I can’t believe God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen is Rhys Bowen’s fifteenth Royal Spyness mystery. It seems like only yesterday when I picked up the first book and fell in love with the series. In this book, as in the others, Georgie finds herself in difficult circumstances, but this time not because Queen Mary asks her for reports on Mrs. Simpson and her son. Men are being murdered on the royal Sandringham estate. None of them have much in common. A strange phenomenon for Georgie and Darcy to muddle through and figure out. In this episode, Queenie’s faux pas makes for a great laugh. Thanks, Rhys! Well done.
Please welcome Rhys Bowen back to WWK. E. B. Davis
You mention at the end of the book that the British populace really had no idea of the relationship between Mrs. Simpson and the Prince of Wales. Have all of the press gone from one extreme to the other, especially the British press? But then, Wallis Simpson says in Switzerland, reporters followed them. Was it the secret that was only secret in Britain?
RHYS: It was so strange, looking back on it, that the British press had a gentlemen’s agreement not to mention her until the new king declared that he wanted to marry her. Of course, those who traveled knew all about her, because the foreign press hounded them wherever they went. Can you imagine the press today agreeing not to report on Diana, or Meghan and Harry? And you’re right. They have gone to the other extreme, giving these poor royals no privacy at all, and in fact hounding Diana to her death.
Binky, Fig, Ducky, Foggy…all the nicknames! Is this a phenomenon in Britain? Or was this the cute thing do in the upper classes when four names were common? How did they all come to get their names?
RHYS: I suppose the upper class has always had such long and boring names that a nickname was a way of showing affection within the family. If you are called Sebastian Alexander Melville it’s much easier to be called Shrimpy, isn’t it? Sometimes nicknames came about because of looks or size: Tubby, Shrimpy, Froggy, and often these were given in the first years of boarding school.
And this has by no means died out. My husband’s aristocratic family has cousins called Fig (yes, I stole her name) Dudh, and Puff. Puff is a distinguished elderly lady whose nephew is the current Sir Ferrers Vyvyan of Trelowarren.
What is Spotted Dick?
RHYS: It’s a suet pudding. These were popular desserts when I was growing up, houses were cold and we needed calories. Suet is animal fat and suet puddings were stodgy and cooked in a pudding basin. Spotted dick was one made with currents and raisins in it, and would have been served with custard over it. It’s usually a humble dish, a nursery dish, not one for polite company.
As landlords of the manor (even if they don’t really own it), Darcy says they are obligated to have the neighbors in for holiday festivities. So many of the landed gentry lost the family money during the 20th century. Were they obligated to keep up the old traditions even when they couldn’t afford it?
RHYS: Many big estates were sold and divided after WWII because it was impossible to get servants or to pay for coal to heat them. Most people who have managed to keep big estates have been forced to open them to the public, to create attractions like theme parks and zoos. But they still do have celebrations for their estate workers, and local traditions—a harvest festival, for example.
But this takes place in the 1930s when servants were still plentiful and the way of life had not changed.
Does Mrs. Holbrook work well along with Queenie?
RHYS: Mrs. Holbrook is a sweet and tolerant soul. I expect she manages to keep
Queenie in line without being too harsh on her. And of course, Queenie does cook quite well!
When Zou Zou recommends going to an agency to get a cook to replace Queenie, Georgie finds it far too late for a holiday hire. Plan B is to put an advertisement in The Lady. Was that a real publication? Was it a newsletter, magazine, or newspaper?
RHYS: The Lady still exists, unchanged since that time. It’s a magazine with articles about home decorating, flower arranging, plus pictures of hunts and balls and coming out parties (debs not the other kind). And advertisements! My daughter got a job helping at a house party one Christmas through an advert in The Lady.
Georgie’s plans for the holiday in their own home keep falling through. Except for her granddad, no one who they want as guests can come. But due to their boiler breaking, Fig and Binky must vacate their home. So, they invite themselves to Darcy and Georgie’s home. Georgie’s Mummy also arrives having been spurned by the German Max for his mother. What’s the up side for Georgie now that the party will now go to Aunt Ermintrude’s house near Sandringham?
RHYS: The upside is that Georgie won’t be in charge. She’ll be a guest and can enjoy the company without worrying whether anything will go wrong. (Of course it does go wrong, but that’s what mystery novels are all about, aren’t they?)
Georgie hopes that while they are away, Granddad will play draughts with Hamilton (Binky and Fig’s butler). Is that darts when you play for ale?
RHYS: Draughts is the British name for checkers.
Sandringham Estate appears to be northeast of London. You have Darcy and Georgie going through London to get to it. Where is Eynsleigh located?
RHYS: Eynsleigh is in East Sussex, pretty much on a direct route from London to Brighton. So main roads lead into London and then out the other side. Before the war there were no ring roads around the city. And yes, Sandringham is in Norfolk, due NE from London.
Why are/were affectionate displays between parents and children discouraged?
What is cauliflower cheese?
RHYS: Yum! One of my favorites. Cauliflower is cooked, then a cheese sauce is poured over it and it is put under the grill until it becomes bubbly.
Mrs. Simpson calls the future queen Elizabeth (QEI) “Cookie” and Elizabeth (QEII) “Shirley Temple.” Was Wallis Simpson critical of the royal family publicly?
RHYS: She wasn’t in the public eye until the king told the world about her, but at gatherings of social equals she made it quite clear that she loathed the Duchess of York and the young Elizabeth. She mocked the duchess’s dress sense and made fun of the duke’s stammer.
Georgie’s interactions with the royal grandchildren Elizabeth and Margaret were interesting. Does she know Elizabeth is bound for the crown?
RHYS: Nobody had any idea at that time. It was assumed the Prince of Wales would marry and produce an heir. It was a horrible shock to the Duke and Duchess of York to find themselves thrust into the role of king and queen. And Elizabeth always said that she wanted to grow up to marry a farmer and keep horses. Poor thing.
Mrs. Simpson really think she would be accepted as Queen? How could she be that
RHYS: I find it hard to believe now, but the more research I have done, the clearer it is that she really believed that when Edward became king he could override Parliament and the church and make the country accept her as queen. She was, indeed naïve.
After WWI, most Britons weren’t enthralled by Germany or Hitler. I saw footage of the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson as Hitler’s guests on the TV show The Crown, which was real footage. How could a future king be so clueless?
RHYS: How indeed? They were both great admirers of Hitler and the way he had put
Germany back on its feet. I think he was also a little naïve and of course Hitler flattered him. But the British government saw what a threat he could become—put on the throne as a puppet king, which is why they sent him to the Bahamas, safely near the US coastline.
Winston Churchill once said that we should erect a statue to Mrs. Simpson because without her we’d have been conquered by Germany, as Edward would have invited Hitler in.
Does being on time for the royal family mean a half hour early? Or was that just for Queen Mary and King George?
RHYS: It was just King George who had this thing about being early. It was only at Sandringham that this was enforced: called Sandringham Time, but if you read other books in the series you’ll know that Georgie always made sure she was really early for any meeting with the king and queen, just in case.
Does hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?
RHYS: There is certainly a character in the book that this could apply to. You’ll have to read the book to find out which one.
Do you see parallels between 1935 and 2020 for the royals?
RHYS: I do. I think we have Harry who has been so brave in some ways, fought in Afghanistan, but is so emotionally fragile because of the death of his mother that he chooses a dominating woman. Meghan is clearly the one in charge, just as Mrs. Simpson bossed Edward around.
What’s next for Darcy and Georgie?
RHYS: I haven’t started to write the next book yet but I can tell you that it takes place in Paris and may involve a fashion show at Chanel’s salon!