The Queen's nanny from Fife who was disowned by the Royals

Tall, strict and kindly, Marion Crawford moved from Fife to the heart of the Royal Household after being hired as governess for the future Queen and Princess Margaret when they were just little girls.

Monday, 15th January 2018, 4:07 pm
Updated Monday, 15th January 2018, 9:21 pm
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret with Lady Helen Graham and Miss Marion Crawford (right) ) after their first ride on the Underground in 1939. (PIC: Getty Images).

For 14 years, Crawford worked to educate and shape the young royals and often tested convention by exposing them to everyday life with activities including trips on the Tube, walks in the park and cups of tea at the YWCA.

Crawford, who studied teaching at Moray Place in Edinburgh, was hired as governess in 1933 by the Queen Mother, then Duchess of York, after working for Lord and Lady Elgin in her hometown of Dunfermline.

The governess developed a genuine affection for the princesses, who called her Crawfie, with the three living together at Balmoral for several months following the outbreak of World War Two.

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Marion Crawford, from Dunfermline, moved to the heart of the Royal Household after being hired as governess to the future Queen and Princess Margaret in 1930. PIC: Contributed.

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Despite her commitment, Crawford was cut off from the Royal Family shortly after her retirement in 1947.

The breakdown of the relationship began when an arrangement which allowed her to contribute to a series of articles in the American press backfired.

Marion Crawford, from Dunfermline, moved to the heart of the Royal Household after being hired as governess to the future Queen and Princess Margaret in 1930. PIC: Contributed.

It later emerged that the Queen Mother and the Foreign Office, who were keen that the stories could improve Anglo-American relations, had been in involved with talks on the articles.

While the Queen Mother told her not to put her name to any stories, Crawford was advised she could anonymously contribute to information gathered by a journalist for the pieces.

However, after signing a contract, Crawford’s name appeared in the stories published by American Home Journal and became the first person to cash in on her royal connections. She was reportedly paid $85,000 for her input.

As her relationship with the Royals started to fray, Crawford went on to write a frank, tell-all book, The Little Princesses, in 1950 with her sharing of private information seen as a further betrayal.

A review of the book in The Scotsman in November 1950, said: “The the more striking compared with the unfailing reticence and gentle dignity, as described here, of the Royal Family.”

Crawford, who moved to Aberdeen following the scandal, was never spoken to again by the Royals and was “cast out by her colleagues, from top to bottom” following publication.

Her recollections included how Princess Elizabeth - Lilibet - tipped the contents of a silver inkpot over her head during a French lesson.

Crawford also recalled the intense tidiness of the future Queen, who reportedly woke in the night to check her shoes and clothes were still correctly arranged.

Princess Elizabeth also used Crawford as a play horse, with the governess strapped up with red reins and bells before carrying the future Queen on her back to deliver groceries around the household.

Princess Margaret’s lively nature was also touched upon when in 1939 the young royal said: “Who is this Hitler, spoiling everything?”

Crawford was reportedly devastated by the ending of the relationship with the two girls and her employers.

She tried to commit suicide in later life but died alone, a widow and without children, in an Aberdeen nursing home in 1988.

A letter from the Queen Mother to Crawford, held by the governess’s solicitor and made public in 2000 as part of a Channel 4 documentary, shed more light on how the controversial articles in the US came about.

The Queen Mother set out how Crawford should not “write and sign” articles about the children, saying that people in positions of confidence must be “utterly oyster”.

However, the letter added it would be “quite alright” to contribute to articles written by a journalist as long as her name did not appear.

Nigel Astell, a close friend and confidant of Crawford, earlier said: “She always hoped for a reconciliation, but it never came. Crawfie was intensely loyal and would not use the letters to defend herself, even though they showed she had being acting in good faith.”

Some believe Crawford’s husband, George Buthlay, a bank worker from Aberdeen, who she married in a small ceremony in Dunfermline Abbey in 1947, had a key role in the collapse of his wife’s relationship with the Royal Family.

A number of accounts claim he wanted his wife to capitalise on her experiences.

She reportedly became irritated by her pay, felt that her pension was inadequate and was even unhappy with the wedding presents she received from the family which included a coffee set, three bedside lamps and full dinner service from the Queen Mother.

Some claim it was Buthlay who made sure that the editors of Ladies’ Home Journal in the United States, were tipped off about Crawford’s apparent woes.

After the fallout, Crawford sold her name to a series of articles, all ghosted by the staff of Woman’s Own.

Her own story ended badly when the content of the columns was exposed as false. An account of Trooping the Colour and Royal Ascot in June, 1955 emerged as bogus given that both events were cancelled due to a national rail strike.

Crawford became a figure of public mockery and was never heard of again. Her later life was supported by her Royal Household pension.

Her funeral was a quiet affair for a woman who worked at the heart of the monarchy. Those who did attend noted that not a single Royal flower was to grace her grave.