Reviewed by Sarah McCubbin
As with many things, life often seems greener on the other side of the fence. Presumably, the wealthy or titled live with a silver spoon in their mouths while everyone else struggles through a more simple life. Those who work for royalty find themselves caught between two worlds. In her novel, The Royal Nanny, Karen Harper follows the life of one woman, born of common blood, who impacted the royalty of England through her selfless service in good times and in bad. Interwoven with with this mix of facts and fictional embellishments are the stories of the royals themselves. While it is true that they live in bigger houses and have more responsibilities and wealth, their lives are hardly free from the difficulties of loss, death and challenging decisions.
After Charlotte Bill arrived in 1897 as an under nurse, she expected to carry out her duties caring for their two boys but never anticipated all the excitement along the way. Almost immediately after her arrival, she noticed that the Head Nurse was behaving oddly toward the boys with controlling, obsessive behavior. But she was stunned when she realized the nurse was physically abusing the boys, locking them in small spaces and withholding food.
When the Duke and Duchess of York found out, Charlotte, known to the children as Lala, found herself immediately promoted to Head Nurse where she was firmly cemented as a fixture for the family. Over the course of time, she was the primary caregiver for all six of their children in their early years. She was so committed “her children”, as Lala referred to her young charges, that she made great personal sacrifices to stay in her position. In her role as nurse, Lala functions much more like a mother than a hired servant. As the children’s comforter, confidant, cheerleader and friend in later years, her important role in this family cannot be overstated as two of the children became future kings.
When I read historical fiction, I always wonder which parts of the story were real and which parts were fictionalized. So, I was very surprised and happy to reach the end of the book and see that the author had taken great care to clarify which parts of the story were factual and which were not. I think I anticipated this book to read more like a novel with just the right amount of happy endings mixed in with challenges overcome by the characters. The Royal Nanny didn’t fit that mold as Harper attempted to follow Lala’s life very closely. Sadly, many of those closest to her suffered great personal difficulties. It doesn’t have a perfect happy ending. For me, the greatest takeaway from this novel is a reminder to never assume you know another person’s story. A beautiful facade guarantees nothing and everyone needs a kind person in their life who will cheer them on, give wise counsel and never quit.
Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.