What the Queen Was Like as a Mother to Her Children
Queen Elizabeth II became a mother almost 70 years ago, when she welcomed her first son Prince Charles in 1948. Next, the Queen gave birth to Princess Anne in 1950, just three years before she was thrust into one of the most prominent positions in the world as the reigning monarch of Great Britain and head of the Commonwealth.
After her first two children, Queen Elizabeth II waited more than a decade before having more—she was busy being Queen after all. She and Prince Philip welcomed Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964.
The relationship between the Queen and her heir has been a source of much fascination and debate. Elizabeth's official royal duties fell on her while her children were still quite young—she and Phillip famously embarked on a six month Commonwealth tour soon after her coronation and left the children at home in England—and Elizabeth was part of a generation and class that routinely left the daily care of small children in the hands of household staff.
This has led to suggestions that Charles did not form as strong a bond with his mother as he had with nannies and his beloved grandmother.
According to historian Robert Lacy, who also served as an advisor for The Crown and is the author of The Crown: The Official Companion, the Queen believed it was better to leave the children in the care of nannies rather than drag them around the world.
"She had been brought up in that style herself, after all, with her parents leaving her at home and entrusting her entire schooling to a governess and home tutors," he told Town & Country.
In his controversial 1994 authorized biography of Prince Charles, Jonathan Dimbleby quotes the Prince of Wales saying it was "inevitably the nursery staff" who taught him to play, witnessed his first steps, and punished and rewarded him.
And in her recent biography of Prince Charles, Sally Bedell-Smith shares a similar view. "When Elizabeth became Queen on the death of her father, her dedication to her duties meant even less time for her children," the historian wrote. "She relied increasingly on her husband to make the major family decisions and she depended on the nannies to supervise their daily lives," adding that the Queen and Duke saw the children after breakfast and teatime but "in the manner of the upper class, neither of them was physically demonstrative."
Prince Charles was very close to his grandmother, the Queen Mother, and that she doted on him. In 2013, private letters revealed that she had tried to persuade her daughter and son-in-law to send young Charles to Eton, which was closer to London, rather than send him to Gordonstoun School in Scotland, where he was eventually educated.
At the Queen Mother's funeral in 2002, Prince Charles delivered an emotional tribute: "For me, she meant everything and I had dreaded, dreaded this moment along with, I know, countless others. Somehow, I never thought it would come. She seemed gloriously unstoppable and, since I was a child, I adored her."
The Queen's only daughter has publicly opposed the opinion that her mother was not as caring or involved as she perhaps should have been. "I simply don't believe there is any evidence what so ever to suggest that she wasn't caring. It just beggars belief," Anne said during a characteristically sharp-tongued 2002 interview with the BBC to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
According to Lacy, Anne grew close to her mother as a teenager. "Princess Anne and the Princes Andrew and Edward have all made public their disagreement with Charles in his criticism of the parenting they received. With her love of horses, Anne developed an especially close relationship with her mother during her teenage years, giving her advice about fashion and clothes," he said.
Anne isn't the only one who offered proof of her mother's motherly warmth. Lacy notes that Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip's uncle, once said that the Queen's favorite night of the week was "Mabel's night off"—Mabel was the nanny to both Charles and Anne as children. "When nanny Mabel was off duty, Elizabeth could kneel beside the bath, bathe her babies, read to them and put them to bed herself," he added.
There is an almost 12-year gap between the Queen and Duke's first and third children, Charles and Andrew. By the time Andrew was born, the Queen had been on the throne for eight years, and, as Lacy notes, "evidence suggests she became warmer and more flexible as time went by." She also stepped back from her Royal duties to spend more time with her young children.
The Queen playing with Princes Edward and Andrew in June, 1965.
"Early in the 1960’s, Her Majesty decided that she had done her duty by her country, and took the best part of eighteen months off work to produce and enjoy her ‘second family’, the young princes Andrew and Edward, born in 1960 and 1964 respectively," says Lacy.
In the footage, shot in the 1960s, the Queen was filmed on holiday in Balmoral, Scotland doting on seven-month-old Prince Andrew.
The Queen's youngest child was born just a few years later in 1964. In the late 1960s, the Royal Family allowed cameras into their home for a BBC documentary and the British people got to see their Queen as a "playful mother relaxing with her children," said Lacy.
The program included footage of the Queen sweetly holding her youngest son's hand while the family took a walk around the grounds of Windsor Castle.
The Queen has maintained an especially close relationship with her fourth child. Just two years ago, in advance of her 90th birthday celebrations, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, told Sky News that they continue to spend time with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh most weekends and that she is actively a part of her grandchildren's lives.
"Today Elizabeth II enjoys life as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother," Lacy said. "She clearly delights in the time she can spend with her family, and she seems to be anything but emotionally reserved.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh with their children in 2007 to mark their diamond wedding anniversary.
"Would she have mothered her children differently if she had the chance? As one of her close friends has said, the Queen was rather scared of parenting when she started out—she’d not been taught it by her own mother. But as she grew into the job, her successive children helped remove her fears," says lacy.
Indeed, in 2012, when Kate Winslet was awarded a CBE, she told the Queen she "loves being a mum" even more than being an actress, to which the Queen reportedly replied: "Yes. That's the only job which matters."
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.