Thank you to our Baguette Bookworm Suzanna for this review! If you have a royal-related book you would like to report on, let us know!
Since it seems we’ll all be hanging around without much to do outside of the house for another…let’s not think about that. Let’s dive into worlds far from our own, times we weren’t born in, glamour we’ve never personally known. Books! Yes, they take more time and effort than a TV show, but they can often enrich one’s mind, or at the very least make one a very desirable trivia partner!
For this Royal Book Report, we’re actually going royal adjacent. Maybe you’ve never heard of Lady Anne Tennant, born Lady Anne Coke. But if you watch The Crown, you’ve actually seen quite a bit of Anne’s life recreated for the show; her wedding and her home in Mustique were featured in the series; when Princess Margaret meets Roddy Llewellyn, it is at the pool at Anne’s home, The Glen. Though they never formally introduce her in the show, anytime you see Princess Margaret chatting with a tall blonde woman, that is Anne.
Anne’s book “Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown” was released in the UK in 2019, but its US debut was March of 2020.
Anne details her childhood at Holkham Hall as the oldest child of the 5th Earl of Leicester and Lady Elizabeth Yorke. She weighed 11 pounds at birth (yoinks), and was an immediate disappointment because she was not a boy. Two sisters followed Anne, who she was close to and adored. Anne’s father was equerry to George VI and since Holkham Hall is very close to Sandringham, Anne and her sisters were playmates of the Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. During the WWII, Anne and her sister stayed with her paternal great aunt, whose son happened to be Angus Oglivy, future husband of Princess Alexandra. Truly, if I were to detail all the ways Anne is connected to the royals and to some of the other aristocrats that have featured here, this little review would be a series spanning two years of weekly entries.
As you can imagine, someone with this pedigree and level of connection was a natural to be selected as Tatler’s “debutante of the year” and was selected to be one of the maids of honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. Though we’ve heard many accounts of the Queen’s coronation over the years, I still enjoyed reading about Anne’s experiences. I especially enjoyed hearing about Anne’s few years as a single gal. Anne gets gossipy in this section, and as a lover of gossip, this may have been my favorite section (Johnny Althorp ghosted her!) She also spent some of that time as a traveling salesman, selling Holkham pottery to help keep the family estate afloat.
Anne married Colin Tennant, who eventually became the 3rd Baron Glenconner; Antony Armstrong-Jones was their wedding photographer and this wedding was reenacted during season two of The Crown. Now, I had heard some entertaining tales of Colin during Anne’s interviews to promote the book; I thought I was in for some interesting stories about an eccentric aristocrat (And Colin had some very, very colorful family members). I was not entertained by Anne’s recollections of Colin; my mental health clinician hat came out and all I could think about were ways he could’ve been supported had he been born in another era. Anne is very honest about Colin’s struggles with his mental health, how she attempted to help him and how hard it could be to be married to him. He would never follow through with continuing to attend therapy; he was impulsive, purchasing new real estate at the drop of the hat and ordering renovations on existing properties regularly. He purchased the entire island of Mustique on a whim (and did turn it into a successful private playground for the rich and famous. But he also bought AN ISLAND)! He had numerous affairs and made no effort to hide them from Anne. He fathered a child prior to their marriage, who he learned of 50 years later. And the honeymoon story?! Personally, I would’ve divorced him immediately. In the end, Colin cruelly left everything that was his to leave to a staff member. My heart broke for Anne as she recounts the reading of Colin’s will; it’s one of the few moments in the book where she talks about her emotions. But according to Anne, “I married all of my husband…Colin could be charming, angry, endearing, hilariously funny, manipulative, vulnerable, intelligent, spoilt, insightful, and fun.”
Anne and Colin had five children. In that era, a woman of Anne’s rank was not expected to be a hands-on mother; she was expected to be with her husband and the children were expected to be handed off to nannies and then to boarding school. Anne spent much of her time traveling with Colin all over the world. Throughout the book she regrets not being more hands on with their upbringing, thus proving that parental guilt knows no socioeconomic status. Her eldest children had a stream of nannies going in and out of service; her younger children had a consistent nanny and one who would eventually go on to work for the Prince of Wales. Anne’s eldest son struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses for most of his life; he was subjected to treatments that at the time were “state of the art” but that we now know are inhumane and abusive. He became addicted to drugs, dying of hepatitis C in 1996. Her second son passed away from AIDS in 1990. Her third son suffered a severe traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident in 1987. He survived, but was in a coma for four months and intensive rehabilitation for five years. Her youngest children, twin daughters, were born in 1970; they’ve lived very conventional lives.
In 1971, Anne became a lady in waiting to Princess Margaret. She has stated in interviews that she wrote this book because she did not like the way other people were recounting the life of her dearest friend. Her portrait of Margaret is that of a woman who knew her rank and expected to be treated as the daughter of a king but who was kind, considerate, and loving to those closest to her. Anne talks of Margaret’s behind the scenes charity work, much of which I knew nothing about until I read this book. Margaret and Anne were lifelong friends and this book is probably the truest picture we’ll ever get of Margaret, since it was written by one of the few people in her life who truly knew her.
This book is a quick and entertaining read. While I’m not sure Anne’s mission to rehabilitate Margaret was entirely successful, you do learn more of Margaret’s personality when she was with others whom she trusted and was comfortable with. You may or may not come away liking Colin. You will come away being charmed by Anne and adding her to your “people I’d love to sit down and have tea with” list.