In Royal Service to the Queen: A Novel of the Queen's Governess

In Royal Service to the Queen: A Novel of the Queen's Governess

by Tessa Arlen

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Overview

“Engrossing. Fans of The Crown will devour this.”—Publishers Weekly

The revealing story of Queen Elizabeth II's beloved governess, Marion Crawford, who spent more than sixteen years of her life in loyal service to the royal family and was later shunned by those she has loved and served.


Marion Crawford can remember each of the wonderful years when she was governess to the little Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose: included in their lives, confided in, needed, trusted, and loved. These memories will never dim, ever. In Marion's mind, she will always be their Crawfie.

But things become increasingly complicated as the young royals navigate adulthood. It is May 1945 and Princess Elizabeth—the heiress presumptive to the British throne—has fallen in love, and the only member of her family who is happy for her is her governess. No one in the young princess's life thinks that Prince Philip of Greece would be a suitable husband for the future Queen of England. No one that is, except for Marion Crawford.

Crawfie wholeheartedly supports Elizabeth in her determination to marry Philip. She too has fallen in love—and has convinced her fiancé, George, that they must wait for Elizabeth and Philip to receive the King's blessing before she can leave her service to the Crown.

Over the next two years Crawfie is caught between loyalty to Princess Elizabeth; running the risk of alienating her royal employer, Queen Elizabeth; and losing the man she loves. But as Crawfie prevails to marry George and stands with him in Westminster Abbey on Elizabeth and Philip's wedding day, she is unaware that her troubled relationship with Queen Elizabeth is far from over. And just around the corner is a betrayal that will sever her bond with the royal family forever.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593102480
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/29/2021
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 102,781
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Tessa Arlen is the author of the Woman of World War II Mysteries. Born in Singapore, the daughter of a British diplomat, she has lived in Egypt, Germany, the Persian Gulf, China, and India. She now lives with her husband in historic Santa Fe, where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

Read an Excerpt

Part One

1931–­1936

Chapter One

June 18, 1931

Limekiln Cottage, Dunfermline, Scotland

Good Lord above, Marion, have you quite gone off your head?” My mother banged the oven door shut and straightened up. Her cheeks flushed, and not from baking bread on the warmest afternoon of summer.

She pushed back graying hair, leaving her palm clasped across her forehead, as if to hold on to reason. “I hope you didn’t accept!” Her voice lifted in pitch and volume. “I hope you didn’t say yes.” Her eyes bored into mine from across the kitchen. “You did, didn’t you?” She threw her hands up—her fingers stiff with anger. “Well, you’ll just have to tell them you are not going. I won’t let you ruin your future because someone plants a daft idea in your head. And that’s final.”

“Oh dear.” I kept my voice light. “And I always wanted to know what it would be like for a maid to bring me my early-morning tea and a footman to clean my shoes.”

It was like putting a match to brandy pudding: her cheeks flared crimson; her eyes flashed a warning. “There is no need for you to be so flippant, my girl. Not when you are about to jeopardize your career with this ridiculous jaunt down south.” She threw her tea towel on the kitchen table. “I don’t understand you: the things you come up with. Did Lady Elgin put you up to this nonsense? Of course she did. I knew looking after her children this summer would distract you from your studies.”

I began to regret my first excited, heedless words. “I have been offered a job teaching the Duchess of York’s little girl . . .” I reached out to her, my fingers curled lightly around her arm. She shook them off with a twist of her shoulder. “Ma, would you please stop—for a moment?”

“I am trying to stop you—from wrecking your life!”

“There’s a lot more to this than my going to London just because I was offered a posh job.”

She clasped my shoulder. A shake with each word. “All your life you have wanted to be a teacher.” The intensity in her voice softened. “Isn’t that what all this hard work has been for? The letters of recommendation. The Moray Training College agreeing to extend your scholarship for the autumn term. Most people would give their eyeteeth . . . So, why on earth would you want to throw it all away?” She drew in a breath to continue, her earnest gaze fastened on my face. “My dear girl, you know as well as I do that these people . . . they are different. Nothing like us. Nothing! Their way of life, their money . . . their . . . their . . .” She wrung her hands in her apron and stumbled into speech again. “Their place in the world. They are demanding and inconsiderate to the folk who work for them. You’d be little better than one of their servants.”

I opened my mouth to say I would be nothing of the kind, but I shut it again. I understood her desperate need to save me from the sort of life my grandmother knew: a housekeeper to a wealthy landowning family. “I haven’t said yes to the job. Because I wanted to thrash it out with you first. You know, the way we always do? Just like this.” She huffed and turned away. “Come on, come outside and get a breath of air—it’s stifling in here. I want to tell you everything that happened, and then you can tell me what you really think!”

A grunt of reluctant assent, but she allowed me to steer her through the door to our garden behind the cottage. I sat her down on an old oak bench under the kitchen window. She leaned back against the stone wall and flapped her hand in front of her face. “Oof, but it’s hot in that kitchen—what a summer!”

She looked out across the vegetable garden. Two ducks glided in to land on the surface of the pond, braked with their wings, too late, and skidded into its far bank: a piece of clownery that always made her laugh, but not today. I watched her struggle for equanimity, or as she put it, to “get ahold of herself,” a lifelong practice in the face of all the adversity and disappointment she had known in her fifty-­six years. The rise and fall of her chest slowed its pace, her cheeks, still pink with distress, relaxed muscles tight with anxiety. I went back into the kitchen, worked the pump hard to bring up cold water from the well, and returned with two glasses.

She took a sip. “There, that’s better.” She turned to squint at me, her hand shielding her face from the sun slanting through the leaves of the mulberry tree that shaded the kitchen door. She took my hand in her lap and smoothed its palm with her thumb, as if trying to ease away my wayward thoughts.

“I didn’t mean to lead off quite so . . .” Her mouth turned down. “You fairly caught me on the hop.” She patted my hand to reassure herself that she had misunderstood. “You’re not seriously thinking of taking up this offer, are you, Marion?”

I curled my fingers around her hand. “First of all, the job is only for three months. I will be back in Edinburgh at the end of September to start my psychology course. Nothing will—”

“Exhausted from overwork and completely unprepared.”

I shook my head. “Not at all; this is a summer job. And I will have the afternoons free to study. There are only two girls in the family. The younger one will be looked after by her nanny. I am to teach the older one: Princess Elizabeth—Lilibet, they call her. She’s five.”

“A governess is not the same thing as a schoolteacher. One is a flunky; the other performs a public service—a vital one, and one sorely needed by the children of working families!”

“Yes, I know that, Ma. But you’re all steamed up over nothing: this is a short-­term job, and I’ll be a schoolteacher for the rest of my working life. Anyway, I liked them. She is a nice woman: straightforward, kind, and, unlikely as it sounds, quite ordinary.”

“There is nothing ordinary about a duchess, my darling girl, particularly a royal one.”

I smiled, because the duchess, with her quick blue eyes, her unfashionable wispy fringe of fine brown hair, and her tinkly, girlish laugh, struck me, again, as commonplace. Not the sort of woman a king’s son would marry, even if Prince Albert, the Duke of York, was second in line to the throne: the spare.

Be patient, I reminded myself as my mother said something about the arrogance of aristocrats, most of them with pea-­size brains. You know this is an amazing offer. Now, explain why to her— tactfully!

“I didn’t realize it until today, but I have never been out of Scotland before. A summer spent teaching the granddaughter to our king would be a chance to see a part of life that we only read about in history books . . . years later. It will be good for me: broadening, even!”

Her eyebrows arched high into her hairline, and one shoulder came up: “Who would want to see that? Weren’t your grandmother’s stories of working for Call-­Me-­God Lord Abercrombie and his family enough? The long, hard hours she endured, she had no life of her own—it was dedicated to making the Abercrombies’ existence one of untroubled luxury.” She snorted. “In those days there was little choice—you got work where you could—God help them.”

I pretended not to see the dismissive shoulder. “They are offering me two pounds a week for teaching one little girl, five mornings a week. Hardly slave labor. Just think of the money I’ll save.” I could see interruptions forming in the impatient shake of her head and lifted a hand. “I think you would like the duchess. In fact, I know you would. She is unaffected, down-­to-­earth, with everyday manners. Her husband is not what I imagined a duke to be like at all.”

I put my hand on her knee and slowed the urgency in my voice. “The duke reminds me of that man who rented Old Cottage, you remember him—years ago?”

She tilted an incredulous face up at me. “You don’t mean that Mr. Whatsis—the retired postmaster from Glasgow who wanted to live in the country and then couldn’t take the quiet?” Both hands came up to cover her mouth, and she giggled. “But he wasn’t quite right—in the head.”

“Yes, that’s the one. No, I’m not saying that the duke doesn’t have all his marbles. But he’s nervy. Do you remember when Mr. Ross’s cow chased Mr.—I wish I could remember his name— across the fields? He packed up and went back to the city.”

“Came here to retire and lasted a week.” Ma shook her head. “Poor wee chap.” She laughed. “Fancy you remembering him— Mr. Thistle, was it? No, it was Twistleton.” She raised the glass to her lips and took little pecking sips of water, laughing at the memory. “The duke reminded you of Mr. Twistleton?”

“A little bit. He’s not as jumpy or as timid, but he is rather quiet and withdrawn, and he has that same watchful, awkward way about him with people or situations he is not familiar with.”

“Inbreeding, that’s their problem, the aristocracy.”

I ignored her mistrust of the upper classes. “The duke has a nice sort of face; his eyes are probably his best feature when he actually lifts his head. He’s a bit on the skinny side . . . I suppose, if anything, he’s rather unprepossessing.” I was putting it kindly, because he struck me as a diffident little man who had hung around in the background of Lady Elgin’s impromptu elevenses party, smoking cigarettes as he gazed down at his impeccably polished brogues. “I mistook him for aloof: bored sitting with a bunch of women. Then it occurred to me that he’s probably shy. He certainly let her do all the talking.”

She stopped sipping her water to pounce. “Chatterbox, is she?”

“Lively. She referred to her Highland ancestry quite a bit. Her family are from Angus. She said how much she loved coming home to Scotland. But mostly she talked of her little girls—adorable, she called them.”

A rousing harrumph from my mother at such affectations. A plainspoken Scotswoman who liked her children noisy and out from under her feet: catching tadpoles in the duckpond, scrumping for apples, and making tree forts. I looked down at her thin wrists and bowed shoulders. Her days as a mother of three young children were long gone. I am now her only child, and here I was breaking the news of a job nearly six hundred miles away.

I spread out the fingers of both hands. “This job is a small, cautious adventure before I return to Moray College,” I explained. “The duchess completely understands about my returning to Edinburgh in September to finish my studies. She is really interested in my psychology course—asked me questions.” But no easily impressed fool either. I remembered the way she watched me over the rim of her coffee cup, her cool blue gaze assessing, as she steered the conversation to my job teaching Lord and Lady Elgin’s unruly gang of children for the summer.

“Lady Elgin tells me that you are instructing Andrew in history?” Her fluting, cultured voice held no hint that her family were from Angus. If I closed my eyes, I would have put the duchess’s age at fourteen.

I glanced at Lady Elgin, sitting placidly in her comfortably shabby drawing room, smiling complacent approval at her son’s accomplishments under my tutelage. “Yes, ma’am. Fifteenth century: the Wars of the Roses.”

The duchess tilted her head, a playful smile on her round face. “I hope he is on the York side!” she said to laughter all round. “And the girls?”

“Martha and Jeanie are keeping a journal of the books they are reading this summer. Martha enjoys the Brontë sisters, and Jeanie”—I laughed—“Jeanie is a confirmed Scot: she is completely in love with the poetry of Robert Burns. Mary . . .”

But she wasn’t interested in the Elgins’ little cousin Mary, stumbling through her first reader. “Good for Jeanie. I was in love with Rabbie Burns too, when I was a girl.” The duchess sat forward in her chair, her back straight, hands clasped in the lap of her powder blue dress in a parody of a schoolgirl called on to recite after tea. “Let me see if I can remember.” She composed her face, eyes upward for inspiration. “Ah yes: ‘My love is like a red, red rose That’s newly sprung in June; My love is like the something-­something’ ”—she rotated a hand in the air—“ ‘That’s . . . that’s sweetly played in . . . tune’?” She lifted her hands and shrugged her shoulders in exaggerated apology.

“M-m-­melody,” her husband put in. “My l-l-­love is like the . . . melody.” His wide smile transformed him into a more vulnerable version of his pretty brother, the Prince of Wales.

“Of course, so silly of me. Thank you, Bertie.” She beamed. “My love is like a melody!”

Her peel of self-­deprecating laughter, her vitality, and her sense of the absurd warmed me to her. She might have been a girl of my own age and not daughter-­in-­law to the king, with two children in the nursery. Sometimes we serious Scots take life a bit too ponderously, but this little woman, with her bright smile and her rather ridiculous feathery hat, was fun!

I recounted all this to my mother—leaving out the poetry and the hat.

“And are you quite sure she understands that this is only for three months, that you will be returning to Edinburgh to continue your studies?”

“I will be back in Edinburgh to start my class on the twenty-­ninth of September, and they are compensating me very generously, considering I have no experience—except for the Elgin children.” I tried to keep my voice even and firm. My mother’s protestations, coupled with the thought of traveling down to London alone to a strange and intimidatingly grand house owned by a duke, began to eat away at my excitement for adventure.

She sighed. “It isn’t about money, Marion. You don’t need to go all that way to earn a few extra pounds. We have always managed to squeak by on my savings and my war widow’s pension. I am more concerned that you will end up a governess and not a teacher.”

I knew there was another reason for her reluctance for this job, one she would never admit to. I am her only remaining child, and our family is a small one. Both my older brothers were killed in the Great War; my father died after it, his lungs weakened by mustard gas. My mother’s two spinster sisters share a house in Aberdeen exclusively with the spirit of the Lord. A student in Edinburgh could catch the bus home every other weekend. I wouldn’t be able to do that from London.

“And who was this duchess, anyway, before she married?”

“Lady Elizabeth Bowes-­Lyon.” I lapsed into the broad Highland dialect my grandmother had spoken, “Th’ duchess is as Scawts as ye ’n’ me, Ma, her fowk ur th’ Strathmores o’ Glamis.”

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