ONE minute Marion Crawford is turning down a marriage proposal from a long-time friend in Edinburgh and preparing to complete her final year of teacher training, the next she is being whisked by train to London as the newly appointed governess to the world’s most famous siblings: the ‘little princesses’ Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.
King George V and his formidable consort Mary occupy the English throne when Crawford is introduced to royal circles as a favour to her college principal in the summer of 1932. Recommended to ‘Bertie’ and Elizabeth, the Duke and Duchess of York, by relatives in Scotland, she agrees to work an initial four weeks’ trial as the sole tutor of six-year-old ‘Lilibet’ and toddler ‘Bud’.
One month becomes several, then those several transition into 1933. As the Yorks move between their weekday residence within walking distance of Buckingham Palace and their country home in Windsor, ‘Crawfie’ travels with them. Hers is far from the glamorous fairytale existence observers on the outside assume it to be, however, as she struggles to add a degree of normalcy to the girls’ cosseted lives.
An overflowing schedule of competing activities means classes are often abandoned without notice, leaving Crawford frustrated that educating the princesses seems to be the least of the family’s priorities. At this point Lilibet is, after all, merely the daughter of a second son and the niece of the dashing playboy who will be the British Empire’s next king; Margaret ranks even lower in intellectual importance. Deportment and grooming are essential attributes; an ability to read, write and reason is irrelevant.
A work of fiction with historical figures and events at its core, The Governess imagines Crawford’s 16-year career within the royal household in an era of political and social upheaval set against a backdrop of abdication, blanket bombing, betrayal and romance.