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Raising Royalty: The Canadian History

Carolyn Harris on Canada's contribution to the changing conversation about royal parenting through the ages. 

Book Cover Raising Royalty

From keeping Vikings at bay to fending off paparazzi, Carolyn Harris—in her new book Raising Royaltyexplores the history of royal parenting and how its changes have reflected wider societal trends, and vice versa. In this guest post for us, she delves into the Canadian history of royal parenting, which includes a famous embrace, a Dutch princess born in Ottawa, and the wife of a Governor General...who happened to be Queen Victoria's daughter!  


In September 2016, William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Victoria, British Columbia with their two young children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. The royal children did not simply accompany their parents for a week in Canada but shaped the nature of the royal tour. With the exception of a single overnight in Whitehorse, Yukon, the royal couple’s itinerary allowed them to spend the evenings at the Lieutenant Governor’s residence in Victoria with their children. The royal children even undertook public engagements, appearing with their parents at the beginning and end of the tour and taking centre stage at a picnic for children of military families. The Canadian public admired the royal couple’s rapport with their children and images from the Canadian tour continue to appear in articles about William and Kate are balancing royal duties with their role as parents. William and Kate have both made clear that their first priority is their children and they not only bring their children on Commonwealth tours but structure these tours to spend as much time with George and Charlotte as possible

A generation before, Canada was the setting of another tour that shaped the public perception of royal parenting. In 1991, Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales undertook a Canadian tour with their two sons, nine-year-old Prince William and seven-year-old Prince Harry. The tour took place just two years before Charles and Diana separated formally and the royal couple undertook independent itineraries, reflecting their individual philanthropic interests. Charles and Diana had brought their children on overseas tours from a young age, breaking with past precedents for leaving royal children with trusted grandparents and governesses while their parents spent months on official engagements outside the United Kingdom.

Like Prince George in 2014, Prince William accompanied his parents to Australia in 1983, learning to crawl in front of journalists from around the world. In contrast to William and Kate, Charles and Diana did not structure royal tours with specific public engagements designed to showcase their children beyond photo calls with journalists. Nevertheless, there was a strong public interest in Charles and Diana’s parenting, regardless of whether their sons were present. Charles and Diana visited Canada for the first time in 1983 while William celebrated his first birthday in the United Kingdom. Over the course of the tour, Charles and Diana received uniquely Canadian gifts for William including a miniature canoe and an infant sized deerskin suit.

In 1991, crowds eagerly gathered in Toronto’s harbour to see Charles, Diana, William and Harry together on the royal yacht Britannia. One of the assembled photojournalists captured an iconic photograph of Diana on the deck of the yacht with her arms outstretched to embrace her sons.  The image seemed to herald a new kind of royal parenting that was warm and demonstrative toward young children. The photograph of Diana embracing her sons was contrasted with 1950s film footage of the Queen shaking the young Prince Charles’s hand after a long separation for a Commonwealth tour to symbolize the supposed transformation of royal parenting. In fact, there was more to the scene on the yacht Britannia than met the eye. After greeting local dignitaries, Charles also embraced his sons but photographs of this gesture were not published by the world’s media. The public judged Charles to be a distant father to his sons, only revising this opinion after Diana’s death when it became clear that William and Harry had developed a close bond with both their parents from their earliest childhood.

Not all the royal parenting moments in Canada have involved heirs to the British and Commonwealth thrones such as Prince William or Prince George. In 2013, the same year Prince George was born, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, head of the House of Orange-Nassau, abdicated. For Canadians, the celebration of Beatrix’s reign and the accession of her eldest son as King Willem-Alexander brought back memories of the presence of Dutch royal children in Ottawa during the Second World War.  In 1940, the German invasion of the Netherlands resulted in Queen Wilhelmina, her daughter Princess Juliana, her son-in-law Prince Bernhard and her two young granddaughters going into exile in the United Kingdom.

There were concerns about the entire Dutch royal family being resident in Britain during the Blitz so Juliana and her daughters resided in Ottawa for the duration of the hostilities. Juliana was determined to give her children as normal an upbringing as possible. Beatrix attended school, where she was nicknamed “Trixie Orange.” In 1943, Juliana gave birth to a third daughter Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic hospital, where the maternity ward was briefly designated extra-territorial to ensure that a possible future monarch of the Netherlands was born with only Dutch citizenship. Princess Margriet remains a vital link between the Netherlands and Canada, frequently attending the Ottawa tulip festival and receiving an honorary degree from McMaster University at the time of her 70th birthday.

Princess Margriet was the only European royal child born in a Canadian city but the nature of royal parenting influenced earlier Canadian history. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were both enthusiastic amateur artists and passing on their love of painting and sketching to all nine of their children. After Albert’s death, Victoria allowed their fourth daughter, Princess Louise to attend art classes at the National Art Training School in London, making her the first princess to attend a public educational institution. Louise married a Scottish aristocrat, John Campbell, Lord Lorne, who became Canada’s 4th Governor General of Canada following Confederation, from 1878-1883. Lorne and Louise were instrumental to founding the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the National Gallery of Canada. Louise donated one of her paintings to the National Gallery one of her sculptures of her mother, Queen Victoria, stands outside McGill University in Montreal. The Princess’s artistic education shaped her approach to her role as vice regal consort of Canada.

William and Kate are the latest in a long history of royal parents to shape Canadian attitudes toward the monarchy. William stated at the end of the 2016 Canadian tour, “We feel very lucky to have been able to introduce George and Charlotte to Canada. This country will play a big part in the lives of our children and we have created such happy memories for our family with our visit.” As George and Charlotte grow up, they will continue to be part of the national conversation about royal parenting in Canada. 


Carolyn Harris teaches history at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. She received her Ph.D in European history from Queen’s University in 2012. Her writing concerning the history of monarchy in the U.K., Europe, and Canada has appeared in numerous publications including the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, Smithsonian Magazine and the BBC News Magazine, and she is the author of Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada and Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette. She lives in Toronto.

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