on 2 June 2006
Just when you thought that there couldn't be an original angle left with which to explore 19th century Royal history, along comes this book. And it is a deeply original angle, one ignored by most historians, mainly because it was, and still is, a male world. But we all know that events in one's early childhood really do mark you, often subconsciously, in later life. So the choice of a nanny or governess was, and still is, really vital. Although the most current Royal dealt with here is King Faisal II of Iraq, the index in the book notes that the current Prince of the Asturias had a British nanny. One wonders if the current crop of European royal babies will also have British nannies.
The book starts back in Russia in the 18th century with the first documented British nannies at the Russian court. It then moves on, mostly chronologically, weaving together stories of which nanny was where, what impact they had and what eventually happened to them. It comes as quite a shock to realise just what incredible women these ladies were and how way ahead of their time. For a start, they had to get to the baby they were supposed to be looking after - often in a foreign court halfway across Europe before air travel. Women were not supposed to be travelling on their own in those days! Then they had to survive in a rarefied Royal atmosphere with foreign traditions and language and they had to bring up a Prince or a Princess, or in some cases, a child monarch. Very many of these women came from very humble backgrounds - the daughters of bricklayers, bootmakers etc. Many had unhappy marriages they had to escape from. They really pulled themselves up to achieve success. There are a few sad stories of nannies that didn't quite please their employers, but there are far more stories of these women becoming valued by children and parents alike. Often looked after far into old age and buried with much pomp and ceremony (Rainier of Monaco even gave his nanny an order of chivalry).
And one must not forget that the customs that British nannies instilled into their charges were British. I doubt whether anyone thought about it at the time, but that could have had long term political effects on the child - they may well have learnt to be favourable to the British whilst still a child - one or two even learnt to speak English with a Cockney accent! Of course, there was the odd really political nanny appointment but the nannies themselves thought that serving English apple pie was advantageous to health not country.
The research that has gone into this book is quite incredible, very detailed. Virtually every nanny you will come across in a history book is here. If her story is not told in the text, then it is précised in the appendix in the back which lists over 200 names. Many original sources have been mined - letters between nannies and their employers, diary references, private archives, and State archives. The background of each nanny has been researched as far as possible, and also her life traced after she left royal service. Some wonderful pictures of the nannies and their charges are also included.
I heartily recommend this book as a really good read and as well as being an excellent history reference book. I couldn't put it down and was very sad when I reached the end of it.
on 17 July 2006
I found this a book that one could not put down, but unlike other reviewers, I will not write reams of prose, but just to say that if you are interested in the subject, then this is the book for you. the only fault that I have, is that the Author does get bogged down with referring to too many people at one time, and one is left not quiet knowing who she is talking about.
on 15 September 2009
Describing the experiences of British women as nannies and governesses in royal households is an original topic. It promises much of interest, particularly glimpses into the normality or otherwise of 19th and early 20th century royal families. The author has certainly done extensive research into the biographies of these women, and mentions some fascinating detail. There is one great failing in this book and that is the structure of the chapters and illogical progression of the topic. The author will talk about one nanny (e.g. Kate Fox working for the Crown Princess of Greece) and then skip to another one in Russia, before adding one more paragraph on Kate Fox, and then starts about a new nanny entirely, all within the space of a single page. There are no royal family trees in the book, and the author tries to highlight relationships between the royal employers in a very convoluted way.
In short, it was a very confusing read. Too many names, too much jumping around in topic and no sense of a coherent thread.