His nannies meant so much, Charles proposed to Diana in the nursery

Who were the women who brought up  Charles? They meant so much to the future King he proposed to Lady Diana in his old NURSERY!

  • Charles was ‘a reticent and reflective child’
  • He wrote to ‘Mipsy’ for the rest of her life and was inconsolable when she died 
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Born into the isolated, world of royalty in the late forties little Prince Charles was entirely given over to the care of the royal nannies, who underpinned the whole system.

Throughout the centuries royal children have been brought up, not by their parents, but by the spinster daughters of working-class families.

It was, until relatively recently, these invaluable nannies and governesses – not royal mothers – who assumed responsibility for what child psychologists call the ‘nurturing and loving’ so essential to the emotional development of a child.

Their influence was considerable and long-lasting. On the evening he proposed to Lady Diana Spencer, he chose to do it in the nursery of Windsor Castle.

Bonnie Prince Charles, still less than one, is carried by Helen Lightbody at Ballater Station, Balmoral

Prince Charles, now two, is with nurse Mabel Anderson in 1958

A month after Charles was born in November 1948, Scottish nanny Helen Lightbody, was employed to look after the infant Prince. 

Recommended to Princess Elizabeth by Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, Helen along with nursery maid, Mabel Anderson who was the same age as the 22-year-old Princess, made up the Buckingham Palace nursery along with two nursery footmen and a maid .

The two nannies along with governess Miss Katherine Peebles who was hired five years later, were the bedrock of the Princes’ young life.

It was Nanny Lightbody – Charles called her Nana – who got him up in the morning and dressed him, just as Nanny Alah had once dressed Princess Elizabeth.

Nanny also slept in the same room as him and comforted him if he woke in the night.

As the eldest daughter Princess Elizabeth was being forced to assume more of her ailing father’s public duties and therefore had less time for her son. 

The situation only got worse when she ascended the throne and Charles and also his younger sister Anne’s upbringing was left to the nursery staff.

Naturally Charles adored his nanny. So much so that some eight years later she was asked to leave after a few to many disagreements with Prince Philip, who felt she showed too much preference to Charles over his sister, Anne.

Prince Charles, standing, with nanny Helen Lightbody by his side and cousin Prince Richard of Gloucester with his nanny. They are outside Clarence House in 1951

The Queen holds Charles tightly by the hand as Helen Lightbody carries Princess Anne  

Helen Lightbody with Charles, left,  Princess Anne on their way to Buckingham Palace in 1951

Queen Elizabeth II with Princess Anne, Prince Charles and nanny Helen Lightbody, at a stall during a Sale of Work event in Abergeldie Castle, near Balmoral

Charles was away at school at the time and was heart broken when he discovered she had gone. But he kept in touch with her throughout her life, writing to her and inviting her to landmark events of his own. 

He loved Mabel Anderson in the same way and throughout her life did everything to include her in his – and still does in her old age.

Charles said he does not remember his mother kissing him after the age of eight and wistfully told a girlfriend that his two nannies meant more to him emotionally then his mother ever did.

Just before the Queen and Philip embarked on their six-month tour, Catherine Peebles another capable Scotswoman, was employed as a governess. Charles, she recalled, was a reticent reflective child.

‘If you shouted at him, he would draw back into his shell and you would be able to do nothing with him,’ She said.

When Charles was sent to Cheam School, Princess Anne recalled he would write to ‘Mipsy’ as he mispronounced ‘Miss P’ every day. Anne described how he used to cry into his letters and say, ‘I miss you’, The governess was equally distressed by the absence of the little boy she had come to love and they corresponded regularly for the rest of her life.

Sadly, she died alone in her Buckingham Palace rooms. Charles, his family remembered was ‘inconsolable’ when he was told the news. 

A Picture Post portrait of Catherine Peebles who became King Charles’s governess in 1953 just before the Queen and Philip  embarked on their six-month tour

Prince Charles starting his first day at Cheam School used to write and cry into his letters to ‘Mipsy’ his governess every day

Prince Charles and Princess Anne with their nanny, Mabel Anderson at Euston Station, August 1963

Prince Charles proposed to Diana in the nursery at Windsor castle 

From that day he was born to the day he married Lady Diana Spencer the nursery quarters of Buckingham Place were home to Prince Charles. 

When he came back from school it was always to Mabel’s cosy nursery he ran as his mother was frequently too busy with the affairs of being Monarch to see him straight away.

To Charles the safe haven created by his beloved nannies and governess were always home to him and to this day the place he had some of his happiest childhood memories.

  • Ingrid Seward is Editor in Chief of Majesty magazine and author of Royal Children of the Twentieth Century

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