Originally published: 20 August 2020
Author: Wendy Holden
Published by: Welbeck
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 400 pages
Listening Dates: 7-12 September 2020
The Governess is a fictionalised retelling of Marion ‘Crawfie’ Crawford’s life as governess to Princess Margaret and the future Queen Elizabeth II.
A very modern woman for the period, Marion Crawford believed she could make a difference to the lives of the children in the Edinburgh slums. During a teacher training course, she is recommended for a short term position with an aristocratic family, and through them is introduced to the Duke and Duchess of York, who ask that Marion join them as Governess to their daughters Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret.
Marion finds herself with a dilemma – she desperately wants to teach the poor but reasons maybe she can help them by teaching the Princesses more about the real world, so agrees to teach them for a short time. She is determined for them to have a fun and more normal childhood and takes them on the tube on London, on trips to Woolworths and swimming in public swimming pools. But although she is in charge of the girls’ education, she comes up against a lot of opposition to how she wants to do things. The girls are frequently pulled out of lessons for official engagements and have no clothes suitable for playing outside in.
Given the nickname “Crawfie” by Elizabeth, she becomes an integral part of the royal family and stays with them for 17 years, having a ringside seat at some of the most important events of the 20th century. She is there when King George V dies, when Edward VIII becomes King and when he later abdicates over his desire to be with Wallis Simpson and then when the Duke of York, himself became King, changing the lives of Elizabeth especially as she becomes heir to the throne. She is also with the family during the Second World War and the Princesses get to make friends with some evacuee children.
This was a fascinating book. I love The Crown TV series and this book would appeal to anyone with an interest in the royal family. Marion Crawford is a largely forgotten figure. After she left the family when the girls were grown, she wrote a memoir of her life with the family, called The Little Princesses and earned the fury of the Windsor’s who never spoke to her again.
Marion was a very foreword thinking intelligent woman – determined to have a career over marriage and babies. I loved the insights into the Princesses lives – how Elizabeth was a caring if anxious child and how Margaret was often mischievous. I also liked the details about what life was like for the royal family and all the protocols that had to be followed, especially in Buckingham Palace where staff are expected to face the wall when a member of the royal family walk past and how they are not allowed to walk in the middle of the carpets!
I really enjoyed this – my only really teeny tiny criticism is I would have liked more reminders of the ages of the Princesses when key events happened. But overall I really enjoyed The Governess – an absolutely fascinating look into an almost forgotten, yet incredibly important historical figure. Well written and researched, I felt Holden really got inside the head of Marion Crawford = she truly loved the girls. Insightful and enjoyable, I’m already looking forward to the forthcoming Wallis Simpson book, she mentioned in the acknowledgments!
Thank you to Maddie at Welbeck for the stunning proof copy.
About the author:
Wendy Holden was a journalist on The Sunday Times, Tatler and The Mail on Sunday before becoming a full-time author. She has written nine novels, all Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers. She is married and has two children.