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ALATHEA FITZALAN HOWARD: How the Queen told me she would elope for the man of her dreams

During World War II, Alathea Fitzalan Howard became friends with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret when she lived on the Windsor Castle estate and had dancing and drawing lessons with them. 

In our second exclusive extract from her previously unpublished teenage diaries, she reveals how she and Elizabeth had a crush on the same Guards officer, what she thought of Philip and Elizabeth’s blossoming romance — and how she craved a deeper friendship with the future Queen… 

Teenage Elizabeth is pictured above. Lilibet said she thought I was her best friend now, which delighted me. She said Sonia used to be but she never saw her now — poor S, she’d almost hate me if she knew, writes Alathea Fitzalan Howard

Teenage Elizabeth is pictured above. Lilibet said she thought I was her best friend now, which delighted me. She said Sonia used to be but she never saw her now — poor S, she’d almost hate me if she knew, writes Alathea Fitzalan Howard

Monday, October 13, 1941

Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park

The Tigress [Alathea’s nickname for Magdalen, her hated maiden aunt, who lived with Alathea and her grandfather at Cumberland Lodge] annoyed me again — lots of little things she does drive me into a frenzy of blind hatred, then it subsides into calmer dislike which is always ready like a volcano to erupt once more, when I feel I want to scream aloud.

Lord Richard Percy dined. I’d never seen him before so I was v. excited but he was terribly unprepossessing in looks.

Thursday, October 23

I biked to the Castle for drawing; we painted designs on our clay horses. They [Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret] wore their old brown check skirts and red Aertex shirts, which they ought not to do — their clothes have gone down a lot since the war.

They talked about their new lot of officers [guarding the castle] and are v. sorry Hugh [Euston, an officer both Princess Elizabeth and Alathea were keen on] has gone. Lilibet said she’d had her hair permed — it looked v. nice in front but too stiff behind.

She told me Philip, her beau, had been for the weekend and that I must come and see him if he came again! She said he’s very funny, which doesn’t sound my type actually — the only thing that does bore me about the Royal Family is that they all will tell one jokes they’ve heard on the wireless, etc.

No one else I know is in the least interested in those sort of silly jokes, but then the K and Q and the princesses are v. simple people.

Saturday, November 1

I sat next to the King for the first time in a large lunch. We got on v. well after a bit and talked a lot — I was thrilled.

Lilibet said she thought I was her best friend now, which delighted me. She said Sonia used to be but she never saw her now — poor S, she’d almost hate me if she knew.

We walked along to the film at six. It was Fantasia, the new Walt Disney. I adored it. Afterwards I said goodbye to the Queen, and thanked her and she said: ‘Oh, but I love you coming.’ Who would not die for a woman like that?

Friday, November 7

Grandpa got on my nerves rather, poor thing. I do try to be nice to him — I owe so much to him. Without him, I should never have known Lilibet, who provides the very meaning of my life.

Thursday, November 13

Lilibet happened to mention something [her cousin] Margaret Elphinstone had written to her, calling Princess Margaret, Maggie, which greatly shocked me — you should always be respectful to a princess even if she is your cousin.

Saturday, November 15

Went to dancing. Afterwards we went out with the King.

I often wonder how Lilibet is content always to just go out with her parents. Doesn’t she ever want to talk or walk alone with a friend? Much as I love Margaret, I wish L had no younger sister, as then she would seek the company of people of her own age more.

She doesn’t know what a real friend is, as she never talks confidentially to one and she’s the most ungossipy person I know. Placid and unemotional, she never desires what doesn’t come her way; always happy in her own family, she never needs the companionship of outsiders; she never suffers, therefore she never strongly desires.

If only she could be drawn out of her shell, she who has so much at her feet, who can be so gay and amusing. Margaret is far and away more the type I would like for the future queen — she has that frivolity and irresponsibility that L lacks, though one couldn’t call either of them dull.

Monday, November 24

My eighteenth birthday. I awoke early and felt myself standing on the threshold of life, eager to fulfil my destiny. 

The princesses arrived at four with Monty and we had a lovely birthday tea. They gave me an amusing necklace made of painted melon pips and also a lovely necklace of dark red beads from the Queen!

Tuesday, November 25

Crawfie [the princesses’ governess] rang up to say that Anne C [daughter of Colonel Sir George Crichton] and I are to be the Ugly Sisters in their Cinderella pantomime, which will be fun, as we needn’t really be ugly and it means that I can be a girl in the dances.

Thursday, November 27

When we were getting ready for tea, L told me she was very excited over Philip coming for weekend.

Friday, November 28

Annabel [Newman, a great friend of Alathea’s who had come to stay for the weekend] arrived for tea and afterwards we gossiped in the sitting room. It was such fun. If only Mummy wasn’t coming tomorrow — but still, one can’t have everything.

Sunday, November 30

Walked with A [Annabel] to church. Mummy said my royal friendship is not only utterly valueless but almost a menace as it ‘keeps me back’. She also told me I should give up looking for impoverished young men like H [Hugh Euston]. Had a lovely tea in Eton at the Cockpit with Annabel’s mother and saw the Graftons there [H’s pa and ma] — they are ghastly but it didn’t deter me. If only H had a little money.

Monday, December 1

A. left and so did Mummy. I felt inexpressibly lonely, as one does when one has nothing in common with the rest of the house, but tonight I almost sensed some further upheaval and it came with more violence than I expected.

The Tigress came in and said they were just ringing up the police to find out what had happened to me — I found Grandpa in a rare fuss and Daddy fuming as he does on such occasions. They wouldn’t understand that I hadn’t done any different today than any other day.

Oh, the fools — how can it be possible that they didn’t first call me, ask if I was back, see if my bike was there, before ringing up the police? I asked them that to their faces and I said things too which I would never say while I was sane.

I fled to my room and gave vent to the furious misery that tore at my heart. I scratched my arm with a penknife till I drew blood.

I had to compose myself for dinner as Bernard [Duke of Norfolk, her father’s first cousin] and Lavinia [Duchess of Norfolk] came but I was glad to go to bed. I had cried too much for more tears but I went to sleep with my whole being poisoned with fierce contempt.

Prince Philip is pictured above as a schoolboy in Scotland

Prince Philip is pictured above as a schoolboy in Scotland

Thursday, December 4

Lilibet asked me how I got the scratches on my arm and I told her that it was a cat. I wondered what she’d think if she knew the truth.

Thursday, December 11

Lilibet said there’s not going to be a dance on Monday now because of the two battleships sunk by the Japanese.

Friday, December 19

P.E. calls me her best friend but if friendship means seeing people on informal but not intimate terms to her, it means more than that to me — it means confidences exchanged, joys and sorrows shared, lasting remembrance!

I have offered her my friendship, I love her and I miss her when I don’t see her — but she doesn’t miss me. Why should she? She has P. M. — she doesn’t need me.

Sunday, December 21

Lilibet was sweet today — her Philip came and is quite nice but not my type.

Monday, January 12, 1942

Lilibet is unusually set in her ideas for 15; none of her friends could ever influence her. For one thing, she never lets herself come to know them well enough. If she were not so placid and unimpressionable, no doubt I would have at least interested her with my thoughts, so vastly different from her own. Dear Lilibet, what a lot you do miss! I wish you and I were more alike.

Saturday, February 7

In the morning Princess E rang up to ask me to a film this afternoon — I put behind me all the grievances I had against them and once more they became the sweetest people on earth. I was truly glad to see both [princesses] again and I think they were me — as much as they are to see anyone outside their own family circle!

Lilibet looked v. pretty. She showed me a letter from Hugh E thanking her for her Christmas card — it’s miserable him going abroad, I shall never see him again now. [Princess Elizabeth had admitted nine months before that she ‘adored’ the 22-year-old Earl of Euston, then a Grenadier guardsman, while Alathea herself had a tremendous crush on him.] We had tea with the K and Q, who were charming, and the Duke of Kent came with Prince Edward. His sister [Princess Alexandra] didn’t come, as they can’t control both together! We went along to the film in the Waterloo Chamber, which was Dumbo and v. sweet.

Thursday, February 12

I went to [Windsor] Castle for drawing and we painted our china horses. I wish [Lilibet] could get away from the little-girl atmosphere that Margaret inevitably gives her. I adore Margaret [aged 11] but it is such a pity she keeps her sister back, and it does make [Lilibet] younger in many ways than a lot of girls of nearly 16 and of course her position prevents her going out on her own so much —but what an enviable position! Why was I not born to it?

Friday, February 13

Worked at the Red House [hospital and nursing home, where Alathea was contributing to the war effort] from nine to five. One of the women said one could tell I have never done any housework by the way I held the broom when I swept their ward!

Sunday, February 15

Listened to Churchill’s speech announcing the fall of Singapore — the war is going badly for us at the moment.

Saturday, February 21

Lilibet had the first grown-up shoes I’ve ever seen [on her] today — dark red suede slip-on ones and she said she’s got court ones now too. I’m so glad as her shoes are really v. bad.

Thursday, February 26

I went up to the Castle for drawing. We had such fun, doing silly things like rolling a little wheel down the slopes into the stream below! Lilibet has been made Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

Thursday, March 19

Lilibet said they do want to have [a ball] soon but that the news not being so good the Queen thinks people will say they only think of enjoying themselves, which is quite true.

Wednesday, March 25

I joined the princesses outside [the Castle] where they were burning grass. Jackie Philipps [equerry and commander of the Castle Company] and four officers came to tea — dishes of sweets and crackers, etc. — hardly a war spectacle! 

After, we played charades and silly games like musical chairs, and we ended up by dancing a Scottish reel!

Friday, April 3

Much colder. Met the Royal Family and talked for a bit while all our dogs got entangled!

Lilibet is at the bad age now, rather fat, and her face puffy at the jaw and a bit stolid, though often she looks very pretty and animated. Her face is broad like the Queen’s, but in a year’s time when she makes up she will improve infinitely.

[Lilibet and Margaret’s] clothes have deteriorated lately. I can’t bear their Aertex shirts. Somehow now they always look frightfully ordinary.

Tuesday, April 14

Walked over to Royal Lodge at 4.30. After tea we went out by ourselves, took a few frogs out of the swimming pool, then sat in [the princesses’] own little garden and talked. Margaret was in her most spirited mood and delighted in saying things to embarrass me!

They showed me the toy farm they’d laid out in the schoolroom and again I was struck by the childishness of Lilibet’s tastes, perhaps simple more than childish really — it shows in her drawing too, always dogs and horses, yet she’s far more serious and sensible than me.

I doubt if her tastes and ideas will ever form differently — her whole nature is simpler and less sophisticated than mine. She has her feet planted in less idealistic but infinitely firmer soil; consequently she can be happy as her thoughts never soar above the most ordinary.

Tuesday, April 21

Princess Elizabeth 16 today. Car took me to the Castle and I went out into the quadrangle to watch the parade, which lasted an hour. P.E. as Colonel, Grenadier Guards had to inspect them and received a diamond cipher brooch. She looked v. pretty.

After lunch we were taken to the front row of chairs in the Waterloo Chamber. I was put next to Hugh [Earl of Euston].

It was a show given by Tommy Handley [radio comedian] and the Royal Family enjoyed it as much as the soldiers at the back. I had to laugh, too, but to me it was almost nauseating and there was the added torment of sitting next to the man I loved, while he was totally unaware of it. Afterwards the Queen asked just Hugh and me to stay to tea, so we had a quiet birthday tea, with a chocolate cake. They are so pointedly nice to him that one wonders if there’s anything behind it; I’m sure he likes Lilibet better than me.

Thursday, April 23

We were talking of PE’s [16th] birthday tea and Margaret suddenly said to me, ‘I believe you enjoyed the cake more than the show!’ Which of course was so true and so like her to see through all my polite praises.

I returned home rather lonely — I am fonder of them than my own family, but they are happier alone with their parents than with anyone else on earth.

Monday, May 4

Worked at Queensmead [Red Cross home for displaced civilians] in the kitchen, acting like the kitchen maid!

Monday, May 11

Biked to Adelaide Cottage, where Jackie Philipps was having a party for the princesses. We had a conjurer from the barracks, then we played charades in the garden. Once we dressed up as monks and used our necklaces as rosaries — it was so funny and we all laughed the whole evening.

The princesses were wearing their pale blue coats and skirts — they make a point now of having hardly any [new] clothes, which I think is ridiculous.

They shall go to the ball: Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret — dressed in costume for a production of Cinderella — with their mother at Windsor in 1941

They shall go to the ball: Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret — dressed in costume for a production of Cinderella — with their mother at Windsor in 1941

Saturday, May 16

P.E. rang up to ask me to stay for lunch today. Margaret was in exuberant spirits and asked me the most embarrassing questions: ‘Do you call me M or P.M.? It’s no point calling me P.M. if you call Lilibet Lilibet!’

I am rather worried as to whether I ought to begin calling them ‘princess’ — it’s better to be on the safe side, of course, but it’s so difficult beginning.

Saturday, May 23

Drove to dancing [shared lessons with the princesses at Windsor Castle] and wore my new navy blue and white embroidered organdie. I think the Royal Family rather disapprove of new clothes now — the princesses have worn the same dresses for dancing for a year!

Friday, May 29

Everyone congregated in the Green Drawing Room [for a dance at the Castle] and then we all filed past the Royal Family, shaking hands and curtsying. The Q wore white lace embroidered with pale blue and silver, and the princesses pink taffeta picture frocks, embroidered with seed pearl bows — they ought not to have been alike.

P.E. didn’t look pretty tonight somehow — she’s v. Hanoverian and has reached the age now when she needs make-up.

Hugh was there. He sought me out to dance with him and we sat in the White Drawing Room after and talked easily and happily. But everyone’s talking of the way in which the Royal Family single him out — he’s staying the night there and he sat by the princess at supper and [P.E.] began liking him at the same time as I did, though unbeknown to each other!

She was so sweet tonight and told me that it was she who pointed me out to him when he was vaguely looking for me to make sure he danced with me! If it is [the King and Queen’s] intention that P.E. should marry an English commoner, then I think this match quite probable — he is not in love with her, but I believe fondness of them all would greatly tempt him.

If this be the case, I would make a willing sacrifice of him to my future sovereign! And meanwhile it gives a zest to life to combat my charms with hers!

Saturday, May 30

I felt almost sick with love for Hugh. I was also worried as to whether the Royal Family think I’m overstepping the line — from now on I’m going to take a firm line with myself and call them ‘Princess’. It is my most ardent desire that after the war when we’re no longer near each other [Lilibet] may still keep me as her friend — but she doesn’t seem to need friends and is careless with the ones she has, though quite unconsciously I know.

Friday, June 5

We played Monopoly in the schoolroom till we all went to our baths [Alathea had been invited to the Castle for the weekend]. Came down to supper in the nursery in my dressing-gown and nightdress and P.E. had a lovely sort of housecoat of blue-flowered shantung with a long orange sash.

Afterwards we went to P.E.’s room and P.M. and I lay on the spare bed under the eiderdown and read and talked. I went to sleep unbelievably happy!

Saturday, June 6

The only thing I don’t like about here is that they always have the wireless on during breakfast and supper.

We, the princesses, Crawfie and I walked down to Frogmore, pushing our lunch in a cart, then went in the punt to a good spot where we ate our lunch under a tree and afterwards read, lying in a row on the rug. Then we played Monopoly till 7 when P.E. and I went for a walk with the dogs.

Came in and had baths, then P.E. and I sat on the floor in her room by the window, watching people and gossiping.

We talked about Hugh and other men, and in the intimacy of her bedroom we talked more freely than ever before, as she is naturally v. reserved, but tonight she seemed as if she liked a friend to talk to. She has lovely eyes.

Sunday, June 7

Breakfast 8.15. The princesses wore new dresses of silk with pattern of maple leaves on a blue ground — v. pretty. We played Consequences till 10.30 when we got ready for church!

In the afternoon we sat out and read and had to hide in the tunnel from the Australians who were shown round the Castle and I had an attack of sneezing and we all got the giggles! Came in and got ready to go to tea at Adelaide Cottage.

There were six officers there, including Jackie Philipps, and we had great fun playing all the usual games.

Walked home and had v. quick baths. Had a last lovely supper in the nursery, then P.E. and I went to her room and lay on the beds talking. We began about her family, which she’s never breathed about before, and I said things to her I would never have thought I would say!

She said she wondered if she’d ever marry, and I assured her she would, and she said if she really wanted to marry someone she’d run away, but I know she wouldn’t really — her sense of duty is too strong, though she’s suited to a simpler life.

But tonight I learned to know a new Lilibet: I saw behind the outward calm and matter-of-factness into something lovable and sincere.

I knew this aspect of her would fade with daylight but it is one that I shall never forget and my affection for her has become the deeper for it.

I’ve made a great effort since I’ve been here to call them P.E. and P.M. and as they haven’t told me not to, I concluded it must be right. It’s sad the old Lilibet days are over.

Thursday, June 11

Princess M. told me today to call her ‘Margaret’ but P.E. hasn’t said anything. So I’m in rather a mix-up about it!

Friday, June 26

V. hot so we ate wild strawberries on the slopes. Margaret was v. sweet: she suddenly asked me to give her a kiss!

Friday, July 3

P.E. scribbled on a piece of paper to me that Philip was coming for the weekend.

Thursday, July 9

Princess Margaret sent us into fits of laughter by imitating the actions of all the members of the Household, especially Lady Katie Seymour [a Lady of the Bedchamber].

Monday, July 13

Him [Hugh Euston] on whom my thoughts dwell is nowhere near me, and even when I do see him, it avails me nothing save bitter anguish of soul.

Thursday, July 23

We went out at 4 with Crawfie and spent some time making the dogs jump the tennis net, which I thought boring, but it’s so typical of the Royal Family’s simple tastes.

Sunday, July 26

Hugh is returning to Windsor [as a guardsman]. I could not help thinking God must mean something, either for P.E. or myself, by sending him back. If only I could get her to work for me to bring us together.

She has got Philip and if I let her know seriously that she alone can help me, the idea might appeal to her — but I hardly ever see her without Margaret or Crawfie and one can only treat it as a joke then.

Extracted from The Windsor Diaries: A Childhood With The Princesses, by Alathea Fitzalan Howard, edited by Isabella Naylor Leyland, to be published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 8, £25. 

© Isabella Naylor Leyland 2020. To order a copy for £21.25, go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. 

Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Offer price valid until 10/10/2020.

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