A Q&A with Carolyn Harris

A Q&A with Carolyn Harris

Posted on May 4 by Carolyn Harris in Interview
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As one of Canada's leading academics on monarchy, it's not a surprise you'd choose to write a book about royalty but where did you get the inspiration to write on royal parenting? 

I have been fascinated by royal parenting and popular responses to royal domestic life for a long time. For my MA in European history at Queen’s University, I examined motherhood and Queen Marie Antoinette of France and for my PhD at Queen’s, also in European history, I researched how Marie Antoinette and Queen Henrietta Maria, consort of King Charles I of England and Scotland, were perceived as wives, mothers and heads of royal households. Popular debates concerning royal parenting have been taking place and influencing politics, society, and culture for centuries.


I have been providing royal history commentary for the media since 2011. When Prince George, son of William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was born in 2013, I observed a popular misconception that royal parenting remained “traditional” and relatively unchanging until Diana, Princess of Wales, introduced new trends for the upbringing of her sons, William and Harry. I wrote an article for my website about “5 Royal Parenting Trends that are actually centuries old,” which led to an opportunity to write a piece for the BBC News Magazine, “Revolution in the Royal Nursery.” In Raising Royalty, I examine how key questions concerning royal parenting, including education, health, living conditions and training for public life, emerge again and again as different royal parents respond to the culture and expectations of their times.


What was it like researching the book, both historic and contemporary parenting?

In researching the book, I brought together two different types of sources. The first were sources concerning the lives and reputations of twenty sets of royal parents over the past thousand years – biographies, correspondence, newspaper articles, medieval chronicles, and memoirs. The second were the sources of parenting advice at the time: parenting manuals, medical treatises, and religious and philosophical works. I wanted to examine whether royalty through the centuries had followed the parenting advice of their times and how the public viewed them according to prevailing parenting ideas. I teach history at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and I spent a great deal of time at Robart’s Library at the University of Toronto researching the book.


And finally, what are you reading right now?

I am currently writing a monthly series of articles for Smithsonian Magazine about the events of the Russian Revolutions of 1917 so I am reading a lot of Russian history books these days. There have been some very interesting new books published in recent months about the fall of Imperial Russia including Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport and Rasputin by Douglas Smith and I’m enjoying immersing myself in this fascinating time in history. 

Carolyn Harris

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
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Carolyn Harris

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.