This book journeys through centuries of history to offer a wealth of intriguing truths about British royal domestic life, royal celebrations, and royal etiquette. Covering eras from the Tudors to today, it delves into the world behind the scenes, where the royals experience many of the same difficulties and disappointments as any commoner—but also enjoy the pomp and luxury that makes them an object of fascination around the world.
Discover little-known facts about everything from coronations to abdications, palaces, princesses—and even royal pigeons—in this treasury of true stories.
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About the Author
Ruth Binney has been studying the countryside and nature for over 50 years. She holds a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University and has been involved in countless publications during her career as an editor. She lives near Weymouth, Dorset.
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Henry VIII's rounded education T
he scholar Erasmus described him as 'a lively mentality which reached for the stars' and 'able beyond measure to bring to perfection whichever task he undertook.' From a very early age Prince Henry proved to his first tutor, his maternal grandmother Margaret Beaufort, that he had an eye for detail and a prodigious memory. His first lessons in reading and writing were accomplished using parchment and a horn book, a small wooden board with a handle covered in parchment and topped with a thin layer of transparent horn on which was written the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer.
Even at the age of five, the young Prince Henry was receiving the best possible education of his day, being taught Greek, French, Spanish and Latin as well as literature and rhetoric, the latter by John Skelton, the Poet Laureate. Religious studies according to the Roman Catholic doctrine – which was to have such an impact on his later life – were included, as well as astronomy, cartography and navigation. And Henry was a fine musician and sportsman – indeed the perfect all rounder. If he was naughty there was no immediate problem for the Prince: his whipping boy would be punished in his stead. The boy Henry's closest friends and playmates were his cousins William Compton and Charles Brandon and a young nobleman named Henry Norris. He had little to do with his brother Arthur, the delicate heir apparent, who had been sent to Ludlow Castle in Shropshire when Henry was only a year old.
The King's Favourite
The young Princess Victoria
She called him 'Uncle King' – the gouty, swollen, ageing George IV – and on an unforgettable day in her childhood 'Drina', the young Princess Victoria, was presented to him. 'Give me your little paw' he said, and the young girl immediately shot out her hand before being placed upon the King's knee to kiss his highly rouged cheek. To mark the event the King's mistress, Lady Conyngham, pinned a miniature of the monarch onto Victoria's dress and there followed all kinds of delights. A ride in the King's phaeton and entertainment from Tyrolean dancers thrilled the Princess, and when asked what she would like the band to play she replied, to the monarch's delight, 'God Save the King'.
In the schoolroom
By the age of four, Victoria was learning the alphabet but also revealing her tempers, the self-confessed 'storms' that would never leave her. With her half-sister Fedore being 12 years older, it was a lonely life. For all her sternness, Victoria's German governess Louise Lehzen managed to instil in her reluctant pupil a love of history – often telling her stories while her hair was being brushed – and fostered her talent in languages, but other subjects were much disliked. Lehzen also began Victoria's famed collection of dolls, and together the pair dressed 132 puppets inspired by opera. Other lessons were in singing (excellent), piano (less good), dancing, and drawing which was to become a lifetime passion.
To learn deportment Victoria would have a sprig of holly pinned onto her clothes just under her chin to keep it raised. As a result she called all bad days 'holly days'.
In January 1833 the scheming Sir John Conroy, Comptroller of the household of Princess Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, presented the Duchess with a King Charles spaniel named Dash. This dog was to become Victoria's constant companion, dressed in a scarlet jacket and blue trousers (she had now abandoned her dolls) and given Christmas gifts such as India rubber balls and holly-decorated gingerbread. When she first met Prince Albert, Victoria was happy to note that he 'played with and fussed over Dash'.
The inscription on Dash's marble effigy at Adelaide Cottage near Windsor says it all:
Here lies DASH The favourite spaniel of Her Majesty Queen Victoria In his 10th year His attachment was without selfishness His playfulness without malice His fidelity without deceit READER If you would be beloved and die regretted Profit by the example of DASH
A 'Stupid Boy'
Bertie's endless struggles
The more lessons Bertie, the good humoured, gentle natured Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales had to do, the less he did them. And the more his parents Queen Victoria and Prince Albert tried to guide and protect their eldest son from life's excitements and frivolities, the more he pursued them. 'The Plan', the programme devised for Bertie's intellectual, moral and physical education, was laid down by his father and scrutinized in every detail, with tutors carefully selected for their abilities coming and going as they failed to inspire the Prince to work hard, as prescribed, at grammar, historical dates and geographical locations. Even on the rare occasions that sons of the nobility were invited to play at Buckingham Palace, Prince Albert supervised every moment.
The special diet
While the Queen was angry at Bertie's failings and thought him stupid, particularly in contrast to his elder sister Vicky, the Princess Royal, who was deemed 'very strong in body and mind', Albert was deeply grieved by his son's failings. In desperation, after Bertie had failed almost every exam set for him, the Queen called for her doctor, Sir James Clark, to help the boy. In 1858 the doctor devised a diet intended to 'improve both his temper and intellect'. Meals were to be taken at 9am, 2pm and 7pm, with a breakfast consisting of bread and butter (and an egg if desired) with tea, coffee or cocoa, and little more than meat and vegetables for the other two. Puddings were not included in the menu. Claret and seltzer water were allowed in hot weather; sherry and water when it was cold. And there was to be no break from this routine, even when the family were relaxing at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
The Prince Consort's wishes for his children were clear:
VICKY, ruler of Prussia
BERTIE, King of England
ALFIE, Duke of Saxe-Coburg
ALICE, to carry on the royal line
For these purposes Prince Albert resolved to raise his first four offspring, although they were still barely out of babyhood.
A tough life for Prince George
In 1877 when he was only 12, Prince George, the future George V and grandson of Queen Victoria, was sent with his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor (Eddy), to train on the sea cadet ship Britannia at Dartmouth in Devon. He was destined to spend another 15 years in the Royal Navy, during which time he travelled the world and, in Japan, had a blue and red dragon tattooed on his arm.
It was not an easy life. As he recorded: 'It never did me any good to be a Prince, I can tell you, and many was the time I wished I hadn't been. It was a pretty tough place and, so far from making any allowances for our disadvantages, the other boys made a point of taking it out on us on the grounds that they'd never be able to do it later on.'
This abuse could be physical: 'They used to make me go up and challenge the bigger boys – I was awfully small then – and I'd get a hiding time and again. But one day I was landed a blow on the nose that made my nose bleed badly. It was the best blow I ever took because the doctor forbade my fighting any more.'
The secret life of Prince John
In his early years Prince John, born to George V and Queen Mary on 12 July 1905, appeared to be a normal, happy child nicknamed 'the Imp' who loved playing soldiers. Yet as he grew John's problems of autism and epilepsy became painfully obvious. Intent on shielding their child from harm, John was removed from the family to Wood Farm at Wolferton, near Sandringham, where he was cared for by his nurse Mrs 'Lalla' Bill and a male orderly, and visited regularly by his mother. Yet neither parent was present when John died suddenly, early in the morning of 18 January 1919. 'Little Johnnie looked very peaceful' the Queen wrote after being called to see him. 'He slept quietly in his heavenly home, no pain, no struggle, just peace for the little troubled spirit.'
Queen Mary's sons and their nurses
In common with other privileged mothers of her day the wife of George V, Queen Mary, had little to do with the early upbringing of her children and Edward, the Prince of Wales (known as David), born on 23 June 1894, was no exception. He would be brought by his unkind nanny to see his mother twice a day, before which he would have had his arm pinched and twisted, thus worrying and annoying his parents when he began to cry with the result that he was swiftly removed.
David's younger brother Bertie, later George VI, fared little better. It came to light that he was given his bottle whilst being jerked violently up and down in a carriage, which may even have contributed to the gastric complaints from which he suffered so acutely later in life. To add to his discomforts, Bertie's legs were encased in splints to help cure him of knock knees.
The move to the Palace
When their father became King following the abdication of Edward VIII, life changed greatly for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. After moving to Buckingham Palace, they found it so vast and unfriendly compared with their previous home at 145 Piccadilly, near Hyde Park, that Elizabeth observed 'People here need bicycles'. When the girls were playing in Windsor Great Park they were challenged by a security guard who asked them: 'Now then, you two, what are you doing here? Who are you?' Otherwise their ordered lives were much as before, seeing their parents (if at home) for 15 minutes each morning after breakfast and promptly at 7.15 in the evening. If she were free their mother, Queen Elizabeth, would join them in the nursery for an hour of play and reading at 4.45 in the afternoon.
Their Own Guide Company
Elizabeth and Margaret in uniform
On 6 June 1937, when Princess Elizabeth was enrolled in the Girl Guides, the 1st Buckingham Palace Guide Company was formed with headquarters in a summerhouse in the Palace garden. The troop, which included children of the Royal Household and employees, numbered some 20 Guides and 14 Brownies, the latter including Princess Margaret. When war broke out in 1939 the Company closed down, but was reinstated at Windsor in 1942. The 1st Buckingham Palace Company was subsequently re-formed in 1959 for Princess Anne and remained active until 1963.
The Princesses's father George VI who, like his father, was obsessive about correct dress, forbade the girls to wear the regulation black stockings, which he regarded as unbecoming. Instead they wore knee-length socks – grey for Elizabeth and yellow for Margaret.
In January 2012, the Duchess of Cambridge announced that she would become actively involved as a Scout Association volunteer. It is suggested that the idea came as a result of Prince William attending the 2007 World Jamboree in Essex – his second ever public engagement.
Raising the Princesses
In her first year of life, Princess Elizabeth – 'Lilibet' to the family – spent more time with her formidable grandmother, Queen Mary, than with her own mother, the then Duchess of York. For in early 1927, when the baby Princess was only 10 months old, she was left behind with Queen Mary and her nanny 'Allah' (Clara Cooper Knight, who at 17 had been the Duchess's own nanny) while her parents embarked on a six-month duty tour abroad.
Queen Mary took her duties seriously, later teaching Lilibet to smile for the cameras and wave to the crowds, and arranging excursions, such as tours of Windsor Castle for the Princess and her sister Margaret Rose. Kindly at heart she may have been but stern she certainly was and, for Margaret, she brought 'a hollow, empty feeling to the pit of the stomach' with comments such as 'How small you are! Why don't you grow up?' The Duchess of York was instructed to teach Lilibet not to fidget and Lilibet even had the pockets of her dresses sewn up to ensure that the Queen's wishes were carried out.
'Until I came she had never been allowed to get dirty' said Marion Crawford, Lilibet and Margaret's governess at the family's London home at 145 Piccadilly from 1931. 'Life,' she said, 'had consisted of drives in the park or quiet ladylike games in Hamilton Gardens, keeping to the paths; or leisurely drives around London in an open carriage, waving graciously.' Now, although they still led a relatively solitary life, the Princesses were allowed to play hide and seek, and even travel on the top deck of a London bus. Conventional academic learning did not feature highly on the light schoolroom schedule, their mother being more concerned that they were able to dance, take pleasure in music, have perfect manners, and appreciate country activities.
When, in 1950, Marion Crawford dared to publish The Little Princesses, a book that detailed her experiences, she was promptly and irretrievably cut off from all contact with the Royal Family. Among the many confidences she betrayed was of the Princesses arguing: 'Neither was above taking a whack at her adversary, if roused,' she wrote, 'and Lilibet was quick with her left hook! Margaret was more of a close-in fighter, known to bite on occasions. More than once have I been shown a hand bearing the royal teeth marks.' She also noted Elizabeth's passion for order, tidiness and routine, which began with her delight at a childhood Christmas present of a dustpan and brush, and persists to this day.
After she became heir to the throne in 1936, Princess Elizabeth was given private tutorials in history, and particularly the constitution, by Henry Marten, the Provost of Eton, who received her in his study at the College. Princess Margaret was denied these lessons, instead being given additional 'lectures' by her grandmother. When caught playing with the cord on a window blind Queen Mary sternly reminded her of how King George of Hanover had lost his sight when he had swung a chain purse that had hit him in the eye.
On holiday visits to Glamis, their mother's family home in Scotland, the Princesses had more freedom. They would even stretch strands of chewing gum across the railway track and wait to see passing trains rush through them.
Breaking the Mould
Prince Charles goes to school
When asked how he was educated, Prince Charles is quoted as saying 'I learned the way a monkey learns: by watching its parents.' Yet rather than having their son privately tutored, as was the norm for the children of monarchs, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh decided that Charles should go to school, starting at Hill House in West London on 7 November 1956, where the emphasis was on good manners as well as schoolwork and sports. Nearly a year later he was enrolled as a boarder at Cheam School in Berkshire.
At his father's insistence, senior school for Charles in 1962 was Gordonstoun, near Elgin in Scotland, which the Duke of Edinburgh had attended, rather than Eton (thought to have been the Queen's choice). Charles hated it – he was lonely and homesick. By contrast, he loved the freedom of the two terms he spent at Timbertop, a remote outpost of Geelong Grammar School in Australia where he did everything from sheep shearing to tree felling and panning for gold.
Whenever Charles felt himself misunderstood at home or lonely and unhappy at school it was the Queen Mother who gave him her unquestioning support. Indeed, she was the only member of the Royal Family to visit him during his schooling in Australia, something he has never forgotten.
Other princes had attended the university but Charles was the first to graduate from Cambridge. Matriculating at Trinity College in 1967, he studied archaeology and anthropology before switching to history and graduating with a 2:2 in 1970. It was not all work. The Prince acted in revue, exchanging a dagger for a dustbin in a parody of Macbeth, and learned to fly. In addition, he played polo for the university against Oxford, earning himself a Half Blue and membership of the exclusive Hawks Club of which King George VI, a good lawn tennis player, and Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, who also played polo, had been members. During his time at Cambridge Charles, who had been granted the title Prince of Wales by his mother when he was nine, spent the summer term of 1969 in Aberystwyth learning Welsh ahead of his investiture at Caernarvon Castle on 1 July of the same year.
THAT INFAMOUS DRINK
Whilst at Gordonstoun, 14-year-old Charles was on an expedition to Stornaway when, oppressed by a gaggle of onlookers, he went into a pub and ordered a cherry brandy, the first drink he could think of. To his dismay he was spotted by a journalist and the story of the underage drinker was soon all over the newspapers.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Royal Family Life"
Copyright © 2012 Ruth Binney.
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