Prince Philip: The Early Years.

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born on 10 June 1921 in the dining room of Mon Repos, the Corfu summer home of his parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (the second youngest son of King George I of the Hellenes) and his English-born wife, Alice, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and eldest daughter of the first Marquess of Milford Haven, a former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy and, until the ‘Anglicisation’ of royal titles by King George V in 1917, styled as Prince Louis of Battenberg. Philip was the couple’s only son and by far the youngest of their five children, the oldest of whom, Margarita, was sixteen years the new-born’s senior. Prince Andrew must have been glad of a son but he had little time to reflect on this latest addition to his family, for Greece was in the midst of yet another war with the Turks (officially referred to in the textbooks as the ‘Greco-Turkish War 1919-1922’) and he was about to assume command of the 2nd Army Corps with the rank of Lieutenant-General. It would be many months before he would even set eyes on his son.

Meanwhile, Prince Philip settled into a familiar nursery routine at Mon Repos under the watchful ‘Nana’ Emily Roose. However, when his maternal grandfather,the Marquess of Milford Haven died in early September, Alice decided to take her young son with her to England (for she was still nursing him) to visit her widowed mother, Victoria, at Kensington Palace. This would be the first of many such visits by this Greek Prince.

Prince Andrew had, meanwhile, grown increasingly dissatisfied with his time in the military, feeling that he was surrounded in the current campaign in Asia Minor by ‘riff-raff’ and that ‘all military prudence had vanished.’ Nor was he a fan of his Commander-in-Chief, General Papoulas, and seems to have disagreed with an order to make ‘an immediate violent attack’ to the north, deeming this manoeuvre to be ‘impossible’. Andrew thought it would instead be more expedient to use his men to bolster the manpower of another corps. Papoulas was ‘astonished’ at this plan and ordered the Prince to desist. He also relieved Andrew’s Chief of Staff of his position, prompting the aggrieved Prince to demand that Papoulas also ‘order my immediate relief.’ The General refused. However, eventually, on 30 September 1921, Andrew was granted three months leave. Nevertheless, as readers will later learn, this altercation with his superior officer would have serious repercussions.

Thereafter, Alice and Philip returned to Corfu from their English visit and Prince Andrew was at last able to meet his son. However, with Greece still at war, Andrew returned to his military duties; he was transferred to the command of the 5th Army Corps Epirus and the Ionian Islands, at that time stationed in Janina [Ioannina]. However, the military situation for the Greeks was now increasingly perilous for, as 1922 progressed, the Hellenic forces continued to extend their lines of communication and supply in Anatolia to the utter limit. In the meantime, young Philip accompanied his mother and sisters to London for the wedding, in July, of Alice’s younger brother, Louis (‘Dickie’) Mountbatten to the wealthy socialite Edwina Ashley at St Margaret’s, Westminster. Philip’s four sisters were bridesmaids, although their small brother remained in the care of his nurse at his maternal grandmother’s Kensington Palace home. As summer drew to a close, the Turks, under the command of the legendary Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were diligently driving Greek forces back to towards the sea, with predominantly Christian towns such as Smyrna being overrun by the enemy with great loss of life. Furthermore, those Greeks who survived this advance were forced to abandon lands on which they had lived peaceably for centuries to resettle in Athens and other areas of Greece. Estimates put the number of these refugees at around 1.5 million.

In addition to the returning refugees, there was a large group of returning Greek soldiers who were still smarting at their recent humiliation. Thus, on 11 September, a Revolutionary Committee was established in Athens led by Colonel Nikolas Plastiras (who had previously served under Prince Andrew) bent on exacting revenge for the defeats in Asia Minor. The Committee demanded that the royalist government resign and also insisted that (an already ailing) King Constantine abdicate the throne. This he did on 27 October. ‘Tino’ was succeeded by his eldest son, who took the title of King George II of the Hellenes. However, the new monarch had neither real power nor influence and lived mostly in isolation at his country estate at Tatoi. In addition, these avenging revolutionaries rounded up a group of politicians and soldiers (including General Hadjianestis, who had succeeded Papoulas as Greece’s Commander-in-Chief) to face trial before a ‘Court’ largely composed of headstrong junior officers.

During this unsettled period Prince Andrew sojourned at Mon Repos, where the new powers-that-be were initially content for him to remain providing that he resigned his commission. Then, in late October, Andrew was interviewed by a member of the revolutionary committee in Corfu and summoned as a witness in the trial of the aforementioned individuals. However, on his arrival in Athens, the Prince found himself placed under house arrest and charged with offences, including disobeying orders and abandoning his post in the face of the enemy. The pretext for the trial was the acrimonious disagreement with General Papoulas the previous year. While her husband languished in a prison cell, a despairing Princess Alice (who had returned from London with Philip and her daughters in late September and was now under police surveillance at Mon Repos) contacted her brother Louis in London. Dickie subsequently lobbied Andrew’s cousin, King George V and the new Prime Minister, Bonar Law, on his sister’s behalf. Eventually, a Commander Gerald Talbot (who had previously served as the British Naval Attaché in Athens) was sent to Greece by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, to try and negotiate Andrew’s release or, at the very least, attempt to save his life.

In November, the trials of five Greek politicians (three of whom had served as Prime Minister) and General Hadjianestis commenced. They were tried for high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. On 28 November, they were taken to a piece of exposed ground outside Athens and executed by firing squad. That same day, the the British Legation in Athens telegraphed the Foreign Office in London to say that Prince Andrew’s situation had now grown ‘more dangerous’ and his trial was now scheduled for 30 November.

Meanwhile, Princess Alice had now arrived in Athens and a British battleship, HMS Calypso, was dispatched by the British government to lie off coast of the Greek capital to await further developments. Commander Talbot eventually obtained a promise from General Panagalos (the newly appointed Greek Minister for Military Affairs) and the aforementioned Colonel Plastiras, that Prince Andrew would stand trial and be sentenced. Plastiras would subsequently pardon the Prince who would then be handed over into Commander Talbot’s care for immediate transportation by sea to Brindisi and onwards to England.

On 3 December, Prince Andrew’s trial took place in the Chamber of Deputies and he was unanimously found guilty of the charges against him by a jury of officers. His sentence was that he was ‘degraded and condemned to perpetual banishment’ from Greece. As previously agreed, the Prince was subsequently taken down to Phaleron Bay where he boarded HMS Calypso (under the command of a Captain Buchanan-Wollaston) accompanied by Commander Talbot. Princess Alice was already aboard to greet her husband and the vessel immediately set sail for Corfu-which was reached the next day-to pick up the couple’s children and pack up such belongings as was possible. 18-month-old Prince Philip was taken aboard the Calypso in an orange box which acted as his cot.

On reaching Brindisi on 5 December, the Greek royals were far from out of the woods. Lacking financial means, they were advanced funds by the British Ambassador in Rome before travelling onwards to Paris. They reached London on 17 December and checked-in to the Stafford Hotel in Mayfair. Interestingly, there had already been questions on the British House of Commons regarding the cost (£1200) of sending HMS Calypso to Greece. During this brief English interlude, Prince Andrew had a meeting with his cousin King George V. However, at this interval, it seemed that Philip and his family’s best option-given their state of relative poverty-was to return to Paris and the benevolent care of the wealthy Marie Bonaparte (the wife of Prince George of Greece and Denmark [‘Big George’]) at St Cloud. She would subsequently place a small house adjacent to her own larger mansion at the disposal of these exiled relations.

Paris would be the home of Prince Philip for the next seven years and provided a safe haven in a time of continuing turmoil in Greece. 1923 brought mixed fortunes: In January, Prince Andrew and his wife made a visit to the United States to holiday with Prince Christopher and his wealthy wife, the former Mrs Nancy Leeds, leaving Philip in the care of ‘Roosie’. However, they had no sooner started out on their journey aboard the liner RMS Olympic, than they received word that ex-King Constantine had died of heart failure on 11 January in Italy, where he had been living in exile. Subsequently, in Athens, following a failed royalist coup in October, King George II was effectively hounded into exile by Plastiras and his Revolutionary Committee cronies; in March 1924, the Greeks would vote to ditch the monarchy in favour of a republic. Another blow to the family was the death of Philip’s grandmother, Queen Olga, in Rome, in June 1926, at the age of 74. Olga had been by far the most respected member of the Greek royal family and with a following that transcended across all political boundaries.

Philip, meanwhile, was now a of school age. He attended school at the wonderfully titled MacJannet Country Day and Boarding School (habitually referred to as ‘the Elms’ after the name of the house in which it was located). This catered mainly for the children of American clients and diplomats and was near enough for Philip, who was always full of energy and boisterous enthusiasm, to cycle to. The youngster also liked nothing better than going for motor drives through the Bois de Boulogne in his father’s car or partaking of a generous Sunday lunch at his Aunt and Uncle’s neighbouring home. Also in Paris, were Philip’s Uncle Nicholas and his charming (but intimidating) Russian wife Grand Duchess Helen, along with their daughters, Elizabeth and Marina (their eldest child, Olga, Philip’s godmother-by-proxy, was already married to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and lived in Belgrade). These cousins were-like his sisters-much older than Philip but, as was true of most members of that generation of the Greek royal family, they were full of fun and possessed of a decidedly unique sense of humour which appealed to the youngster.

The young Prince enjoyed holidays too with his older cousin Crown Princess (later Queen Mother) Helen and her son Michael at their home in Romania. France was an obvious destination with Berck Plage, near Le Touquet, a decided favourite. Another welcome French summer retreat was the holiday home, in Marseilles, of Madame Anna Foufounis, the widow of a wealthy Greek royalist. When visiting England, Philip also enjoyed vacationing with his sisters Sophie (‘Tiny’) and Cecile (Blakeney in Norfolk being a particular favourite). Apparently, Prince Andrew was keen that his son should also be educated in England and, in 1929, it was decided to send him to Cheam, a preparatory (or ‘prep’) school in Surrey, whose purpose was-as the name suggests-to prepare boys for passing the Common Entrance examination which was required (along with payment of the large fees) for entry to exclusive public schools such as Eton or Harrow. Discipline was tight at Cheam and it is fair to say that he did not excel academically other than in French for which he won a prize. The headmaster, the Reverend Taylor would later remember Philip’s strong personality and leadership skills.

The months between December 1930 and August 1931 saw the marriage of all of Philip’s sisters to members of the German aristocracy. The Prince’s time at Cheam also saw him draw closer to his maternal grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven (born a Princess of Hesse and by Rhine and the eldest sister of the late Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia) and various other Mountbatten relatives in England, particularly his maternal uncle, George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven and his Romanov wife Nadejda (‘Nada’), the younger daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia. Conveniently, they lived at Lynden Manor on the upper reaches of the Thames. It was the Marquess who paid Philip’s school fees during this period and some have referred to George as a ‘surrogate father’ to the young Prince, while the couples’ son David-who also attended Cheam-assumed a sort of quasi-brother role in his Greek kinsman’s life. This affinity to his British-based relations coincided with a deterioration in the mental health of Philip’s mother Princess Alice, who had entered a clinic in Tegel, Germany in February 1930, for a period of rest and psychoanalysis. She was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and was moved to a psychiatric sanatorium in Kreuzlingen. Until her recovery in 1937, Philip would only see his mother intermittently. His father Andrew too was not much on the scene, spending much of his time on the French Riviera, where he had many rich friends and a mistress, Madame Andrée de la Bigne.

In the 1930’s, Prince Philip spent periods at Wolfsgarten, the home of his sister Cecile (now married to Georg Donatus [‘Don’], Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse) as well as with his sister Theodora (‘Dolla’), who lived at Schloss Salem with her husband Berthold, the Margrave of Baden. Dolla seemed keen to take an interest in her brother’s education during this period and Philip was soon enrolled at the Schloss’ school founded, in 1920, by Prince Max of Baden (Dolla’s father-in-law) and Kurt Hahn, a German Jew who had served as Private Secretary to Prince Max. Hahn was an outspoken critic of Hitler and the anti-Semitic Nazi regime and this led to his arrest in March 1933. Kurt was eventually released (thanks to the intervention of influential British friends including Ramsay MacDonald, the former Prime Minister) and subsequently moved to Scotland where he founded a new school, Gordonstoun, situated near Hopeman on the Moray coast. After only a couple of terms at Schule Schloss Salem (by which time Hahn had already departed for Britain and Berthold had assumed the role of headmaster) Philip-who was also far from respectful of the Third Reich’s foibles (he detested the ‘heel clicking’ style and thought the Nazi salute quite ridiculous as it reminded him of having to put up his hand in class at Cheam to ask to use the lavatory)-relocated to Scotland, thanks to the assistance again of George Milford Haven, to commence his studies at Gordonstoun.

Gordonstoun was an ideal school for this energetic boy with no surname, who was usually known simply as ‘Philip’, or occasionally more formally as ‘Philip of Greece’. As at Salem, the day started with cold showers and a brisk run. Meditation was also encouraged. Sailing was on the curriculum, as was amateur dramatics (a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is frequently mentioned by past biographers). The Prince also played cricket and hockey (eventually captaining both teams). Philip seemed keen to fit in and according to one contemporary never ‘swanked about his relatives.’ Like other pupils he undertook work to help out the local community. Kurt Hahn recalled that, ‘He was often naughty, never nasty.’ During the long summer holidays, he would continue to spend time in Germany with his sisters and their families. Wolfsgarten remained a particular favourite and Philip’s father, Prince Andrew, was sometimes present too and this made for brief, but welcome, reunions.

In November 1935 the Greek monarchy was restored following a plebiscite and, on 22 November of the following year, Philip paid a visit to Athens to join other members of the Greek royal family for the reburial, at Tatoi, of the three senior members of the Hellenic royal house who had died in exile, namely King Constantine I, Queen Olga and Queen Sophie. Their bodies had earlier been exhumed from the vaults of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence. All of the extended royal family stayed at the Grande Bretagne Hotel which seems to have been commandeered for the occasion. This provided the young Prince with ample opportunities to discuss the history of the family with his aunts, uncles and cousins. He would also return, in January 1938, for the wedding of his cousin Crown Prince Paul (‘Palo’) to Princess Frederika of Hanover.

However, there was one disaster during this early period of the Prince’s life which was to have lasting consequences: On 16 November 1937, a Belgian Sabena aeroplane carrying his sister Cecile (pregnant with her fourth child), her husband Don, their sons Ludwig and Alexander and Cecile’s mother-in-law, Eleanore, hit a chimney in thick fog as it approached Ostend’s Steene Aerodrome. All of the passengers (who had been en route to London to attend the nuptials of Don’s younger brother, Ludwig [‘Lu’] to Margaret ‘Peg’ Geddes) were killed. Philip was informed of the tragedy by Kurt Hahn and, although in deep shock, he travelled south from Gordonstoun to rendezvous with his father in London and travel on to the funeral, which was held on 23 November in Darmstadt. Philip’s mother Princess Alice-who was now much improved health wise-was also in attendance.

In April 1938, more tragedy followed when Philip’s mentor, George Milford-Haven, died of bone cancer at the age of only forty-six. Aged sixteen, the Prince was at an impressionable age. Meanwhile, his father’s continued absence in the South of France and his mother’s recent decision to return to Greece to live in a small flat in Athens, left the way open for George’s younger brother, Louis Mountbatten, to exert considerable influence over his nephew, especially when Philip commenced his naval career, in the spring of 1939, as a cadet at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. By going to sea, the young Prince thus followed in the footsteps of both his maternal and paternal grandfathers. Philip often spent the weekend at Mountbatten’s London home in Chester Street, where he invariably slept on a camp bed in the sitting room.

Yet Philip’s maternal grandmother, Victoria, also remained an influential presence in his life and he sometimes spent time at her grace-and-favour apartment at Kensington Palace. Indeed, during the summer of 1939, as the storm crowds of war gathered on the horizon, Philip stayed there for a month along with his mother, Princess Alice. The duo then travelled via Paris to Italy from where they sailed to Athens. They arrived in Greece just prior to war being declared between Britain and Germany on 3 September. Philip returned to England, in late September, to resume his nautical training at the instruction of his cousin, King George II of the Hellenes. He then graduated as best all-round cadet of the term at Dartmouth, an accolade which won him the King’s Dirk. Philip would go on to serve in the Royal Navy for the duration of World War II and beyond, until 1951.

However, there was already a far greater prize on the horizon. Just prior to Philip’s summer holiday with his mother, he had enjoyed a reunion with his distant cousin, Princess Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, at Dartmouth, during a tour of inspection of the Royal Naval College by their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). Captain Louis Mountbatten was also ‘in attendance’ in his role as the King’s Aide-de-Camp. There happened to be an outbreak of mumps at the College so, rather than attend a morning church service as previously planned, the Princess’ were placed in the care of Philip. The trio played games (both croquet and tennis are frequently cited) together on a lawn, during which the Prince was observed jumping enthusiastically over a tennis net. Later, as the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert sailed out of the Dart Estuary, a plucky Prince Philip jumped into a small boat and determinedly continued to follow the yacht long after his fellow cadets had given up the effort. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth (or ‘Lilibet’ to her family) was captivated by her older kinsman’s exploits that day and somehow this Greek princeling found a niche in her young heart which would only grow fonder with the years.

Robert Prentice is the author of the latest biography on a member of the Greek Royal Family, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times. Available, at time of posting from the with FREE Worldwide Postage. Click on link below:

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia : Robert Prentice : 9781839754425 (

Princess Alice’s Wartime Canadian Adventure.

In February, 1940 the King’s representative in Canada, Lord Tweedsmuir, died suddenly following surgery. This left the post of Governor-General vacant at a particularly important time, for German military successes in Europe now required the strengthening of relationships between the United Kingdom and the Dominions, each of whom would provide military and non-military assistance to the ‘mother’ country. King George VI decided to appoint his Uncle Alge, the sixty-five-year-old Earl of Athlone to the post. The official announcement was made from Buckingham Palace on 3 April. The appointment was a God-send to the Earl (a younger brother of Queen Mary), who although too old for active military service, was anxious to be of use in the war effort.

There was no one more surprised at this sudden turn of events than Lord Athlone’s wife, the fifty-seven year-old Princess Alice. She was the spirited daughter of Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Leopold, Duke of Albany. Given Lord Athlone’s age, she had probably envisaged seeing out the war undertaking a series of minor official engagements or providing succour to evacuees from London’s East End who were currently quartered at the family’s country home, Brantridge Park, in rural Sussex. Alice was kind, candid, enthusiastic and fun; she was also often praised for her ‘band box’ elegance.

Yet, the King had actually made a wise choice for Alge and Alice were already well-versed in the nuances of Vice-Regal life: The Earl of Athlone had served as Governor-General of the Union of South Africa from 1924-1931 at a time when Afrikaner nationalism was on the ascendency, leading to tensions with those of British descent. Although Princess Alice had left the politics largely to her husband, she had proved to be an indefatigable hostess at the Government Houses of Pretoria and Cape Town, as well as forging strong links with both the ‘pro-British’ politician Jan Smuts and the Nationalist Afrikanner leader and Prime Minister, General James Hertzog. When not occupied entertaining official guests and politicians, the down-to-earth Princess could be found visiting Girl Guide groups, presiding over Rose Day festivities in Johannesburg or fund-raising for the King Edward VII District Nursing Association.

Although Canada differed enormously from its fellow Dominion in the south, the two countries shared a deep political and cultural divide. Whereas in South Africa these divisions had been between the more reactionary, republican Afrikaans-speaking people of mainly Dutch descent and the liberal-leaning (and monarchist) English-speaking population, in Canada the disconnect was between the principally royalist English-speakers of English and Scottish descent (who formed a majority in most areas of Canada) and their French-speaking counterparts (who were dominant only in the province of Quebec). It would be fair to say that the latter viewed the Crown (of whom Lord Athlone was now the official representative) with indifference at best, and sometimes open hostility.

After zig-zagging their way across the Atlantic to avoid enemy U-boats, on 21 June, the Vice-Regal couple steamed into Ottawa’s Union Station where they were greeted by the Administrator (Sir Lyman Duff) and the Prime Minister, Mr Mackenzie King. The Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice then processed to the imposing Parliament Buildings where the Earl immediately took the Oath of Office as sixteenth Governor-General in the Senate chamber. From there, the couple travelled to their official residence, Rideau Hall. Princess Alice quickly made a tour of this 175-room edifice, which she found to be an unsatisfactory hotchpotch of rooms in varying architectural styles, for the building had been much extended over the years. Nonetheless, within weeks, the highly-organised Alice had rearranged much of the furniture in the public rooms and mastered every detail of the domestic side of life at the Hall, some say down to the point of knowing the exact number of dusters in the housemaid’s cupboard.

Again leaving the political side of matters to her husband and his Private Secretary, Sir (Arthur) Shuldham Redfern, the Princess first focused on welcoming various relations who sought refuge at Rideau Hall. These included her daughter, Lady May Abel Smith (whose husband Henry was currently serving in Palestine) and her three children Anne, Richard and Elizabeth. Also arriving in Ottawa was Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her daughters Beatrix and Irene. Juliana was the daughter of Princess Alice’s first cousin Queen Wihelmina. Although the Abel Smith family would remain at Rideau Hall for several years, the Dutch royals soon relocated to a charming house in nearby Rockcliffe Park.

In October the Earl and Princess Alice spent the weekend at the country home of President Roosevelt at Hyde Park on the Hudson River. The Princess was much taken with Eleanor Roosevelt, especially her energy and positivity. Although Lord Athlone had to rush back to Ottawa, Alice then took the opportunity to visit New York where she visited the British Pavilion at the World’s Fair. The Vice-Regal couple later paid a visit to Montreal, where Lord Athlone received an Honorary degree from McGill University. As both the Princess and her husband spoke excellent French, they were able to converse quite freely with the Québécois.

With the approach of her first Canadian Christmas in Ottawa, Princess Alice pulled out all the stops to make it a festive occasion. In addition to her own daughter and grandchildren, she also invited, as guests, Juliana and her daughters, as well as the Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was a bachelor. Not only was this a thoughtful gesture, it was also a prudent one. ‘WLMK’ as many called him, could be prickly and was often difficult to get along with on official matters. Some say he even resented the presence of the Athlone’s, feeling that he played second fiddle to them. In a sense this was true, as technically they had precedence over him. This was perhaps Alice’s tactful way of smoothing his sometimes ruffled feathers. Sadly, all of the Princess’ Christmas presents and cards to family and friends in England went to the bottom of the sea, when the ship carrying them there (the Western Prince) was sunk by a German U-boat.

Canada, of course, was a huge country and tremendous distances would require to be covered. Each individual province was more akin to the size of one of the larger countries in Europe. Fortunately, the Vice-Regal couple were given the use of carriages from the Royal Train which had transported the King and Queen during their tour of Canada in 1939. Thus, as winter turned to spring, the Athlones set out on a tour of the western provinces, travelling as far west as Victoria on Vancouver Island. On the way out, they made stopovers in Winnipeg and Edmonton to visit air force training units and those involved in war charity work; while the return journey saw them visit Calgary (where they inspected members of the Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve) and Regina (to attend a patriotic display by 12,000 schoolchildren).

In June 1941, it was the turn of the east of Canada, with a visit to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Alice was particularly taken by the Province House in Halifax, the home of the oldest legislature in Canada, and she also joined her husband on a visit to the naval dockyard to inspect a group of navy ratings, stepping gingerly along muddy paths in her best finery. However, when the occasion required it, she happily wore uniform. There was quite a selection as Alice was, inter alia, Honorary Commandant of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, Honorary Air Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Women’s Division) and President of the Nursing Division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. 

In late July, Alice’s nephew, Prince George, the Duke of Kent paid a visit to Canada to inspect the operations of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and other matters relating to the war effort. He stayed at Rideau Hall and brought the Princess up-to-date with news from England. Not welcome were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who were travelling to their ranch in Pekisko, Alberta. Alice commented tartly that ‘there was much feeling against’ the Duchess in Canada and must have been glad that the couple tactfully avoided Ottawa. Other royal visitors included the widowed (and somewhat other-worldly) Empress Zita of Austria who always dressed in black and Queen Wilhelmina, who visited in 1942 and 1943, and kept the staff at Rideau Hall on their toes by alternating between insisting on ‘giving no trouble’ but then suddenly becoming imperious if her royal wishes were thwarted in any way.

With the first year under their belt, Princess Alice and her husband carried on with the ‘official round’ in a similar fashion throughout the rest of the war, with visits stretching from Newfoundland in the east to British Columbia in the west; from the Great Lakes of the south to the Yukon Territory in the north. On one occasion, they paid a call on the native Ojibwe tribe. The Earl was created ‘Chief Rainbow’, while Alice was presented with a squaw’s head-dress. The duo also visited Alaska at the invitation of President Roosevelt to view American tanks and aircraft being ferried across the Bering Straits to the Soviet allies. Back in Canada, endless factories and munition works were inspected, along with hospitals and military establishments. Also part of the annual Vice-Regal schedule were levees and official dinners at Rideau Hall, as well as the State Opening of Parliament. If Alice was required to make a speech, she invariably wrote it herself.

Each July, the Princess and her husband would escape the heat of Ottawa for the cooler climes of Quebec City and their other official residence, La Citadelle, with its wonderful views over the St Lawrence River. This residence was also the location for the famous Quebec Conferences, held in August 1943 and September 1944 (to discuss strategies for the invasion of France and the subsequent advance on Germany). Although the Vice-Regal couple were happy to act as hosts to Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and Mackenzie King, apart from posing for official photographs and attending some official dinners, they otherwise tried to remain firmly in the background.

However, there was also still time for fun. In the winter the couple would skate on an ersatz ice rink at Rideau Hall (formed by simply flooding the tennis court) or go tobogganing in the nearby Gatineau Hills. Alice and her husband also regularly spent time at a fishing lodge at Kamloops in British Columbia; while another favourite destination was the Jasper National Park where they lived unobtrusively on board their private railway carriage which was shunted into a siding.

Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone departed Ottawa in March 1946. The final period of their Vice-Regal term was mercifully busy with a ball at Rideau Hall in honour of General Dwight Eisenhower and a stream of farewell dinners. It is typical of Alice that instead of accepting the traditional gift to the wife of a departing Governor-General of jewellery or a warm fur coat, instead asked that a Fund be established to support the young people of the Dominion. Furthermore, in a final speech as Honorary President of the Imperial Order Daughters of Empire, she emphasised the need for the citizens of Canada to adopt a national outlook, rather than one focused on the needs of the individual provinces.

The author of this blog takes a keen interest on the fate of royalty during World War II. He narrates the wartime adventures of a Greek-born princess in Africa (and much else besides) in the new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or e-book.

Queen Mary’s Wartime Escapades

As the rumours of war intensified in the first days of September, 1939, Queen Mary was holidaying at the royal family’s Norfolk estate at Sandringham, close to the ancient market town of King’s Lynn. On the morning that war with Germany was declared, 3 September, the Queen was listening to a radio broadcast by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, on the vicar’s radio in her stall at the small estate church of St Mary Magdalene. Soon thereafter, the local parishioners were temporarily diverted from their devotions by the drone of the local air raid siren. This was a false alarm, being merely a test of the system. Presumably, the Queen Dowager spent the rest of what remained of that first Sunday of wartime in a state of nervous anticipation.

In the early hours of 4 September, Queen Mary was roused from her sleep by another ‘alarm.’ She and her detective Green and her grandchildren Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra of Kent (the children of Prince George, the Duke of Kent and his wife Marina, who were temporarily under her care) all rushed to the basement, where they sat stoically until the ‘all clear’ was sounded at 3.30 am. Although Mary returned to her bed, she remained wide-awake till morning.

Indeed, by 10am the Queen Dowager and her large entourage of staff had already packed their cases and departed ‘the Big House’, under a pre-arranged plan, for an even grander edifice, Badminton House, in rural Gloucestershire. This was the home of the Duke of Beaufort (‘Master’) and his wife, Mary, who was a niece of Queen Mary. As the Duke had already joined his Regiment, it was Mary Beaufort who was faced with the daunting prospect of greeting her royal aunt and her staff of around fifty, along with seventy pieces of the Queen’s luggage.

Queen Mary-who had lunched en route at the Northamptonshire home of Lord and Lady Spencer at Althorp-quickly selected a first-floor bedroom, with a splendid view over across the park, together with an adjacent sitting room and bathroom. For her private dining room, she made use of the so-called Oak Room, the main feature of which was its dark, heavy Jacobean panelling. Yet, even this generous accommodation was deemed insufficient, so she commandeered a large dining-room to serve as a formal drawing room for receiving important guests. To protect her royal personage, four despatch riders were on constant call to lead the way to safety in case of a sudden attack or a German invasion. They were augmented by 120 men of the local Gloucestershire Regiment who were quartered in the old stables. Of course, Inspector George Gardner, the Queen’s personal police protection officer, was also on hand.

It must be said that the Queen Dowager never wanted to go to the country. She would far preferred to have remained at Marlborough House, but the King persuaded his mother that if she were to remain in London, he would be constantly fretting over her wellbeing. To combat her initial restlessness and feelings of uselessness, ‘Bertie’ ensured that Mary should receive regular news summaries from the Foreign Office. These were sent down by motorbike courier in official red leather dispatch boxes. Another weapon to combat country boredom was Queen Mary’s weekly train visits up to London, during which she sometimes lunched with the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace and visited her favourite shops. Filled with purpose, the Dowager was up with the lark to catch the 8.28 train from nearby Chippenham. The journey took two hours. Her only complaint was that the blackout requirements, on the evening return trip, hampered her ability to read.

Looking out of her bedroom window one day, Queen Mary espied a whole wall of the house covered in ivy ‘of 50 years standing.’ She had always hated the plant with a vengeance, believing that it was destructive to a building’s stone work. Some of the park’s trees were also covered in the dastardly plant. Soon, her Equerry, Sir John Coke, was pressed into joining his mistress for a morning of clearing ivy. This ‘Ivy Squad’ was eventually augmented by the enrolment of Her Majesty’s duty Lady-in-Waiting and Private Secretary, aided by any visiting guests. Given the old Queen’s zeal, it is not surprising that Badminton’s considerable stock of Ivy was quickly exhausted.

Undeterred, by the autumn of 1940, Queen Mary turned her attention, most afternoons, to the clearance of areas of the local woodlands. A ‘Wooding Squad’ was established, mainly composed of the four dispatch riders and their royal charge. As Mary now rarely went to London due to the German bombing campaign or ‘Blitz’ (during which most of Marlborough House’s windows were blown-out, as were many of the interior doors), this diversion proved particularly welcome. The Queen was a thoughtful ‘employer’ and happily passed round cigarettes to her workers during their breaktime from chopping and sawing, always ensuring, of course, to have one herself. Mary also took great pains to find out the birthdays of her ‘wooders’, so that she could give them a small gift.

However, the Dowager Queen’s efforts at undertaking a salvage campaign to collect scrap iron for the war effort proved less successful. Her enthusiasm often led her into ‘salvaging’ the local farmers’ perfectly serviceable field implements which had to be discreetly returned to them at a later date. Yet, her dedication to the task is evidence that her patriotic heart was in the right place. Mary’s patriotism was also apparent in her insistence on obeying the strict rationing rules. Many was the evening that a dinner guest left her table hungry after consuming only half a snipe. By contrast, the Queen loved to fill her rooms with exuberant displays of geraniums and orchids, the latter often sourced (doubtless at great expense) from neighbouring nursery gardens.

Another outlet for Queen Mary’s talents was to undertake a varied array of official engagements in the locality, be it visiting a munitions factory or a hospital or a woollen mill or a group of evacuees from London. Although Her Majesty’s movements were meant to shrouded in secrecy, on a visit to a spitfire production factory at Trowbridge, one of the workers let the secret slip, so a group of children were there to greet her as she alighted from her old green Daimler saloon ‘prim as always’ with her trademark rolled-up umbrella in one hand. Sometimes, on her outings, Mary would come across members of the military plodding along the road and she soon took to offering them lifts. Many were unaware of who this kind and inquisitive old lady was, particularly in the case of foreign combatants.

For relaxation the Queen Dowager often visited antique shops in nearby Bath. She also enjoyed embroidery (or ‘stitchery’ as she sometimes referred to it). Mary would also visit local gardens and if it happened to be raining, she would don a pair of short rubber boots and prod tentatively at the flower beds with her stick or umbrella. Family members often visited, particularly her youngest son, the Duke of Kent, and his sister Mary, the Princess Royal. The Duke’s death in an air accident in northern Scotland, in August, 1942 was a severe shock. However, Mary stoically put her own feelings aside and arranged to motor to Buckinghamshire next day, to comfort his widow, Marina. The only night the Queen Dowager spent away from Badminton during the entire war period, was at Windsor Castle on the eve of the Duke’s funeral on 29 August.

On occasion, Badminton was subjected to air raids due to its proximity to Bristol and Bath. Queen Mary initially ‘descended’ to a reinforced room on the ground floor where, dressed to perfection and sitting bolt upright, she would attempt to solve a crossword puzzle. Eventually, she decided to remain upstairs in bed and take her chances. However, Mary was less sanguine when it came to the bombing of her beloved Marlborough House noting, ‘The dear old House cannot stand much more of this, & I tremble each day for news of it’s having succumbed.’

By early 1945, the old Queen had resumed her journeys up to London. Their primary purpose was so that she could assess the extent of the damage to Marlborough House, with a view to preparing the place for her eventual return. From the outset, it became clear that only her private suite of rooms could be made habitable in time for her return home, as materials to undertake repairs were almost impossible to obtain.

After celebrating VE day (8 May) with a visit to the local pub (where the villagers were celebrating with a sing-song), Queen Mary departed Badminton on 11 June. She insisted on personally bidding farewell to the Heads of each of the nine ‘departments’ of the estate and presented a gift to each. It was an emotional occasion and with tears streaming down her face, the Dowager acknowledged to Mr Perks, the Head Gardener, ‘Oh, I have been happy here! Here I’ve been anybody to everybody, and back in London I shall have to begin being Queen Mary all over again.’ She also admitted to having ‘gained much’ from her time there, which is an understatement given that, prior to moving to Badminton, she had not even known what hay looked like.

The writer of this blog is the author of a new biography: Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times published by Grosvenor House Publishing and available as a hardback or e-book from Amazon and other on-line booksellers and local bookshops.

Royal Wedding Tiara’s Tantalising History.

It was a most touching gesture of the Queen to lend her diamond fringe tiara to her granddaughter Princess Beatrice of York on her recent wedding day. Interestingly, Her Majesty had worn the self-same tiara at her own wedding to the Duke of Edinburgh in November 1947. Fortunately, for Beatrice, there was no mishap, or drama, involved in the wearing of it. The same cannot be said for the then Princess Elizabeth as, on the morning of her wedding day, the tiara’s fragile frame snapped, as the bride-to-be was dressing. Fortunately, the court jeweller was on hand to rush it-accompanied by a police escort-to his workroom for a quick but necessary repair.

But what is the history of this sparkling jewel which the catty diarist, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon referred to, dismissively, as ‘an ugly spiked tiara’? According to Suzy Menkes in her worthy examination of royal jewellery, the Royal Jewels and Leslie Fields in the exhaustively-researched Queen’s Jewels, the ‘sunray’ tiara was made, around 1830, to be worn as a necklace from brilliant-cut stones belonging to King George III (and referred to as the King George III fringe tiara). Fields indicates that Queen Victoria was the first person to use it as a tiara, when the graduated necklace was mounted on a thin wire band. In her book, she even includes an image of a young Victoria wearing it in a Winterhalter painting, carrying her infant son Prince Arthur (later the Duke of Connaught) in her arms. This necklace/tiara was one of an extensive list of items of jewellery (sometimes referred to as the ‘Crown Jewellery’, to distinguish it from the Sovereign’s personal gems) left in perpetuity to the Crown by Victoria on her death in 1901.

This tiara/necklace eventually passed into the hands of that most acquisitive of royal consorts, Queen Mary. However, this is where the story takes an unexpected and confusing turn. According to more recent sources (and meticulously highlighted in a post in the blog, The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor in 2017), although Queen Mary did wear this 1830 version as a tiara, she also subsequently had a similar-styled tiara made from stones from a necklace she had received as a wedding present from Queen Victoria in 1893. This new ‘Queen Mary Fringe Tiara’ was manufactured by E. Wolff & Co. for the royal jewellers, Garrard and Company, in 1919 and was apparently easier to wear. She passed this version on to her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth (along with a portion of the Crown Jewellery) following the accession of her second son, Albert (‘Bertie’), to the throne as King George VI in December 1936.

While both Menkes and Field state that it was the 1830 version which was worn by Princess Elizabeth as the ‘something borrowed’ on her wedding day in 1947, the more recent sources, including Hugh Roberts in his publication The Queen’s Diamonds, point to the later 1919 Queen Mary Fringe Tiara version’s use. He and the Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor Blogspot (17 February 2012) also point out that the two tiaras are frequently confused, as was the case when the Queen wore the later version in a formal portrait to be used in New Zealand to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee. The tiara was also worn by Princess Beatrice’s Aunt, Princess Anne (the Princess Royal) on her wedding day in November 1973.

Queen Elizabeth was glad of the acquisition of jewels from Queen Mary-which she wore on a tour of Canada in the summer of 1939-for as she revealed to the photographer, Cecil Beaton, ‘The choice [of jewellery available] is not very great, you know.’ Although this is an exaggeration, it was a tactful acknowledgement by her successor that Queen Mary, now Queen Dowager, still held on to the vast majority of royal gems, much of which had been amassed from often impecunious relatives during her husband, King George V’s reign. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth’s jewellery box would be augmented by a wonderful bequest from the shrewd Scottish brewery heiress, Mrs Ronnie Greville in 1942.

The Royal Chapel of All Saints, Windsor-location of the wedding of Princess Beatrice.

This pleasant little Victorian Gothic church was the location of yesterday’s wedding of Princess Beatrice of York. The chapel stands ‘across the way’ (as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, a frequent worshipper there, would say) from the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, the current home of Prince Andrew, Duke of York. George IV-who used the Royal Lodge as a private retreat in the 1820’s-was the first royal to worship at All Saints from around 1825. Indeed, it was he who commissioned the English architect, Jeffry Wyatville to design it. (Other sources point to the influence of architect John Nash).

Queen Victoria later worshipped there too and had the chapel rebuilt, during the early 1860’s, to designs by Samuel Sanders Teulon and Anthony Salvin. This included the addition of a new chancel, extra seating for worshippers and a stained-glass window dedicated to the memory of her mother, the Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, who died in 1861. There is a also a window to the memory of Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein, the son of Prince Christian and his wife Princess Helena, who lived nearby at Cumberland Lodge. Their beloved ‘Christle’ died of enteric fever in Pretoria in 1900, while serving with British forces in South Africa during the Boer War.

Around 1931, the future King George VI (then Duke of York) and his wife Elizabeth took up residence at the (much-reconstructed) Royal Lodge. The couple were regular worshippers at the chapel. When the Duke of York ascended the throne in 1936, he subsequently had various alterations undertaken including the installation of a new ceiling (designed by the architect and designer Edward Maufe) in the Chancel, as well as the addition of a royal pew (carefully positioned to allow for privacy), new choir stalls and a screen for the organ.

Following Queen Elizabeth’s death at Royal Lodge on 30 March 2002, the Queen Mother’s mortal remains rested at the Altar of All Saints prior to being taken to London for the Lying-in-State at Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster. Today the Queen worships at All Saints when she is in residence at Windsor. Those who live and work in the Great Park may also attend services.

Princess Elizabeth’s 21st Birthday Speech.

Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King George VI, was due to turn 21 on 21 April, 1947. The Royal Family were on a tour of South Africa at this time and it was decided that the young princess should make a ‘dedication’ broadcast to the Empire from Government House, Cape Town on the evening of her birthday. There was, however, a problem. The beam radio link between Cape Town and the BBC in London was unreliable and often subject to extreme interference. Frank Gillard, a former BBC Wartime Correspondent, was covering the tour and sent a memo expressing his concern to Sir Alan Lascelles, the King’s Private Secretary. What if, he queried, the Empire were waiting patiently for the broadcast and nothing happened? It would look ridiculous.

Fortunately, Gillard and his colleagues came up with an excellent solution. The Princess could pre-record her broadcast on high-quality discs which could then be flown to London to be used as a fail-safe should the ‘live’ broadcast from Cape Town fail to materialise or be interrupted in any way. The ‘stand-by’ version was pre-recorded on the evening of Sunday, 4 April at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Southern Rhodesia, where the royal family were enjoying a brief stay on their current leg of the tour. The King emphasised to an already nervous Gillard that ‘this will probably be the most important broadcast of my daughter’s life.’ No pressure then!

There was another useful aspect to this exercise: When Gillard had perused the prepared script with the King and Queen, all were horrified by the ‘pompous platitudes’ expressed within it. They and Princess Elizabeth subsequently sat down together and spent two hours completely revising the text. Shortly after sundown, the Princess sat at a table with a large BBC microphone atop to pre-record the broadcast. Gillard remembers that she was ‘composed, confident and extremely cooperative.’ Within hours, the discs bearing the recording were being flown to London for use if required.

As it happened, the beam radio signal to London was working a treat on 21 April and a ‘live’ broadcast was possible from Government House, Cape Town. The words, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong’ rang out over the airwaves and are remembered to this day, with great affection, by those listening. It is not surprising that South Africa has a special place in the Queen’s heart. It must also be remembered that she was the last monarch of the Union of South Africa prior to the country becoming a republic in May,1961. However, she returned to make two State Visits, in 1995 and 1999, the former at the invitation of President Mandela.

Centenary of the Royal Tour of Australia.

100 years ago, today, on 26 May, 1920 the British cruiser HMS Renown entered Port Melbourne. On board, was the darling of the British Empire, HRH The Prince of Wales. Edward (or ‘David’ to his friends) was about to undertake his first tour of this great continent and the local populace were in a frenzy. In Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, numerous triumphal arches had been built in his honour, the most notable of which was the ‘Wool Industry Arch’ in Sydney’s Bridge Street, which featured the figure of a ram atop. The local populace had also been tutored to sing the words of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales.’ This would invariably be accompanied at events by a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, ‘God Save the King.’ In addition, various public buildings throughout the country were being illuminated electrically in the royal visitor’s honour.

After disembarking at Port Melbourne, the Prince and his party drove in a convoy of Crossley cars the eight miles to Government House, Melbourne, at that time the largest in the Empire. The pavements on both sides of the road were thronged with flag-waving crowds, anxious to catch their first glimpse of ‘Our digger Prince.’ The events then began in earnest: A visit to the Federal Houses of Parliament, a dinner for 300 at the Queen’s Hall, followed next day by a gathering of 18000 worthies at the State Exhibition Building. Somehow, the Prince also found time to review the Australian Fleet on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland and receive an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at the University of Melbourne. Edward was immediately caught up in the general bonhomie and wrote to his mother, Queen Mary, of the ‘enthusiastic’ crowds which even surpassed his experience on an earlier portion of his World Tour in Canada.

The Prince departed Port Melbourne by sea on 12 June. As the focus of the tour was very much on honouring military veterans and ‘returned’ sailors and servicemen, en route to Sydney, a visit was included to The Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay. Edward arrived in Sydney, the largest city in Australia, on 17 June. After a formal reception at the Town Hall and a State Government Dinner, the Prince progressed to the Central Station to join the Royal Train for an overnight journey to Canberra, to lay the foundation stone of the new Federal capital. On his arrival, on 21 June, HRH must have been a trifle confused for apart from a power station and a water works, there was, as yet, little evidence of the fine city Canberra would one day become. Nevertheless, he diligently did his part before returning to Sydney by rail in time for dinner. The remainder of his time there quickly passed in a blur of lunches, banquets, receptions, speeches, late-night private parties, as well as a parade for 10000 returned sailor and soldiers at Centennial Park.

On 25 June, the Prince departed Sydney for a long sea voyage along the south coast of Australia to the port of Albany in the West and thence, on 30 June, by train to Perth. After many days of official engagements there (including a sail down the Swan River), Edward embarked the royal train for the journey eastwards across the vast Nullarbor Plain and onwards to Adelaide. However, at Jarnadup, three carriages of the train came off the line. Fortunately, the Prince had been spared injury by rolling up into a ball shape the moment he experienced the heavy jolting movement of the train. A highlight of this stretch of the tour was HRH’s encounter with fifty Aboriginal people, dressed only in loin cloths, at Cook. Edward was transfixed during this ‘corroboree’ by a boomerang display.

Adelaide was reached on 12 July. The itinerary here included a Boy Scout Jamboree at the Jubilee Oval, a visit to the Military Hospital at Keswick and a march past of military veterans at Government House. Then it was the turn of Tasmania. As the two main towns of Hobart and Launceston enjoyed a friendly rivalry, both had to be visited.

On returning to Sydney by sea, the official party immediately travelled by rail up to Queensland. At Brisbane, the Prince was greeted by a party of Women War Workers and feted by crowds the length of Edward Street. Events included a Peoples’ Reception at the Botanic Gardens, an official dinner atop Finney’s Department Store and a tour of an Agricultural Exhibition. As in the other cities, many of the large buildings were festooned with decorations and Prince of Wales feather motifs. Postcards were now available featuring the ‘Digger Prince’, as were little metal medallions.

By this stage of the tour, the Prince was complaining to one correspondent in England that, ‘mentally, I’m absolutely worn out.’ Late nights at the various Government Houses en route, as well as sleepless nights aboard the royal train were to blame. Therefore, Edward must have been delighted when the final period of his tour in Australia was mostly devoted to rural pursuits. On 2 August, he visited a cattle station near Boonah, Queensland to watch the cattle being dipped against ticks. 7 August found him attempting to shear sheep at Wingadee Station, New South Wales. He was amazed to learn that a man could shear 200 in a day. Finally, there was a ‘buck jumping’ display and some Kangaroo hunting at another venue near Miowera.

The successful tour ended with HMS Renown steaming through the Heads at Sydney on the early evening of 19 August, following a 21-gun salute by HMAS Australia. The Prince informed the Governor-General that he had been ‘deeply touched’ by the ‘openhearted affection’ of the Australian people.

Plots and Intrigues: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Madrid, June 1940

Late on the evening of 20 June 1940, a large Buick crossed the border from France into Spain and proceeded with all speed to Barcelona. Two of the occupants were the former King Edward VIII and his American wife, Wallis. Now styled the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple had arrived in neutral Spain to seek temporary sanctuary from advancing enemy forces in France and also to take stock as to what the future held. The couple had already been much shaken by the apparent indifference shown by officials in Whitehall to their fate.

However, the government in London had now little option but to act as there was always the possibility that, should the royal duo decide to remain in the Iberian Peninsula, they might run the risk of being captured by the Germans or used by them for propaganda purposes. This was a realistic view to take as there was a large network of Nazi agents spread throughout Spain. In addition, General Franco’s Falangist government was regarded by London as having pro-German sympathies. Particularly feared in Allied circles was El Caudillo’s brother-in-law (and the Interior Minister) Ramón Serrano Suñer. The latter was a friend of the German Ambassador, Baron Eberhard von Stohrer. The British Ambassador, Sir Samuel Hoare (whom the Duke knew well having served alongside him in the First World War) had been somewhat surprised by the arrival of his former sovereign but soon received firm instructions from his Foreign Office bosses to ‘offer…hospitality and assistance.’ Unfortunately, Hoare booked his royal charges into the Ritz which was a well-known hotspot of German intrigue and a favourite dining place of the German Ambassador.

On 22 June, Winston Churchill, keen to have the Duke safely out of danger’s way, telegraphed the British Embassy at Madrid and requested ‘Your Royal Highness to come home as soon as possible.’ Furthermore, the Prime Minister informed Hoare that a flying-boat was being sent to Lisbon, on 24 June, to convey the Duke and Duchess to Poole in England. All this information was passed on to the royal duo by the Ambassador in person on their arrival at the Ritz, from Barcelona, on the evening of 23 June. Sir Samuel also informed the royals that a house, Saighton Grange in Cheshire, had been put at their disposal by the Duke of Westminster.

The Germans had other ideas: They (and in particular the Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop) wanted to keep the Duke in Spain as long as possible. Circumstances were currently working in the their favour: The Portuguese dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, was currently hosting a visit from the Duke’s younger brother, Prince George, the Duke of Kent. He was leading the British delegation attending commemorations to celebrate 800 years of Portuguese independence. Salazar, whose private sympathies were for England, was determined that nothing should detract form Prince George’s visit and made this clear to officials in London. Thus, the Duke of Windsor’s journey to Lisbon was postponed until after his brother’s departure from Lisbon on 2 July.

In the meantime, German operatives in Madrid (aided by the Spanish press under the control of the pro-Nazi Serrano Suñer) were soon spreading rumours that Prince Edward had fallen out with the British government and had come to Madrid in order to negotiate his homeland’s withdrawal from the war. Another fanciful tale was that the Duke would be arrested if he set foot in Britain, a fact that had to hastily denied by London.

There were also other issues to take into consideration: In particular, Edward began to question whether he would be given some sort of official employment, for he did not want to be regarded as ‘an embarrassment to all concerned, myself included.’ The Duke also wondered how the Duchess would be treated by his family in the future, particularly as to her ‘status’. He made contact with Churchill by telegram, on 24 June, in an attempt to receive assurances. However, the British Prime Minister was wise enough to realise that he had currently enough problems to deal with without becoming involved in a royal feud between the ex-King and the Palace. Churchill’s response, next day, was evasive at best,’ It will be better for Your Royal Highness to come to England as arranged, when everything can be considered.’

On 25 June, the Duke of Windsor held a press conference at the British Embassy. This was carefully stage-managed by Sir Samuel and Edward was at pains to emphasise that Britain would be victorious. Nevertheless, the ex-King was dissatisfied with Churchill’s answer and cabled back that he would not return to England, ‘until everything has been considered and I know the result.’ Edward was also keen to elaborate on the ‘status’ question in a separate note to Hoare, explaining that he and the Duchess should be received regularly at Buckingham Palace so that they would not find themselves ‘regarded by the British public as in a different status to other members of the family.’

Of course, the deepening rift soon reached the ears of the German Embassy who now sought to use it to their advantage: Why not persuade the Duke to take up residence in ‘neutral’ Spain (for he spoke the language and was popular among the aristocracy and with the people) from where he might, over time, be coaxed into making helpful noises about England and Germany reaching a negotiated peace? The Spanish Foreign Minister, Colonel Luis Beigbeder, at Ribbentrop’s urging, went so far as to offer the Duke the use of a Palace, la Casa del rey moro at Ronda, in Andalusia, as a residence, should he decided to prolong his Spanish visit.

Meanwhile, the King’s Private Secretary at Buckingham Palace, Sir Alexander Hardinge, seemed determined to deny his former master a future role, informing Churchill, on 28 June, that he simply did not believe that it was possible for the Duke, ‘as an ex-King to perform any useful service in this country.’ The British Prime Minister was in many ways now caught between a rock and a hard place as telegrams continued to fly between London and Madrid. And then, suddenly, it was Edward himself who offered a solution: He would be prepared to take an official posting overseas! But how had this change of heart come about? Hoare acknowledged to Churchill that he had been quietly working for a solution behind the scenes and had also persuaded the Duke to limit his ‘status’ demand to a one-off, short meeting between himself and his wife and the King and Queen. This ‘audience’ would subsequently be acknowledged in the Court Circular.

Otherwise, the Duke and Duchess met with friends (including the Spanish diplomat, Don Javier ‘Tiger’ Bermejillo who had served in the Spanish Embassy in London and took them on a sightseeing tour to Toledo). Sir Samuel, keen to keep his royal charge in patriotic mode as well as extend his list of contacts (for Hoare had only been posted to Madrid a few weeks earlier), also hosted a large cocktail party-attended by 500-at the British Embassy. Indeed, this occasion was merely the pinnacle of the hospitality extended to the Duke and Duchess at the legation throughout the nine days they were in Madrid. The Ambassador, of course, was no fool: It was far more preferable to have the royal duo lunch or dine under his watchful eye than expose them to the trickery and chicanery of the Ritz’s dining salon.

On 2 July, the Duke left Madrid for Portugal. For the moment Ribbentrop must have been somewhat miffed that his quarry had eluded him. However, there was always the possibility that Edward (who seems still to have been undecided as to what to do) might be susceptible to German overtures during his stopover in Lisbon, particularly if he did not receive a final, suitable offer from London.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor flee the French Riviera…

In the spring of 1940, the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII prior to his abdication in December 1936) was attached (with the rank of Major-General) to the British Military Mission to the French Command in Vincennes. He was tasked with making tours of various French Army Sectors to report on the quality of the defences, as well as the morale and bearing of the French troops. Following the completion of his last trip in March, the Duke had returned to the opulent rented house he shared with his wife, Wallis, on Paris’ fashionable Boulevard Suchet, where he remained twiddling his thumbs throughout April into May, as no further work was currently forthcoming. The nearest he came to any action was entertaining the British Ambassador to dinner.

Soon everything was about to change: On 10 May, German forces invaded France and the Low Countries. The Duke went to Mission HQ at Vincennes each day where he was initially kept busy studying troop movements on wall maps and undertaking useful liaison work with the French forces at the front. The Duchess of Windsor, meanwhile, was occupied with work for the French Red Cross and Le Colis de Trianon, a charity which distributed ‘soldiers’ boxes’ and comforts to the troops. Matters reached a head, on 16 May, when German Panzer divisions reached the Oise, having successfully crossed the Ardennes and the Meuse with minimal opposition. Panic ensued in Paris and the British Embassy began evacuating all female members of staff, as well as the wives of British diplomats. The Duke, on his own initiative, rushed home and, parrying aside her objections, instructed his wife to pack as he was relocating her southwards for her own safety. Within hours the duo were en route to Biarritz. Although, the roads were packed with refugees heading South, the royal couple managed to find overnight accommodation at Blois from a sympathetic innkeeper who recognised the Duchess, who had overnighted there previously, at the time of the Abdication crisis.

On 17 May, the Duke and Duchess reached Biarritz. After checking his wife into the opulent Hotel du Palais, the Duke headed back north to resume his duties with the Mission. However, the situation there was growing ever more dangerous and the Duke’s brother, Prince Henry of Gloucester, who was serving as Chief Liaison Officer to General Gort, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, was winched out of Boulogne on 19 May and flown back to England. However, as there was no guidance from London regarding his own (increasingly perilous) position and, having been assured by his superior, Major-General Howard-Vyse, that there was ‘nothing for him to do’, Edward decided to take matters into his own hands: He proposed a plan whereby, as he later put it to the British Ambassador, Sir Ronald Campbell, he would return to Biarritz to collect his wife and then ‘settle the Duchess in’ at their holiday home, the Château de la Croë at Antibes. From there, he could easily undertake a tour of inspection of French forces on the border with Italy. The Duke did, of course, obtain permission in advance from Howard-Vyse who thought it ‘a good idea.’ Thus, on 27 May, Edward was formally seconded to the French Armée des Alpes and the couple’s house in Paris’ fashionable Boulevard Suchet was soon closed up for the duration of the war. On the beaches to the north at Dunkirk, London had already set in motion ‘Operation Dynamo’, the plan for evacuating the British Expeditionary Force and other Allied troops who had been completely surrounded by German troops.

At La Croë, which they reached on 29 May, the Duchess packed up the Duke’s family silver (which was to be stored at a château in Aix-en-Provence), while the Duke travelled to Nice to report for duty. Antibes was filled with troops and a strict black out was in force and, when not otherwise occupied, the royal couple camped out nervously, eating off tin plates to await further developments. A nearby neighbour was a Captain George Wood and his wife Rosa. The Captain knew the Duke reasonably well as had been attached to the British Legation in Vienna during Edward’s sojourn at Schloss Enzesfeldt, following his Abdication in 1936. The Duchess’ childhood friend Kitty Rodgers and her husband Hermann were also ensconced along the coast at their Villa Lou Viei at Cannes. Inevitably, word of their presence soon reached press who soon posited that Edward had ‘resigned his military appointment’. This was denied by the Ministry of Information on 8 June.

From the North the news was devastating. By 10 June, the Germans were on the doorstep of Paris and the French government had evacuated to Tours (and subsequently to Bordeaux). But of more relevance to the Duke and Duchess on the French Riviera, this was the day Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. Fortunately, the French forces managed to repel an attack by Mussolini’s troops the following day (this came as no surprise to Edward as, during his recent tour of inspection, he had found the French defences in the Alps to be ‘excellent’). The only physical manifestation of the war at La Croë was when the sirens sounded during an Axis air attack on the airbase at St-Raphael to the west. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall for both the Duke and the Duchess. They had to find a way to escape or risk capture.

On 16 June, the Duke decided to seek the advice of the British Consul-Generals at Nice and Marseilles and eventually a plan was formed whereby Edward and his wife, along with their neighbours, the George Woods’, would join a consular convoy to the Spanish frontier organised by Major Hugh Dodds, the Consul-General at Nice and the Vice-Consul at Menton, Martin Dean. The Windsor’s Buick, driven by their chauffeur Ladbrook, was filled to bursting, for in addition to themselves, the royal duo were accompanied by the Duchess’ maid and the Duke’s comptroller, Major Gray Philips, as well as three Cairn dogs. A lorry containing the royal luggage followed on behind. The group left La Croë on the Duchess of Windsor’s birthday, 19 June, just three days after Marshal Henri Pétain had assumed the office of Prime Minister and was on the verge of signing an armistice with Germany. The main problem now was that neither the Duke nor Duchess had the relevant visa to enter Spain. There was also the possibility that the Duke-who was careful to travel in civilian clothes- might be arrested by the Spanish authorities on the basis that he was a serving British army officer entering a neutral country. Nevertheless, there was little option but to keep going as Italian planes were bombing Cannes as they passed through and there was word that German forces had already reached Lyon.

After an uncomfortable night spent at a hostelry in Arles, the party set off at dawn for the Spanish frontier, inching their way along congested roads. Throughout the journey the Duke, who was perhaps better known in southern Europe as the iconic Prince of Wales of yesteryear, managed to pass through the many barricades manned by locals en route by announcing, ‘Je suis le Prince de Galles. Laissez-moi passer s’il vous plait.’ On reaching Perpignan, however, no amount of Princely charm seemed to work on the Spanish consul and it was only after the Duke made a telephone call to the Spanish Ambassador to France, José Félix de Lequerica, that the party were allowed to pass through the frontier around 7pm.

An hour later, at the British Embassy in Madrid, the Ambassador, Sir Samuel Hoare, informed the Foreign Office of the Duke and Duchess’ arrival in Spain. The royal couple spent the first night on Spanish soil in a hotel in Barcelona. Next morning-21 June-the Duke called on the British Consul-General in Barcelona and sent the following telegram to London: ‘Having received no instructions have arrived in Spain to avoid capture. Proceeding to Madrid. Edward.’ However, far from being safe in this neutral country, the Duke and Duchess were about to enter a world of subterfuge, plots and intrigues….


The Queen’s Royal Maundy Money.

Today is Maundy Thursday and throughout her sixty-eight year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has-with a few exceptions (sadly, including this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak)-taken part in the Royal Maundy Service when she distributes Maundy Money (a selection of specially minted silver one-, two-, three- and four-penny coins) to an equal quota of men and women. The exact number of recipients-who are all retired pensioners and have been active in their local church or community-is determined by the Queen’s age. For instance in 2016, when Her Majesty was aged ninety, ninety-men and ninety-women each received sets of these coins which are distributed in red and white purses similar to those used in Tudor times.

The ceremony, which dates back to A.D. 600, is based on the holding of the Last Supper when Jesus gave his disciples a command or mandatum (the Latin word from which maundy is derived) to love one another. The Order of Service is composed of two lessons and the distribution of the Maundy money takes place following upon each lesson. Fortunately, the Sovereign is no longer required to wipe or kiss the feet of the poor, as some earlier monarchs (including James II) are recorded as having done. However, those attending Her Majesty still wear white linen towels as a poignant reminder of these times. Another nod to the past is that all the principal participants-such as the wonderfully named Lord High Almoner who is officially (and historically) responsible for the organisation of the service-carry nosegays of flowers and herbs (to guard against infection).

In past years, the Queen was invariably accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh. However, since his retiral, she has, on occasion, been accompanied by other family members (in 2019 this was her granddaughter, Princess Beatrice of York.) In another-even greater-break with tradition, due to the recent cancellation of the Royal Maundy Service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Her Majesty has written to those who were due to have been presented with the Maundy money this year and enclosing the much-coveted coins. In her communication, the Queen reflects that, ‘This ancient Christian ceremony…. is a call to the service of others, something that has been at the centre of my life. I believe it is a call to service for all of us.’ Among those honoured are 100-year-old Bill Allen, from Chelmsford in Essex, who was a dispatch rider to Field Marshal Montgomery during the Second World War and has since been an active member of the Royal British Legion.