Book Review: The Windsor Diaries by Alathea Fitzalan Howard

Published in Australia on the 13th October, 2020 by Hodder & Stoughton, an imprint of Hachette Books.

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Format: Trade Paperback

Australian RRP: $34.99

Genre: Non Fiction, Diaries, Journals.

Page Count: 336

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sypnosis from Hachette Books Australia

The Windsor Diaries are the never-before-seen diaries of Alathea Fitzalan Howard, who lived alongside the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Windsor Castle during the Second World War.

Alathea’s home life was an unhappy one. Her parents had separated and so during the war she was sent to live with her grandfather, Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent, at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. There Alathea found the affection and harmony she craved as she became a close friend of the two princesses, visiting them often at Windsor Castle, enjoying parties, balls, cinema evenings, picnics and celebrations with the Royal Family and other members of the Court.

Alathea’s diary became her constant companion during these years as day by day she recorded every intimate detail of life with the young Princesses, often with their governess Crawfie, or with the King and Queen.

Written from the ages of sixteen to twenty-two, she captures the tight-knit, happy bonds between the Royal Family, as well as the aspirations and anxieties, sometimes extreme, of her own teenage mind.

These unique diaries give us a bird’s eye view of Royal wartime life with all of Alathea’s honest, yet affectionate judgments and observations – as well as a candid and vivid portrait of the young Princess Elizabeth, known to Alathea as ‘Lilibet’, a warm, self-contained girl, already falling for her handsome Prince Philip, and facing her ultimate destiny: the Crown.

My Review:

I received a copy of The Windsor Diaries from Hachette Books Australia in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.

The Windsor Diaries was such a melancholic read, for a couple of reasons. It chronicles the lonely Alathea Fitzalan Howard’s teen years, where she wrote in her diary throughout these five years as her only solace, her company during the uncertain, terrifying and worrying wartimes.

I’m quite the British history enthusiast, so I absolutely loved the detail that was within The Windsor Diaries, Alathea’s entries really captured the atmosphere, uncertainty and devastation of these troubling times, I mean there were instances where she and others had to scurry down into a bomb shelter, how terrifying would’ve it been to wake up to the sound of a bomb raid!

I’m surprised though that Alathea Fitzalan Howard wasn’t more well known until these diaries were published, truthfully. As I was reading The Windsor Diaries, I found myself searching online for more information about Alathea in her later life and was definitely quite surprised to read that search results only pointed towards the book! It’s just quite sad to me, purely because this woman was such a melancholic and lonely character, feeling so unloved throughout her life and always seeing things through a curtain, it felt, as close as she was to the then Princess Elizabeth, I was surprised to read that Alathea never became a Lady in Waiting to her, whether of not because Alathea herself was a Catholic, I suppose, remains to be seen.

Speaking of, it’s probably worth noting that if Alathea had been born a bit, she would’ve succeeded to the Duchy of Norfolk, which is the most prestigious Dukedom in England. What struck me quite profound and saddening about The Windsor Diaries was how miserable and unloved Alathea was, being quite blatant in admitting that she doesn’t feel love from her own Mother, which was absolutely devastating to read about, I mean, Alathea just did not hold back in often stating how miserable she felt, how lonely she was outside of the company of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, especially with the former and how she was happiest in the to be Queen’s company!

Alathea’s insights into the mannerisms and persona of Princess Elizabeth were absolutely fascinating to read about, detailing how the two Princesses and their Parents (Queen Elizabeth and George the Sixth), were all such a close tight knit family and how Elizabeth was always so groomed from such a young age to fill the role of Queen, that she didn’t allow herself the company and luxury of friends, which seemed quite sad! It was also really endearing reading about the little Pantomimes that Alathea, the Princesses and other young courtiers put on, with The Princess Elizabeth sometimes playing the boy characters!

What did make me smile though were the fun little outings that Alathea had with the young Princesses and the Queen, I know it’s been said that The Queen Mother had quite a steely resolve but honestly she was so fond of Alathea, I though, which was terribly sweet. It was really interesting too though, reading about The King as well in his quiet mannerisms and Alathea’s quietly scathing comments about some of the other members of Court and even her thoughts on Princess Elizabeth’s fashion attire made me raise my eyebrows, slightly. Alathea definitely didn’t withhold any filters, which I suppose given how isolated she felt and how lonely and unlovable and depressive she deemed herself, her diaries were really just the one constant solace of her life!

Definitely recommend The Windsor Diaries to anyone who loves an intriguing, personal memoir! Compiled through diary entries, it’s absolutely wonderful that Isabella Naylor-Leyland (who married Alathea’s nephew) and inherited the diaries, abiding to Alathea’s wishes to one day see her diaries published!

An absolutely riveting, fascinating and often devastating read!

Happy Reading (and Happy New Year, lovely Readers),


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