‘It was a surprise to all when Marie agreed to marry King Alexander of Yugoslavia’
FIFTY YEARS ago, the 47-yearold English-educated Peter, King of Yugoslavia died in poverty, a leading contender for the title of most useless 20th century monarch. Peter reigned for just 10 days before his country was invaded by Nazi Germany, and went to his grave an alcoholic and depressive, with nothing but a few bounced cheques to remember him by.
Many blamed his hopeless lot in life on the fact he had mother trouble – big time. His mother Queen Marie, a second cousin of both the Queen and Prince Philip, disliked her husband and son and made no secret of it. From an early age, she preferred the company of her constant companion, an English aristocrat called Rosemary Cresswell, whom she’d met and fallen in love with at school.
Marie, known to friends and family as “Mignon”, was a descendant of QueenVictoria and the daughter, wife, and mother of kings – but what she cared about most in life was not palaces and tiaras but Rosemary, the illegitimate daughter of two wayward if moneyed aristocrats.
The Queen and her so-called “lady-in-waiting” were to end their days anonymously in a block of flats off Chelsea’s Sloane Square, but their lifelong relationship began many years before – as teenagers at Heathfield, the girls’ public school in Berkshire which counts among its old girls Princess Alexandra, actress Marisa Berenson, Jimmy Choo boss Tamara Mellon, and Prince William’s former nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke.
Marie, daughter of King Ferdinand of Romania, arrived there in the summer term of 1919. She’d spent her teens nursing the World War One wounded in her home country.
WHEN she enrolled at Heathfield, described by her parents as a “finishing school” but actually just an ordinary secondary school, albeit for the upper classes, she was, unusually, 19 years old. But as the great-granddaughter of QueenVictoria the doors were opened wide to receive her.
The plump but pretty Marie was placed in Form Va, where she sat next to 15-year-old Rosemary Cresswell. Mignon’s overbearing mother had hoped a dose of English publicschool education would “help her get thin and keep her in touch with royal potentials” – in other words, future husband prospects. It didn’t. Returning from her summer holidays that year, Marie, now approaching her 20th birthday, was placed in the sixth form while Rosemary, now 16, remained in the fifth.
In the spring term of 1920 they continued their studies but suddenly, and without explanation, both girls left. From happily marking their scholastic progress, term by term, the school magazine now pointedly made no further reference to either girl.
If there was a scandal, as seems likely, the mists of time have rolled in