An Evening with Philippa Gregory

I have virtually visited the National Archives many times to hear talks from authors of historical fact. This time I got to see an author of historical fiction.

Shikha Sharma, the Events Manager, introduced the talk as part of the “What’s Online?” series. The interview was primarily centred on Dawnlands, part of the Fairmile series taking place in England in the seventeenth century, but there were questions and observations about Gregory’s other works as well.

Gregory said that a lot of people think they don’t know the Stuarts very well, and that it is much easier to convince publishers to print books about the Tudors. It was the notion of a family story developing into global affairs that got them interested.

Sharma reminded us that the talk was part of the Treason exhibition. The accusation of treason was the state’s supreme weapon to suppress rebellion and scrub out subversive ideas. She asked about the character of Ned Ferryman, who sticks to his personal ideals throughout but is considered a traitor by the law. Gregory said Ned was an old Cromwellian soldier who thought he was fighting for a new world of liberty. None of them could have predicted the restoration of the king so soon. Most of Cromwell’s soldiers were pardoned by Charles II, but those who had been directly involved in his father’s execution were pursued across the world. Ned is contrasted with Lyvia, who joins a long line of ambitious, manipulative women (nearly always Catholic and Italian), ingratiating herself at court, with occasional warm feelings never prioritised. Gregory said it was always helpful to have someone who can observe important historical events.

Sharma asked why it was important to tell these stories, and how the research is done. Gregory said that the life stories of lower-class women were not often recorded except as character assassinations when they stepped out of line, official records often differing sharply from personal accounts. Around 1660-80 there was a prominent increase in the number of women writing and publishing. The range of subjects on which books can be written was widened by the English Marxist historians of the 1950s. Each character presents a different research problem – she could find only two biographies about Mary of Modena, both very old and out of print. The working-class characters are usually composites from historical records rather than directly based on specific individuals. Her favourite character is always the one she’s just finished working on. Gregory covers her study with maps and drawings relevant to the book she’s writing, meaning she redecorates for each new book. She doesn’t want to delay the creative process for research – typically each new book takes 18-24 months in all, though by now she has a large stockpile of research from all the books she’s done before. We are separated from the Stuarts by generations of Whig historians, but you can often find hidden treasures in local museums.

Sharma noted that the books were prone to “painterly” descriptions, and asked if that was deliberate. Gregory said that if you pick up any historical fiction you know the author’s narrative voice. One’s idea of historical Venice is heavily mediated by Canaletto, as is London by Gustave Doré.

On the topic of historical accuracy and the grand sweep of her plots, she said that she doesn’t plan much for the series – it’s dictated by the real history but she has to decide as she goes along how her characters fit into it. Most family lineages start as peasants in the mud, much as they’d like to be aristocrats. If somebody points out an error in a book she corrects it in the next edition. She claims this has only happened 3-4 times in over thirty publications.

Sharma often asked questions from the audience but she did not name the members and often merged several similar questions together. I asked how close to the present day Gregory would consider setting her books. She said she had originally considered taking the Fairmile series as late as 1920, where British society was plagued by a fear of moral decay after the First World War and a sense that the prosperity of empire had reached its limits. Her plan had been to write two books per century, but she now finds herself writing four or five which may require the breadth of her series to be reduced.

The obvious question to ask of these kinds of authors is when they would go if they could travel through time. Gregory said she was less interested in specific eras than in solving historical mysteries, such as the Princes in the Tower or Amy Robsart.

Sharma asked specifically about the baby in the warming pan. Gregory said we know what happened in the birthing chamber because James VII was forced to hold a public inquiry. Princesses Mary and Anne both claimed to believe the story in order to justify the later coup, but the books written now cannot present it as fact.

 

A New Regency Bill

Ever since the state opening earlier this year, the topic of counsellors of state has been prominent in my mind, and in the minds of many others. Just as Elizabeth II’s health was failing and the necessity of this constitutional device was more pressing, so the actual availability of counsellors was at its lowest since the device was invented. Many in academic and political circles were discussing possible updates to the legislation. I even had a go at drafting a new bill myself. As the original 1937 Act had already been amended twice, and as I wanted to avoid a confusing change of pronouns mid-paragraph, I did consider neatening things up by repealing it wholesale and typing out most of its provisions again, but that version turned out to be too long-winded for the amount of actual change I needed to effect. By early September it was nearly in a presentable state, but then Her Majesty’s death seemed to render the matter moot for a while.

Today the Lord Chamberlain of the Household announced that King Charles wished his siblings Anne and Edward to be re-appointed as counsellors. This will require new legislation, which we can expect to be brought forward swiftly. I hope it’s not too late to send in my own.

A

BILL

TO

Amend the provisions for a regency in the event of the incapacity of the sovereignty due to illness or minority, and for the performance of certain of the royal functions in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign in certain other events.

BE IT ENACTED by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1. The Regency Act 1937 is amended: –

  1. In subsection (1) of section two, replace “Lord Chancellor” with “Prime Minister” and “Chief Justice of England, and the Master of the Rolls” with “Speaker, and the President of the Supreme Court”.
  2. In subsection (2) of section two, replace “His Majesty’s Dominions and to the Government of India” with “His Majesty’s Realms and to the Commonwealth Secretariat”.
  3. In subsection (1) of section five, replace “mother, if she is living” with “living parent”.
  4. In subsection (1) of section six, replace “by telegraph” with “electronically”.
  5. For all of subsection (2) of section six, substitute “The counsellors of state shall be any five persons of His Majesty’s choosing, appointed by Statutory Instrument under this Act and subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”.

2. The Regency Acts of 1943 and 1953 are repealed.

3. This Act may be cited as the Regency Act 2022, or it and the Regency Act 1937 may be cited as one.

4. This Act takes effect upon the approval by both Houses of Parliament of the first statutory instrument passed under section one.

EXPLANATORY NOTES

This bill updates the Regency Act 1937, as well as repealing the 1943 and 1953 Acts which had amended it already.

Section 1 (1) changes the list of persons empowered to determine the monarch’s absence or incapacity. It adds offices whose jurisdiction encompasses the whole United Kingdom (Prime Minister, Lord Speaker, President of the Supreme Court) and removes those whose roles are only applicable to parts of it (Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls).

Section 1 (2) removes reference to defunct bodies and adds reference to current ones.

Section 1 (3) updates the list of potential counsellors of state. The original text specified the consort and the first four adults in line to the throne. In early 2017 this would have meant Princes Philip, Charles, William, Harry and Andrew. By 2022 the former had died and the latter two had withdrawn from royal duties, leaving only two counsellors still active: the minimum for this provision to be used. The accession of King Charles III dulls the urgency of the situation by adding Queen Camilla and Princess Beatrice to the list (as consort and fourth adult in line respectively) but the current arrangements are still less than ideal. The new text allows for counsellors to be added or removed as necessary without the burden of new primary legislation each time.

Section 2 repeals intermediate legislation whose provisions are now redundant. The 1943 Act lowered the age of eligibility for the heir-apparent to be a counsellor, but that is negated by this Bill. The clause regarding counsellors’ absence is also covered by the revised wording. The 1953 Act anticipated minority reigns by persons who have since reached the age of majority and gave powers to persons who are now deceased. The sole active provision of the latter Act is to reduce the age at which the heir-apparent could be regent from twenty-one to eighteen years, but as the present heir-apparent is over the higher age that point is likewise moot.

Section 4 delays implementation of the legislation until His Majesty’s appointments have been approved, to avoid an interim situation in which there would be no counsellors of state at all.

The Books of Quinn and Kay

Since getting my library card, the first two books I have consumed are Life on the Old Railways by Tom Quinn and This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay, the former as a hardback and the latter as an online audiobook.

It may seem odd to review both of these together, but there is some similarity – both consist of recollections of employment in a British state institution established in 1948.

I was interested in the descriptions of the institutional rank structure: On the old railways it went from Cleaner to Passed Cleaner to Fireman to Passed Fireman to Driver. The “passed” indicated that you had already completed a set amount of time in that role and were training for the next one. One diarist remarked that despite the intensely hierarchical nature of the system, movement from one rank to another was oddly informal and that the job titles were more reflective of the job you’d already done than the one you were currently doing. Pay rises, whatever your rank, did not take effect until your birthday. Kay explained the ranks of the NHS as Pre-registration house officer, senior house officer, specialist registrar and consultant. That structure had already been abolished and replaced by the time his diaries began, but the old terminology lingered for years afterwards in staff usage. He noted that the “senior” house officer was in reality still a very junior role and that promotion was purely a function of time rather than performance. This, he reckoned, was to convince the lower employees that their next upgrade was always just around the corner and so prevent them bailing out.

Another theme of both books was the sheer amount of time dedicated to the profession – railwaymen would be up before dawn to get their engines ready whereas junior doctors would would stay long into the night to keep patients alive. Neither managed to get many weekends or holidays to themselves.

Record-keeping was also important – the railwaymen recalled how every ticket, time and tonnage had to be scrupulously written up by hand (under torch or even candlelight) in enormous ledgers many of which were later sadly thrown away, whereas Kay spoke of the hospital’s attempts to digitise, with computer systems that refused to communicate with each other, blocked employees’ emails, erased recordings and ran so slowly that the patient would be dead by the time you’d selected the right medicine from the drop-down menu.

Despite the arduity, it was noted that the workers at both organisations were passionate about their jobs and generally held in high esteem – train driving was what every child had always wanted to do, while medicine was where every parent wanted their children to go (some class differences, of course). Perhaps that could also be their problem – the external prestige of holding such a position was used to compensate for (and even cover up) the stress of actually performing it.

This Is Going To Hurt was dramatised earlier this year as a critically-acclaimed BBC series. There is no TV version of Life on the Old Railways, but stories and documentaries about the days of post-war steam are ten-a-penny on most channels and online.

Link

Today’s virtual event was by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, and its content is adequately explained by the title.

“Car dependency” is a term used in the urban planning community to mean the inability of a resident (or visitor) to move around a settlement without the use of a personal motorcar. It is often cited as a defining (and damning) feature of suburban environments, particularly in the United States following the Second World War. As their name implies, urban planners (and urbanists more generally), tend to focus their attention on cities and dense conurbations, with comparisons made to the suburbs. Smaller towns and rural environments are often overlooked, hence the theme of today’s seminar.

Though interested in the premise, I was a little disappointed by the format – although the participants spoke to each other over Zoom, the guest attendees were made to watch it through YouTube, so other than the chatbox (only available to those who had YouTube accounts) there was no meaningful interaction with the hosts.

Off to the Libraries

Although the COVID pandemic is not exactly over, lockdown seems unlikely to recur and so it is now practical to visit again those places which had been inaccessible for much of the last two years, including public libraries.

As I have mentioned before, the ceremonial county of East Riding of Yorkshire is divided into two unitary authorities – one for Kingston-upon-Hull and one for everything else. This includes public library systems. I have therefore gone about acquiring a card for each. Applications online were a reasonably simple process of filling in a form on the councils’ websites, though actually visiting a library in person to collect the physical card was rather as neither institution’s opening hours were exactly convenient. Oddly, both sets of online login details suddenly stopped working once I’d taken possession of the cards and I had then to go back to ask for help.

Now that they are working I can search both libraries’ online catalogue before going to pick anything up. There is a delight in finding here the tomes (particularly on heraldry) that had long eluded me on Google Books or the Internet Archive, or even the library at the university. The downside is that these are not all kept at the same location (East Riding’s in particular are scattered across a large area.) and that the reference section of Hull Central Library has been closed for more than a year.

In case one cannot attend the physical libraries at all, both online accounts include the BorrowBox service allowing patrons to take out virtual resources, though the inventory on there is quite small.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Stories in Scotland’s Skies by Philip Tibbets

Today’s virtual lecture took me back to the Heraldry Society of Scotland, where our speaker – the Lyon Court’s vexillologist – gave a fascinating talk about the history of flag culture in Scotland, and the process by which flags – heraldic or otherwise – come to be invented.

At least I think that was what happened. Unfortunately I cannot say for certain due to glaring technical problems. We virtual attendees did not actually see the inside of the venue, for the visual feed was only of the slideshow (and even that did not seem to be aligned properly with the speech), but we guessed that the microphone was positioned a great distance away from Mr Tibbetts’s mouth and much closer to an audience member with a recurrent cough. As a result only about half of the speaker’s syllables could be heard, which rendered most sentences unintelligible. Edward Mallinson made several attempts to resolve the sound problem but it made no difference. He even turned on the automated subtitles, but those are notoriously poor even when the sound is good. Before even thirty minutes into the planned ninety-minute event I and a few other Zoom-watchers had given up and logged out.

It was, to say the least, a grave disappointment.

Heralds-a-Heralding

Today and yesterday, Charles III was formally proclaimed as King across the world, following the meeting of his accession council. This is only the fourth accession in Britain since the invention of the television, and the first time that the council itself has been broadcast live. Indeed, to my knowledge the only other time that any meeting of the council in Britain has been recorded was for the 1993 documentary Days of Majesty, and even then only a small clip was shown. There was supposed to have been a meeting (probably done virtually) some days ago for the swearing in of Liz Truss’s new cabinet, but the fading of Queen Elizabeth’s health prevented it. When that session will eventually take place is unknown. The ceremony was something of a consolation prize for Penny Mordaunt, who lost the bid to become Prime Minister but was instead appointed Lord President. She took the lead role in the day’s proceedings. Once the proclamation had been approved and various oaths had been taken it was read out by David White, Garter King of Arms, on the palace’s balcony. Not long later it was repeated by Timothy Duke (Clarenceux) on the steps of the royal exchange. The next day it was read by Robert Noel (Norroy & Ulster) at Hillsborough Castle. Joseph Morrow (Lyon) read it at Mercat Cross, as did Morfudd Meredith (Lord Lieutenant of South Glamorgan) and Thomas Lloyd (Wales Herald) in Cardiff. The other proclamations made around the British Isles, and the Commonwealth, are far too numerous to list.

Times such as this are a rare opportunity (others being state openings and, next year, the coronation) to see officers of arms in their full finery. They will be very busy over the coming months.

It can be taken as read that, following his ascent to the throne, the undifferenced arms of the United Kingdom, and those of all his other realms and territories, now belong to His Majesty. The arms of his siblings, niblings and cousins have no reason to change from what they were before. The arms of his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law are all due for upgrades.

Probable arms of Camilla, Queen Consort


Camilla, as Queen Consort, can now be expected to impale the Shand arms with those of the King. Given that William now has all of the statuses and titles that his father held a week ago, it is most probable that he will bear the same heraldic achievement, with which Catherine will impale the Middleton arms. It is yet to be seen (and there are conflicting precedents) of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex will similarly upgrade by swapping their five-point cadency label for one of three points, and removing the strawberry leaves from their coronets. The ever-present yet ever-uncredited Sodacan has already uploaded multiple illustrations of how he expects the revised armorial achievements to look.

Probable arms of Catherine, Princess of Wales

There is some controversy over whether Charles will change the heraldic depiction of the crown from St. Edward’s (depressed arch) to Tudor (no depression). There is a perception that St. Edward’s Crown is for queens and the Tudor crown for kings (due to the latter being preferred from 1901 to 1952) but this is not binding and St. Edward’s was regularly used by kings before Victoria’s reign.

FURTHER VIEWING

 

Demise and Disarray

The death of Elizabeth II is a time of serious grief for her family and her many peoples. It is also a time of mild confusion for public bodies, and of course Wikipedians. Here is a run-down of some of the changes that have recently been made.

The Monarch

The man long known as Charles, Prince of Wales is now King. For many years there had been speculation that he would take the regnal name George VII in honour of his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather, but shortly after his accession it was confirmed that he would indeed go by Charles III. There was a brief period when his page was at Charles, King of the United Kingdom before being changed to Charles III. There is an ongoing debate as to whether the article title should include “of the United Kingdom”. The side in favour argues that there have been many other monarchs over the centuries called Charles III from whom the present monarch needs to be differentiated. The side against argues that Charles is king of far more than just Britain, and that if you included one realm in his title you would have to include all of them, lest you imply that one is more important than another.

The Consort

Camilla Shand, at the time of her marriage in 2005, was not popular among much of the public still grieving Diana Spencer. So as to avoid appearing to usurp her legacy, she never styled herself “Princess of Wales”, instead going by “Duchess of Cornwall”. It was also suggested back then that, upon her husband’s accession, she would be styled “Princess Consort” (presumably derived from Prince Albert) rather than Queen. How true this proved to be was always a matter of public relations rather than constitutional law. By the start of this year it was clear that her reputation had recovered sufficiently to abandon that idea, and Elizabeth II in an open letter explicitly endorsed her daughter-in-law to be called Queen Consort. Currently all major media and government sources are very insistent on styling her “The Queen Consort”, rather than simply “The Queen” as other queens consort were before her. It is not yet clear if she will be described this way for the whole of Charles’s reign or if it is simply a temporary measure so as not to confuse the public while the late queen regnant is still being mourned. Again, there is dispute over whether her article title should include “of the United Kingdom”.

The Heir Apparent

In 2011 Prince William of Wales was ennobled by his grandmother as Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus in the peerage of the United Kingdom. He has not ceased to hold these titles, but they are now buried beneath several others. The dukedom of Cornwall, in the peerage of England, is governed by a 1337 Charter instructing that it belongs automatically to the eldest living legitimate son of the incumbent monarch and the heir apparent to the throne, and that if these two statuses are held by different people then the title is left vacant. This means that all dukes (save Richard of Bordeaux) are deemed to have held the original peerage, rather than it being created anew each time. The Duchy of Cornwall, a substantial land-holding corporation in the south of England, is governed by the same. The dukedom of Rothesay in the peerage of Scotland is mandated by an Act of Parliament from 1469 to follow an identical succession, as are the titles Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince of Scotland and Great Steward of Scotland. The titles of Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, by contrast, are not automatic. They are conferred by letters patent at the discretion of the monarch. It appears from news reports that Charles III has opted to do so almost immediately after coming to the throne, though I am still waiting to see this formally confirmed in the Gazette or the Court Circular. There was a short interlude in which the royal website and Wikipedia styled him “Duke of Cornwall and Cambridge”. I argued that it was poor form to include Cambridge while leaving out Rothesay, to which an anonymous user replied:

It would, but we don’t have a basis for that usage in Wikipedia practice. The hierarchy is very much What the Papers Say > legal/heraldic/formal/official names > anything that actually makes sense. I’m guessing there will be a followup announcement about his distinct style in Scotland and indeed in Northern Ireland, and maybe they’ll end up with something more logical and less clumsy. After workshopping every other possibility.

The Others

The accession of a new sovereign causes a reshuffle in the orders of precedence among the royal family. In the male order, Charles is naturally now on top. His sons William and Harry also move up, as do his grandsons George, Louis and Archie (their position before, as great-grandsons of the sovereign, was a little unclear). Andrew and Edward are demoted from sons to brothers, James and Peter from grandsons to nephews, and the Earl of Snowdon from nephew to cousin. The Dukes of Gloucester and Kent and Prince Michael are unaffected. On the female side Camilla achieves supremacy, followed by Catherine, then Meghan, then Charlotte, then Lilibet, then Sophie, Anne, Beatrice, Eugenie, Louise, Zara, Birgitte, Katharine, Marie-Christine, Sarah and Alexandra.

The styles and titles of Charles’s descendants are also upgraded (though those of his siblings and niblings are not diminished). William and Harry both gain a definitive article in their princely titles. George, Charlotte and Louis are now “of Wales” rather than “of Cambridge”. There has, of course, already been a famous Princess Charlotte of Wales, so until an alternative solution emerges their Wikipedia pages must be differentiated by the awkward use of years in brackets. Archie and Lilibet, as children of a younger son of the sovereign, now qualify as royals under the terms of the 1917 letters patent. They could now correctly be styled as “His Royal Highness Prince Archie of Sussex” and “Her Royal Highness Princess Lilibet of Sussex”, though no move has been made in that direction so far. The situation regarding the Earl of Wessex’s children remains ambiguous. Charles could, of course, amend or revoke the letters patent however he wishes, but there has not yet been any indication in that regard.

The dukedom of Edinburgh, earldom of Merioneth and barony Greenwich, which were conferred by George VI on his daughter’s fiance Philip Mountbatten in 1947, and were then inherited by Charles in 2021, have now merged with the crown. Any of them can be bestowed anew on whomever His Majesty chooses. His brother Edward has long been presumed to receive them next, but no decision has been taken at this time.

Under the Regency Act 1937 Camilla (consort) and Beatrice (fourth adult in line) have become Counsellors of State.

The office of Lord Great Chamberlain of England (not the same as Lord Chamberlain of the Household) has automatically transferred from the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley to the 7th Baron Carrington. The former therefore loses membership of the House of Lords under Section 2 of the 1999 Act while the latter gains it. What happens to the place he already held among the ninety elected hereditary peers is still to be determined.

The Courts

The Queen’s Bench Divisions of the High Courts of England & Wales and of Northern Ireland, as well as the Courts of Queen’s Bench for the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, have all been renamed King’s Bench. The status of Queen’s Counsel in Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand has likewise changed to King’s Counsel, and all who hold it have had to amend their post-nominals accordingly. Only last month I created a new template for judges of the Queen’s Bench Division and had scrupulously added the specification to each of their infoboxes. Now I have had to change all of them. Still, it helps boost my edit count I suppose.

The Late Queen

The inevitable moment I and so many others around the world had long dreaded finally arrived tonight – Buckingham Palace announced the death of Elizabeth II. It is a blessing that she survived to see her Platinum Jubilee and the end of the pandemic, but also a disappointment that she missed her centenary.

Last year, shortly after the death of her consort Philip, I blogged an extract from my grandmother’s writings, concerning the time she spent in Malta with then-Lieutenant Mountbatten. I sent a letter about such recollections to his widow. Some weeks later I received a thank-you note from Mary Anne Morrison, Woman of the Bedchamber.

I would have liked to be able to recall a more direct interaction with Her Late Majesty, but sadly my only in-person encounter was a drive-by glimpse in 2017. My time with the new monarch has been similarly brief – I once got a wave from him at the Valley Gardens in Withernsea in July 2013.

More words will come when I have had time to compose them.