I'm blissfully happy... married to the best and nicest man in the world - the Queen's verdict on life as a newlywed

The Final Curtsey is a memoir offering a remarkably candid insight into the private lives of the Royal Family. Written by the Honourable Margaret Rhodes, a cousin and lifelong friend of the Queen, the book spans eight momentous decades.

Last week, the author described her childhood growing up with the future Monarch.

Here, in the final extract, she recalls the vital role that romance played in the lives of two young women with very different destinies.

Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh

Young love: Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh walking in the grounds of Broadlands, the home of the Duke's uncle, Earl Mountbatten, on their honeymoon, November 1947

I met the man who was to become my husband shortly after the end of the war. I had left MI6 and joined the European Movement  -  an organisation to promote a united Europe  -  as a personnel officer. Denys Rhodes, who was assigned to show me the ropes, was six years older than me and very much a man of the world.

He was born in Ireland where his mother's family had roots in the Irish judiciary, the higher reaches of the Church of Ireland and a touch of the 'Beerage' because of their links with the Guinness family. His father, Major Arthur Rhodes of the Grenadier Guards, was a New Zealander.

When the Second World War broke out, Denys enlisted in the 60th Rifle Brigade, fighting across North Africa and Italy, where he was wounded and brought home. He was amusing, witty, tall and handsome, although not in a chocolate box way.

Unfortunately he was also penniless, but that didn't seem to matter to me at the time. He first kissed me in a taxi going round Hyde Park Corner, which felt comforting and nice, but I was so surprised I did absolutely nothing.

We started going out to dinner and then to clubs where we could dance. The relationship grew into a serious love affair, but there was a major drawback. Denys was married.

His wife was the actress Rachel Gurney  -  Lady Marjorie Bellamy in Upstairs, Downstairs  -  whom he had married in 1945. They were unhappy together and by the time I met him they were living apart.

Margaret and Denys Rhodes on their wedding day

Margaret and Denys Rhodes on their wedding day

Denys was eventually granted an annulment and on July 31, 1950 we were married in St Margaret's, Westminster. Princess Margaret was one of the bridesmaids, but Princess Elizabeth was absent as she was due to give birth to her second child, Princess Anne.

She wrote to me on my wedding morning.

'You must be so thankful,' she said, 'that the great day has arrived at last and I am sure it will be a very happy one for you. I can't really wish you any greater happiness than I have found myself in being married, and I hope that after all the troubles and difficulties your joy with Denys will be extra specially wonderful.'

The King and Queen attended, which was especially important to me, because George VI was my Godfather. There were huge crowds in Parliament Square and for the first time in my life I became, in that much overworked present-day description, a celebrity.

After two weeks at Birkhall, the 18th Century house on the Balmoral estate, and then another blissful two weeks in the South of France, we set sail for New Zealand and my introduction to Denys's relations on the other side of the world.

We made landfall at Christchurch after five weeks at sea.  Denys's aunt Maire was married to a sheep farmer called George Hutton. We herded the sheep, fished, shot and explored, sleeping in the back of a van. It felt as if there was mutton for breakfast, lunch and tea.

It was, in retrospect, an odd way of spending a honeymoon. Each day we climbed through virgin forest to reach the bare hilltops where the deer roamed. They were regarded as pests in sheep-rearing country. One day I went hunting on my own, shot a stag and skinned it with my penknife. It was something of a feat.

After a honeymoon lasting almost a year, we returned home in June 1951 to start house-hunting, and fell in love with a rather dilapidated former rectory called Uplowman near Tiverton in Devon. My darling father bought it for us for £8,500. It had three storeys, six bedrooms and a small flat for the married couple who cooked, cleaned and did the gardening.

We had £3,000 a year, the income from my marriage settlement, and we were incandescently happy.

Uplowman was a wonderfully relaxing environment and nobody seemed to mind if I went shopping with my hair in rollers and a cigarette clenched between my teeth.


I had my first baby, Annabel, in February 1952 in hospital in North London. Once I was in the hands of the midwives, Denys took off to White's, his club in St James's Street, in search of strong drink.

This was well before the days of fathers being encouraged to observe the birth, and personally I did not want him there; it was woman's work, I reckoned.

Anyway a delicious little girl duly arrived, perfect in every detail. Back at home, Annabel was looked after by a nurse who was very efficient but impossibly grand. She name-dropped duchesses she had attended and seemed on intimate terms with many fathers in the membership of White's.

We soon acquired a local farmer's daughter as a nursery maid.

Three more children arrived: Victoria, born in London in 1953, Simon, in 1957 at home and Michael, in 1960. For a short time we had a nanny and a nursery maid as well as a live-in couple. In those days the wage for a couple was £7 a week, and for the nursery maid £3.

Denys would shut himself away in the summerhouse to write. One of his novels, The Syndicate, was turned into a rather awful film which seemed to have little relationship to the book.

We entertained our friends and family at Uplowman. When the Queen Mother, the Queen and Princess Margaret came for the weekend their detectives would be put up in the local pub, where on one occasion Margaret's policeman made very extensive use of the bar facilities.

When the Queen Mother came to stay there was more than usual collaboration with the local constabulary, and coppers would lurk in the bushes round the house.

A footman came to help with the breakfast trays, and the Queen Mother's dresser was allocated one of the children's rooms.

In the evening we played a game in which one person acted out the title of a book, a saying or a song which had to be guessed by the others.

Memorably, one guest, David Stirling, who set up what was to become the SAS, was told to act The Taming Of The Shrew, which involved this immensely tall man pretending to be a mouse running up the Queen Mother's skirts. We were all crying with laughter but David got quite huffy because we thought his acting was not of Old Vic standards.

I put my foot down at housing Margaret's dresser: with our growing family there just wasn't room. Margaret could be a demanding guest, and on one occasion when she brought her husband, Tony Armstrong Jones, the lavatory seat in their bathroom came apart. They wanted a replacement installed at once, but it was just not possible over a weekend and we firmly told them so. For a couple whose every whim was pandered to, they took it quite well and there were no more complaints.

Once, when my aunt, the Queen Mother, was entertained at Uplowman, it was midsummer and the sheep were making a lot of noise, bleating their heads off. In those days we followed the convention of the ladies leaving the gentlemen to their port after dinner.

The Queen Mother thought the men were lingering far too long and marshalled us women outside the dining room window, conducting us in a baa-baa chorus. The tippling men took the hint and joined us in the drawing room for coffee.

While staying at Balmoral Castle, we were sitting in the drawing room one evening with Princess Margaret. 'How is your book getting on?' she asked Denys.

'It's nearly finished,' he replied, 'but I desperately need a title.'

At which point a voice behind us said: 'And I cannot think of a reason for giving you one.' The Queen had entered the room unobserved: this was an example of her quick repartee.

By 1973 we could no longer cope with the 30 acres of land that had come with Uplowman, so we took the dreaded decision to sell the home where we had been so happy. We subsequently moved house twice and were living on the edge of Dartmoor when Denys contracted inoperable lung cancer. I felt as if my world had crashed into a huge, deep, black abyss.

We were four or five hours' driving time from either of our families and I wanted to move closer to London. Money was limited and finding a suitable property was difficult. When the Queen offered us my present home in the Great Park at Windsor, it was positively the most wonderful thing to happen.

We took possession of The Garden House in April 1981. Denys slowly began to drift away. I sat with him, held his hand and then suddenly he wasn't there any more. He died in October, 1981; the end of 31 very special and loving years.

The King and Queen

Wedding bells: The King and Queen headed the guests when the Queen's 25-year-old niece Margaret Elphinstone was married to Denys Rhodes, at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, in July 1950

The winter of 1947 blew in with heavy snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures, meaning serious fuel shortages and power cuts. A frozen Britain lived and worked by candlelight. So the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Philip Mountbatten, newly minted as a British subject, in November that year, brightened our austerity-ridden post-war world.

My cousin had been enamoured of Prince Philip of Greece from an early age. I've got letters from her saying: 'It's so exciting. Mummy says that Philip can come and stay when he gets leave.' She never looked at anyone else. She was truly in love from the very beginning.

I was a bridesmaid at the wedding and I recall being on the Palace balcony, standing between Princess Margaret and another cousin, Diana Bowes-Lyon, gazing down on the crowds who from that distance seemed Lilliputian.


 I was at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, as one of the privileged 8,000 invited to the Abbey. We all received a list of do's and don'ts from the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, including notes on what we should wear.

I was pregnant with my second daughter, Victoria, so I had to have my dress let out around the waist. We had to get there hours before the ceremony and were rigidly enclosed. At the time I wondered about the predicament of the elderly peers when nature beset them.

Throughout the ceremony Denys and I sat on stools stamped with the Royal cypher, and were allowed to take them away as souvenirs. One is now, a touch lèse majesté, in the loo and the other in my bedroom.

There were eight bridesmaids, the traditional number for a Royal bride. We flitted round the redcarpeted corridors of the Palace waiting for the cars to take us to Westminster Abbey and I remember waving to the crowds.

The newly-wed couple spent part of their honeymoon at Birkhall. My cousin wrote to me from there, two weeks after her marriage, describing its beauty under the December snows, the peace and quiet and how the local people left them undisturbed. 'Scots are nice that way,' she said.

There were shooting outings, but the stalkers, who because of the eccentricity of their attire resembled a very mixed rag-bag, rather took the Princess aback.

'We were,' she said, 'confronted with the most scurvy looking lot of ruffians that I have ever seen!'

Thereafter, having found her army boots and leather jerkin 'I looked more in keeping with everyone else'. She added: 'I couldn't help wishing that a photographer would come along, just for once, as he would never have believed what he saw! I imagined that I might be like a female Russian commando leader followed by her faithful cut-throats, all armed to the teeth with rifles.'

The seclusion of Birkhall was in strong contrast to the first part of her honeymoon which was spent at Broadlands, the Hampshire home of Earl Mountbatten, where she and Philip had little escape from a curious Press and public; the crowds arriving on foot, by car and by motor coach, besieging Romsey Abbey, where they attended morning service on the first Sunday of their week's stay.

Those who couldn't get inside climbed on tombstones, and propped ladders and chairs against the walls so as to peer through the windows.

The Princess in her letter told me that although she liked Broadlands, 'we were terribly pestered by the Press, and, of course, our going to church at Romsey Abbey was a most vulgar and disgraceful affair'.

However she was obviously content with the state of matrimony and in a postscript wrote: 'I'm blissfully happy, in case you weren't aware of the fact and I'm enjoying being married to the best and nicest man in the world.'

Colin Firth in The Kings Speech

I recently went to see The King's Speech, the film about George VI. I found it immensely moving and felt it was as reasonably accurate as was possible. Indeed, tears flowed at various moments

It has been my greatest good fortune to have been with my cousin through her childhood years and later as Queen. We are now both old ladies, but she is an amazing person in so many ways and I am sure that history will mark her out as an exceptional sovereign.

She has led her country unerringly through several difficult periods. She is pragmatic and able to see clearly what line to take when others have been less sure. I admire her with all my heart. But she is also a human being, a mother, daughter and sister and I fully understand the hurt that must have been caused by the marriage failures of her three eldest children. I only hope the nation does, too.

I clearly believe that after 59 years of being Sovereign, she has seldom put a foot wrong. She has always put the good of the nation first and it is reassuring to know that we will have her son and grandson following in her footsteps.

After the Queen Mother died my life changed radically. My social life became minimal, although I have regular stays with the Queen at Balmoral and Sandringham, which, as always, are hugely enjoyable.

I allow myself to be spoilt at Sandringham. I have breakfast in bed, and don't get up before ten in the morning. I read the newspapers and go for long walks: it is all very undemanding. The Queen still rides sans hard hat, but I don't, and fishing and shooting have now become spectator sports for me.

At home in Windsor Great Park, where I have lived longer than I have anywhere else, I am surrounded by the memorabilia collected during a long and happy life. Every photograph, every painting, every piece of furniture tells a story.

My immediate surroundings are not in any way grand, although there is grandeur up the road. You can't see the castle from where I live, but it's good to know it's there, over the horizon and inhabited by people who have been so kind to me. The Queen drops in on me sometimes on Sunday after Matins in our little chapel, and we exchange the latest news.

I'm still active. No one has taken my driving licence away; woe betide them if they try, and I still do the long run up to Scotland by car.

I do rather a lot of gardening;  chugging round the lawns on my tractor-mower and keeping the weeds at bay. I go for a walk every day with my West Highland terrier.

I have four children to be proud of, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and they gather round at Christmas, filling my spare beds, with mattresses for my grandchildren. It's chaotic, but great fun.

I have now been to the funerals of all my brothers and sisters. It makes me feel rather like a species of dinosaur left behind by evolution.

There are no close family members of my generation left to ask 'Do you remember?' or 'What happened then?'

On the other hand there is a great sense of relief that I can just be myself; get up when I like; go to bed when I like and have my meals when I like. I no longer really mind what other people think, and so there is much to be said for antediluvian freedom.

There are a million things I still want to do and places I long to see, but meanwhile I am a happy and contented person.

Words and pictures c.2011 Margaret Rhodes

The Final Curtsey by Margaret Rhodes is published by Calder Walker Associates, priced £17.99. To order your copy at the special price of£15.99 with free p&p, please call the Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit www.MailLife.co.uk/Books