbara J. Messamore holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada. She specializes in Canadian political, constitutional and migration history. Barbara is also on the board of directors at the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College, University of Toronto. A list of her publications and other projects can be found on her homepage. Read the full article in the Royal Studies Journal.

RSJ Blog: Good day Barbara and thank you for doing this interview with us.

Barbara: Thanks for your interest. It’s my pleasure.

RSJ Blog: You mention that the 1939 Royal Visit to Canada was the first by a ruling Monarch. Could you sum up the national and international circumstances that eventually led to it?

Barbara: Yes, I’d be happy to. Incidentally, it’s a subtle point, but I think it is better to say “reigning—rather than ruling– monarch” in the era I’m describing. The genesis of the 1939 tour seems to have been a 1936 meeting between Edward VIII and Canada’s prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. But after Edward VIII’s abdication and George VI’s accession to the throne, circumstances made a successful tour even more important. There are a few reasons for that. One was directly tied to the institution of the monarchy. It had arguably been damaged by the abdication crisis. A tour could restore the image of the royal family and strengthen Canadian ties to the Commonwealth. And Canada’s position within the Commonwealth had also recently changed with the 1931 Statute of Westminster, as had that of other Dominions. The tour would be a chance to demonstrate that, while Canada was autonomous, the tie to the monarch was still strong. The tour organizers arranged to have the King conspicuously carry out some of the duties of the Crown while in Ottawa, duties that were normally carried out by the governor general, such as giving royal assent to legislation. It was a chance to show that Dominion autonomy did not sever the link to the Crown.

Perhaps paradoxically, given this focus on George VI’s role as King of Canada, an even more important aspect of the tour was its function in bolstering Canada’s tie to Britain. This is the thing that made the tour especially urgent in 1939. There was every reason to believe that war with Germany was on the horizon, and Canadians had given little assurance that they would lend support. Canada’s Mackenzie King had been unwilling to make any commitments at the 1937 Imperial Conference and was deeply sensitive to isolationist sentiments in Canada; Quebec’s opposition to European entanglements was clear, as was that of a new and rising socialist party in Canada, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The British were mindful of this political pressure on King and, if it could be demonstrated that love for and loyalty to the mother country was strong in Canada, King could be swayed.

RSJ Blog: Are Royal Visits to Canada significant in comparison to visits to other parts of the commonwealth or the dominions?

Barbara: I think the essentialobjective is common to each. How such a tour is going to be received is likely to be a function of the circumstances of the moment. So, for example, the article touches on the fact that the 1964 Canadian tour, coming at a time of resurgent Quebecois nationalism, was fraught with difficulty. Similarly, while there had been a durbar in Delhi in 1911 to mark George V’s coronation, the atmosphere of Indian nationalism in 1937 when George VI came to the throne made the accession contentious, so it was thought better not to risk it.

In the particular context of the 1939 tour, a chance to enhance Canada’s loyalty was especially valuable. Cultivating a better tie with Mackenzie King might pay dividends in case of war and Canada’s prime minister would have a chance to observe that many Canadian subjects felt that sense of loyalty. It would show him that it would be impolitic to turn his back on Britain in their hour of need. Spending time in Quebec was also an important part of the tour for that same reason. The brief visit across the border to the United States was not in itself going to shift American isolationist sentiment, but it certainly provided a vital human connection that gave a face to the British struggle to confront Nazi aggression. And while Roosevelt was faced with an intransigent Congress, he did wish to offer what help he could.

RSJ Blog: And they needed all the help they could get. How would you describe the relation between the legal constitutional position of Canada within the Commonwealth and the representation of said position by Canadian politicians especially towards the Royal Family?

Barbara: The 1931 Statute of Westminster made Canada’s role in the Commonwealth with respect to the Crown more explicit, but I’ll readily concede that it’s far from simple. It had gradually evolved that the dominions had autonomy in foreign as well as domestic matters, and in reality, the 1926 Balfour Report and the 1931 Statute of Westminster only recognized that evolved state of things. In both the UK and the dominions, it was well understood that the Crown would act on the advice of responsible ministers—hence, my preference for the term “reign” over “rule.” There were—and are—still reserve powers that might be exercised by the Crown in emergency situations, for example, if a head of government attempts to hang on to power when faced with a loss of Parliament’s confidence. Because Mackenzie King had had a famous clash with a previous governor general, Lord Byng, in 1926, he was acutely sensitive about the role of the Crown and about any potential encroachment on Canada’s self-governing status. By this time, though, it had been long established that the governor general was not dictated to by British authorities; he carried out his duties entirely with reference to Canada. Mackenzie King had an unfounded suspicion that British partiality to the Conservative party had informed the governor general’s actions in 1926. But Mackenzie King also had a kind of reverence for the Crown and was deeply drawn to the royal family. The challenge for George VI was to demonstrate that he was not in Canada as the “British” monarch, but as king of Canada, one of his most important dominions, and that there was no wish to curtail Canada’s autonomy. I think this is why the symbolic gesture of him carrying out the sovereign’s duties in Ottawa, using Canada’s royal seal, was so important. He was acting, not as the British king visiting Canada, but as the king of Canada. Having said this, George VI would have certainly been mindful of the fact that, for Britain, Canadian support would be essential to a successful war effort and I’m sure his British cabinet looked at the tour in that light. So, this vital British objective could hardly have been absent from his mind.  For many Canadians, the king represented a British empire to which they still felt a keen personal loyalty.

RSJ Blog: Talking about loyalty, what significance did the filming of the event have at that time and was it rather exceptional or already a usual procedure to have British royal visits accompanied by a camera team? Where were these films broadcasted to?

Barbara: I think in any royal tour, commemoration was a given. Books commissioned to depict the tours were a standard way to do this, as were photographs. For example, there are some great photographs and sketches of the Prince of Wales’s 1860 visit to Canada, including one of him riding a timber slide. The commemoration would take the form available in the day. In 1939, the daily radio broadcasts and a commemorative film provided a way to both broaden the reach of the tour and to preserve it. The 1939 film was produced by Canada’s National Film Board, so it would be widely circulated, and it really provides a way to frame the narrative in an optimal way. The film is meant to convey a message of loyalty to the Crown, including among French Canadians, aboriginal Canadians, and veterans of the Great War. Military inspections are featured prominently in the film.

RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for deepening our insight into the topic! What other project are you pursuing at the moment?

Barbara: I’m happy to share these thoughts with you. My newest project is a study of Canada’s pre-Confederation upper house. We have perennial debates in Canada about whether our appointed Senate should be elected or eliminated altogether. But few Canadians know that we actually had an elected upper house between 1856 and 1867, so I’m investigating the reasons why that short-lived experiment was abandoned.

RSJ Blog: A very opportune question concerning the actual debate. We are looking forward to reading about your results!

the unveiling of the national war memorial, ottawa 1939_margaret fulton frame

The Unveiling of the National War Memorial, Ottawa 1939 by Margaret Fulton Frame