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Review: The Windsor Diaries 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard

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My Interest

Cumberland-lodge

Cumberland Lodge, where Alathea lived with her Grandfather in Windsor Great Park

Queen Elizabeth has had many a biographer in her 95 years. This book, while not a biography, is the personal diary of a “friend” from her childhood and teen years. Alathea Fitzalan Howard, had she been born a boy, would have ended up as the Duke of Norfolk–the U.K.s highest ranking Catholic outside the clergy and is the head of the College of Arms. This “College” is the organization that creates the Standards {flags] and coats of arms that relate to royalty and nobility. The Duke of Norfolk, then, is a very important man in the ceremonial world, for this position, like the Dukedom, is hereditary.

The Story

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Princess Elizabeth with Alathea (to her right) during a Girl Guides meeting. Photo: Getty Images

Alathea, was a very privileged girl–her grandfather lived in Windsor Great Park in a royal residence–Cumberland Lodge. She was a member of the Girl Guide [Girl Scout] troop started for the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and had known them in London. She also went to drawing lessons with the Princesses and to fun events like films and, later, to dinners and dances. She participated with them in the first pantomimes they did during the War as well. Being a little older than Princess Elizabeth, Alathea, saw herself as a judge of character, behavior, etc., of her younger future monarch (for by this time no one held out any hope of the then Queen Elizabeth (later known as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) producing at son at the age of 40+.

As I mentioned above, this was a personal diary. Alathea was very taken with royal life and adored the royal Princesses. She was snobbish to an extreme even for her day. She felt, as many others did, that it was wrong for the Princesses to act in their “pantos” with “common” schoolchildren. Today, no one thinks a thing of royal children acting in school plays, but of course those are always at PRIVATE schools, lol.

What we do learn about the Queen is that she was kept sheltered, yes, but not nearly as much as the highly fictionalized (and hijacked) book by Marion Crawford, The Little Princesses, suggested. She did not confide in friends–or at least not in Alethea. She was rarely left alone and would sometimes bolt ahead of a group on a walk to just be alone. While the diary does not contain much new information, it does confirm what most have thought–Elizabeth was in love with Philip from the start, but it took him some time to be in love with her–that is to be expected when a girl is 13 and the young man is an 18 year old Naval College cadet, but he did like and respect her.  And, Elizabeth certainly did notice other men–Hugh Euston, the future Duke of Grafton, for example, but Philip always topped her list.

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Princess Elizabeth trains as A.T.S

Alathea could be wisely cynical too–as when she says spots the truth of Princess Elizabeth’s “war” service. Of course it was a p.r. stunt. Did anyone want Margaret to end up Queen? Or worse, The Duke of Gloucester–known as the “unknown soldier”? No, war service with an actual “hot” war going on was pretty much a no-go for Elizabeth, just as going on the D-Day invasion was for her father and Churchill. Still,  Princess Elizabeth she got to attend a real training classes with other ATS-recruit-pupils, and was taught to drive and to service car and truck engines. Best of all, she was allowed out unrecognized behind the wheel of car or truck in London–that was likely marvelous for her. It doesn’t matter that the war was all but over, it was an experience she badly needed.

Elizabeth is rightly identified as “no intellectual” but was obedient, quiet, reserved, and in short, a good choice for Queen. Margaret, on the other hand, was so loved and petted and admired that she was pretty much a brat–at least at the age she was in diaries (the end when she was about to be 15). Like everyone, Alathea finds Margaret great fun, but she sees the qualities in Elizabeth that made everyone so happy that she was the first born and heiress presumptive to the throne.

There isn’t much good royal gossip here beyond the fact that as children the current Duke of Kent and his sister Princess Alexandra could rarely be taken to events, even a royal family tea, together as they were uncontrollable together. What is nice to learn is that, though fictionalized, governess Marion Crawford’s memoirs were true in the portrayal of King George VI and the Queen Mother were loving, caring, and, for their time and class, hands-on parents who adored their daughter.

Alathea Herself

Had anyone known that this miserably unhappy young girl, later young woman, was cutting herself, I doubt she’d have been allowed near the Princesses. Her home life was one of rejection and misery. Her mother did not love her, told her she was not attractive, and basically never forgave her for not being a boy. She also thought she was “ruined” by the old fashioned life of the court and by the solitary life she led at Cumberland Lodge, though naturally takes no responsibility for her daughter living apart from her and her younger daughter. Alathea’s father was a weak man, his marriage to his wife is presented as in name only.

Alathea adores her much younger little sister, whom their mother likes. I had to wonder if Mummy had strayed [very likely from her lifestyle] and that maybe little sister wasn’t really Daddy’s child? For all that Althea, like a typical teenager, finds her grandfather irritating, he does seem to have cared about her and tried to show it by coming up to her room at bedtime or speaking with her or whatever. She rejects him at every turn.

Effectively an abandoned child, you can see all the usual behaviors of such children in Alathea. Her idolization of the royals as a “perfect” family with a loving father and mother–a contained little unit who enjoy the time they spend together. The Queen [later the Queen Mother] is kind to Alathea so she desperately wants to be cuddled and kissed by her and hangs onto every kind thing the Queen says to her. The cutting, the lack of love for her other family members, her suspicion of them, it is all sadly typical of abandonment.

I am sure Alathea would cringe knowing her “secret” fantasy of marrying and sleeping beside Hugh Euston [Fitzroy] (Earl of Euston, future Duke of Grafton) was now in a published book, but what a typical teenage girl fantasy. It was this type thing, more than the worship of the royals, that made me like this book and even it’s very troubled young author. Sadly, she realizes she is out-of-step with the young people of her generation and worse, knows that she is not what men desire.

I grew up like that so I totally related to this pain. (I was usually the “buddy” rarely the girl friend). By the end of the war, having never been kissed, she gives in to the first guy who tries (ditto) even though she doesn’t like him very much (ditto). She knows she is pushing away a good husband (ditto) when the one guy who does peruse her isn’t exciting enough for her. By war’s end, she feels she likely won’t be asked to be anyone’s wife. Eventually, she marries a younger son, but has no children. (I married after pushing away good men, I took the worst.)

I’m glad her nephew’s wife took care of the diaries and realized their significance to biographers of Queen Elizabeth. First hand accounts of Her Majesty spanning several years of association are very, very rare. This is a good addition to the historical record of the Queen, Alathea’s own august family’s history, and of teenagers of her class during the war.

A note on the physical aspects of this book

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It has delightful end papers–a wonderful map of Windsor that shows the places mentioned in the Diary.

The Windsor Diaries 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard

My Verdict

4.0

6 thoughts on “Review: The Windsor Diaries 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard

  1. I enjoyed reading your review so much. Wonderful. I haven’t read much about the Royals but found this very interesting. I have so much respect for the Queen.

    Liked by 1 person

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