The Governess by Wendy Holden is published by Welbeck. Described as a ‘sweeping, sumptuous novel….shines a completely new and captivating light into the world’s most famous family’, it is loosely based on the life of Marion Crawford. Combining as much factual information as Wendy Holden could get access to, the author introduces the reader to this fascinating woman, someone whose story was never told, until now.
“Never has the future of the Royal Family been more hotly debated. But The Queen has been the world’s most successful monarch. Is her sure touch all down to the spirited young teacher who brought the real world to her remote royal childhood? Maybe so. Yet Marion ‘Crawfie’ Crawford was banished by the Royals forever following a minor indiscretion. When I found her extraordinary story, I knew it was the novel I had to write.” – Wendy Holden
I will admit that I know very little about The Royal Family, only snippets from media if I’m honest, so I had actually never heard of Marion Crawford until a friend gave me a loan of this book. I thought I was picking up a fictional tale. How wrong I was.
Marion Crawford was an educator, with dreams of being a change-maker in the slums of Edinburgh. In 1932 she was attending a teaching college and living at home with her mother. Marion was an excellent student with an ambition to full-time teach others less fortunate than her on completion of her training. An opportunity arose to teach the daughter of Lady Rose Leveson-Gower for the summer months and Marion, while initially reticent, as it was against her principals, decided the money would be handy and accepted the role, but very much on a temporary basis. Marion was not to know that this was the point when her life would be forever altered. Lady Rose Leveson-Gower was the elder sister of Elizabeth, the then Duchess of York, who was to become Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
When the Duchess of York came to visit her sister Lady Rose, her attention was drawn to Marion Crawford and her teaching methods. She requested a meeting with Marion in the hope that Marion would come teach her young children, Elizabeth and Margaret. This was not the future that Marion had imagined for herself. Having crossed paths with a more militant crowd, she imagined her life to be proactive in changing society and not being part of what she considered the problem, the extreme wealth and the different world inhabited by such sections of society. But, after gentle persuasion and the argument that she could still influence societal change but from the top down instead, Marion took the jump and became part of the household of the future Queen of England.
Marion had battles to overcome from the beginning. These people lived in a bubble and Elizabeth and Margaret were very much sheltered from the realities of the outside world. Marion was determined to show her two charges life beyond the confines of their protected space and she did succeed somewhat, albeit in rather stressful circumstances. She gently nudged the girls along in acknowledging a little of how life was for most folk beyond the royal bubble but it was when Edward abdicated to be with Wallis Simpson and Marion moved to Buckingham Palace, her biggest challenges presented themselves.
Elizabeth and Margaret seemed to genuinely love Marion Crawford, or ‘Crawfie’ as they called her but ultimately these were the daughters of the King and Queen. As the years passed and the Second World War took hold, Marion stayed with The Royal Family. At times, she gave serious consideration to resigning from her role but she could never make the final move away from her girls. She devoted her life 100% to Elizabeth and Margaret who, in her mind, were like daughters. But they were never hers. As they grew into their teens, Marion’s influence over them lessened. She really became part of the furniture, a comfortable chair that was always just there.
When Elizabeth met Prince Philip, Marion could sense a shift. Her once adoring charge changed, no longer needing, wanting or looking for Marion’s advice. Margaret, on the other hand, was always her own independent self, leaving Marion wondering where did her life go and what had she left.
Marion Crawford fell foul of The Royal Family when she allowed an American Magazine access to her years with the two young royals, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Marion always claimed that she had done this with permission but The Royal Family turned their backs on her, leaving her with her memories and wondering why she gave so much of herself to a family who eventually ignored her very existence.
Wendy Holden asked herself many questions during her research into the life of this intriguing individual – “How on earth, I wondered, did someone with a vocation among the poor end up teaching some of the wealthiest people in the world? She was very young, I realised, only twenty-two; moreover, she was modern; one of the first-ever generation of women who saw an education and a profession as their right. So, why had this sassy trailblazer with her liberal views gone to work for the most patriarchal institution imaginable?”
The Governess is a really fascinating and compelling read. A wonderfully blended mix of fact and fiction, it captures society at the time, while also conveying the constant turmoil within The Royal Family during those very turbulent years. Will we ever know what really happened between Marion Crawford and The Queen Mother at the time? Marion Crawford gave her best years to The Royal Family. This is her story, as told by Wendy Holden, and it is an absolutely intriguing and addictive tale.
(On an aside Wendy Holden mentions in the acknowledgements that she is writing a book about Wallis Simpson next…fabulous!)
(c) Swirl and Thread
Order your copy online here.