Those Fictional Nannies & Governesses

I read a wonderful post on why Romance genre readers love governess stories.


The funny thing is none of the reasons apply to me and I’m a graduate of the English Nanny & Governess School.

All the reasons given are wonderful and the post is very good, definitely worth reading.  The mark of a great story, I think, is that different people can enjoy it for different reasons.

So, why do I like governess stories?  Or nanny or any other childcare provider really.

Actually, I hate most of them.  (The ones mentioned in the post are wonderful.)  There are several reasons why.  The most irritating one is when the governess is portrayed as unprofessional, only doing it to get what else she wants and she doesn’t actually even like children.  Another one is when the writer portrays her as hardly interacting with the children at all.  I mean, why have her be a childcare professional if she doesn’t have anything to do with children?  While we’re on the subject, why have children in the story if they’re only there to look cute once in a while?


(Charlotte de La Motte Houdancourt, a duchess, looked after the future King Louis XV of France and is credited with saving his life during a Measles epidemic.)

Don’t even get me started on nannies as villains.  That’s usually for a different genre, thank God.

So, why do I like *some* governess stories, coming from that walk of life in reality?  Childcare professionals are humans (as far as we know) and so they’re all different.  Most have a few things in common, however.  Besides a deep, abiding love of children, we tend to be *highly intuitive* and we derive pleasure from helping, supporting, and nurturing others.  An employer’s success is the nanny’s success, because they can’t do their work without her.  Besides the practical side, the employer would be worried sick about her children and unable to focus on her work.  It was often said back in my nanny days, “Behind every great woman there is another great woman, her nanny.”


(The nanny is the one in tan uniform between the Queen and Prince George.)

Before I go on, I should mention the difference between a Nanny and a Governess.  In the Historical setting, anyone with the proper training and/or experience and integrity could be a nanny while a governess generally also came from the middle or upper classes, but fallen on poorer circumstances.  Today, a governess is a nanny with a four year college degree who can home educate her charges for whatever reason, such as traveling with the employers.  In both time periods, a nanny general works with young children and governesses with older children.


So, what makes me enjoy a governess, or nanny, tale?  It’s when the governess is portrayed as a dedicated professional who enjoys nurturing the children and supporting the employer, obviously.  On top of that, if I see her being intuitive and sensitive and intelligent, that helps.  Nannies and governesses are not supposed to be the center of attention, which means the Hero would be required to pay attention and listen and notice more than a pretty face.

In real life, I was never, ever intrigued by the possibility of a nanny/employer romance.  Ew.  Seriously.  Don’t even get me started.  After thousands of dollars in education and years of employment, that’s really not the reason a professional nanny or governess is there and it almost always ends in disaster, which wastes all the time and money spent on that career choice.  It does happen, but it’s actually very rare.  This is because most employers are married/partnered and a professional governess or nanny would never disrupt the harmony of the home for her own selfish purposes.  That would not be happy or healthy for the children.

And the children always come first.  Always.


The wonderful article that started it all-

My alma mater-


A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR by Brenda Ashford

15798336This is the autobiography of a real nanny, educated at the world-famous Norland College and on the job for 62 years!  It starts with her childhood in the 1930s and goes into the details of her education.  From what I hear, Norland College is the same today, but modernized.  I read it cover to cover.  It’s a real and more fun history than The Unnatural History of the Nanny, probably because it’s a personal story.


NANNY by Jean Bowden

29808You wouldn’t believe the collection of old, obscure, and antique books I owned in Alaska.  I sold almost all of them when we moved to the Lower 48, because shipping them would have cost more than buying them again down here.  Anyway, this is one book I brought with me, because it was just a little paperback and, let’s face it, I can’t be parted from my nanny books.

‘Wendy Craig’s Nanny’ by Jean Bowden is a novelization of a British television show, starring Wendy Craig, about a thirtysomething divorcee getting through a rigid nanny college and going on to be a top notch nanny.  Along the way, she meets all sorts of parents, from the ones who can’t be bothered to the ones whose hearts are ripped out at parting from their precious babies.  Meanwhile, Nanny has her own personal journey, from dealing with the stigma of divorce in the 1920s to choosing her nanny career over marriage to a prestigious man._41570550_nanny_bbc203


The big difference between this nanny book and those you find nowadays is that it’s about an educated nanny, for one.  For two, it’s not about the nanny using the job as a stepping stone to marriage or a ‘real’ job.  This is a dedicated professional, a woman on her own journey who finds true joy in caring for children.

I found my copy on eBay decades ago.  I’ve seen it on Amazon too.

Real Nannies of the Sacred Code


King Tut’s nanny might have been his sister, which means she was a princess.

Being a former professionally trained nanny, I get a little annoyed when babysitters are called nannies or nannies are poorly portrayed in fiction.  Also, the heroine of A Vintage Heart in Hollywood is a Nanny of the Sacred Code.  “A secret society that hoards nannies, who knew?” – the hero


The United States was young and naïve about nannies up until the 1980s, I’d say.  The rich and famous had always employed them, of course, but it seemed the rest of America thought childcare solely the mother’s job.  Besides, all babies did was eat, poop, and cry.  Then, a lot of mothers started working outside the home and dads were expected to do their share.  A lot of eyes were opened to how hard caring for children is and why professional help is often needed.

Nannies were often highly esteemed elsewhere around the world and throughout history.


Charlotte de La Motte Houdancourt, a duchess, looked after the future King Louis XV of France and is credited with saving his life during a Measles epidemic.

King Josiah in the Bible was saved by his nanny when the usurper had all the other royal princes murdered.

Pharaoh Tutankhamen so loved his nanny that he built a glorious tomb for her.

THE TUDORS - Season 4
Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves, Joely Richardson as Catherine Parr, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII, Tamzin Merchant as Katherine Howard, Annabelle Wallis as Jane Seymour, and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Queen Katherine (Season 4-keyart) – Photo: Courtesy of Showtime/Showtime – Photo ID: tudors_gal4_kal_horizontal_b

The future Queen Mary lost her nanny, Lady Bryan, to the future Queen Elizabeth I who lost her to the future King Edward VI.  Oh, those dramatic Tudors.  Guess it was lucky the nanny was the only thing they lost.

The Tudors:

At the height of the Victorian Era, an English lady, Emily Ward, worried that the standard of childcare was suffering and nannies were being mistaken for housemaids.  She founded the oldest nanny school in the world, The Norland College, in 1892.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge employ a Norland nanny to look after Prince George and Princess Charlotte.   The nanny is the one in the tan uniform wearing the brown hat, standing next to Queen Elizabeth II who is wearing pink.


Likewise, Sheilagh Roth, the director of my alma mater, the English Nanny & Governess School, founded that school in 1984.


Celebrities are often accused of not talking about their nannies because they don’t appreciate them and they want the rest of us to believe they do all the work themselves.  Not true.  It’s a matter of family security.  Keeping nannies out of the spotlight keeps  the children out of the crosshairs of those who would harm them.

To get an idea of what it’s like to be a Real Nanny of the Sacred Code, check out these guidelines from the Norland College for their students-

Check out The Unnatural History of the Nanny by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy.  Good luck finding a copy.  I found mine decades ago on eBay.  britishnanny