The Governess

The Governess

By Wendy Holden

Published by Welbeck 2020

What it’s about?

From Goodreads:

Sunday Times bestselling author Wendy Holden brings to life the unknown childhood years of one of the world’s most iconic figures, Queen Elizabeth II, and reveals the little-known governess who made Britain’s queen into the monarch we know today.

In 1933, twenty-two-year-old Marion Crawford accepts the role of a lifetime, tutoring their Royal Highnesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Her one stipulation to their parents the Duke and Duchess of York is that she bring some doses of normalcy into the sheltered and privileged lives of the two young princesses.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Balmoral, Marion defies oppressive court protocol to take the girls on tube trains, swimming at public baths, and on joyful Christmas shopping trips at Woolworth’s. From her ringside seat at the heart of the British monarchy she witnesses the upheaval of the Abdication and the glamour and drama of the 1937 Coronation.

During the war, as Hitler’s Heinkels fly over Windsor, she shelters her charges in the castle dungeons (not far from where the Crown Jewels are hidden in a biscuit tin). Afterwards, she is there when Elizabeth first sets eyes on Philip. But being beloved governess and confidante to the Windsor family has come at a cost. She puts her private life on hold until released from royal service following Princess Elizabeth’s marriage in 1947.

In a majestic story of love, sacrifice, and allegiance, bestselling novelist Holden shines a captivating light into the years before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, as immortalized on the popular television series The Crown.

What I think:

This is such a fascinating story.

Marion Crawford is training to be a teacher in Edinburgh. Surrounded by poverty in the city, Marion’s ambition is to teach the deprived children of the slums and help improve the life chances for local children. Diligent and compassionate, Marion makes a strong impression on those who meet her.

Fate intervenes when Marion is recommended for a summer job with an aristocratic family related to the Duchess of York. When the Duchess request that Marion comes to London to educate the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret she is conflicted. She comes to the conclusion that she her work with the Royal Family could have a great impact on the country and she can use her influence in a different way.

Seeing the Royal Family of the 1930s and 40s through Marion’s eyes reveals a family that is both loving and neglectful, privileged and deprived.

Princess Elizabeth’s education is lacking in routine, she has no clothes suitable for playing and has little knowledge of the world outside of the Palace walls.

Marion sets about introducing the children to the world including trips on the Underground and to Woolworths. Gently and persistently she fights their corner and brings much needed stability into their lives.

What I found really interesting is that Marion only ever sees this as a temporary position, but abdication crisis develops, and the status of the York family changes, she finds herself torn between her own ambitions and her sense of duty.

Marion sacrifices a lot to remain with the Royal Family. She finds it hard to trust anyone outside of royal circles after stories she shares with friends end up in the tabloids. And yet no matter how close to the children and trusted she becomes she is always on the fringes and disposable.

The story of the end of her relationship with the Royal Family and her betrayal is such a sad ending to her career and the scenes with elderly Marion hoping for a visit from the now Queen Elizabeth are incredibly poignant.

I loved this book. It’s thoroughly researched and full of fascinating period detail. Fans of The Crown and Downton Abbey will love it.

Thank you Wendy Holden and Welbeck Publishing for gifting me a copy of The Governess. It is available to order from:

Waterstones: click here

Amazon.co.uk: click here

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