'Lilibet rang up to ask me to skate': Secret diary of the Queen's first confidante reveals how they played together, sheltered from Nazi bombs – and Elizabeth's first flirtations with Philip

Alathea Fitzalan Howard was sent to live with her grandfather, Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent, at Cumberland lodge in Windsor Great Park during World War II after her parents separated. 
There she became a close friend of Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, visiting them often at Windsor Castle, and enjoying parties, balls, picnics and celebrations with the Royal Family and other members of the Court. 
Sunday, January 21 
LiLibet [Princess Elizabeth, aged 13 and living with her family at Royal Lodge in Windsor] rang up to ask me to skate. She, [Princess] Margaret and the King picked me up in the car and we drove to the lake. Queen came down and watched. Played hockey with about six other people — policemen and chauffeurs etc from Royal Lodge. Great fun. Lilibet is so much nicer by herself than at Guides. 
Wednesday March 20 
[At] Royal Lodge we all dragged an old garden cart down to the rubbish heap below the vicarage and filled it with old iron etc and dragged it back to the garden (the detective helping)! then we played charades indoors. Margaret’s rather silly but she’s very sweet. Lilibet’s stopped wearing socks. Crawfie [governess Marion Crawford] kissed me goodbye! Heavenly day. 
Monday, May 6 
The princesses came to tea today. Nasty damp day but we went out and played in the garden till about six, then came in and did two charades, which were great fun. Friday, may 10 Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium at 3am! 
Tuesday, May 14 
The princesses have moved to Windsor [Castle] for greater safety. Somehow it does feel lonely to know they’re not next door.  
Friday, June 7 
Lilibet and Margaret and Crawfie met me at the door and we walked down to the guardroom for tea with some officers. enormous tea — cakes galore, ices, cherries, with which we had competitions. once Lilibet and I looked at each other and nearly laughed. Lilibet and Margaret for the first time (that I've seen) weren’t dressed alike. '
Alathea Fitzalan Howard ecame a close friend of Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, visiting them often at Windsor Castle, and enjoying parties, balls, picnics and celebrations with the Royal Family and other members of the Court
Alathea Fitzalan Howard ecame a close friend of Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, visiting them often at Windsor Castle, and enjoying parties, balls, picnics and celebrations with the Royal Family and other members of the Court
Monday, June 17 
Heard that France has given in, so now we are left to face Germany alone. Naturally if we are beaten we must all hope for death as our only release. 
Tuesday, July 2 
I went to the York Hall for a rehearsal of the concert on Saturday. Lilibet will tap dance in ‘An Apple For the teacher’ (she’s the teacher). Margaret is in it too. they both play the piano on the stage and then Margaret is the Dormouse in the Mad Hatter’s tea Party. it’s very good, but everyone I’ve met says it’s making them much too cheap. they really shouldn’t do it. they ought to get up little plays of their own with their friends but not dance with all the evacuees like this. 
Saturday, July 13 
Crawfie was in a bad mood. I think she’s rather cross because I borrowed her purse last week for the programme money and now can’t remember what i have done with it. the princesses were rather cross too, because Lilibet played the piano badly and the curtain fell on Margaret’s head!
Thursday, August 15 
We all drew outside. Afterwards, i tidied as usual in Lilibet’s room and she told me her silk stockings cost eight and six. typical! 
Sunday, August 25 
I went to bed about ten and was in the middle of praying when three terrible explosions shook my windows. We all went down to the cellar amid more bombs and guns. 
Tuesday, August 27 
Biked to the Castle with hiking things. We were divided into two [Guides] groups with Lilibet and me in charge. We made a fire and cooked sausages on sticks. 
Monday, September 23 
Biked to the Castle for tea. We all listened to the King’s speech on the wireless in the nursery and knitted. 
Tuesday, October 1 
At nine o’clock [a] time bomb went off [nearby]. I lay in speechless horror watching my walls rock violently from side to side. i know that people in the future will read about this war and look upon it in horror as comparable only to the French or Russian Revolutions and they will pity the generation whose youth was wasted by it. 
Princess Elizabeth (pictured left) reads to her sister Princess Margaret and Jane the corgi by a window in Windsor Castle. Princess Elizabeth is the future Queen Elizabeth II of England.
Princess Elizabeth (pictured left) reads to her sister Princess Margaret and Jane the corgi by a window in Windsor Castle. Princess Elizabeth is the future Queen Elizabeth II of England.
Saturday, November 9
[Alathea was staying at the castle for the weekend.] I played a French game with L and M and Monty [French governess Mrs Montaudon-Smith], then we all had lunch with the K and Q and household. then L and M, Crawfie and I went out in the rain and messed about till the Queen joined us, when we gave some scarves to some soldiers, then unblocked a stream. M pushed me into some barbed wire, tearing my good stocking! us three had tea with the K and Q and afterwards played [card game] Racing Demon with the Queen. At seven L and i went to our baths. L and i had supper in our night things in the nursery. At about eight, L and I and Bobo [nursery maid Margaret MacDonald] walked down to their shelter, miles away. L and M sleep on two bunks on top of each other (M on top) and Mrs Knight [nanny] on a bed in the same room. I was put in an adjoining room. M made us laugh a lot. The K and Q looked in on me to say good night. 
Sunday, November 10 
Came up from the shelter at a quarter to eight and dressed. Lunch 1.15. Two Eton boys came, the Spencer boy [later Earl Spencer, father of Princess Diana] and another. L and I had to make conversation to [sic] them! Afterwards L, M and I went for a long walk in the Home Park with the K and Q and ran into the Archbishop of Canterbury. tea with them and cards with the Q again after. She was very chatty to me. I simply love her. bath then supper. Marched down to the shelter again complete with apples, clocks, books, etc! I left the door open to talk and I went into [the princesses’] room twice to get something and they came into mine when an emergency [light] came on in my room. M made me die with laughter by asking me if I thought L and her and myself were pretty! We went to sleep after the news, about 9.15, as we bring the wireless down. 
Monday, November 11 
We Got up soon after 7.30 and went upstairs through miles of icy cold corridors and staircases. Lovely cheerful nursery breakfast. In that Castle, with its gilded rooms and red corridors, there is an atmosphere of happy family life that I myself have never known. 
Sunday, November 17 
I do want more than anything in the world to be a lady-in-waiting when i grow up, but I should like always to be Lilibet’s friend whatever happens. 
Tuesday, December 3 
Lilibet’s hair is worse now that it is curled than before, I think, because she’s got it in little flat curls close to her head all round the back, very tight in front. 
Tuesday, December 21 
Lilibet did shortbread [at Guides], and I did bread pudding. Lilibet actually likes washing-up and does more of it than the rest of us put together! I much prefer needlework, which L hates! 
Alathea Fitzalan Howard documents her life after was sent to live with her grandfather, Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent, at Cumberland lodge in Windsor Great Park during World War II
Alathea Fitzalan Howard documents her life after was sent to live with her grandfather, Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent, at Cumberland lodge in Windsor Great Park during World War II
Thursday, March 6 
Lilibet, M and i set off for the Red Drawing Room, where we were joined by three Grenadier officers. then all the RAF officers filed by, shaking hands with L. Lilibet finds making conversation very difficult, like me, but she did very well, as she had to stand by herself for over an hour talking to each one in turn. She insisted on bringing the dogs in because she said they were the greatest save to the conversation when it dropped!
Sunday, March 9 
L turned her hair under and asked me if i liked it and I said no. We played cards till lunch, then went outside. We laughed a great deal and had great fun spitting over a bridge into a stream, trying to hit leaves as they floated by! Crawfie is such fun; I don’t think Monty would approve of spitting! Didn’t get back till 4.30 and we got very giggly and silly at the end because we were so exhausted! Crawfie and I were walking slowly arm-in-arm down the steep slope from the terrace and L pushed us and we hurtled down and collapsed into a bush and laughed so much we couldn’t get up. 
Saturday, March 15 AnnabeL [daughter of Sir Cecil Newman] thinks Lilibet has an enormous chest! It is a great pity as it’ll be awful one day. 
Saturday, March 22 
We had dressed crab that the King and Queen had brought back live from Plymouth. Ate chocolates with the Queen afterwards, then we went out with Crawfie before tea with the K and Q. He asked me if I was ‘hair conscious’ too, as Lilibet is always fiddling about with her hair now. So i said, ‘Yes!’ the Queen asked me if i powdered my face. She is so sweet and kind and without being beautiful she has such irresistible charm one could not help loving her. She has won my unswerving adoration — oh, if only I had a mother like that. 
Thursday, April 3 Last lesson for this term [Alathea was sharing weekly drawing lessons with the princesses at Windsor Castle]. Afterwards, we played cards till tea. they said something about Philip, so I said, ‘Who’s Philip?’ Lilibet [aged 14] said, ‘He’s called Prince Philip of Greece’ and then they both burst out laughing. I asked why, knowing quite well! Margaret [ten] said, ‘We can’t tell you,’ but L said, ‘Yes, we can. Can you keep a secret?’ then she said that P was her ‘boy’. Monty asked me if i had one, and in the end, I told them it was Robert Cecil [guardsman at Windsor, and future Marquess of Salisbury], which amused L. M said she was so glad I had a ‘beau’! We all laughed terribly. I must say Lilibet is far more grown-up than I was two years ago. When I left, she said, ‘We part today the wiser for two secrets,’ and I biked home feeling very proud at being let into such a great secret, which I shall never betray. 
Wednesday, April 9 
Biked to Forest Gate and met the princesses [and three other friends]. We drove to a lovely part of the forest, where we stopped and went for a walk, picking primroses. Had tea on rugs, which we spread out under the trees. Lit a fire to warm ourselves by. I was very surprised that the princesses came by themselves without [nanny] Mrs Knight — I think it must have been about the first time; of course, they had a detective. Packed up and set off in the cars to look for the German plane shot down in the forest last night. took some time finding it, but when we did, it was well worth it. It was a huge thing, completely smashed, and we picked up bits as souvenirs. 
Tuesday, April 15 
Hugh Euston [Grenadier guardsman at Windsor Castle — also earl of Euston and descendant of Charles ii and his mistress Barbara Villiers] came to dinner and we had great fun. 
Monday, April 28 
Letter from Lilibet [who had turned 15 a week before] — very nice, quite long. it was signed ‘with love from Elizabeth’. I’m wondering whether one oughtn’t to begin calling her Princess now she’s older. 
Monday, may 5 
Letter from Sonia [daughter of eminent radiologist Dr Harold Graham Hodgson] saying she’s been to tea with the princesses and they talked about young men. L told her that she adored Hugh Euston, so S said that I did, too, so they laughed and laughed! L [also] told her that she had a beau but didn’t say who. 
Saturday, may 17 Walked to Royal Lodge and was met by the princesses. Said, ‘How do you do,’ to the K and Q who were sitting on a bench in the garden and soon after the K drove us back to Castle in his own open sports car, which was an exciting experience! The Q gave me her silk scarf to put over my head. If only she knew how much I adored her! 
Saturday, May 24 
Dancing [lesson]. Had biscuits and orange juice in nursery with the princesses. After tea the Q, the princesses and I played Racing Demon in her sitting room. I would gladly die for that family if there were a Revolution. 
Thursday, May 29 
Biked to drawing, which we had under the [Castle] terrace. M and I found it hard to stop talking! Monty asked me, ‘Admirez-vous Lord Euston?’ and I said, ‘oui.’ She said she thought so by the way I talked to him on Saturday! We all laughed terribly and M asked if he was my beau, knowing quite well he is!!! She’s very old for her age in those ways — indeed in most ways. 
Saturday, June 7 
After [dancing] class i changed in M’s room as she always bags me but L says i’m to go to hers next time! At lunch, i hoped Hugh e would sit next to me but he was put between the Q and Lilibet. M caught my eye and laughed! After lunch we went out with the K and Q. the K played golf, so we strayed off and presently it poured with rain and we rushed for the tunnel and had to remain there about half an hour as we had thin shoes and no coats. the Q was sweet and very chatty to me and we all sang. M asked me if I liked her, as she said she wasn’t sure!! How could one not like her? She’s inherited all her mother’s charm, more than L. 
Thursday, June 12 
BiKed to the Castle. I said I loved coming to tea. Margaret laughed and said, ‘She adores us,’ and made one of her enchanting faces!!! 
Friday, July 4 [Alathea had been invited to spend the weekend at the castle] At 4pm, Lilibet and I watched their new chameleon on the syringa [lilac] tree, then she and I and Crawfie walked down to Frogmore, where we punted on the lake. Rolled our stockings down to prevent tearing them. After tea we lay on the grass and talked and laughed. We had supper in our dressing gowns in nursery at eight, then L and I sat in her room and read and talked till bed. 
Saturday, July 5 
Breakfast in nursery. Messed about afterwards while Lilibet did lessons, then changed into my blue chiffon for dancing. At lunch, I sat next to Hugh e. [At] 4, we came in and got ready to go to Adelaide Cottage [home of Sir Jackie Philipps, commander of the Castle Company] with the officers. We had tea with the Philipps and three of the officers and after we played the usual games. 
Sunday, July 6 
After breakfast we sat about and also went for a little walk with Crawfie. L said nothing about me staying till Monday, so much against my secret hopes I had to resign myself to leaving this evening; L is funny in some ways — v. matter of fact and uncurious and above all untemperamental. but one can’t have everything. [After] church, we fed the chameleon and then to Frogmore with Crawfie and Monty pulling Margaret, who’d just got up, in a basket on wheels. Got into punt, and then found a nice place to eat our picnic lunch. Great fun — we drank ginger beer out of bottles! We lay out on a rug and talked and read. We had great fun getting back, what with Crawfie’s hat and two dogs falling into the water! 
Wednesday, July 23 
Arrived [at the castle for a dance] and was miserable at first because everyone had long white gloves [and] I should have liked to have worn them. We all filed through into the Red Drawing Room, shaking hands with the K and Q and the princesses. there were nearly 200 there. the Q danced all the ‘funny dances’ and looked lovely in a full frock of white tulle, covered with silver sequins and the princesses wore dresses rather the same as the Q, also from Hartnell, in white lacy stuff embroidered with pale blue marguerites, and they had flowers in their hair and at their waist. No Eton boys, for which I was glad, as we then only had the dashing young ‘cavaliers’ [officers]! I was terrified I wasn’t going to dance with Hugh e but then I met him at the buffet and he said, with that great charm of his, ‘oh, Alathea, I’ve been looking for you all the evening, we must have a dance!’ it wasn’t true but still!! He asked me how many times I danced with him and said she was rather hurt because he only had the first one with her because he was asked to and then not again. We said goodbye about 3.15[am] — P Margaret [aged ten] stayed up till the very end. 
Thursday, July 31 
Lilibet said she had something to show me and when I went into her room to tidy, she took a letter out of a drawer for me to read — it was to Colonel Legh from Hugh E thanking for the dance — she said she’d stolen it and was going to keep it! He’s got nice writing. S
Sunday, August 17 
Mummy and I went for a walk and began talking about Daddy, and she said she didn’t think she could go on living with him after the war. I listened with dry eyes and a heavy heart — somehow I wasn’t surprised. their temperaments differ too widely. but this has affected me deeply. I only wish that tradition demanded they should remain together and make the best they could of the wreck of their own unhappiness. 
Thursday, August 21 
Mummy and I had a conversation about me — she said i’m old fashioned in the ‘old-maidish’ way, which is awful (underlined). I went to bed in tears — life seemed to me so, so hopeless. 
Saturday, August 23 
Went to bed early tonight. oh, how I longed for Hugh to come to me — but this night and the next and many more, I must spend alone, until one day when that greatest desire of every girl will be satisfied. 
Friday, August 29 
Ming-Ming [her younger sister’s nanny, real name Miss Smith] suggested I should do a little mending for myself and I lost my temper and getting a needle I made long scratches on my arm till I drew blood — it relieved my feelings but still I could find no outlet for my pent-up, angry soul. 
Saturday, October 11 
Had tea with Libby Hardinge [daughter of Sir Alexander Hardinge, private secretary to George Vi). two sweet little boys were there — how I long to have a child of my own. I should love it to be Hugh’s too. L told me that he has left the Castle — my heart sank. I shall lose sight of him and he’s sure to marry someone else and meanwhile I've got nobody! Lilibet will be sad he’s gone too. 
Extracted from the Windsor diaries: A childhood With the Princesses by Alathea Fitzalan Howard, edited by Isabella Naylor Leyland, to be published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 8, £25. © Isabella Naylor Leyland 2020 to order a copy for £21.25 go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Offer price valid until 10/10/2020.

How her treasured diaries came to light 

Alathea came into my life in 1975, when I met my husband, Philip. She was his aunt, and I liked her immediately: she was composed, generous, forthright and loved to laugh. When she died in 2001 she left me her diaries, of which there are 64 and in her words ‘not one day’s exception from 1940!’ A year earlier, she had written: ‘My diaries must be preserved and published.’ Alathea Alys Gwendolen Mary Fitzalan Howard, born in 1923, was the elder daughter of Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent, and of Joyce Langdale, who later became Countess Fitzwilliam. Her mother had little interest in children and at the beginning of the war Alathea was sent to live with her rather staid grandfather and maiden aunt Magdalen. Hers was a lonely childhood and the diaries were her greatest friend. She wrote down all her hopes, fears and frustrations and could tell her diary what no one else knew: a perfect confidant. Her only other solace was the friendship she had with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. In adulthood the Queen kept up their friendship, and occasionally they would lunch together. In 2001 she was diagnosed with an advanced brain tumour. During a spell in hospital she received two bunches of flowers and I couldn’t resist looking at the cards to find out who had sent them. One was from Jools Holland, the other the Queen. Alathea died at our home, in what had always been her room, on March 5, 2001.

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