The Family in the Palace
In the glare of an adoring but demanding publicity the Windsors live on a pedestal where their people want them
THE FAMILY who live at the Buckingham Palace in London, England, have probably forgotten how to draw a free breath.
All their lives they’ve been hounded and harried, followed and gaped at.
One daughter decided to go on a strictly private holiday and 40 photographers trampled over one another to photograph the privacy of it, while the nation went into an uproar about her two-piece bathing suit.
Another daughter can’t step across the street to see how the painters are getting on at her new house without half of London, plus visitors, trekking with her, staring at her and commenting on everything from her complexion to the way she walks.
The mother gets a dozen faces stuck into her car window every time she goes out shopping or to visit her mother-in-law. Ten thousand people, clinging to fence railings of their front yard, jump up and down, shout excitedly whenever a nurse carries a small baby by a window and 'is, for a moment, silhouetted.
The father, ill or well, can’t take a day’s complete holiday from letters addressed, peremptorily, “The King.”
They’ve probably got so used to it by now that they’d feel baffled and unpopular if people didn’t do it, but I wouldn’t trade my anonymity for that confining imprisonment of fame for anything.
Recently I stood in the crowds at Buckingham Palace and saw the surge of people and their interest whenever a car came through the gates. I walked after the royal party at the British Industries Fair at Earl’s Court and felt the battery of avid eyes of the crowd held back by stalwart policemen. And I feel that this gift of their own privacy to their people is one of the biggest sacrifices any family could make.
While the crowd is malleable and never out of hand, friendly, familiar and jovial, it is always there. The simplest, most personal, acts of the Royal Family are discussed and rediscussed. I don’t suppose there is an ordinary house in England anywhere, at least not in rural districts, where there isn’t at least one picture of the Royal Family on the wall and a scrapbook full of clippings about them.
Newspapers know that their circulations will take a brisk climb every time they run a layout about the Windsors, so they do it at a drop of a birthday, rumor of an engagement, or any national day. New pictures are as sought after
as dollars. This may be one of the reasons (apart from tradition and protocol) why the British Royal Family—and they’re Canada’s Royal Family, too—are, ordinarily, as inaccessible as the moon.
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The Family in the Palace
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This the British appear to prefer. Perhaps by now the British Royal Family might have become as easily accepted and politely ignored when they go about their private business as the Royalty of the Netherlands, or of Norway, if it hadn’t been for the people of Britain who have made the Windsors toe the formal line sharply.
And yet while public opinion forces the Royal Family into a pattern of formality, any break they make from that pattern—such as the Queen breaking through the police barricade on a formal occasion to speak to a veteran in a wheel chair, or the King taking time off for a discussion with a worker in a factory—the Press reports minutely and the people praise inordinately.
They say, with incredulous surprise, “Nowhere but here in Britain would a King speak to a perfectly ordinary person ... we have the most democratic royalty of all,” whereas nowhere in the world is royalty more formidable.
The Crowd Presses In
For some reason this exalting of a nice flesh-and-blood family, of setting them alive upon a marble pedestal, has somehow contributed to holding together the British-settled Commonwealth. They are the core of common interest.
An Englishwoman in Canada: “They give us something we all feel. They are for all of us.”
A Londoner: “We like the fact that they are better than us. It’s something to look up to. It’s the one stable fact in a very unstable world. We don’t want them to act like the rest of us.”
I saw at Earl’s Court, for some three and a half hours, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip performing this public service of just being.
They looked like a royal family in a fairy tale.
First to arrive was Queen Mary in pearl-grey, leaning on a tall pastel-grey umbrella, and she stood at the head of the red carpet of the entrance lobby at Earl’s Court amid her entourage of old men with very curly mustaches and most proper ladies-in-waiting.
And then, heralded by an oooh which was like a sigh of a lost wind, in came Queen Elizabeth in a pastel-blue dress and behind her Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh with their entourage trailing behind them like a wash of a wave.
Queen Mary went to meet her royal daughter-in-law. They kissed with obvious affection.
Then Elizabeth, in pastel pink, came along and kissed her grandmother on both cheeks and then, curtsying, on the hand.
Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the tall young fellow, came up quickly behind his lovely, slim wife and kissed the hand of the old Queen, too, and then, with a slanted smile, bent to kiss her cheek and whisper something which made the Dowager Queen smile.
In a peculiar way they had made it a family scene, though formal, for a moment, there in the lobby of the British Industries Fair. All the people, crowding the aisles nearby, all the reception committee, were for that time held back by the obvious closer tie between these people who knew and were fond of one another.
Queen Mary waited for Queen Elizabeth to precede her, and then, slowly, easily, as though loitering through an empty park, the royal party moved on.
On the sidelines a little woman behind a tall policeman said sharply: “I wish you hadn’t grown when you were a boy.”
The comments from the crowd being held back by the police were loud and frank, and entirely ignored by the Royal Family. Somebody in a carrying voice: “I do think the Princess is going to look like her grandmother.”
“And it won’t do any harm at all,” came back an answer.
Three hours later Queen Mary was still stepping out briskly in her oldfashioned, pale-grey shoes, while some of the entourage were shifting unhappily from foot to high-heeled foot at each pause.
Princess Elizabeth had stopped at draperies and looked sharply around for Prince Philip. They are furnishing their new home, the Clarence House, themselves.
Queen Elizabeth would occasionally look directly into the crowd, smiling her warm familiar smile which set a little eddy of pleasure among the jampacked people.
Queen Mary does much of her Christmas shopping at these fairs, often protests about the high prices. She will order various things, embarrassing the officials, for most of the displayed goods are for export only. The story the British tell with tender relish—and it is just a story—is that finally the baffled manufacturers and fair officials brought the matter to the Cabinet, who conferred seriously and finally reached a solution. They declared Queen Mary a hard-currency area.
The Royal Family—outside of Prince Philip—has never handled money. Even when they go to church there is an equerry to fork out the collection. So, though thousands of pounds go out of the King’s private purse yearly for salaries of the household, for royal bounty and for necessary family purchases, he probably couldn’t lay hand to a penny himself.
Sometimes the Queen has set out shopping herself, but large crowds gather so quickly that stores have to be closed and barricaded. So usually the Royal Family look at pictures in advertisements, or make notes of things they see at fairs and exhibitions, and ask to have the things they need, or would like to buy, sent to Buckingham Palace on approval. They have, too, their preferred costumiers and shoemakers.
A Pram at the Palace
Prince Philip is the only one of the family who drives himself, but now that he is married he’s finding it more difficult to go to dinners or the theatre with the lack of fuss he prefers. Often when he and Princess Elizabeth go out, they go as any young couple might, on the spur of the moment, calling for theatre tickets just before leaving, but even then the word spreads that they are about and crowds gather to stare at them and comment.
The second morning I was in London I called a cab and went to Buckingham Palace. It’s as easy as that. I wished to see Commander Richard Colville, the King’s secretary, whose offices are there.
A patriarch even among London cabs wheezed up, the driver accepted the lofty address without a tremble of an eyebrow and we proceeded down Knightsbridge in jerks and spurts. A passing glimpse of the Guards, their helmets shining, their red capes flying, at Hyde Park gates.
The guard was changing on the palace forecourt and people were lined up outside the railings listening to the hand play some cheery selections from Gilbert and Sullivan. The big policeman at the gate leaned down to look into the cab and waved us in. The cab spluttered over the smooth worn cobbles and coughed to a stop. The guard kept changing. The bewhiskered old cabbie got out painstakingly, cranked the engine, listened, shook his head, cranked again. The band played on. Finally the engine caught, and heaving and bumping we drew up at the entrance in the right wing.
The footman, alerted, flung open the door and 1 tagged after him down the long red-carpeted, painting-lined hall to the cold, high study with a French window opening into the palace garden, which is the commander’s office.
Just beyond his office is the circularshaped hall, with the tall doubleglassed doors, green carpet, pale-green walls, which is the private entrance of the King and Queen. On the bowshaped steps a perambulator has been parked frequently these days.
It is equally simple for people who want to “sign the book” to pass through the tall gates into the cobbled forecourt of the palace.
“The book” is the visitors’ book, which is kept at the left-wing entrance hall, where people who want to pay their respects to the King and Queen, say, on a royal birthday, or as thankyou for lunch, or after a garden party, or, if they have been away a long time as a sign of their return, write their names. Princess Elizabeth has had a “hook,” too, since her engagement.
All you do is drive to the gate, tell the guard, “We want to write our name in the book,” lie waves you on and keeps a sharp eye to see you get to the right door.
Then, it was explained to me delightfully, Their Majesties look over to see who’s been in, probably remark, “Oh, look, So-and-so is back in England. Let’s have him to tea.”
The day 1 came in for my visit to the King’s secretary there was an elderly couple, a minister and his wife from Scotland, writing in the book. Both were obviously deeply moved—in their very attitude was their sense of deep respect and affection for the King and his family.
1 watched them walk back across the forecourt and through the gates to the Mall, and the people hanging about as usual stared at them wonderingly. The old minister walked so proudly you felt, somehow, he had been knighted.
Bagpipes in the Morning
Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the King of England and his Consort; also it is the home of a home-loving family. In their modest apartments scattered about the vast palace the Windsors find their only privacy.
Here, from the garden entrance, an old-fashioned lift with black and gold trellised walls mounts to the first floor and the apartment of the King and Queen. They have each a bedroom and dressing room. The dining room, called the Chinese Room, is furnished with Chinese ornaments, hangings, embroidered silk, and is capped with Queen Mary’s jade collection. Here the family dine alone or with close friends.
On this floor, too, is the Queen’s drawing-room where the Royal Family often gather at teatime to talk over the day’s events. The Queen pours —for herself China tea with milk, no sugar.
They live quite simply by preference. The meals are not feasts, simply soup, entree, sweet. They always change for family dinner, the King into a black tie. Unrationed foods, poultry, game, fish, etc., are brought in from the royal farms of Sandringham and Windsor, but the King pays for these from the household budget to keep both the farm and household accounts straight.
In the evenings after dinner they’ll sit about listening to the radio, or Princess Margaret will play and Princess Elizabeth sing, or they may play “racing demon,” a game of patience.
Before Princess Elizabeth moved to Clarence House she had an apartment consisting of bedroom, dressing room and sitting room on the third floor. Princess Margaret still occupies one the same size. The nursery for Prince Charles was on this floor too.
The music room faces the garden and here, daily, Princess Margaret practices the piano, and often the Queen will drop in to sit quietly listening to her.
By tradition there is always, outside the King’s and Queen’s rooms, a page, a senior servant who’s been at the palace 10 to 20 years. One of these pages is ex-Pipe Major Alexander MacDonald, who is also the King’s Piper. His duties include playing the bagpipes in the garden outside the royal apartments each morning at 8.30. Palace gossip says that it won’t be long now before Alexander marries Flora MacKenzie, one of the maids.
Of all the people in the palace, probably the King leads the most strenuous life. He’s continued at his work even during his illness.
He is called at 7.30 a.m. and breakfasts at 8.30. Then for an hour he reads the daily papers, opens his correspondence, answers some of it. Many of the letters addressed simply, “The King,” come to him unopened by his At 10 he rings for his private secretary, who brings up Cabinet papers and other state papers. At 10.30 the assistant private secretary lays before him submissions to be signed, foreignoffice telegrams to be read and more correspondence.
At 11 the King calls for the Keeper of the Privy Purse, his financial secretary, or for the Master of the Household, who is responsible for running the palaces, or for the Crown Equerry, in charge of the royal horses, cars and carriages.
Seeking the King’s Advice
Both the King and Queen disapprove of extravagance and the palaces are run as economically as possible.
His first interview of the day is from
11.30 to 12. It may be with a colonial governor or a Canadian Cabinet minister. The second one is sharp at 12 to 12.30 with, say, a retiring commander-in-chief. The third is from
12.30 to 1 with perhaps a new minister.
Luncheon, at 1.15, the Royal Family
often tries to have en famille, with Queen Mary or the Gloucesters dropping in. The Gloucester children play in the palace garden which is bigger than their own in London. But quite often, too, diplomats, visiting foreigners are asked.
At 3 the King is on the job again, perhaps for a presentation of letters of credence, or the recall of an ambassador, or to receive a bishop, or to attend an outside engagement such as a visit to a school, or a fair, or opening of a hospital.
From 5 to 8 he reads state papers, perhaps studies a draft of a speech, writes in his diary. During this time, too, the King may receive the prime minister or the foreign secretary or some other members of his government. These come to the palace offener than one would suspect, for advice and for conversation.
One Labor member explained it like this: “You see, governments change,
but the King stays. Only a fool would deny that in many cases his judgment is bound to be sounder than that of a new, inexperienced man. So we ask for it.”
At 8.30 is dinner, and the family hour. Unless, of course, there is an official do to attend.
Even when the King goes to the country for his holidays he still receives his stack of mail and the many papers which he must, by tbe constitution, legalize with his signature.-
In Edinburgh the King and Queen stay at Holyrood House, the official Scottish residence, but Balmoral is their favorite place in Scotland and their holiday house for August and September. Windsor Castle, 20 miles outside London, is the spot for summer receptions or entertainment of foreign or official visitors. But the King much prefers his small, private homes such as the Royal Lodge at Windsor where no equerries or ladies-in-waiting are ever in attendance, no court circulars are issued and no photographers allowed. But even here a call may come through the private line connecting the lodge to Buckingham, and the King may make the hour’s drive to London and his job.
Sandringham in Norfolk is another retreat. There the King must, mentally, put aside the crown and step out as a country squire and family man. This is where the Windsors gather for Christmas, and it is from his groundfloor study here that the King speaks to his people the Empire over on Christmas Day. The King is the people’s warden at the local church there.
When friends visit the Royal Family at these country retreats for week ends formalities are dropped. After the goodmorning curtsy or formal bow the visitors will act as any normal gue.-v. would at a pleasant home.
To Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret the King and Queen have always been “Papa” and “Mummie” and Princess Elizabeth is still known in family circles as “Lilibet,” the name she gave herself as a baby. The King calls his wife “Elizabeth,” and she uses his boyhood name “Bertie.” But while the Princesses’ friends call them by their first names even the highest members of the court, friends of many years’ standing, will always address Their Majesties as “Sir” and “Ma’am.”
A Room in Stinkwood
Deeply religious, the King and Queen seldom miss Sunday church. Since the King’s illness the Queen has taken to visiting in the evenings, unannounced, various churches in London.
Since June Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip have been out of the immediate family circle at Buckingham Palace, having moved to their own Clarence House. It’s not far, just a bit down Pall Mall, behind a high stone fence, the back of it facing tbe Ambassadors’ Court of St. James’s Palace, but it’s far enough to break the family unit.
No one knew what Clarence House would be like, inside, when I was in London, for while it was being remodeled, painted and polished from cellar to garret Princess Elizabeth expressed Her wish that people wouldn’t go to look at it. She wanted to present the finished product, rather than the interim stages, both to her friends and the wondering public, for this was to be lier own home.
Ever since she and Prince Philip got back from their honeymoon its furnishing has been their close, joint project. The whole Empire has taken pleased interest in this home: Lancashire offered to furnish a whole room (it’ll be called the Lancaster Room); The Canadian Pacific Railways gave the furnishings for another room; and South Africans promptly said they’d like to line one of the rooms with stink wood. What with the cost of things at the moment, it all helps a young couple.
For a country place Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip have a large modern villa called Windlesham Moor, where the baby Prince Charles stayed during the moving.
Personally, when I think of the Royal Family, I think of the little things that interpret their meaning to Britain’s people.
Little things like the old woman who leaned across the arm of the big policeman during the Earl’s Court visit, and, almost touching Princess Elizabeth, said: “God bless you, my darling.” ★