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"A level-headed study . . . helps us appreciate the capacities as well as the limitations of a woman who, whatever else happens, just keeps on going on." —People
"There will be no better biography of Elizabeth II as a figure of state until her official one appears—and perhaps not even then. . . . Pimlott has ...
"A level-headed study . . . helps us appreciate the capacities as well as the limitations of a woman who, whatever else happens, just keeps on going on." —People
"There will be no better biography of Elizabeth II as a figure of state until her official one appears—and perhaps not even then. . . . Pimlott has succeeded triumphantly. He has written a book that can be enjoyed and admired by people who would never have imagined reading any previous royal biography." —The Independent (London)
"An important and stimulating book." —Antonia Fraser, author of Mary, Queen of Scots in The Guardian (London)
"The best all-around study of the Queen so far, showing understanding as well as amused irony." —The Sunday Telegraph (London)
"There will not be a better royal biography for many years." —The Daily Telegraph (London)
When Elizabeth was born, in 1926, there was little expectation that she would be monarch. She was the daughter of the duke of York, George V's second son. The prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) was the clear successor. The turbulent, unsettling sequence of events that led to her accession—the abdication of Edward, the heroic role played by her father (then George VI) in WW II, the storybook quality of her romance with Philip, and her coronation—contributed to her being subject to "adulation unparalleled since the days of Louis XIV." The underlying theme of this book is how this all changed, despite the remarkable job she herself has done. Pimlott carefully argues that Elizabth, who at first relied heavily on her courtiers, gradually assumed more and more control of the monarchy, becoming at last a cool, confident professional, deeply interested in politics and in her people, legendary for her energy and patience. As to the decline of interest in royalty, Pimlott suggests a number of factors having relatively little to do with the queen herself, including the antics of the younger generation of royals, the intrusiveness of the press, the decline in respect for institutions, the transfer of British interests to Europe rather than the Commonwealth. Reflecting the greater openness that now characterizes discussion of the royals, Pimlott tartly notes, for instance, that the union of Charles and Diana was "a marriage of convenience that was disguised to everybody, including themselves, as a lovematch." He concludes with a paradox: "a pilloried family, a much criticized institution, even a widely questioned role—and yet, a valued incumbent."
He is, perhaps, exaggerating the institution's difficulties. But no one has analyzed these problems with greater acuteness or more sense.
April 1926 was a busy month for every member of the Conservative Government, but for few ministers more than the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks. A long, bitter dispute in the coalfields was moving rapidly towards its climax — with drastic implications for the nation.
`We are going to be slaves no longer and our men will starve before they accept any reductions in wages,' the miners' leader, A. J. Cook, had declared in an angry speech that crystallized the mood in the collieries, while the men resolved: `Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day'. On 14 April, the TUC leadership asked the Prime Minister to intervene. A week later the owners and men met, but failed to reach agreement. Thereafter, the chance of a compromise diminished, and the prospect grew closer of a terrifying industrial shutdown which — for the first time in British history — seemed likely to affect the majority of British manual workers. Alarm affected all levels of society. Even King George V — mindful of his right to be consulted, and his duty both to encourage and above all to warn — discreetly urged his ministers to show caution. Alas, royal counsels were in vain, and the General Strike began at midnight on 3rd May 1926, threatening not just economic paralysis and bankruptcy, but the constitution itself.
`Jix' Joynson-Hicks — best known to history for his zeal in ordering police raids on the decadent writings of D.H. Lawrence and Radclyffe Hall, and for the part he later played in defeating the 1927 Bill to revise the Prayer Book — was scarcely an outstanding ormemorable holder of his post. This, however, was his most splendid hour. In swashbuckling alliance with Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, Quintin Hogg and Leo Amery, the Home Secretary was a Cabinet hawk, in the thick of the fight, a scourge of the miners, opposed to an easy settlement.
If nothing else — it was said — he had nerve. It was Jix who, just after the Strike began, appealed for 50,000 volunteers for the special constables, in order to protect essential vehicles — and thereby raised the temperature of the dispute. For several critical weeks, Jix was at the heart of the nation's events, in constant touch with the Metropolitan Police, and sometimes with the Prime Minister as well.
Sleep was at a premium, snatched between night-time Downing Street parleys and daytime consultations with officials. A call in the early hours of 21 April to attend a royal birth, shortly before one of the most critical meetings in the entire dispute between the Prime Minister and the coal owners, was therefore not entirely a cause for celebration. But it was a duty not to be shirked, and Joynson-Hicks was equal to it. He hurried to the bedside of the twenty-five-year-old Duchess of York, wife of the King's second son, at 17 Bruton Street — the London home of the Duchess's parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, who happened to be among the most prominent coal owners in the United Kingdom. The child was born at 2.40 a.m., and named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, after the Duchess and two Queens.
Why the Home Secretary needed to attend the birth of the child of a minor member of the Royal Family was one of the mysteries of the British Monarchy. Later, when Princess Elizabeth herself became pregnant, an inquiry was launched at the instigation of the then Labour Home Secretary, Chuter Ede. Inspecting the archives, Home Office researchers rejected as myth a quaint belief, fondly held by the Royal Household and the public alike, that it had something to do with verification, James II and warming pans. After taking expert advice, Ede informed Sir Alan Lascelles, Private Secretary to George VI, that it was no more than `the custom of past ages by which ministers thronged the private apartments of royalty daily, and particularly at moments of special significance such as births, marriages and deaths'. In 1926, however, it was enough that it was customary — Jix was not the kind of man to question it. According to The Times the next day, Sir William `was present in the house at the time of the birth' and conveyed the news by special messenger to the Lord Mayor.
It was a difficult delivery, despite the best attention. Not until 10 a.m. did the Duchess's doctors issue a guarded statement which revealed what had happened. `Previous to the confinement a consultation took place,' it declared, `... and a certain line of treatment' — decorous code for a Caesarean section — `was successfully adopted'. The announcement had more than a purely medical significance. The risks such an operation then entailed, and would again entail in the event of subsequent pregnancies, made it unlikely that the Duchess would have a large family, and hence reduced the chances of a future male heir.
At the time, however, few regarded the Princess's proximity to the throne as important. Some later writers, looking back, argued that her succession was always likely. But this was post hoc: in 1926 the Duke of York's elder brother was young and healthy, and was expected to marry and have issue. When Princess Elizabeth was born she was third in line for the throne after her uncle, the Prince of Wales, and her father, and under the 1701 Act of Settlement she took precedence over her father's young brothers — just as Queen Victoria had taken precedence over the Duke of Cumberland, younger brother of William IV, in 1837, even though her own father, the Duke of Kent, had predeceased him. Therefore, until either her uncle had a legitimate heir, or her father had a son, Elizabeth's eventual succession was possible, and she had a special standing as a result. But this chance initially seemed remote, and the Princess was much less afflicted during her earliest years by the isolating sense of an inescapable destiny than either her eldest uncle, or her own eldest son.
Despite the distance of the child from the throne, the newspapers took a keen interest in the birth. Perhaps they were responding to the deepening crisis with a bromide, or perhaps it was part of a patriotic reaction. Whatever the cause, far more attention was paid to Princess Elizabeth in 1926 than to George V's first two grandsons, George and Gerald Lascelles, sons of the Princess Royal, in 1923 and 1924, even though at the time of their births they had been similarly placed in the line of succession. Such, indeed, was the excitement that a crowd swiftly gathered in Bruton Street in the hope of seeing the Princess, to greet the messenger boys who arrived with telegrams and presents, and to cheer the Duchess's royal callers.
Among the first to arrive were the King and Queen. `Such a relief and joy,' wrote Queen Mary in her diary, noting that the baby was `a little darling with lovely complexion & pretty fair hair'. The Duke of York was beside himself. `We always wanted a child to make our happiness complete,' he wrote to his mother. Kings, however, prefer male descendants. The Duke therefore added a little anxiously, `I do hope that you & Papa are as delighted as we are, to have a granddaughter, or would you sooner have another grandson. I know Elizabeth wanted a daughter.'
Then the nation was plunged into turmoil and uncertainty as, for six bewildering days, industries and services were halted, and workers took to the streets. The Duke of York attended debates daily at the House of Commons; at Buckingham Palace, sentries exchanged their red coats for khaki; and the royal entourage was cut to a minimum as an emergency measure, to allow the lords-in-waiting and most of the equerries to take up duties in Jix's army of special constables. Yet public interest in the royal baby was unabated. On 14 May, just after the ending of the Strike, Queen Mary's lady-in-waiting and friend, the Countess of Airlie, visited 17 Bruton Street to deliver the gift of a bottle of `Jordan water' from the Holy Land, for use at the christening. She found such a throng in the street that the infant had to be taken out for her morning airing by a back entrance.
The christening took place at Buckingham Palace at the end of May, attended by ten `children of the Chapel Royal' — small boys clad in crimson and gold, with neck jabots of old lace. The Princess wore a skirt several feet in length. She cried so much during the service that immediately after it her old-fashioned nurse surprised `the modern young mothers present' (as Lady Airlie described some of the Duchess's friends), and much amused the Prince of Wales, by dosing her heavily from a bottle of dill water. In spite of the puckering of the royal features, great interest was shown in the infant's physical appearance. One resourceful sketch-writer wrote of the Princess's `pure cream complexion and blue eyes fringed with long, dark lashes'.
The baby was no sooner baptized than an active debate began in the press about how she should, and would, be brought up. The issue of modernity versus tradition became a matter of particular concern, especially to women writers in the popular magazines, where prejudice and preference tended to merge with the little evidence that was available about what actually went on. There was also the question of whether royal child-rearing should be special — given the future responsibilities of a member of the Royal Family — or follow a pattern which any mother should treat as the ideal. Most commentators opted for the latter. `Sensible' was a much favoured word: a sensible nursery regime involved strict, no-nonsense orderliness, with an emphasis on routine, and the avoidance of fads.
Above all — a point on which all agreed — there must be no excessive luxury. A distinction was made between the opulent symbols of royal status, which were considered both acceptable and desirable; and any kind of physical or especially dietary indulgence. Thus, the National Jewellers' Association was applauded for presenting the Princess with a silver porringer, with ivory handles carved in the form of thistles and a cover surmounted by an ivory and silver coronet. There were no objections when the chairman of the Association, Mr G. L. Joseph, declared after a little ceremony at Bruton Street his hope that the porringer would take its place `upon the breakfast table of the first baby in the land, and may even be banged upon the table by her infant hands'. It was also felt appropriate that royal baby clothes should be hand-made from the finest materials; and there was wide approval at the news that the Queen of England herself, together with Lady Strathmore and the Duchess of York, had personally stitched the Princess's layette, assisted by the inmates of charitable institutions where relevant skills were to be found. `Many poor gentlewomen,' it was reported, `have profited by the Duchess's order for fine lawn and muslin frocks, little bonnets and jackets, and all the delightful accessories of baby's toilet.' However, it was simultaneously claimed that, as `a great believer in modern methods of bringing up infants,' the Duchess of York rejected the arguments of those who favoured long skirts for ordinary use.
Long skirts meant unnecessary waste. Yet if the Duchess was modern on the subject of skirts, she was old-fashioned on the matter of cloth. A battle raged in the 1920s between mothers and nurses who held to the tradition of clothing babies in cotton garments, and progressive advocates of warm, soft, cosy and absorptive wool. The Duchess firmly rejected wool. After visiting a welfare centre where `woolly babies' were the rule, she admitted that such apparel might be convenient and comfortable, but laughingly said that the infants `looked rather like little gnomes, and that she preferred "frilly babies"'. Yet she also rejected self-consciously showy clothes for children. Frilliness meant femininity, not unnecessary adornment. Cotton meant cleanliness and purity. The Duchess, suggested one account, had `definite ideas about dressing a child, and they can be summed up in the single word Simplicity'. When the Princess was a baby and toddler, she was dressed predominantly in white; when she grew older, she and her sister `could not have been more simply dressed,' according to their governess. Simplicity was linked to a sturdy, even spartan, approach: simple, sensible clothes as a feature of a simple, sensible upbringing. `They don't wear hats at play, even on the coldest and windiest days,' wrote one commentator. The Duchess's attitude seemed to rub off on her daughter who, in adolescence, `never cared a fig' about what she wore.
Such an approach seemed both patriotic and morally proper at a time when British was deemed best in the nursery, as everywhere else. At first, the Princess occupied a room at 17 Bruton Street which had been used by her mother before her marriage. Here, Lady Strathmore had made sure that `in all the personal details that give character to a room,' the surroundings were `typically English'. After a few months, the nursery and its establishment of custodians moved to the Yorks' new residence at 145 Piccadilly, a tall, solid-looking building, later destroyed by a wartime bomb, close to Hyde Park Corner, and almost opposite St George's Hospital.
145 Piccadilly was a town house of the kind often maintained as a London base by aristocratic and other wealthy families who were happiest in the country. It was spacious (an estate agent's advertisement claimed that including servants' quarters, there were 25 bedrooms) but unremarkable. When they were there, the standard of living of the King's second son and his wife was far from meagre. According to one account in 1936, staff kept at 145 Piccadilly included a steward, a housekeeper, the Duchess's personal maid, the Duke's valet, two footmen, three maids, a cook and two kitchen maids, a nurse, a nursery-maid, a boy and a night-watchman. A few years earlier, there had been an under-nurse as well. Nevertheless, the Yorks' existence — cheek-by-jowl with the establishments of rich professionals, bankers and businessmen, as well as of landowners — was not unusual in aristocratic or plutocratic terms.
The photographer Lisa Sheridan first visited the Piccadilly house in the late 1920s (her mother happened to be a friend of the housekeeper). She later recalled a white terraced building, indistinguishable from those on either side of it. There was a semi-basement kitchen, `like the giant's kitchen in a pantomime with its immense shiny copper pots and great fire-range'. The upstairs interior style reflected the taste of the Duchess more than of the Duke. Vast oil paintings, including a picture of horses, hung in heavy gilt frames in the dim, over-furnished entrance hall, alongside huge elephant tusks, mementoes of somebody's big game hunt. There was also a painted, life-size statue of a black boy. An extensive garden at the back, shared with other houses, added an element of community. As the Princess grew older she was able to play on the lawns and paths with the children of the merely well-to-do, although a zoo-like atmosphere developed, as members of the public, tipped off by the press, acquired the habit of peering through the railings.
Elizabeth lived in a suite of rooms at the top of the house, consisting of a day nursery, a night nursery and a bathroom linked by a landing, with wide windows looking down on the park. Here Mrs Sheridan remembered seeing the Princess, `her pretty doll-like face ... framed in soft silky curls'. Around her were the typical accoutrements of an inter-war upper-class infant's lair: a rocking horse, baby clothes hung up to dry, a nanny knitting in a rocking chair. The impression was of devotion and reassurance, but also of order, neatness and discipline; the Princess, at the crawling stage, was only allowed to play with one toy at a time.
There was no question about who was in charge. The Yorks' governess later aptly described the regime as `a state within a state,' with the nanny, Clara Knight (known as `Alla'), as ever-present benign dictator, `a shoulder to weep on, a bosom to fall asleep on,' who `would sit at evening in the rocker ... mending or knitting and telling stories of "when Mummie was a little girl"'. Alla was a former Strathmore retainer who had looked after the Duchess and her brother: Elizabeth Cavendish, a contemporary of the Princess, remembers her, from children's parties, as a `formidable' figure. Unmodern to a fault, she controlled the life of the Princess — health, dress and bath.
The tiny Princess, half-royal by birth, lived in her earliest years a half-royal existence. At first, much of it was spent with her parents, as they travelled restlessly around the great houses of people to whom they were related, like members of any great family. Soon, however, the requirements of royalty produced long parental absences, and the role of Alla and her assistants grew.
From babyhood, Princess Elizabeth was often in Scotland, either staying with her Strathmore (Bowes-Lyon) grandparents at Glamis Castle in Forfarshire, or with her royal ones at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire. She spent much of her first summer in an ancient nursery wing at Glamis, or sleeping in the Castle garden `to the rhythmic sound of tennis balls on hard courts where her elders played, and to the song of laden bees. And when she awoke it was to smile at her father and mother as they started off on some fishing expedition ...' At the end of August, when Elizabeth was four months old, the Duke and Duchess of York left her in the care of the Countess of Strathmore while they went, like most of the young mothers and fathers, modern and unmodern, who were known to them, on `a round of visits to friends'.
This was the prelude to a much longer parting. Earlier in the year, the Duke of York had accepted an invitation to open the Commonwealth Parliament in the new Australian capital of Canberra. It was taken for granted both that his wife would accompany him and that their baby daughter would not. After Christmas, therefore, the Yorks took the Princess to the Strathmores' Hertfordshire home at St Paul's Walden Bury, and there they left her, for the duration of the royal tour. After they had sailed from Portsmouth early in January 1927, the Duchess wrote from on board the battle cruiser Renown to her mother-in-law that she had `felt very much leaving on Thursday, and the baby was so sweet playing with the buttons on Bertie's uniform that it quite broke me up'. Neither the King, nor the Queen, nor the Duke, however, would have seen anything unusual about such a trip. As Prince of Wales, George V had himself taken his wife on several foreign or imperial tours, without the encumbrance of their young children.
In any case, there was much to take the minds of the Duke and Duchess off their baby daughter. Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, known as `Bertie' to his family, had been made Duke of York in 1920, at the age of twenty-five. Yet he had not at that time sought a prominent royal role, and no exacting royal responsibilities had so far been asked of him. Shy and slow as a child, and the victim of a stammer since the age of seven or eight, he disliked and avoided occasions when he might be required to speak — so much so, that some had regarded him as not only reclusive, but intellectually backward. There had been some recent improvement. His marriage to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 had increased his confidence. So too, during the months before the voyage, had a course of instruction from an Australian speech therapist. But his appearances before large audiences had been infrequent, and — except over events like weddings and births — the public had taken less interest in him and his wife than in other members of the Royal Family. `The news-reels didn't bother them very much,' noted one commentator, a few years later, `and the press left them pretty much alone.' Australia, where the Duke was to represent his father before the people of an intensely loyal dominion, was his first major testing ground.
The tour was exacting, psychologically as well as physically, for it aroused huge public curiosity. The Yorks' itinerary involved going, via Panama, to Fiji and New Zealand before they reached Sydney. In Australia, a programme of visits took them to cities around the country, culminating in their arrival at Canberra for Bertie's painfully rehearsed, much feared speech at the opening ceremony. During the ominous build-up, the Duke and Duchess were feted at each stop. The local press eagerly examined every available detail of the lives of the previously little-known couple, who seemed to embody the mother country, for which sentimental and nostalgic feelings remained strong. As the tour progressed, fascination increased, especially for the most humanizing detail of all: the distant and as yet inarticulate Princess. `Wherever we go cheers are given for her as well,' Bertie wrote to his mother, `& the children write to us about her.' The newspapers dubbed her `Betty,' and she became the tour's unofficial mascot. The Duke and Duchess were soon besieged with questions about `the World's Best Known Baby'. They were also loaded with gifts for her, each locality or association vying with its rivals to produce the most loving, ingenious and appropriate present. The Brownies of Auckland delivered a large doll, the children of Fremantle gave a miniature bed, together with a box of miniature clothes, the National Council of Women sent a gold porringer, and the Melbourne Arts and Crafts Society proudly proffered an Australian Noah's Ark, complete with kangaroos, wallabies and other antipodean survivors of the Flood. In May 1927, it was estimated that three tons of toys had so far been presented for Betty, in absentia. The soldier who guarded them reputedly said there were more dolls in the collection than there were men in his regiment.
At home, however, Alla's one-toy-at-a-time regime did not alter. The Princess's first day without her parents was reported by the newspapers to be just like any other. Though it was the depth of winter, her nanny took her in a pram on a two-hour walk through Mayfair into Hyde Park, where she appeared perfectly content, fast asleep, and (suitably, for the granddaughter of a King-Emperor) clutching a golliwog under the covers. Supposedly, she `seemed to miss her mother's regular morning visit to the nursery,' though how anyone could tell was not revealed.
In February, the Alla establishment joined George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace, and in April they followed the Court to Windsor, where the Princess spent her first birthday. The King and Queen enjoyed the idea of being in loco parentis (although it involved little contact with the child) and the Queen, particularly, took it very seriously. There was a daily ritual. Every afternoon, Alla would bring Princess Elizabeth down to her grandparents, `and the appearance at the door of a very little person in a white gown and fringed sash would be greeted by the Queen's delighted cry of "Here comes the Bambino!"' Photographs and written reports of the baby's progress were sent to her parents. `She has 4 teeth now,' the King told them in March, `which is quite good at eleven months, she is very happy and drives in a carriage every afternoon, which amuses her'. The Strathmores were able to tell of other accomplishments. During the last two months of the Yorks's absence, the Princess stayed at St Paul's Walden Bury. Here, Alla patiently taught her to enunciate the word `Mummy'. Since, however, there was nobody to whom the word could be accurately applied, she greeted everybody she came across, including family portraits, `with the salutation "Mummy, Mummy!"'
As one writer observed later in the Princess's childhood, `the parents who came back to her from the other end of the earth were strangers'. The Duke and Duchess returned in June after six months away, laden with toys, to greet a child they barely recognized, who was almost twice the age she had been when they departed. The reunion involved a poignant little ceremony in the Grand Hall at Buckingham Palace where the King and Queen and the Earl and Countess of Strathmore had assembled with the Household staff to provide a welcoming party. The Duchess, seeing the baby in its nurse's arms, rushed forward, exclaiming `Oh you little darling', and kissed and hugged it repeatedly.
Glad to be home, flushed with the unexpected triumph of their tour, and delighted to see their daughter, the Yorks were happy to relax for a while in London after such an arduous journey. However, they did not stay still for long. Within a few weeks, they had left the capital for the shooting season — the Duke to join the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Duchess to visit her parents at Glamis. At first, Princess Elizabeth stayed in London, but after another short separation, she was dispatched to Scotland, where a mother-daughter relationship was re-established. `Elizabeth is learning to walk — very dangerous!' wrote the Duchess of York at Glamis. In September 1927, the whole family joined the King and Queen at Balmoral. Then they returned south for the autumn months, in order to settle properly into their house in Piccadilly.
In all accounts of Princess Elizabeth as a child, legend and reality are inseparable. The observations of those with direct knowledge were fed, not just by what they saw, but also by popular beliefs and idealizations, colouring the way they treated her, and shaping the stories they passed on which, in turn, fed the myths. Two themes stand out in the early tales. According to one, the Princess was an unusually bright and interesting child, as well as an exceptionally pleasing, generous, and sunny-natured one. According to the other, she was the essence of normality, and of a typically balanced yet fallible British girlhood. These contradictory versions — the ideal and the archetype — were held simultaneously and provided the frame on which every narrative of the Princess's childhood was built, including the anecdotes of those close to her. They also shaped the way the world came to see her as an adult and as a monarch.
The manufacture of a publicly known personality for the Princess began with her appearance. The world, peering into the royal perambulator, detected an ethereal quality. After a visit to the Bruton Street nursery, one early eulogizer wrote that the infant Elizabeth had `the sweetest air of complete serenity about her. While we were talking, her nurse came in to fetch her, and the Duchess threw round her daughter's head ... a filmy veil of gossamer, from which she looked down out of her nurse's arms smiling angelically at her mother, like a cherub out of a cloud'.
Yet if the Princess's blond Botticelli curls, blue eyes and plump cheeks made it easy to cast her as an angel, it was important that she should also be seen as a mischievous one. After a Christmas party in 1927 for four hundred tenants on the Sandringham Estate, the press reported that the twenty-one-month-old apparition, wearing a white dress, silk socks and white shoes, suddenly materialized, standing upright on the table, `chattering and bombarding the guests with crackers handed to her by her mother.' There was also another version of the image of a small person bombarding big ones with harmless objects. At 145 Piccadilly, the Princess would allegedly get a small toy, such as a teddy bear or a ball, and drop it from the nursery landing down the stairwell onto visitors as they arrived at the house. Other stories also emphasized that, for all the other-worldliness, the child was cheeringly imperfect. Ruth St Mawr, a friend of Lady Strathmore, told a story about taking tea at Glamis Castle when Princess Elizabeth, by then three, bounded in. `You can't think how naughty I've been,' declared the child. `Oh, so naughty, you don't know.' `Well then tell me,' said Lady Strathmore, `and I shall know.' `No,' said Princess Elizabeth — and that was that.
Normality required a pet-name and this, the press was delighted to discover, Princess Elizabeth herself provided early on. At two and a half, she was reported to be calling herself `Tillabet'. Later, this became `Lisabet' or `Lilliebeth,' before settling down as `Lilibet,' the name her close family have continued to call her all her life. Normality also required a passion, and this, too, the Princess obligingly furnished in her lifelong love of horses and dogs, which could be dated to the autumn of 1928, when the Duke of York took Naseby Hall in Northamptonshire for the hunting season, and Elizabeth accompanied her parents there for much of the winter. According to one inter-war chronicler, it was at Naseby `that Lisabet really fell in love with beautiful horses'. She enjoyed patting her father's animals, and her nurse had to watch her closely, because of her habit of running off to the stables at the slightest excuse at any time of day. In addition, apparently, `she especially loved the hounds with their nervous erect tails and their elemental eagerness to be off'.
Horses and dogs had to be trained, and from a tender age, Princess Elizabeth was often portrayed in appropriate roles of command and authority in relation to them. But royal children required training too, and it was made clear, in every tale, that the Princess's mischief was never allowed to get out of hand. If Elizabeth had a sense of fun, it was also (commentators took care to point out) kept in check. `Uncurbed without being spoilt' was how the Sunday Dispatch described the barely walking child in an article entitled `The Roguish Princess'. `Roguish' was a favourite term in such accounts: it implied misbehaviour within acceptable and endearing limits. According to Alice Ring's royally sanctioned description of the Princess, published in 1930, on one occasion Elizabeth said `My Goodness!' in the hearing of her mother. She was `at once told that this was not pretty and mustn't be repeated'. However, if she heard an adult use the unseemly expression, `up go her small arms in a gesture of mock amazement, and she presses her palms tightly over her mouth while her blue eyes are full of roguish laughter'.
Uncurbed was never allowed to mean over-indulged. `I don't think any child could be more sensibly bought up,' Queen Mary remarked. `She leads such a simple life and she's always punished when she's naughty.' Here was a useful moral tale, for the edification of millions. `Once Lisbet had been naughty, for even princesses can be naughty, you know,' wrote Captain Eric Acland, author of a particularly cloying biography published when Elizabeth was twelve, `and her mother, to punish her, refused to tell the usual bedtime story.' According to another writer, if the Duchess of York was asked what her main duty was, `she would reply, "Bringing up my children". She brings them up as she herself was brought up, with unremitting care and great practical intelligence.' It was the accepted view. `No child of Queen Elizabeth's will ever be spoilt,' the writer Stephen King-Hall summed up, at the time of George VI's Coronation.
But how could any child receive so much attention, and be the object of so many admiring glances, yet not be spoilt, even allowing for parental firmness? Here was an even deeper paradox in the iconography, never satisfactorily resolved. The usual answer — and the one that dominated characterizations of the Princess until her adolescence — was that her innocence was protected, as if by wall and moat, from the corrupting effects of vulgar fame and even of excessive loyal adoration. Chocolates, china sets and children's hospital wards, even a territory in Antarctica, were named after her; the people of Newfoundland had her image on their postage stamps; songs were written in her honour, and sung by large assemblies of her contemporaries; while Madame Tussaud's displayed a wax model of her astride a pony. However, according to one chronicler in the early 1930s, `of all this she is unconscious, it passes her completely by — and she remains just a little girl, like any other little girl ... and passionately fond of her parents'. There was also the idea of a fairy-tale insulation from the projected thoughts and fantasies of the outside world — a `normal' childhood preserved, by an abnormal caesura, from public wonder. `In those days we lived in an ivory tower' wrote Elizabeth's governess, many years later, `removed from the real world'.
Yet the very protection of the Princess, the notion of her as an innocent, unknowing, unsophisticated child who, but for her royal status, might be anybody's daughter, niece or little sister, helped to sustain the popular idea of her as a ray of sunshine in a troubled world, a talisman of health and happiness. This particular quality was often illustrated by tales of her special, even curative, relationship with the King, which juxtaposed youth and old age, gaiety and wisdom, the future and the past, in a heavily symbolic manner. From the time of the Yorks' Australian tour, when the Princess was fostered at Buckingham Palace, it had been observed that the ailing Monarch, whose health was becoming a matter of concern throughout the Empire, derived a special pleasure from the company of his granddaughter.
There were many accounts which brought this out. `He was fond of his two grandsons, Princess Mary's sons,' the Countess of Airlie recalled, `but Lilibet always came first in his affections. He used to play with her — a thing I never saw him do with his own children — and loved to have her with him'. Others observed the same curious phenomenon: on one occasion, the Archbishop of Canterbury was startled to encounter the elderly Monarch acting the part of a horse, with the Princess as his groom, `the King-Emperor shuffling on hands and knees along the floor, while the little Princess led him by the beard'. When she was scarcely out of her pram, a visitor to Sandringham reported watching the King `chortling with little jokes with her — she just struggling with a few words, "Grandpa" and "Granny"'. The Princess's governess recalled seeing them together, near the end of the King's life, `the bearded old man and the polite little girl holding on to one of his fingers'. Later, it was claimed that the King was `almost as devoted a slave to her as her favourite uncle, the Prince of Wales'.
Yet it was also stressed that she was taught to know her place. Deferential manners were an ingredient of the anecdotes, alongside the spontaneity. One guest noted that after a game of toy bricks on the floor with an equerry, she was fetched by her nurse, `and made a perfectly sweet little curtsey to the King and Queen and then to the company as she departed'. This vital piece of royal etiquette had been perfected before her third birthday. When it was time to bid her grandfather goodnight, she would retreat backwards to the door, curtsey and say, `I trust your Majesty will sleep well'. Some accounts took the Princess's concern beyond mere politeness. For example, it was said that when the King was sick, she asked after him, and, on seeing her grandmother, `flung herself into the Queen's arms and cried: "Lillybet to see Grandpar today?"' There were also reports that when the royal landau passed down Piccadilly a shrill cry was heard from the balcony at No. 145: `Here comes Grandpa!' — causing the crowd to roar with loyal delight. There was much approval, too, for her name for the King: `Grandpa England'.
But the most celebrated aspect of the relationship concerned the Princess's prophylactic powers during the King's convalescence from a near-fatal illness in the winter of 1928-9. During this anxious time, the little girl `acted as a useful emollient to jaded nerves,' a kind of harp-playing David to the troubled Monarch's Saul.
In March 1929, the Empire learnt that the Princess, not yet three, was being encouraged to spend much of the morning with the recuperating King in his room at Craigweil House in Bognor, in order to raise his spirits. For an hour or so, she would sit with him by his chair at the window, making `the most amusing and original comments on people and events'. The King recovered, and his granddaughter was popularly believed to have played a part in bringing this about. Many years later, Princess Elizabeth told a courtier that the old Monarch's manner `was very abrupt, some people thought he was being rude'. The fact that he terrified his sons, and barked at his staff, gave the stories of the little girl's fearless enchantments an even sharper significance.
For her fourth birthday in 1930, the doting old man made Elizabeth the special gift of a pony. At this news public adoration, both of the giver and the recipient, literally overflowed. The same day, the Princess, in a yellow coat trimmed with fur, was seen walking across the square at Windsor Castle, with a band of the Scots Guards providing an accompaniment. Women waved their handkerchiefs and threw kisses. The Princess waved back, and `her curly locks fluttered in the breeze'. The sight was too much for the crowd. People outside the Castle gate suddenly pressed forward, and swept the police officer on duty off his feet.