The royal nanny, p.1
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       The Royal Nanny, p.1

           Karen Harper
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The Royal Nanny


  Dedication

  Thanks to Don for going on all the British Isles treks.

  To Sandra Byrd for helping to plan our excursions to

  Buckingham Palace and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

  Especially to Annelise Robey and Meg Ruley for finding this book

  a great home with Lucia Macro, who loves the Edwardians too.

  Names and Titles of Main British Royal Characters

  A note on the royals and their names:

  Although it can be confusing, the names given to the royal children of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, and King George V at their christenings were often different from the names used by their families. This was a family who loved nicknames. And to makes things even more confusing, when ascending to the throne, they could choose a new name. Hopefully the following will make navigating the royal family tree a bit easier.

  Queen Victoria, called Gangan by the York children

  Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria. His birth name was Albert Edward, and his family nickname was Bertie. Father of George, Duke of York, and grandfather (Grandpapa) to the York children

  Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales, mother (Mother dearest) of George, Duke of York, and grandmother (Grannie) of the York children

  George, Duke of York, son of Edward and Alexandra, later King George V

  May of Teck, Duchess of York, later Princess of Wales, later Queen Mary. Mother of six York children:

  David, Prince of Wales, full name Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, later King Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor.

  Bertie (another one!), second son of King George and Queen Mary, full name Albert Frederick Arthur George. He later took the name King George VI, and was father of Queen Elizabeth II.

  Mary, only daughter of King George and Queen Mary. Full name Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary.

  Harry, fourth child of King George and Queen Mary, later the Duke of Gloucester. Full name Henry William Frederick Albert.

  George, fifth child of King George and Queen Mary, later the Duke of Kent. Known as “George” as a child, he is sometimes confused with his brother George VI. Full name George Edward Alexander Edmund.

  John (Johnnie), last child of King George and Queen Mary. Full name John Charles Francis. (Were they running out of fourth names at this time? Of course, the heir to the throne has seven given names.)

  Contents

  Dedication

  Names and Titles of Main British Royal Characters

  Prologue

  Part One Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Part Two Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Part Three Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Part Four Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Part Five Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  P.S. Insights, Interviews & More . . . * About the author

  About the book

  Also by Karen Harper

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  Monday, April 6, 1959

  Sandringham Estate, Norfolk, England

  Here comes trouble,” I said aloud instead of just thinking it to myself as in the old days. Indeed, here came one of my dear loves and my worst failure.

  I opened the door and waited for him to exit the chauffeured Daimler. My life had been plum full of breaking bad habits in others, but I’d never been able to really calm or control him. There was one thing I could never forgive him for, though I’d tried, and it wasn’t his continued smoking.

  I watched as he took a big drag of his cigarette, then ground the stub under the toe of his shiny shoe. Good gracious, I wished this estate, where he’d been reared, would comfort him rather than make him more nervous.

  As he came up the walk of my small grace-and-favor flat, I glanced over my shoulder at Johnnie’s portrait. Oh, I’d hear about that again, though I’d removed my precious, framed, handwritten note and the agate statue of the grouse from the mantel. Queer how childhoods could make or break the best and worst of us, even my two kings.

  I swung open the door but felt I was opening the past again—the pain, the fear—oh, of course, the good and high times too. Everything rushed at me as if I were coming here for the first time to live it all again. The graves out by the church opened, and the beloved ghosts walked in my mind and heart. I wanted to flee, down the familiar paths of Sandringham, down the paths of time and memory to begin again. But I stood firm and let him in.

  Part One

  1897–1901

  London to York Cottage

  Chapter 1

  Friday, April 2, 1897

  Of course I’d been out on the for-hire steam launch on the Thames my father captained, but in the railway carriage, I felt I was flying. It was noisy too, here in third class with the huge engine just ahead, huffing and blowing smoky steam that dashed past the windows. Where I sat was quite plain, with the leather seats a bit worn and cracked, but I felt I was in a magic cart to the moon anyway. My father had said the tracks would be well kept since this was the route the royals themselves used to get to their Norfolk estate, which is where I was headed. But when he’d put me on the train, he’d been disappointed that none of the royal carriages were on this run.

  I was about to become undernurse to the royals at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate, and it was my first time in a railway carriage and so far from home. I was going one hundred twenty miles from London, and didn’t have to pay for the passage ticket either! Maybe that would be one of the grand things about being in service to the royals, because Mama said they were all rich, rich, rich. Honestly, I didn’t care a whit about that, just that I could better my station and send some money home in these tough times, but how I missed my former and now grown toddlekins from Dr. Lockwood’s family in London. They didn’t need a nurse anymore, all grown up to only need their new stepmother.

  Truth was, I used to wish the widowed Dr. Edwin Lockwood, my former employer, would marry me, though I knew that was quite out of the question. But when I first went to work at his house as nursemaid, I was only thirteen and such a dreamer. People think I’m a no-nonsense person, but I still harbor flights of fancy in my head and heart, and to mean something to someone else is one of them.

  But in the nearly ten years I worked in London, I knew it was not that I loved the doctor, but that I loved his two little daughters and hated to leave them, especially after I’d been promoted to nurse after five years there. Now his new wife didn’t want me about because her stepchildren doted on me. But the doctor gave me a good character, which the Duchess of York’s friend Lady Eva Dugdale had somehow seen. So here I was, headed to the Duke and Duchess of York’s country house to help the head nurse of two royal lads—one called David, nearly four years of age; the other Bertie, a year and a half—and a new baby to be born soon.

  I beat down the butterflies in my belly and practiced saying “Your Grace, milord, milady, sir, ma’am” and all that. What if Queen Victoria h
erself ever popped in for a visit, for the duke was her grandson—well, there were many of her offspring scattered across Europe in ruling houses, but he was in direct line to the British throne after his father, the Prince of Wales. And since the Prince and Princess of Wales often lived on the same Sandringham Estate, so Lady Dugdale said, I’d wager I’d see them, right regular too, that is if the head nurse, name of Mary Peters, let me help her with the royal children when their kin came calling.

  “Ticket, please, miss,” the conductor said as he came through the carriage. I had a moment’s scramble but handed it to him and had it marked. When he passed on, I put it as a keepsake in my wooden box of worldly goods, which sat on the floor next to my seat. The carriage wasn’t too full, not to Norfolk with its marshy fens and the windy Wash my papa had described to me. Oh, I was so excited I could barely sit still. I was to disembark at a place called Wolferton Station, where someone was to meet me. I was just so certain everything would be lovely and fine and grandly, royally perfect.

  THE THREE-HOUR RAILWAY ride took some of the starch out of me, but I ate my biscuits and had lukewarm tea from the tin flask Mama had given me. So I perked right up when we steamed into the tiny village of Wolferton a few miles from the great house of Sandringham, though I’d been told my final destination was a smaller house nearby called York Cottage. It sounded quite quaint, and I pictured a low, thatched place with rambling roses. Lady Dugdale had said it was much smaller than the Big House but it had been added onto to allow space for Duke George and Duchess May’s growing family. Of course, she’d said, the household moved to London, Windsor, and Scotland on a regular schedule, so I would get to do more traveling too. But, mostly, for the children, the Sandringham Estate was home, and now my home too.

  “Wolferton Station, miss,” the conductor told me as he passed through again. He helped me lift my box, then set it on the platform. Toward the back of the railway cars, men were unloading barrels and boxes and what looked to be crates of coal. My legs were wobbly after all that moving and swaying. As I took a few steps, I hoped whoever was sent to fetch me would be here soon. But the brisk breeze felt good on my face, shifting my hat veil and long coat and skirt.

  I’d worn my only walking suit, blue wool and a bit scratchy for such a nice day. The jacket had a stand-up collar that chaffed my neck, and my new, pointed shoes pinched, but I knew I’d soon be wearing the daily work or dress uniforms of my new position. Both my sisters had said I was to write them all about what the fancy folk wore.

  “Miss Charlotte Bill?” a voice called, and a young man appeared looking hale and hearty as if country living did him good.

  “Yes. Are you sent from York Cottage?”

  “Jack of all trades on the estate, all seven hundred acres of it, not a better place to be. Chad Reaver by name, sent to take you to the Yorks. Ah, good, you are a sensible one,” he said with a smile as he shook my hand and nodded at my box, which he easily hefted onto one shoulder. “You should see the massive trunks the prince’s London friends arrive with for their fancy Saturday to Mondays, clothing boxes so big we call them Noah’s Arks.”

  I smiled at that picture. Chad Reaver looked to be about my age, early twenties, maybe a bit older. His square-jawed face was sun-darkened, and his brown eyes almost matched his hair. He was clean-shaven, muscular, half a head taller than me, dressed in work garb, and if I had to describe him in one word, I would say solid.

  “I apologize for bringing you in with the lading,” he said as he led me to a wagon being loaded with crates from the platform. He put my box under the seat and helped me up to sit beside him. “I’ll make amends someday,” he promised, “and take you and the little Yorks for a ride in the estate omnibus . . . if we can pry her ducklings away from Mrs. Peters.”

  “Oh, their nurse. I’m to be her undernurse.”

  He nodded, yet looked a bit grim. As we rode the long, uphill, pine tree–lined drive from the station toward the house, he became my guide, and, in my heart even then, my friend.

  “Over thirty years ago, it was, when Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, bought this place for their heir, now Prince of Wales,” he explained. I was entranced by the slight burr to his voice. “’Course, Prince Albert picked it because he thought it would be out in the country, away from the temptations of London. But, as Prince Albert is long dead and the prince’s fretful mother the queen’s at a good distance, the prince imports his parties, though that’s all in the Big House, not the cottage. Himself and the Princess Alexandra love being near their grandchildren, that’s sure. Just sit back now and look around. It’s a three-mile drive to the residence. I tell you, this place has been so changed and improved over the years.”

  “Does Her Majesty ever visit here?”

  “At her age, they go to her. Look—a ruffed grouse taking wing,” he said, pointing at a flapping, russet-hued bird and sounding more excited than when he’d mentioned the royals. “They’re rare here as it’s mostly pheasant and woodcocks, partridge too. I’m the head gamekeeper’s son, you see.”

  “So you hunt game for the royal tables?”

  “Oh, no,” he said looking at me more than serious—almost stern. “I never shoot them myself. We feed and protect the birds for the family and their guests to shoot. Meanwhile, we keep a good eye out for poachers. Guns make such a bang that the thieves use snares attached to sticks or canes, but I know their shifty ways. This spring you’ll hear the grouse males make a drumming sound by beating their wings to attract their female friends, but that can attract poachers too. We feed and tend the birds, or they’d eat the buds off the trees. We must always take the bad with the good, you see.”

  I nodded. So much to learn here. I did admire the beauty of this place with its scattered woodlots and encircling, deep forests, vast fields, and a few small, distant villages surrounded by fens and the marsh beyond. He pointed out to me the nearby village where he lived, West Newton by name. It was tiny, a mere score of houses edged by fields and trees with a fine-looking church nearby. And ahead, at the end of this straight road, loomed a grand house and a smaller one.

  “That gray slate roof up ahead . . . the Big House,” he told me, pointing. “That’s what we all call it here. It has as many rooms as there are days in a year, pretty fancy ones. I’m sure you’ll get to see them eventually.”

  I couldn’t hold back a gasp at the sight of it. And this was called a country house? As we drew closer, I saw it was red brick with an imposing front and wide lawns and terraces. “Don’t fret if you hear dogs at night too,” he told me. “The Big House kennels hold some fifty hunt hounds.”

  “I shall listen for them, and the drumming of the grouse wings, but mostly, the even breathing of my little charges at night.”

  “Well, from what I’ve seen, Mrs. Peters keeps a good watch on them, ’specially the heir, of course. And that,” he said, pointing again, “is York Cottage.”

  “Oh, it’s on the banks of a pond, very pretty.”

  “Righto,” he said, looking sideways at me, “very pretty.”

  I caught his gaze and started a big blush that crept up my throat to my cheeks and temples. I looked away to study the house that was to be my new home, a fairy-tale place with gabled roof and lots of chimneys, not what I would call a cottage at all. Not as grand as Sandringham House or Buckingham Palace, where I’d taken Dr. Lockwood’s girls to peer through the iron fence, but it looked lovely to me, reflected in the little lake with wild ducks and two small, strangely antlered deer drinking. So peaceful, so perfect under a spring sky with clouds like clotted cream.

  Chad Reaver helped me down and put my trunk on his broad shoulder to escort me to a side door. I was glad that he was with me and wanted to thank him for the tour and tidbits he’d shared. But, sadly for me, the moment he rang a bell and a middle-aged woman appeared, with a tip of his cap and the words “Mrs. Wentworth, the new undernurse from London, Charlotte Bill, delivered safe and sound,” he was gone.

  MRS. WENTWORTH, TH
E York Cottage housekeeper, gave me time to wash and compose myself in a small attic bedroom, then took me on a tour of the house—that is, the servants’ area and the staircases and hallways, for I saw many closed doors she called “the private rooms.” I was a bit disappointed she didn’t take me straightaway to see the children’s quarters.

  “York Cottage was built higgledy-piggledy, first as a place to put extra guests when the Big House parties overflowed,” she explained. She had a kind face but had a habit of standing so erect that her gray eyes seemed to be looking down her long nose. Her black skirts rustled when she walked.

  “’Twas called Bachelor’s Cottage until the Yorks came here for their honeymoon and made it their country home. It’s small enough that everyone can get underfoot,” she told me with a lift of her silver eyebrows that matched her hair. “But His Lordship likes small rooms, from his navy days, you know, like on a ship.”

  “Oh, yes. I’m used to small rooms and lots of people from my own home.”

  “I warrant we’ll see a large family from the lord and lady. Why, three children close together, if you count the one coming soon,” she said, her eyebrows rising even higher. “So you are used to a large family?”

  “My sister Annie is two years older than me. She was in service but is now married to a river man. Then my brother Ernest, three years younger than me, and last Edith, three years after Ernest.”

  “Years apart at least, instead of a bit over a year. I’ll soon introduce you to the children’s nurse, Mrs. Peters, as I believe she’ll have the lads down for a nap now. Of course, in this small a place, it’s a challenge for the young ones to be seen and not heard—not even seen sometimes. But they are presented to their parents at teatime each afternoon promptly at four when the duke and duchess are here.”

  Presented to their parents? I thought. Well, I guess people were presented to royalty, evidently even their own flesh and blood.

 

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