As baby Archie's new nanny is revealed, how do the royals choose their childcare?

Chris Allerton / SussexRoyal via AP
Chris Allerton / SussexRoyal via AP Photo: Supplied

From superintendent of the nursery to part-time big sister, the transformation of the royal nanny is a fascinating one.

As with so many aspects of royal protocol, the role has evolved with each generation - from Queen Victoria's era, when nursemaids and governesses were expected to exercise complete authority in the nursery and devote their entire lives to their charges, to the newest generation of royal parents, who have a far more hands-on approach to their children, using nannies only to fill in the gaps.

In many ways, the Royal family's childcare choices are a good marker of the times - Prince William, for example, has always taken a thoroughly modern approach with his own brood compared with his parents, who gave their sons a very formal, old-fashioned upbringing.

Prince George and Princess Charlotte's nanny Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo.
Prince George and Princess Charlotte's nanny Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo. Photo: Supplied

Indeed, the Cambridges sent ripples through society circles when they advertised for a general housekeeper, not a nanny, after the birth of Prince George (though they have since employed Norland nanny Maria Borrallo full-time).

Now it is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's turn to navigate through this particular parenting minefield. The couple have already come under fire for various choices, though allegations that they have already got through a succession of nannies are said to be unfounded.

Photographs published in the Sun this week revealed that their new British nanny - who is now with them full-time and is likely to be seen on their autumn tour - accompanied them on holiday to France.

"You get the impression the Sussexes are a very modern couple and she has things she wants to do," says Penny Junor, the royal biographer. "Meghan is going to want to get out there, and for that she will need nannies. She was at Wimbledon very early on. Most mothers would still be stealing moments of sleep at that stage.

"It seems as though Kate is also a pretty hands-on mother. She's more like a normal working mum. She uses her parents for childcare, just as lots of parents do. That may not be possible with Meghan and Harry, as [Doria] will be in Los Angeles."

William and Harry were looked after by a string of nannies when growing up, the last of whom, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, was a special guest at both their weddings. Legge-Bourke was an unconventional choice, hired by Prince Charles in 1993 after his separation from Diana, Princess of Wales, when he needed someone to help care for his sons, who by that time were too old for a nanny. Rather than ruling a royal nursery, the youthful Tiggy acted as a kind of older sister and friend to the princes, accompanying them on outings with their father.

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Diana was so threatened by her that she wrote a letter to her butler, Paul Burrell - later shown at the inquest into her death - alleging Prince Charles was planning to have her killed so he could "marry Tiggy". "My husband is planning 'an accident' in my car... in order to make the path clear for him to marry Tiggy," she wrote.

She is said to have sacked one of her sons' earlier nannies, Barbara Barnes, because she was jealous of the bond she had formed with William. "There was a side of Diana that was rather jealous of the nannies and the relationships that they subsequently struck up with the children," said Katie Nicholl, the journalist and royal biographer, in a documentary last year.

Australia's royal visitor, Prince Charles, with his Nanny, Helen Lightbody. November 10, 1977. (Photo by Popperfoto).
Australia's royal visitor, Prince Charles, with his Nanny, Helen Lightbody. November 10, 1977. (Photo by Popperfoto). Photo: Fairfax Media

Diana's upbringing was of the traditional aristocratic school of thought, with her early years spent in the nursery wing at Park House on the Sandringham Estate. This was the era when children spent every waking moment with their nanny. When it came to her own boys, Diana didn't stray far from the old formula. "She was very loving and there were lots of hugs, but the children lived in the nursery wing, which was behind a door, and had their meals with the nanny," says Junor.

Prince Charles's childhood had been much the same, with a string of governesses, one of whom remained dear to all four of the Queen's children. Mabel Anderson was once referred to as "the most influential woman in Prince Charles's life"; he, meanwhile, described her as "a haven of security, the great haven". She was also close to Princess Anne, for whom she temporarily came out of "retirement" to help raise her son, Peter Phillips. Miss Anderson was said to have been the first nanny to have wholemeal bread on the Royal children's breakfast table. She finally retired in 1981, after 32 years' service.

Prince Andrew, on the Lap of his Nanny Miss Mabel Anderson, Leaves Buckingham Palace for the first time. April 14, 1960. ...
Prince Andrew, on the Lap of his Nanny Miss Mabel Anderson, Leaves Buckingham Palace for the first time. April 14, 1960. (Photo by United Press International Photo). Photo: United Press International Photo

Some royal nannies, however, have been less highly favoured. Miss Helen Lightbody, a stern Scottish governess, was reputedly dismissed in 1956 because she disagreed with the Queen over the suitability of one particular pudding for the eight?year-old royal stomach.

It's rather a recurring theme, the revolving door for palace nannies - a whole host have been dismissed for allegedly overstepping the mark. The Queen's own governess, the once beloved "Crawfie" (Marion Crawford), went out of favour when she began writing about the princesses (the then Princess Elizabeth had by then married and was no longer in need of a governess) in American magazines. Queen Elizabeth was furious, declaring that Crawfie had "gone off her head" and refusing ever to see her again.

Perhaps realising that there was no way back, the following year Crawfie published The Little Princesses, about serious, tidy Lilibet and cheery little Margaret Rose. She later retired to Aberdeen, buying a house 200 yards from the road to Balmoral. Although the family regularly drove past her front door on their way to Balmoral Castle, they never visited.

Nanny Mabel Anderson with Master Peter Phillips.
January 27, 1981. (Photo by Syndication International).
Nanny Mabel Anderson with Master Peter Phillips. January 27, 1981. (Photo by Syndication International). Photo: Syndication International

The Queen's father, George VI, and Edward VIII are said to have been abused by one of their early nannies, as suggested in the film The King's Speech, when George, played by Colin Firth, tells his speech therapist his first nanny would pinch him to get him to cry just before handing him off to his parents. This would prompt his parents to return the screaming child to the nanny, who would then torment the young prince. "It took my parents three years to notice," says Firth in the film.

The credentials and duties required of a royal nanny have, of course, changed considerably over the centuries. Charles I replaced his eldest son's first governess, the Countess of Roxburghe, when the Protestant public objected to a Roman Catholic raising the future Charles II. And in the case of Louise Lehzen, Queen Victoria's nursery governess (who devoted herself to the princess for 20 years), she was chosen by the Duchess of Kent to look after the little princess specifically because she appeared to be the sort who would do what she was told.

The Duchess was, at this time, determined to secure the job of regent, which would allow her to rule the country through her daughter. Lehzen is said to have protected her young charge and when Victoria finally came to the throne in 1837, the 53-year-old was rewarded with the job of personal secretary, complete with account books and a set of keys. Prince Albert, finding his wife was under the thumb of an uppity servant, referred to her as "the hag", while she couldn't see the point of him at all.

The Sussexes are part of a new generation of royal parents determined to balance their royal duties with a close relationship with their children. Their solution to the 21st-century problem of work-life balance seems to be a hands-on approach to parenting with plenty of help from part-time nannies and family members (it is thought the Duchess's mother, Doria, will lend a hand whenever she is in the country).

But their choice of a more permanent minder for Archie will be crucial. A nanny plays a significant role in any child's life, but when that child will find themselves and their family under constant public scrutiny, a "third parent" can be a source of great stability. Baby Sussex's father and grandfather both found comfort in their caregivers during difficult times. Could Archie's new nanny be his very own Tiggy?

The Telegraph, London