Few people hold the same job for 70 years, but next February will mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th year as a reigning monarch. Andrew Morton, the popular, best-selling biographer who has shared stories of notable people such as Tom Cruise, Madonna, and Princess Diana, has released a new biography, “Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters.”
Morton discusses the historical backdrop of Elizabeth’s reign starting with the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. This event changed the course of the lives of 10-year old Elizabeth and 6-year old Margaret permanently because their father, Prince Albert, assumed the throne in his brother’s place. Margaret asked Elizabeth, “Does that mean you will have to be the next Queen?” When Elizabeth soberly replied, “Yes, someday,” Margaret responded, “Poor you.”
As Morton tells it, the early childhoods of both Elizabeth and Margaret were “insulated and carefree.” Because their father’s upbringing had been extremely disciplined, he wanted something different for his daughter (though their strict grandparents were still influential). Elizabeth, the elder daughter, “could be depended upon to do what was asked, keeping her toys and clothes in perfect order—a reflection of her disciplined deportment.” But Margaret was “impish and high-spirited, even biting and tormenting her gentler sister whenever she did not get her way.” Their parents deeply cherished the girls, often referring to themselves as “we four”—a cozy and intimate family.
I especially enjoyed reading about Elizabeth’s and Margaret’s lives during World War II. Many children living in heavily-populated areas were sent to the countryside away from the German planes dropping bombs, and word was circulated that the princesses and their governess had been evacuated, too. In reality, they were nearby at Windsor Castle under the supervision of their governess, just 25 miles away from their parents in Buckingham palace:
“With its deep basements and thick walls, the medieval fortress was virtually impregnable to aerial attack,” writes Morton. “When they arrived, a blackout was in force, and the imposing castle seemed cloaked in eerie shadows and ghosts . . . the gothic gloom was heightened by the absence of decorations; paintings, objets d’art, chandeliers, and other royal treasures had been removed for safekeeping. Dust sheets covered the remaining furniture, while glazed cupboards had been turned to face the walls so that any shattered glass from bomb blasts could not harm those sheltering from bombing . . . every night, heavy blackout curtains were drawn across the windows.”
As the Windsor sisters grew, they remained close, but following the early death of their father in, Elizabeth became the reigning monarch at age 27. Barriers of protocol now stood between them; for example, Margaret had to request a visit with the Queen and address her as “Ma’am.” An ongoing romance between Margaret and Peter Townsend, a divorced man who was employed as a member of the royal household, threatened Elizabeth’s early popularity with the public and became the subject of gossip at home and abroad. On her side, Elizabeth loved her sister as much as ever, and on Margaret’s side, there was deep loyalty to her beloved “Lilibet;” however, royal conventions overshadowed them both like never before.
Readers who enjoy history or biography will want to read this insightful non-fiction book about the bond between two remarkable sisters. Morton’s book includes notes, a bibliography, several pages of photos, and an index. Check it out at Carlsbad Public Library.