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Princess: The Early Life of Queen Elizabeth II by Jane Dismore: A Book Review

Princess: The Early Life of Queen Elizabeth II 
Author: Jane Dismore
Genre: History, Nonfiction, Biography
Publisher: Lyons Press
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher/Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In November 2017 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. As a 13-year-old Princess, she fell in love with Prince Philip of Greece, an ambitious naval cadet, and they married when she was 21; when she suddenly became Queen at 25, their lives changed forever. Philip has been her great support, but fortunately she also had a solid foundation that helped prepare her for a life dedicated to duty. With previously unpublished material and unique memories from friends and relatives who have known her since childhood, this book looks afresh and in richer depth at her life as Princess, glittering yet isolating. Vivid detail and anecdotes reveal more about her, the era in which she grew up and the people who shaped her life. The archives of royal confidante Lady Desborough and Private Secretary Sir Alec Hardinge reveal unseen letters from the Princess and the royal family, giving intimate insights into their lives and minds. Here is her sadness at the death of her nanny, Alah; her joy in her children; her melancholy as a young wife when Philip returns to his ship; the sensitivities of her father. 

    Here too is the Princess with the aristocratic Bowes Lyons, her mother’s family, who featured significantly in her life, yet rarely appear in books. The author sheds new light on anomalies surrounding the birth of her mother who, it has been asserted, was the daughter of the family’s cook. The strain of wartime on the royal family is highlighted in new material contrasting the stance of the Princess’s uncles, the Duke of Windsor and David Bowes Lyon. In contrast with her upbringing, Philip’s early life was turbulent, although their lives shared some interesting parallels. Lady Butter, a relation of Philip and friend of the Princess, recalls time spent with each of them; and unpublished documents show how intelligence agencies considered the socialist influence of the Mountbattens on Philip and thus on the royal court.

     More importantly, Princess traces how an “ordinary country girl” suddenly found herself in the line of succession to the crown at age ten when her Uncle, the Duke of Windsor, abdicated the throne to his brother Albert (“Bertie” to family and friends), the once and future King George VI. Breaking new ground for a future English monarch, she became the first female member of the royal family to serve on active duty during World War II, and broke tradition by sending her children away to school rather having them privately tutored. Indeed, by the time of her coronation in 1953, she had already achieved a “broad and solid background from which she could draw during the rapidly changing times of her long reign. Out of a little princess they made a Queen.”

    My Review: Much has been written about Britain’s current queen, Elizabeth II. However, in the biography Princess,  it tells the story of Elizabeth’s life before she became a queen. Queen Elizabeth was never meant to be a queen. Her father was the second son of George VI. It seemed as if her uncle Edward would marry and sire heirs. When he shocked the world by abdicating the throne for the woman he loved, Elizabeth suddenly found herself the center of attention as the heir presumptive. Elizabeth finds herself with responsibilities that she does not initially want.

     Princess paints Elizabeth to be reluctant to become the next queen of England. The biographer states that she would rather remain a country girl at heart. However, Elizabeth took her role as heir seriously. She is prepared to attend ceremonies and make speeches. Elizabeth is also portrayed as a no-nonsense woman and very protective of her sister, Margaret. I also found the relationship between Elizabeth and Prince Philip to be very fascinating. Elizabeth claims that Philip has been her rock throughout her life. This biography shows how supportive and steadfast Philip is to Elizabeth. Princess also emphasizes that he was a bit of prankster. This gives us a different glimpse of Philip whom most people view as stiff and rigid.

    Overall, Princess paints a very compelling portrait of the early years of Queen Elizabeth II. There were times when the biography diverted from the subject and went on tangents on other people such as Prince Philip’s girlfriends. Sometimes, Princess took the gossip and tabloid route. For instance, it heavily focused on the Queen Mother being the daughter of a cook that was proposed in Lady Colin Campbell’s biography. It is obvious that the biographer believes in Lady Colin’s gossip. Therefore, I found this part of the Queen Mother’s past to be very irrelant and did not serve any purpose in Queen Elizabeth’s biography.  Still, Princess is a very enlightening read for those who want to know more about the queen’s childhood.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a video of the author talking about her book: Princess: The Early Years of Queen Elizabeth II:

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