The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper
Publisher: William Morrow
Published: June 2016
Genre: adult fiction, historical fiction
April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty….
So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—LaLa, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. LaLa knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection.
But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love—the kind of love his parents won’t…or can’t…show him.
Charlotte “Lala” Bill arrives at Sandringham eager to begin as an assistant to the royals’ head nurse. But when she witnesses the young boys’ abuse at the hands of this nurse, she takes matters into her own hands, and forever shapes the landscape of royal nurses and nannies. As she raises each of the children, wondering what she’ll do when the youngest will age out of the nursery and enter the schoolroom, one last royal is born: Prince Johnny, a misunderstood soul and young boy with epilepsy. He’s hidden from view of the public, and the family rarely witnesses his epileptic attacks, but it’s Lala’s steadfast love and determined devotion that unites the family during a tumultuous time in history.
This novel really pulled at my heartstrings. Watching David and Bertie grow up and experience the reign of three different monarchs (great-grandmother Queen Victoria, grandfather Edward VII, father George V) as well as the other children’s interactions with their royal cousins (specifically the Romanovs), witnessing all the changes in history at the turn of the century (electricity, cars, planes, WWI), was fascinating in and of itself.
Some of the dialogue felt a little forced, but it was to give the reader a sense of the passage of time with regard to meaningful events. And, admittedly, I was more curious about David and Bertie, the two kings pre-WWII and all the drama surrounding abdicating the throne. However, Harper wrote a very engaging narrative that made me care more than I ever thought I would about little John, the lost prince. His story is the epitome of the sad, bleak reality of royal children prior to his birth. Royals were presented to their parents for a few minutes each day! Lala changed that. Lala gave these children the love and attention they deserved, especially since their parents could not or would not. And she made a taboo illness a discussable topic, embracing and facing adversity head on instead of brushing it under the rug.
The writing is intimate, revealing the hidden history behind the events of WWI and the deep family connections within. Toss in the upstairs-downstairs point of view of the royal nanny who shaped the kind of nannies royalty seek today, and you’re in for a treat. Fans of King’s Speech and Downton Abbey, royal history buffs, and anyone who loves reading books with family dynamic focus would thoroughly enjoy this novel.
This qualifies as book 12 of 5 library books in 2017.