Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Queen's first cousin writes her memoirs

Margaret Rhodes, first cousin to Queen Elizabeth II (thru her "non-royal," but very Aristocratic Scottish mother's family) has written her memoirs. In this tiny book--more of an article than a book--Mrs. Rhodes describes a few holidays with the Queen as children, wartime life at Windsor and Buckingham Palace and a few pages about her own life.

The parts about the Royal Family were serialized in the British press. Her own life included being briefly arrested in Bhutan with Shirley McClain, being happily married for about 30 years and then spending much of her widowhood living in a "grace and favor" home in the Windsor Great Park and working as a Lady in Waiting for her Aunt, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Sadly, that's about all there is too tell! She has one glaring factual error that her publisher should have caught. That is, the then Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) were married in Westminster Abbey--the first Royal wedding held there in centuries. Mrs. Rhodes puts it at St. Margaret's of Westminster where she herself was married.

What this book DOES do however is point out for the umpteenth time how badly ghost-written Marion Crawford's "The Little Princesses" was. Mrs. Rhodes mentions Miss Crawford as "nice," which is a kind thing to do since she was disowned for the book. Mrs. Rhodes and other relatives and friends were in and out with the Princesses--something that is never mentioned in a book in which Elizabeth and Margaret were still called "little girls" on the eve of Elizabeth's wedding! Mrs. Rhodes "bunked" at Windsor Castle while on a secretarial course at the start or the war and later she and her brother had rooms at Buckingham Palace while she worked for the British secret service.

I'm still giggling, too, over her introduction to "manhood" when the late Duke of Gloucester experienced a "kilt malfunction." I remember reading elsewhere that his wife would frequently warn him when kilt-clad "Harry--Knees!!" apparently with good reason! Probably the only memorable thing about the man I've ever read.

Fascinating, too, was her marriage--to a man she dated while he was technically still married. She's hardly the only such bride in the World War II years, but apparently this didn't raise even an eyebrow at home. Interestingly, her husband divorced actress Rachel Gurney to marry her. Rachel went on to become world famous as "Lady Marjorie Bellamy" in the 1970's classic "Upstairs, Downstairs" which is likely still being re-run on PBS somewhere.

This is not a "celebrity tell-all." Other than saying Elizabeth fell for Phillip at 13, there is little mention of the royal marriage. We do not find out anyone's "real" opinion of Princess Diana or Fergie, either. That's not the style of this generation (who likely WOULD have been scandalized by Mrs. Rhodes grocery shopping in curlers with a cigarette on her lips!). Duty first, all else second and don't air the dirty laundry in public, please.

Still, I was badly disappointed by this book. 150+ pages is not a "book." But it was priced as one. I'm pretty sure the New Yorker has published articles this length. Mrs. Rhodes also claims poverty--"money was short," etc, yet jets off to Bhutan and sends her sons to Harrow. One person's poverty is certainly another's good fortune. Also, some of the best photos in the newspaper excerpts were left out of the book. Although I will say there is one of the best-ever photographs of Princess Margaret included in the book.

I also find it interesting that she (and, so I've read elsewhere, Princess Margaret and maybe even the Queen) bemoans the fact that she was never educated. She's met all kinds of people, traveled over half the earth, worked in espionage, survived WWII in London, was married to a writer, raised kids, and thinks of herself as uneducated? Why? Because she was denied the joy of taking Calculus? She's 87 or so and has had plenty of time to get a degree thru Open University if she'd wanted it. I think it's very sad that these women feel they are lacking some how because they were raised by Governesses and had parents who didn't feel they needed to go to school. It's not their fault! I hope all such women find peace over this before it's too late. I know few college graduates, even those I've know with Ivy League degrees who are as well "educated."

You can read excerpts HERE and HERE and HERE.

Final Curtsey by Margaret Rhodes

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

Well, I don't want to read the book, but I have enjoyed your review of it. She sounds a very interesting woman...as far as Royals go!!