"The Final Curtsey" by Margaret Rhodes is a gentle, interesting and enjoyable journey through the life of its author, who is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and niece of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The second half of the last century was a time of huge change for British society, and this impacted on the Royal family as least as much as on the rest of us. Margaret Rhodes was uniquely placed to observe this process taking place, and what emerges through her story of her life is a sense of a world that was fast disappearing as the century moved towards its conclusion.
Margaret Rhodes was born into the Scottish landed aristocracy and the world of her childhood was one in which Royalty would often come to stay; in which summer holidays were spent with her cousins, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at Balmoral; in which children were brought up by nannies; and in which only the boys of the family were sent away to receive a formal education. World War II found Margaret, in her late teens, working for MI6 in London while living in wartime lodgings in Buckingham Palace. Perhaps the most striking passages are those dealing with her venturing out onto the streets of London with her cousins Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, in disguise, during the celebrations at the end of the war.
Margaret Rhodes was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947, and three years later the whole family attended her own wedding, to Denys Rhodes. The two settled in Devon, brought up four children, and embarked on a series of trips to exotic parts of the world, especially in Africa and Asia. On one trip they found themselves arrested (with, film star Shirley MacLaine) when a tour of Bhutan coincided with a coup. In 1990, after the death of her husband, Margaret Rhodes was offered a post as Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen Mother, and she spent a great deal of time with her aunt until the Queen Mother's death in 2002.
"The Final Curtsey" is a fascinating book. The author's style is straightforward and accessible, and involves a large cast of those whose lives have intersected with her own: and the Royal family in particular. Margaret Rhodes does not hold back from commenting on aspects of her life, the remoteness of her parents in particular, which were less than ideal: but this is not a book which seeks to deliver deep insights into the characters of her cousins or aunt, nor one which seeks to cast light on those parts of the lives of the Royal family which proved to be of particular interest to the tabloid press during the period it covers.