I wonder if you know these verses? They refer to the birth of our monarch. In those days, the Home Secretary was meant to be present at Royal births, or at least sitting outside the bedroom door, to insure that no usurper was smuggled in a warming pan.


Midnight in Mayfair. Hush’d are the dark bricks

In Bruton Street of Number Seventeen.

Inside, the long-case clock sedately ticks.

Outside, a car draws up, and there is seen

Home Secret’ry, Sir William Joynson Hicks.

Softly he enters. Little doth he ween

     That e’er the hall clock strikes the hour of three,

      A future monarch he is going to see.

Hail to the Princess who, ere break of dawn

Salutes Sir William with an infant squawk!

April the Twenty-First, Hail happy morn!

A loyal Empire echoes to the talk.

King George V’s first grandchild has been born,

Child to the fair Elizabeth of York.

     Sleep on, sweet babe, the sun is shining yet

     Upon thy grandsire’s Empire – LILIBET!

The latent imperialism of the final couplet is, of course, not something which a contemporary poet would allow, but in other ways,  the verses are surely rather beautiful?

I was impressed, re-reading the work, by the strophes concerning the Abdication in 1936.

Later the stricken mother would endeavour

To break the news to her bewilder’d child.

“Your Uncle David, usually so clever,

Has been by an American beguil’d.

He must away”. “Oh – Mummie, not forever?”

Bravely, and through her tears, the Duchess smil’d.

          And while the Duchess with her daughter frets,

          Downstairs, the air is thick with cigarettes.

The  anonymously published LILIBET (Blond and Briggs, 1984) chronicles the infancy of our monarch, ending with

Treetops Hotel, and from a balcony,

Binoculars train’d on the water-buck,

She talks to friends of fishing; playfully

Boasting of catch that day. “Beginner’s luck”.

No one replies. Philip approaches. He

Seems oddly silent. He’s not often stuck

     For words. His face is drawn with silent gloom.

    He takes her arm and leads her to her room.

Treetops Hotel, of course, on the Sagama Water in Kenya, is where the Queen learnt of her father’s death, and her own accession to the throne.

Much of the narrative poem, which stretches over 94pages, derives from the recollections of Marion Crawford,  the governess to “The Little Princesses” – though the author also received help from Her Majesty’s then Secretary in supplying the names of all the corgis. Heather, Tinker, Foxy, Buzz, Sherry, Brush and the others are listed, rather in the manner in which Homer catalogues the Grecian commanders and their ships at the beginning of the Iliad.

Recently, some commentators have said it was tactless of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to have called their daughter “Lilibet”, rather than Elizabeth. “Lilibet”, they aver, is a private name, and there was something “cloth-eared” – that was what one of the columnists said – about them, to have appropriated it. Is it possible, though, that in their galumphing way, by calling their child Lilibet Diana, they were trying to single out the two members of the Royal Family whom they most admired? Could they, even, have been holding out an olive branch?   Was it clumsy of the author of “LILIBET”,  back in 1984, thus  to name his poem? I have often asked myself the question, being myself the (then anonymous )poet.