The Queen's Childhood
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born in her
parents' London house, in Bruton Street, Mayfair, on 21 April 1926.
Her father, 'Bertie', the Duke of York, and her mother, Elizabeth
Bowes-Lyon had been married for three years. As the second son of
King George V, Bertie die not expect to become king.
Elizabeth was born into a traditional world of wealth and privilege, in a hierarchical household with a full retinue of butlers, footmen, housekeepers and housemaids. Her early life centred on the nursery, where she was looked after by her nurse, Clara Knight, nicknamed 'Allah', who had also looked after her own mother. At the age of nine months, she was left behind in London when her mother and father went on an official tour of Australia and New Zealand. They were away for six months, and Elizabeth spent her time with her doting paternal grandparents.
Shortly after her parents returned from Australia the family moved to 145 Piccadilly, a substantial house with 25 bedrooms, a ballroom, library and conservatory, on the north side of Piccadilly, overlooking Green Park. On her fourth birthday, George V gave Elizabeth her first pony, launching her life-long love of horses. Later that year, Elizabeth's younger sister, Margaret Rose, was born. The arrival of Margaret Rose led to the appointment of Marion Crawford ('Crawfie') as governess to the two young princesses. They followed a schoolroom timetable that would have been recognisable to young ladies of the 19th century: arithmetic, grammar, writing, history, geography, music, art and dancing.
In 1931 King George V gave the family a country estate of their own, the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. This secluded residence was set in substantial gardens, which were enthusiastically tended by the Duke of York. The family enjoyed weekends down at the Lodge, and Elizabeth was given riding lessons by the groom there. IThe young princesses spent a great deal of their time in adult company, and were very close to both their parents. They had very little contact with other children and were fascinated by them.
In 1936 Elizabeth's grandfather George V died, and her uncle Edward was proclaimed king (Edward VIII), But his relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson was to change Elizabeth's destiny. Divorce was a taboo at the time and the royal family believed that Edward should put his duty to his kingdom before his private happiness, but ultimately he chose the latter, signing the Instrument of Abdication in December 1936. Elizabeth's father was crowned George VI on 12 May 1937.
The family moved to Buckingham Palace where life was dominated by the business of state, pomp and ceremony. The formation of the 1st Buckingham Palace Company of Girl Guides was intended to compensate for Elizabeth not atttending a normal school. The Guides met weekly, and their activities all took place in the palace gardens, George V's summerhouse, or the Palace swimming pool. Family holidays had to take place in the privacy of the royal estates.
Despite the glamour of Palace life, the teenage Elizabeth was a countrywoman at heart. Before her royal fate had been decreed, she told Crawfie that she would marry a farmer and have "lots of cows, horses and dogs and children".