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The Telegraph

Keeping it in the family – why the Queen’s cousins were always her best friends

Newspapers labelled it her first official public appearance’ It was October 24 1931 and, at the tiny village church of St Mary, Balcombe, five-year-old Princess Elizabeth of York, afterwards Elizabeth II, was one of 12 bridesmaids at the wedding of Lady May Cambridge, her second cousin. Our future Queen was described then as standing “on a pew, chatting to the other three juvenile bridesmaids”, among whom was another second cousin, Lady Mary Cambridge. Older bridesmaids included Princess Ingrid of Sweden and Princess Sybilla of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Both were also Elizabeth’s cousins, great-granddaughters of Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Ingrid was also a granddaughter of Elizabeth’s elderly godfather, her great-great-uncle, the Duke of Connaught. Family, especially her extended cousinhood, has always played an important role in the Queen’s life so it was only a matter of time before TV producers identified in this extended clan for frothy entertainment. The Queen’s father had four siblings who survived to adulthood, her mother eight: so from birth the Queen was richly endowed with first cousins. Then there were second and third cousins, like Princesses Ingrid and Sybilla, on her father’s side offspring of a ‘Royal mob’ that extended across continental Europe from Russia and Romania in the east to Spain in the west, from the northern monarchies of Norway and Sweden to Greece’s imported German-Danish dynasty in the south, on her mother’s side a tight-knit web of Scottish aristocrats. As a small child, the Queen’s social life was dominated by these extended family members. Absent on tour in Australia, her parents missed her first birthday. Instead baby Princess Elizabeth celebrated with a carriage ride with her cousins George and Gerald Lascelles, the sons of her father’s sister, Mary, Princess Royal, and eight-year-old Alexander Ramsay, Elizabeth’s third cousin once removed, who inspired the naming of her first canary, Sandy. Family-only events and decidedly grown up, her birthday parties as a little girl were hosted at Windsor Castle by her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary. Their guest list was dominated by royal uncles and aunts, the princess’s pink-iced birthday cake, made by the King’s chef, a sole concession to childishness. The only guests of Princess Elizabeth’s own age were her cousins, the Lascelles boys, afterwards a director of the Royal Opera House and president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. Since both boys struggled to relax in the presence of their irascible royal grandfather, the gusto they brought to party games was almost certainly constrained.