“Now, Charles, you do as Richard does. Remember, your Gan-gan can’t always hear you. Richard will help. Be gentle with the things she lets you look at. Tell Richard if you need the loo—don’t just blurt it out.”
The car pulled to a stop outside Marlborough House and a liveried footman was waiting to open the door. Behind him, in the actual doorway, stood an elderly lady clutching at a cardigan to close it in the cold air.
Inside the door and divested of their velvet-collared overcoats, the two boys turned to face the elderly lady.
“Good morning, Your Royal Highnesses.” She said as she bobbed a shaky courtesy.
“Good morning, Lady Airlie,” the princes chorused as rehearsed. Both found the elderly lady a bit formidable, though not quite so intimidating as they elderly lady upstairs.
“Don’t you look smart today, Your Royal Highnesses” She gave a hint of smile—trying to help them relax before escorting them upstairs.
The older boy, Richard, dressed oddly for London in a kilt and tweed jacket, blushed. He was embarrassed by this ceremony every time. But his father had sternly reminded him that is was ‘his due’ as a Prince of the blood. To Richard that sounded like something from a bedtime story, not something a boy in 1952 could claim. Beside him little Charles in his silk romper suit, fine cashmere cardigan and bright red shoes was about to fidget.
“Hold still.” Richard said quietly and the younger boy did his best to obey.
“Shall we go up to Her Majesty then?” The older lady asked as she motioned toward the amazing stairway. For Richard this was one of the enjoyable parts of these visits to his grandmother—the fabulous battle scenes painted in the stairway, depicting the great Duke of Marlborough.
The nanny, Mrs. Lightbody, was here ‘in case,’ but remained a safe distance behind the boys. She would sit outside the room, but within earshot in case little Charles needed to be removed.
“What’s that?” Charles asked, poking a stubby finger upwards.
“Quiet…” Richard said gently. “And remember, you mustn’t point. It’s common and Gan-gan won’t like it.”
At last they were led into the very Victorian sitting room in which the dowager Queen sat waiting to receive her youngest grandchild and her most senior-ranking great-grandchild—the nation’s future King Charles III.
“Bow…” Richard hissed as he gave a smart neck bow. Little Charles did so carefully and correctly. “Now a kiss…” Richard prompted and Charles toddled over to the elderly lady whose wig reminded Richard of the collar on one of his father’s overcoats. Her Majesty’s wardrobe had never fully entered the 20th century and her hairstyle had last been updated about 30 years ago at which time she switched to wigs.
Her Majesty put down the small cigar she was finishing and leaned forward, pursing her lips. She smiled when little Charles put an enthusiastic kiss to her cheek, even as her own in return touched only the air. Richard, who at seven was almost twice Charles’ age, knew the etiquette of the ritual kiss a little better.
“Good morning, Gan-Gan.” He said politely. “Thank you having Charles and me to play today.”
Though they were invited over to ‘play’ while the old lady did her ever-present needlepoint, it was not the sort of play small boys enjoy. Voices had to stay low, arguments must not occur and anything offered must be handled carefully. Above all, manners had to be those of a seasoned diplomat.
“Well then Richard. How was your visit to the Abbey? What did you see?”
She waited while the little boy collected his thoughts.
“Arches, Gan-Gan. There were a lot of arches. And some nice windows. Then we saw the tomb of the unknown warrior, which was quite sad.”
Her Majesty waited, hoping for more. Seeing him flag a bit, she offered, “Your Grandfather and I were there for the dedication ceremony. It was very moving.” Seeing Charles starting to wander off she tries again. “I know you boys would like something to play with. I’ve asked them to look out something special for you.” She rings a small hand bell and a footman enters with a very old crate. Richard groans inwardly, just knowing it will be something old and breakable and that his Grandmother will expect them to remember to whom it once belonged. And it won’t be anyone they know, but some ancient person.
“These are soldiers that belonged to my father as a child. I got them out a few times for your father, Richard and your grandfather, Charles. As you know my father was a Prince of Teck—that was a small principality in the old Germany…..”
She went on into a very detailed history of the family and Richard put as interested a look as he could muster onto his face. Even dancing class would be better, but there would only be another 45 minutes or so. They were never invited to have a drink or a snack, just to ‘play’ which meant to learn more family history.
“Careful…” Richard said as he gently pulled out a soldier and handed it to little Charles. Then, knowing what was expected, he set up the other soldiers in a formation like his father, who was a real soldier, had taught him.
When Her Majesty took a sip of something Richard politely asked. “Are these the Army of Teck then, Gan-Gan?”
“No of course not, Richard. Those are Prussian troops and the others are French.” See looked severely disappointed. In Her Majesty’s mind, seven was quite old enough to identify soldiers properly.
Charles said something the old lady couldn’t hear.
“What is he saying Richard? The pitch of his voice—I can’t make it out.”
“He’d like to see the elephants again, please, Gan-gan. He remembers them from last time you see…”
“Oh very well…he’s perhaps too young to appreciate the soldiers—you go right on with your battle.” She smiled weakly and rang the little bell again.
“Prince Charles would like the jade elephants please, Leonard. Will you help him?” Then turning to the older boy she said, “Richard—you receive them and settle him with them, please.”
“Yes, Gan-gan.” He went promptly over to the cabinet and accepted the little train of elephants. Happily Charles immediately settled down once they were before him.
Returning to the antique soldiers, Richard held one carefully aloft. “This one is a Hussar—like Papa.”
“That’s correct. “
The old lady was quiet for a moment, letting the boys play as she rested.
After a while Richard, sensing that Charles was growing tired of the jade elephants, remembers his mother’s suggestion of asking for the albums as Charles likes to see photos.
“Gan-gan, could we see some your nice photographs, please?”
“Do you want to see your Papa when he was little?” She asks.
“No thank you, Gan-Gan. We’ve …enjoyed… those last time. Perhaps you could show us those of you when you were a young lady?” His mother’s language has stuck with him so that he does not give offense.
“Oh—well—of course.” She colors prettily as she rings again for the footman.
Richard dutifully begins to carefully repack the soldiers in their crate.
“Prince Richard wishes to see the albums—how about 1891—the second one, please, Leonard. Come here then boys….”
Richard takes Charles’ hand and says quietly “remember, don’t touch…” The chubby little boy nods solemnly.
A card table and two chairs are pulled over and the albums are spread out. Little Charles gets up onto his knees to see the pictures.
“Now, let’s see if you know anyone here Richard….” She points.
“Queen Victoria—Papa’s ….” He stops to count backwards. “…great-grandmother.”
“Who is this please?” Little Charles asks with a sweet smile for his great-grandmother.
“Well, that is me…” She smiles as the little boy gasps and looks from photo to great-grandmother. “Yes, that is me and that is Uncle Eddy—one of the Edward’s for whom your cousin Eddie was named. Though of course this one wasn’t Christened ‘Edward’—he was ‘Albert Victor.’ Queen Victoria mandated that all her descendants should have at least one of those names. He was born, like you Charles, to be the sovereign, so he was given both names to perpetuate their memory.”
“But I haven’t either of those names, Gan-Gan.” Richard said seriously.
“No dear, neither does Charles. We’ve given it up—too many of the same names. You both have ‘George’ for your late Grandpapa. I do hope that will be a tradition now.”
Richard peers intently at the photograph. “Your dress is….” Richard thinks carefully of what his mother would say. Gan-gan approved of his mother and never became cross with her as she did with his father—especially when his father laughed his rather awful laugh. “It’s really…quite …”
“It’s lovely, Gan-gan. I do wish I knew what color though, do you recall?”
“Of course—it was the day of my engagement.”
“Engagement? What sort, Gan-gan? Were you to christen a new ship? Mummy has done that.” He was excited at this prospect and the old lady smiled a tiny smile at his enthusiasm.
“No, engagement to be married.”
“But you married Grandpapa.” Richard forgot himself and threw up his hands in frustration, then caught himself. “Sorry…”
Queen Mary smiled. “Well, I was first engaged to Uncle Eddy, but then he died, so I married Grandpapa instead.”
“So if Papa had died would Mummy have had to marry …. I suppose not.” Richard remembered just in time the edict not to bring up Uncle Georgie or Gan-Gan might get teary.
“No, dear, those days are over.”
From the back of the room the Lady-in Waiting said, “Well now, Ma’am, Mrs. Lightbody has come for the young princes.” She ushered the stiffly uniformed Nanny into the royal presence.
“Your Majesty,” Mrs. Lightbody said, giving a perfect curtsey as little Charles rushed to take her hand. “I do hope Their Royal Highnesses have given you a pleasant visit?”
“Oh yes, Helen. Quite nice.”
“Have we tidied everything away then, boys? Good. Come and bid Her Majesty good- bye then.”
The boys offered another kiss and the old lady looked a bit wistful as they departed.
Queen Mary turned to the lady in waiting. “Poor Richard! His mind is so logical. Threw up his arms in disgust at me going from one brother to the next….” She laughed and reached for another small cigar and the spectacles she never wore before any but her immediate household. “But, you remember Mable, that is how it all went. “
Queen Victoria scowled as she read, with some difficulty, the spidery handwriting of a compilation of secret news items left for her by her private secretary. Her grandson, Prince Albert Victor, popularly known as Prince “Eddy,” was making a hash of things again. At twenty-seven, Eddy was already leading a dissipated life, bounding from one ill-chosen love affair to another. It was time he was married and properly settled.
“It’s such a shame dear Helene was a Catholic…” Her Majesty thought. “So much nicer to be married to the love of one’s life, but it can’t be helped. Eddy must be ‘managed’ and that means he must marry.” Such thoughts always led her mind off on a wild gallop of memories of her beloved Albert—dead these past 30 years and so missed and still so beloved of Her Majesty that she was still clad in deepest morning all these years later.
“Eddy is a sweet boy…but oh! If only dearest Albert was still alive, how differently the boy might have turned out. Too much like Bertie….” Although Eddy’s father, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, had become more serious in recent years, he too had far too great a roving eye for the ladies. To Queen Victoria, her eldest son’s private life was scandalous—too much like her Hanoverian Uncles with their mistresses and illegitimate children. Exactly the sort of character she and Albert had tried to prevent him developing. But, though she could never, ever say Albert had been wrong, they had perhaps pushed a bit too hard to mold Bertie into a model prince. The catastrophic effect of this intense pushing was Eddy. He had been raised with little or no discipline and neither Bertie nor his wife, the Danish Princess Alexandra, Alix to the family, cared a bit about schooling, admittedly Eddy’s mind was rather feeble.
“He isn’t nearly as stupid as they imagine though…” she said to herself recalling the intercepted letters she had read between her grandson and her grandson-in-law, Prince Louis of Battenberg and others. In fact, he was quite a decent writer when it was a voluntary act. But it was true that his mind wandered and she had always thought he must be somewhat deaf like his poor mother. “Well, the right woman will mold him into a suitable King. Now, where have I put that list….” She rang for her private secretary.
“The list for Eddy please, Henry.”
“Yes, Ma’am, right away.”
When he returned with the file, Her Majesty pushed her chair back and sat more comfortably as she accepted the file.
“Well? Who’s left then? Anyone promising? It’s been a while since we’ve reviewed this but even Bertie and Alix agree it’s time he was settled. The Empress Frederick had some qualms about one girl, but it seems she’s now off the market.” The Queen picked up and rattled a discarded letter from the morning’s post.
“Not many left, Ma’am, but of course there is still Princess Victoria Mary of Teck.” He pointed to the name with his pen.
“May. Yes, yes I think so. I’ll send a letter over to Marlborough House and they can invite her. Anyone else for a fall-back just in case?”
The private secretary scanned the list dubiously. “Perhaps, Ma’am—I’d need to review the names.”
The Queen chuckled. “May will do as she’s told, it’s only if the poor thing is taken ill or if a doctor thinks she may be barren. Otherwise, May will do her duty, make no mistake about that.”