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Authors: Margaret Rhodes

The Final Curtsey

BOOK: The Final Curtsey

Margaret Rhodes
was born into a now almost vanished world of privilege. Royalty often came to stay, and every summer she holidayed with Princess Elizabeth and Princess
Margaret at Balmoral. The three cousins were virtually brought up together, and her aunt Queen Elizabeth regarded her as ‘my third daughter’.

The Second World War years were spent in Scotland, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, where the author ‘lodged’ while she worked for MI6. She celebrated VE day and VJ day with the
princesses, mingling in the streets with the wildly celebrating crowds. She was a bridesmaid at the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and three years later married Denys Rhodes,
a grandson of the 5th Lord Plunket. The King and Queen attended the wedding, and Princess Margaret was a bridesmaid. Four children and a life of adventure and exploration followed.

Her home was in Devon, but in 1980, when Denys became seriously ill, the Queen offered them a house in the Great Park at Windsor, asking whether they could ‘bear to live in
suburbia’. Margaret Rhodes lives there still, her routine punctuated by regular visits to Balmoral and Sandringham. In 1990 she was appointed as a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen Mother, acting
also as her companion, and was at her bedside when she died at Easter 2002.

The author as a bridesmaid to Princess Elizabeth, November 1947


Published jointly by Birlinn Ltd
and Umbria Press 2012

Copyright © Margaret Rhodes 2012

Margaret Rhodes has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Birlinn Ltd
West Newington House
10 Newington Road
Edinburgh EH9 1QS

Umbria Press,
2 Umbria Street,
London SW15 5DP

ISBN: 978 1 78027 085 2
eBook ISBN: 978 0 85790 191 0

Version 1.1


I would like to dedicate this book to the memories of my much loved aunt, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, as well as to my darling husband Denys.


I would like to thank Tom Corby, the former Press Association Court Correspondent, who convinced me that there was a book in me. He had faith in the book from the outset.

I am most grateful to Alan Gordon Walker, of Umbria Press, who has provided me with support and helpful advice and guided me in bringing the book to fruition.


Chapter 1
The Final Curtsey

Chapter 3
Wartime with the Windsors

Chapter 6
On Top of the World

Chapter 8


People have told me that I have become a publishing sensation, which I take with a large pinch of salt. Frankly I’m amazed that so many people have become interested in
my life and times, and I firmly believe that all they really wanted to read about is how two extraordinary people made such an impact on my rather ordinary existence – and by doing so made me
seem a touch extraordinary myself. I refer of course to my charismatic aunt, the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and my first cousin, the Queen, who in her Diamond Jubilee year is receiving
the plaudits of the nation. Without them this book would have been as nothing. The book also coincided with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and a time of interest in and support
for all the Royal Family.

The writing of this memoir started more years ago than I care to remember, simply as an account of my life to entertain my children and grandchildren, and now great grandchildren. Over the years
one or two of my family told me ‘There could be a book in this, Mum’. I have to say I never believed them, but still added a few more pages to the yellowing pile beside my old-fashioned
typewriter. Much more recently other people urged me to go public, believing that my story punctuates social history as I have lived it. I began, against my better judgement, the round of literary
agents and publishers, being regularly rebuffed. It seemed that I was not in fashion, and I was often told: ‘It would be so easy if you were famous, like the wife of a footballer.’ But
finally Umbria Press, to my delight, took the book on and those who turned me down have been proved wrong, while my family and supporters, against the odds, have been proved right.

Suddenly I really was a ‘celebrity’, with the book being serialised in the
Mail on Sunday
It reached number one in the
Sunday Times
bestseller list,
and has sold nearly 30,000 copies – ten times the first printing of 3,000 copies. I have been shuttled between newspaper and magazine offices, television and radio studios, to be interviewed
about what I was doing, in say 1937 or 1945. The media, it seems, like living history, even an ancient monument like me. One reviewer had the cheek to suggest a preservation order should be slapped
on me; surely I’m not that ancient. I’ve been very flattered by the reviews, but the one I particularly like remarked that my little book read as if a hostess were offering a string of
amusing anecdotes to her dinner guests. That rather summed up my efforts, as I enormously enjoy entertaining and having people about me. It seems that I have caught the imagination of the
book-reading public, and so the dinner party has turned into a rather large occasion. What else can I say, other than ‘Thank you so much for coming’.



The Final Curtsey

Saturday 30 March 2002 will be etched in my memory for ever, although it started like any other day at the Garden House, my home in the royal enclave in Windsor Great Park,
which had been granted to me by my first cousin, the Queen, twenty-two years earlier. At that time, my husband Denys had become seriously ill and we thought it sensible to move from our isolated
house on the edge of Dartmoor. The problem had been finding somewhere suitable and affordable. There was not a great deal of money in hand, and therefore I shall never forget the morning when my
prayers were answered. I was out riding with the Queen on the Balmoral estate in Scotland and she suddenly turned in the saddle and said: ‘Could you bear to live in suburbia?’ It
transpired that she was offering us a house in the Great Park at Windsor, the previous occupant of which had been the great horticulturist and landscaper Sir Eric Savill, the former Director of the
Gardens in the Great Park, and architect of the famous Savill and Valley Gardens, which are close by.

Our new home was a short drive from the castle and almost round the corner from Royal Lodge, the weekend retreat of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who was my mother’s youngest sister
and my aunt. Royal Lodge had been her country retreat since 1932, after King George V gave it to his second son, then the Duke of York and his Duchess. This house was very special as far as Queen
Elizabeth was concerned and she left her mark upon it. Together with her husband she shaped its grounds and gardens and they spent some of the happiest times of their lives there. Their work was
guided by their neighbour Sir Eric Savill. It seemed to me absolutely appropriate that she spent the last weeks of her life there. The present Duke of York and his daughters Princesses Beatrice and
Eugenie live in Royal Lodge now.

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother had been part of my life for as long as I could remember, and as the years passed she seemed immortal. She had, however, been unwell since Christmas 2001 and I
suppose I had been steeling myself for the worst. But back to that March Saturday. It was sunny and bright and the usual chores, like exercising the dog had to be undertaken. Then about 11
o’clock the telephone rang. It was Sir Alistair Aird, my aunt’s Private Secretary, warning me that the end seemed close. She had been receiving regular visits from our local doctor,
Jonathan Holliday, the Apothecary to the Household at Windsor, and on the morning of her death he was joined by Doctor Richard Thompson, the Physician to the Queen. They concluded that she would
not last the day.

I had just returned from a cruise with some friends down the Chilean coast and during that time Princess Margaret had died following a complete breakdown in her health. She had her third stroke
on 8 February and developed cardiac problems. A few days before this she had told an old friend that she felt so ill that she longed to join her father, King George VI. My elder daughter Annabel
had telephoned me on board the ship to break that sad news. Queen Elizabeth, although very frail, had bravely insisted on coming down from Sandringham, where she had been staying since Christmas,
for her younger daughter’s funeral in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. After the funeral she returned home to Royal Lodge, and did not leave it again. I felt so sad about Margaret, but
perhaps more for Queen Elizabeth than for anyone else. It is unnatural for a mother to suffer the death of a child, of whatever age, and it compounds the grief. Margaret, the Queen and I had grown
up together and when young, Margaret had such great promise, beauty, intelligence and huge charm. It seemed a life unfulfilled in so many ways. In childhood, and when she was growing up, she was
very indulged, especially by her father. If she did misbehave she invariably diffused the situation by making everyone laugh, so that the misdemeanour was forgotten, if not forgiven. It was hard to
resist her, but she did have the most awful bad luck with men. However the Almighty usually gets the right people to be born first.

I arrived home at the Garden House on 3 March, and found that my aunt was still entertaining visitors. On 5 March she hosted a lawn meet and lunch for the Eton Beagles, and then held her usual
house party for the Sandown Park Grand Military race meeting, but she weakened further in the week before Easter, which that year fell on 31 March.

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