The Governess Who Spilled the Queen’s Secrets

The Governess Who Spilled the Queen’s Secrets

She was one of the Royal Family’s most trusted confidantes. She helped bring up a future Queen. Her loyalty and loving care were rewarded with royal favor and even a rent-free home for life.

But in 1950, Marion “Crawfie” Crawford, beloved Scottish governess of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and servant of the Royal Family, was expelled from court, kicked out of her house and shunned by the very people she’d loved for decades.

Her crime? Spilling the beans about her former charges. Crawford was the first servant in the royal household ever to cash in on royal secrets—and she paid the price for her candor.

A trained teacher, Crawford was just 22 years old when she entered the Royal Household. She was hired by the Duchess of York—the future Queen Mother—as a governess for her two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Their uncle, Edward, was expected to become king and they were raised accordingly (their father Albert, Duke of York, was second in line to the throne). Crawford’s charges were privately educated, and had little contact with the outside world. Daily life was routinized and quiet.

Then, everything changed. Edward, now king, fell in love with Wallis Simpson, an American who had been married twice. At the time, it was unheard of for a king to marry a commoner, much less a divorced American. But Edward refused to relent and in 1936, against his family’s wishes, he abdicated in order to marry Simpson. Albert (now George VI) became king, with his oldest daughter, 10-year-old Elizabeth (known fondly as Lilibet), next in line for the throne.

Crawford moved with the family to Buckingham Palace and helped train her charges for their royal roles. But she also worked to make life as normal as possible for the girls. She took them on expeditions outside the palace, formed a Girl Guide troop for royals, and took them shopping at stores like Woolworths.

The royal household was almost obsessively secretive. For members of the Royal Household and their servants, confidentiality was not just expected—it was a kind of unwritten law. As the London Review of Books noted in a review of Crawford’s book, The Little Princesses, “Respect and respectability are what counts.” The public knew little of what happened in the palaces where Lilibet and Margaret grew up, and their mother, now queen, wanted to keep it that way.

This attitude extended into the household, too. Crawford recalled how the family dealt with the enormous strain of World War II by pretending everything was fine no matter what. It was her job to divert the girls, now teenagers, from the many crises and dangers of war and to help them remain calm and prepared for anything. “The royal discretion still held,” she later wrote. “Unpleasant or bothersome matters were never discussed.”

As the years dragged on, Crawford became one of the queen’s close confidantes—but grew trapped in her role as governess. Even after Lilibet was an adult and Margaret was well into her teens, Crawford was expected to stay in the palace and put off her own personal life in favor of her charges. Though she had a long-term boyfriend, she was forbidden to marry until Lilibet did. She only left the household after Lilibet—then 21—became engaged.

In return for her 17 years of loyalty, Crawford was showered with royal gifts. She was made an officer of the Royal Victorian Order, a kind of knighthood given to people who have served the royals with distinction. She was given a generous pension and allowed to live rent-free in a cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace.

Crawford settled into home life and maintained good relationships with her former charges and the Royal Family. But in 1949, the Ladies’ Home Journal, an American magazine, approached her and asked if she’d write an article about her service with the royals. Ever dutiful, Crawford asked the queen if she’d agree to its publication.

The queen said yes and even got the palace to broker the deal. The idea was that feel-good stories about the family might bolster Anglo-American relations. There was just one condition: Anonymity. The queen insisted that Crawford not attach her name to the publication, and instead connected her with a journalist who could write the stories based on her information.

‘I do feel, most definitely, that you should not write and sign articles about the children, as people in positions of confidence with us must be utterly oyster,’ the queen wrote to Crawford. “I know you understand this, because you have been so wonderfully discreet all the years you were with us.”

It’s unclear what happened next, but when the article was published it noted that Crawford was a source and included details about the former king and Wallis Simpson that the queen found distasteful. Crawford’s tales of her time in the palace were eagerly read by a public hungry for information about royal life and the future Queen Elizabeth.

Though the future Queen Mother had authorized the publication of the article, she was furious. She told other royals that the trusted nanny had “gone off her head.” The next year, Crawford published a book, The Little Princesses, about her life in the palace—and the queen got her revenge by kicking her out of her house and cutting her out of royal life for good.

According to one reviewer, The Little Princesses is “a book of such sugary confection…that it seems incredible anyone could be offended.” But for the royal family, it felt like a betrayal. No member of the royal family ever spoke to her again, and her name apparently still is not uttered in palace circles.

The queen’s participation in the article was only revealed once Crawford died in 1998. She stipulated in her will that a box of mementos and letters from the Queen Mother agreeing to the publication of the article be returned to the Royal Family. Only then did the world learn that Crawford, who attempted suicide multiple times after her banishment and was vilified for her loose lips for decades, had protected her bosses until the end.

Queen Elizabeth's Childhood Governess Wrote a Smash-Hit Memoir. It Wrecked Her Relationship With the Royal Family

T he early years of Elizabeth II&rsquos reign were marked by a flurry of memoirs written by members and ex-members of the royal household, usually with help from ghostwriters. The first into this field of broken confidences appeared while her father, George VI, was still king, and in circumstances which are still something of a mystery. In 1949, Marion Crawford retired after 16 years&rsquo service with the royal family as governess to the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. That year Crawfie, as she was called by the family, was approached by an American mass-circulation magazine, the Ladies&rsquo Home Journal, with an offer for her memoirs of between $6,500 and $85,000, depending on whom you believe. Her husband, a bank manager who was always happy to make capital from her royal connections, urged her to take up the offer, but she went to Queen Elizabeth for advice.

The queen&rsquos reply, given in a letter of 4 April 1949, was unequivocal: &ldquoI do feel, most definitely, that you should not write and sign articles about the children, as people in positions of confidence with us must be utterly oyster. If you, the moment you finished teaching Margaret, started writing about her and Lilibet [the family&rsquos pet name for Elizabeth], well, we should never feel confidence in anyone again.&rdquo

The queen did agree that Crawfie could act as an adviser and be paid by the Ladies&rsquo Home Journal, as long as her name didn&rsquot appear. The need for her to obtain royal consent to any material she provided seems to have been taken for granted.

But the contract which Crawfie signed contained a surprisingly vague clause which allowed for publication &ldquowithout Her Majesty&rsquos consent (possibly with only the consent of Princess Elizabeth, or no consent), and under your own name.&rdquo During the summer of 1949 the ex-governess collaborated with a ghostwriter on her &ldquoaffectionate memoir.&rdquo It was shown to Queen Elizabeth, who was appalled and told the U.S. publishers of the Ladies&rsquo Home Journal that Crawfie &ldquohas gone off her head.&rdquo That didn&rsquot stop them from publishing. The articles, which went into enormous and mawkish detail about her years bringing up Elizabeth and Margaret, appeared in America under her name at the beginning of 1950 and, after Woman&rsquos Own bought the serialization rights for £30,000, in the United Kingdom as well. They were a sensational success. Later that year the articles were turned into an equally popular book, The Little Princesses: The Intimate Story of HRH Princess Elizabeth and HRH Princess Margaret by Their Governess.

The Little Princesses is gossipy but quite innocuous by today&rsquos standards. When Crawford joined as governess the Duke and Duchess of York&rsquos household at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, there was already a nanny, Clara Knight, known as &ldquoAlah,&rdquo who had been nanny to the duchess. She was helped by two sisters, Margaret and Ruby MacDonald, who were her undernurse and nursemaid. Both remained with the family. &ldquoBobo,&rdquo as Elizabeth called Margaret MacDonald, became the queen&rsquos dresser and one of her closest confidantes, serving her for 67 years. Mrs Knight and the MacDonald girls had charge of the children&rsquos health, their baths, their clothes, while the governess looked after them from nine until six and had charge of their education, with occasional help from a French teacher.

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Royal Affair: Queen Elizabeth speaks out on Margaret’s affair.

Queen Elizabeth thanked one of the Countess of Snowdon’s closest friends for introducing her to Roddy Llewellyn. He was the man 17 years junior to Princess Margaret that she had an affair with.

Lady Anne Glenconner stated in the documentary:

“It was difficult for Her Majesty, and I felt rather guilty always having to introduced Roddy to Princess Margaret. But, after her funeral, Queen Elizabeth, said: I would just like to say that, Anne, it was rather difficult at moments. But, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for introducing Margaret to Roddy. Why? Because he made her really happy”.

Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones in the year 1960.

However, in the year 1974, Margaret invited Mr Llewellyn to her holiday home in Mustique. That visit was among the other several visits. According to our research, she was happy with him and was able to enjoy her life to the fullest.

But, the happiness did not last for very long.

There came a particular period when Roddy, who was 17 years her junior travelled to Turkey. Having to experience this, Margaret struggled to cope and overdosed on sleeping tablets.

She later-on described herself as being ‘exhausted because of everything’. She even mentioned one most depressing statement saying, ‘that all she wanted to do was sleep’.

This royal affair hit all the tabloids quite hard.

In February 1976, there was a picture of the pair which emerged on a Mustique beach. The speculation about the two begin to take its peak. It was later revealed that the marriage between Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon has fallen apart. On July 11 1978, the divorce between the pair took place.

After going through all this, Princess Margaret was found ill which brought an end to her life. She was hit with a mild stroke in 1998 before suffering another in 2002 at the age of 71, which finally killed her.


Governesses in fiction

When Victorian authors wanted to write a novel about a young woman, it made sense for her to be a governess. Just like an orphan, the governess had to make her own way in the world, travelling alone far from home, with no resources to call upon if things went wrong. Her status as a &lsquolady&rsquo allowed her to mix in the best circles, but the fact that she worked meant that she also encountered all sorts of people and situations that would have been far-fetched for a girl who lived with her parents. The governess was a blank slate onto which all possibilities were open, so that novelists could write any plot that they wanted. Charlotte and Anne Brontë, who both published novels with governess heroines, used their real-life experiences of the schoolroom. Other writers, like William Thackeray, drew on stories circulating about scheming governesses who disliked their pupils and were desperate to get on in the world by marrying into their employers&rsquo family.

  • Written by Kathryn Hughes
  • Kathryn Hughes is Professor of Lifewriting and Convenor of the MA in Lifewriting at the University of East Anglia. Her first book The Victorian Governess was based on her PhD in Victorian History. Kathryn is also editor of George Eliot: A Family History and has won many national prizes for her journalism and historical writing. She is a contributing editor to Prospect magazine as well as a book reviewer and commentator for the Guardian and BBC Radio.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.

Even Queen Elizabeth I was dogged by a conspiracy theory: that she was actually a man. Nicknamed “The Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth rejected every marriage proposal that came her way. Though there are many, many reasons she might have avoided marriage, her staunch refusal made tongues wag, even centuries later. One explanation that was offered up was that she was a man the whole time. Dracula author Bram Stoker became a prominent believer of this theory after visiting the village of Bisley in England, where—according to local lore, anyway—Elizabeth I had died while visiting as a child.

As we know, Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII, loved to behead people—one estimate says more than 70,000 people lost their heads during his reign (although the real number is more likely measured in the hundreds). According to the legend, rather than face the king’s wrath and possibly lose her noggin, Elizabeth’s governess found a little boy who looked a lot like the future queen, dressed him as a girl, and had him stand in for Elizabeth. Not only did this supposedly explain the never-married thing, it was also supposed to explain why Elizabeth preferred wigs and caked-on makeup. The real reason for Elizabeth’s heavy-handed beauty routine? She was reportedly trying to cover smallpox-scarred skin and thinning hair.

The Duchess de Ventadour

In 1712, the French royal family was decimated by an outbreak of measles. The new Dauphin was the orphaned toddler Louis, Duke of Anjou. When the little Dauphin contracted measles, doctors prepared to bleed him, a popular catch-all treatment at the time. But the Dauphin’s governess, Charlotte de La Motte Houdancourt, Duchess of Ventadour, would have none of it. According to Antonia Fraser:

This splendid woman, who could see what no one dared acknowledge, that the doctors were killing their enfeebled patients with their ministrations more effectively than any disease, simply barricaded herself and the two-year-old Prince into her apartments and would not allow the doctors access.

Forever credited with saving the Dauphin’s life, King Louis XIV entrusted his great-grandson into the duchess’ care on his deathbed in 1715. “I owe you much gratitude for the care with which you are bringing up this child,” he told her, “I urge him to give you every proof possible of his gratitude.”

Her charge, now the child king Louis XV, would indeed be forever grateful. When he was wrenched away from her at seven to be raised by a male governor, he cried for his “maman” all day. Presenting her with a casket of jewels for her service, “he remarked sadly that the present was as nothing compared to the gratitude he owed her.”

Without the love of his governess, the once happy boy king was transformed into a withdrawn, distrustful child. However, once he grew up, the king included his “maman” in his daily life until her death. She was given charge of his own son, and always welcomed in his bedroom, an honor usually bestowed only upon high-ranking officials and the most senior members of the royal family.

11 The Non-Royal Bloodline

To keep Royal Family's bloodline intact, methods of marrying within the family have been executed to make sure that outsiders don't corrupt the family tree. Cut to 2012 when King Richard III's bones were discovered buried underneath a parking lot in Leicester. To prove that it was the King's remains, a mitochondrial DNA (mother to child) test was administered and the samples matched two current female relatives.

It was a surprise, however, that the Y-chromosome didn't match, which meant that down the line there was a child whose father didn't have royal blood. Possibly the result of a secret affair, the child was passed along as a legitimate addition to the Royal Family, specifically the House of Windsor. The snafu could have occurred up to 500 years ago, so finding where the break in the chain happened would take digging up old bodies and testing the entire family. Historians believe they have an idea where the hiccup occurred John of Gaunt (1340-1399), Edward III's son, was rumored to have really been the child of a Flemish butcher. If true, his son Henry IV and all monarchs who descended after that aren't legitimate members of the Royal Family.


Princess Victoria Mary ("May") of Teck was born on 26 May 1867 at Kensington Palace, London, in the same room where Queen Victoria, her first cousin once removed, had been born 48 years earlier. Queen Victoria came to visit the baby, writing that she was "a very fine one, with pretty little features and a quantity of hair". [1]

Her father was Prince Francis, Duke of Teck, the son of Duke Alexander of Württemberg by his morganatic wife, Countess Claudine Rhédey von Kis-Rhéde (created Countess von Hohenstein in the Austrian Empire). Her mother was Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, a granddaughter of King George III and the third child and younger daughter of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, and Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel.

She was baptised in the Chapel Royal of Kensington Palace on 27 July 1867 by Charles Thomas Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury. [3] From an early age, she was known to her family, friends and the public by the diminutive name of "May", after her birth month. [4]

May's upbringing was "merry but fairly strict". [1] [5] She was the eldest of four children, and the only daughter, and "learned to exercise her native discretion, firmness, and tact" by resolving her three younger brothers' petty boyhood squabbles. [6] They played with their cousins, the children of the Prince of Wales, who were similar in age. [7] She grew up at Kensington Palace and White Lodge, in Richmond Park, which was granted by Queen Victoria on permanent loan. She was educated at home by her mother and governess (as were her brothers until they were sent to boarding schools). [8] The Duchess of Teck spent an unusually long time with her children for a lady of her time and class, [5] and enlisted May in various charitable endeavours, which included visiting the tenements of the poor. [9]

Although May was a great-grandchild of George III, she was only a minor member of the British royal family. Her father, the Duke of Teck, had no inheritance or wealth and carried the lower royal style of Serene Highness because his parents' marriage was morganatic. [10] The Duchess of Teck was granted a parliamentary annuity of £5,000 and received about £4,000 a year from her mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, [11] but she donated lavishly to dozens of charities. [1] Prince Francis was deeply in debt and moved his family abroad with a small staff in 1883, in order to economise. [12] They travelled throughout Europe, visiting their various relations. For a time they stayed in Florence, Italy, where May enjoyed visiting the art galleries, churches, and museums. [13] She was fluent in English, German, and French. [1]

In 1885, the family returned to London and lived for some time in Chester Square. [1] May was close to her mother, and acted as an unofficial secretary, helping to organise parties and social events. She was also close to her aunt, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and wrote to her every week. During the First World War, the Crown Princess of Sweden helped pass letters from May to her aunt, who lived in enemy territory in Germany until her death in 1916. [14]

In 1886, "May" (as she was known) was a debutante in her first season, and was introduced at court. Her status as the only unmarried British princess who was not descended from Queen Victoria made her a suitable candidate for the royal family's most eligible bachelor, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, [1] her second cousin once removed and the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. [15]

On 3 December 1891 at Luton Hoo, then the country residence of Danish Ambassador Christian Frederick de Falbe, Albert Victor proposed marriage to May and she accepted. [1] The choice of May as bride for the Duke owed much to Queen Victoria's fondness for her, as well as to her strong character and sense of duty. However, Albert Victor died six weeks later, in a recurrence of the worldwide 1889–90 influenza pandemic, [16] before the date was fixed for their wedding. [1]

Albert Victor's brother, Prince George, Duke of York, now second in line to the throne, evidently became close to May during their shared period of mourning, and Queen Victoria still thought of her as a suitable candidate to marry a future king. [17] The public was also anxious that the Duke of York should marry and settle the succession. [1] In May 1893, George proposed, and May accepted. They were soon deeply in love, and their marriage was a success. George wrote to May every day they were apart and, unlike his father, never took a mistress. [18]

Mary married Prince George, Duke of York, in London on 6 July 1893 at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace. [19] The new Duke and Duchess of York lived in York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, and in apartments in St James's Palace. York Cottage was a modest house for royalty, but it was a favourite of George, who liked a relatively simple life. [20] They had six children: Edward, Albert, Mary, Henry, George, and John.

The children were put into the care of a nanny, as was usual in upper-class families at the time. The first nanny was dismissed for insolence and the second for abusing the children. This second woman, anxious to suggest that the children preferred her to anyone else, would pinch Edward and Albert whenever they were about to be presented to their parents so that they would start crying and be speedily returned to her. On discovery, she was replaced by her effective and much-loved assistant, Charlotte Bill. [21]

Sometimes, Mary and George appear to have been distant parents. At first, they failed to notice the nanny's abuse of the young princes Edward and Albert, [22] and their youngest son, Prince John, was housed in a private farm on the Sandringham Estate, in Bill's care, perhaps to hide his epilepsy from the public. Despite Mary's austere public image and her strait-laced private life, she was a caring mother and comforted her children when they suffered from her husband's strict discipline. [18]

Edward wrote fondly of his mother in his memoirs: "Her soft voice, her cultivated mind, the cosy room overflowing with personal treasures were all inseparable ingredients of the happiness associated with this last hour of a child's day . Such was my mother's pride in her children that everything that happened to each one was of the utmost importance to her. With the birth of each new child, Mama started an album in which she painstakingly recorded each progressive stage of our childhood". [23] He expressed a less charitable view, however, in private letters to his wife after his mother's death: "My sadness was mixed with incredulity that any mother could have been so hard and cruel towards her eldest son for so many years and yet so demanding at the end without relenting a scrap. I'm afraid the fluids in her veins have always been as icy cold as they are now in death." [24]

As Duke and Duchess of York, George and Mary carried out a variety of public duties. In 1897, she became the patron of the London Needlework Guild in succession to her mother. The guild, initially established as The London Guild in 1882, was renamed several times and was named after Mary between 1914 and 2010. [25] Samples of her own embroidery range from chair seats to tea cosies. [26]

On 22 January 1901, Queen Victoria died, and Mary's father-in-law ascended the throne as Edward VII. For most of the rest of that year, George and Mary were known as the "Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York". For eight months they toured the British Empire, visiting Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, South Africa and Canada. No royal had undertaken such an ambitious tour before. She broke down in tears at the thought of leaving her children, who were to be left in the care of their grandparents, for such a long time. [27]

On 9 November 1901, nine days after arriving back in Britain and on the King's sixtieth birthday, George was created Prince of Wales. The family moved their London residence from St James's Palace to Marlborough House. As Princess of Wales, Mary accompanied her husband on trips to Austria-Hungary and Württemberg in 1904. The following year, she gave birth to her last child, John. It was a difficult labour, and although she recovered quickly, her newborn son suffered respiratory problems. [28]

From October 1905 the Prince and Princess of Wales undertook another eight-month tour, this time of India, and the children were once again left in the care of their grandparents. [29] They passed through Egypt both ways and on the way back stopped in Greece. The tour was almost immediately followed by a trip to Spain for the wedding of King Alfonso XIII to Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, at which the bride and groom narrowly avoided assassination. [30] Only a week after returning to Britain, May and George went to Norway for the coronation of George's brother-in-law and sister, King Haakon VII and Queen Maud. [31]

On 6 May 1910, Edward VII died. Mary's husband ascended the throne and she became queen consort. When her husband asked her to drop one of her two official names, Victoria Mary, she chose to be called Mary, preferring not to be known by the same style as her husband's grandmother, Queen Victoria. [32] She was the first British queen consort born in Britain since Catherine Parr. [1] Queen Mary was crowned with the King on 22 June 1911 at Westminster Abbey. Later in the year, the new King and Queen travelled to India for the Delhi Durbar held on 12 December 1911, and toured the sub-continent as Emperor and Empress of India, returning to Britain in February. [33]

The beginning of Mary's period as consort brought her into conflict with her mother-in-law, Queen Alexandra. Although the two were on friendly terms, Alexandra could be stubborn she demanded precedence over Mary at the funeral of Edward VII, was slow in leaving Buckingham Palace, and kept some of the royal jewels that should have been passed to the new queen. [34]

During the First World War, Queen Mary instituted an austerity drive at the palace, where she rationed food, and visited wounded and dying servicemen in hospital, which caused her great emotional strain. [35] After three years of war against Germany, and with anti-German feeling in Britain running high, the Russian Imperial Family, which had been deposed by a revolutionary government, was refused asylum, possibly in part because the tsar's wife was German-born. [36] News of the tsar's abdication provided a boost to those in Britain who wished to replace their own monarchy with a republic. [37] The war ended in 1918 with the defeat of Germany and the abdication and exile of the kaiser.

Two months after the end of the war, Queen Mary's youngest son, John, died at the age of thirteen. She described her shock and sorrow in her diary and letters, extracts of which were published after her death: "our poor darling little Johnnie had passed away suddenly . The first break in the family circle is hard to bear but people have been so kind & sympathetic & this has helped us [the King and me] much." [38]

Her staunch support of her husband continued during the later half of his reign. She advised him on speeches and used her extensive knowledge of history and royalty to advise him on matters affecting his position. He appreciated her discretion, intelligence, and judgement. [39] She maintained an air of self-assured calm throughout all her public engagements in the years after the war, a period marked by civil unrest over social conditions, Irish independence, and Indian nationalism. [40]

In the late 1920s, George V became increasingly ill with lung problems, exacerbated by his heavy smoking. Queen Mary paid particular attention to his care. During his illness in 1928, one of his doctors, Sir Farquhar Buzzard, was asked who had saved the King's life. He replied, "The Queen". [41] In 1935, King George V and Queen Mary celebrated their silver jubilee, with celebrations taking place throughout the British Empire. In his jubilee speech, George paid public tribute to his wife, having told his speechwriter, "Put that paragraph at the very end. I cannot trust myself to speak of the Queen when I think of all I owe her." [42]

George V died on 20 January 1936, after his physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, gave him an injection of morphine and cocaine that may have hastened his death. [43] Queen Mary's eldest son ascended the throne as Edward VIII. She was now the queen mother, though she did not use that style, and was instead known as Her Majesty Queen Mary.

Within the year, Edward caused a constitutional crisis by announcing his desire to marry his twice-divorced American mistress, Wallis Simpson. Mary disapproved of divorce, which was against the teaching of the Anglican church, and thought Simpson wholly unsuitable to be the wife of a king. After receiving advice from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Stanley Baldwin, as well as the Dominion governments, that he could not remain king and marry Simpson, Edward abdicated.

Though loyal and supportive of her son, Mary could not comprehend why Edward would neglect his royal duties in favour of his personal feelings. [44] Simpson had been presented formally to both King George V and Queen Mary at court, [45] but Mary later refused to meet her either in public or privately. [46] She saw it as her duty to provide moral support for her second son, the reserved Prince Albert, Duke of York, who had a stammer. Albert ascended the throne on Edward's abdication, taking the name George VI. When Mary attended the coronation, she became the first British dowager queen to do so. [47] Edward's abdication did not lessen her love for him, but she never wavered in her disapproval of his actions. [18] [48]

Mary took an interest in the upbringing of her granddaughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and took them on various excursions in London, to art galleries and museums. (The princesses' own parents thought it unnecessary for them to be taxed with any demanding educational regime.) [49]

During the Second World War, George VI wished his mother to be evacuated from London. Although she was reluctant, she decided to live at Badminton House, Gloucestershire, with her niece, Mary Somerset, Duchess of Beaufort, the daughter of her brother Adolphus. [50] Her personal belongings were transported from London in seventy pieces of luggage. Her household, which comprised fifty-five servants, occupied most of the house, except for the Duke and Duchess's private suites, until after the war. The only people to complain about the arrangements were the royal servants, who found the house too small, [51] though Queen Mary annoyed her niece by having the ancient ivy torn from the walls as she considered it unattractive and a hazard. From Badminton, in support of the war effort, she visited troops and factories and directed the gathering of scrap materials. She was known to offer lifts to soldiers she spotted on the roads. [52] In 1942, her youngest surviving son, Prince George, Duke of Kent, was killed in an air crash while on active service. Mary finally returned to Marlborough House in June 1945, after the war in Europe had resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Mary was an eager collector of objects and pictures with a royal connection. [53] She paid above-market estimates when purchasing jewels from the estate of Dowager Empress Marie of Russia [54] and paid almost three times the estimate when buying the family's Cambridge Emeralds from Lady Kilmorey, the mistress of her late brother Prince Francis. [55] In 1924, the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens created Queen Mary's Dolls' House for her collection of miniature pieces. [56] She has sometimes been criticised for her aggressive acquisition of objets d'art for the Royal Collection. On several occasions, she would express to hosts, or others, that she admired something they had in their possession, in the expectation that the owner would be willing to donate it. [57] Her extensive knowledge of, and research into, the Royal Collection helped in identifying artefacts and artwork that had gone astray over the years. [58] The royal family had lent out many pieces over previous generations. Once she had identified unreturned items through old inventories, she would write to the holders, requesting that they be returned. [59] In addition to being an avid collector, Mary also commissioned many gifts of jewellery, including rings which she presented to her ladies-in-waiting on the occasion of their engagements. [60]

The Secret of the Virgin King: Was Queen Elizabeth I really a man?

Famously, despite countless proposals and opportunities to marry an array of suitable bachelors, Elizabeth resisted and her line died with her. “I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the kingdom of England,” she claimed, but was this true?

Elizabeth’s vow of abstinence was a very unusual one for her time, and there were those who believe that the real reason was far more biological – Elizabeth was a man.

The theory that the virgin queen was actually the virgin king was first put into print by none other than Bram Stoker, but there’s no doubt that some of Elizabeth’s contemporaries held similar ideas. Known for writing the gothic horror novel Dracula, Stoker first uncovered this theory when he visited the village of Bisley in the Cotswolds. He discovered a peculiar village tradition during May Day celebrations where the May Queen was actually a boy dressed in Elizabethan clothing.

Curious to know more about this strange tradition, he did some digging, uncovered a legend and immortalised it in his 1910 book Famous Imposters.

The story goes that at some point in her childhood, likely around 1543 or 1544, the young Elizabeth was sent away to Bisley to escape the threat of plague in the city.

The king arranged to come and see his daughter in her countryside retreat, but shortly before he was expected, the young Elizabeth fell ill and died. Knowing how fearsome Henry’s reputation was, and not wishing to feel the brunt of the royal anger, the governess concocted a plan. She hid the child’s body and rushed into town to find a girl to pass off as the princess.

Unfortunately for the panicked governess, there was no female child of the appropriate age who even vaguely resembled Elizabeth. Then she remembered a playmate of the princess, a pretty young child who could well be passed off as her. There was only one problem – he was a boy. With no options left, the governess found the child and dressed him in Elizabeth’s clothes just as Henry arrived.

Amazingly, the con went off without a hitch. Luckily for the governess, Henry didn’t visit his daughter often and she was known for being shy around him, besides, he was in a hurry. After catching a glimpse of her, he was satisfied and went on his way. The deception worked so well that it continued indefinitely, nobody in the know dared inform the king, and most aware of the swap were confined to the tiny remote village in the Cotswold hills, and thus the truth was buried forever.

Elizabeth’s (the real Elizabeth that is) body was supposedly never moved from the stone coffin it was hidden in, and more than 300 years later, during building work, it was discovered. Reverend Thomas Keble reportedly told his family that the body found was that of a young girl in Elizabethan dress. Realising what he had discovered, he conveniently reburied her elsewhere – supposedly beginning the legend that intrigued Stoker and created the peculiar May Day drag tradition.

Stoker wasn’t messing around with this conspiracy, he was thoroughly convinced that it was 100 per cent true, and it’s easy to see how he might have come to this conclusion. Elizabeth had many attributes and habits that were very unusual for a woman in her era, not to mention her famous speech to the troops of Tilbury before the Spanish Armada:

“I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.”

It was argued that such a rousing speech with such remarkable manly bearing could not possibly come from the mouth of a woman. There was also the fact that she constantly wore wigs, perhaps to hide a receding hairline? She was also known to cake her face in makeup, as well as wear big dresses with a high neckline – perfect for disguising a male form.

There were multiple rumours during Elizabeth’s reign that she was unable to bear children. The Count de Feria, advisor of Philip II of Spain, wrote in 1559, when Elizabeth was 25:

“If my spies do not lie, which I believe they do not, for a certain reason which they have recently given me, I understand that she will not bear children.”

Was this reason the absence of female reproductive organs? Stoker certainly believed so, and he also maintained that this was a secret that ‘Elizabeth’ closely guarded her whole life. The courtier Sir Robert Tyrwhitt wrote in 1549:

“I do verily believe that there hath been some secret promise between my Lady, Mistress Ashley [Elizabeth’s governess] and the Cofferer [Sir Thomas Parry] never to confess to death. “

Stoker wasn’t the only one to compare Elizabeth to a man. Her tutor Roger Ascham wrote in 1550: “The constitution of her mind is exempt from female weakness, and she is endued with a masculine power of application.” Simply put – she was far too clever to be a woman. Elizabeth’s refusal to see any other doctors but her own was also seen as suspicious. Even when she fell ill during house arrest at Woodstock, she refused to see anyone but her own physicians. This reluctance for others to examine her body continued throughout her life, and she made it very clear that there was to be absolutely no post mortem of her body after her death.

However, like most conspiracy theories, it falls apart if we look a little deeper at the facts. It does seem peculiar that even a father as distant as Henry wouldn’t notice that his little girl was now a little boy – especially considering how obsessed he was about acquiring one of his own.

Although Elizabeth never married, she was romantically linked to men – most notably Robert Dudley. Although she claimed never to actually have done the deed with him (which is believable considering she was constantly surrounded by watchful eyes day and night), it seems unlikely that none of her male favourites would notice that she was a he.

Robert Dudley, one of Elizabeth’s favourites, though the rest of the royal court did not share such fondness for him.

Another prospective suitor, Philip II, had heard rumours of her infertility and decided to find out the truth for himself by bribing her laundress for details. She reported that the queen was functioning normally as a woman, indicating that she was menstruating. Satisfied that she could indeed bear him an heir, Philip unsuccessfully proposed to Elizabeth.

On another occasion a panel of doctors inspected her during marriage negotiations to ensure she could still bear children – and they confirmed she could. Either they were very ill-trained doctors, or Elizabeth was, in fact, female.

Perhaps what this, most definitely hogwash, conspiracy demonstrates instead is how cemented the views towards women were. In the 1500s a woman’s role was so defined that even the most powerful woman in the country, the queen of England, could not defy it without people questioning her gender.

  • Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen, Tracy Borman
  • Famous Imposters, Bram Stoker
  • A History of Britain in 100 Mistakes, Gareth Rubin

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It's expensive.

Train travel may be more old fashioned that flying, but that doesn't mean it's cheaper. In fact, according to Secrets of Royal Travel, a trip in the Royal Train is approximately four times more expensive than traveling by plane, costing around £52 per mile, compared to £12 by air. The expense has occasionally caused some controversy since, like all of the royal family's official travel, the Royal Train is paid for by the Sovereign Grant, a taxpayer-funded grant given to the Queen every year to cover the official expenses of the monarchy.

Given that the government's decision not to fund future royal yachts is what led to the decommissioning of the Britannia, some have wondered if the Royal Train's days are numbered. However the royal family have consistently insisted that the train is integral to royal life and the performance of their duties.

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