There’s inevitably been a wealth of press around the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s daughter on 4 June, with the couple naming their little girl Lilibet Diana Mountbatten – Windsor after her paternal grandmother and great – grandmother. While the nod to Harry’s mother is distinctly clear, Lilibet is slightly more obscure – at least for the handful of people left in the world who have yeat to watch The Crown. Rather than honouring the Queen with her birth name of Elizabeth, Harry and Meghan chose to use the royal family’s more intimate name for Her Majesty, calling their daughter Lili for short.
Many people believe that the late Duke of Edinburgh bestowed the nickname of Lilibet on the Queen, whom he met when she had just turned 13 during a visit to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. In reality, however, her beloved father gave her the moniker, which is inspired by her failed attempts to say ‘Elizabeth’ as a toddler. The name apparently stuck within the family, used both in times of great happiness and great tragedy. During her father’s historic coronation in 1973, the 11-year – old future monarch – who remains an avid diary keeper to this day – wrote her impressions of Westminster Abbey under the deading ‘From Lilibet, By Herself’, and George VI often repeated the phrase: ‘Lilibet is my pride, Margaret is my joy’. Tellingly, when the Queen Mother died in 2002, Her Majesty signed her card, which she placed on top of wreath of camellias, ‘In loving memory – Lilibet’, and when the Princess Elizabeth arrived home in Britain after her father’s death in 1952 to assume the throne, her mother greeted her with a stern but loving reprimand, ‘Lilibet, your skirts are much too short for mourning’.
Yet, while the Windsors use the pet name freely behind closed doors, no one outside of the royal family – with the exception of a few confidantes – is permitted to do so. As Sally Bedell Smith notes in her critically acclaimed biography of Her Majesty, The Queen, even ‘daughters of aristocrats’ were forbidden to refer to Elizabeth as Lilibet. (While speaking about the Queen’s comparatively relaxed months in Balmoral each summer, Bedell Smith notes: ‘All guests, including relatives who call her Lilibet and longtime friends, bow and curtsy when they greet her in the morning, and when she retires at night’) In fact, when child refugees arrived in Windsor from the East End during the Second World War, the Londoners’ insistence on colling the future monatch Lilibet during her Girl Guide meetings reportedly caused a fair bit of tension. One notable exception to the family – only rule? The late Margaret ‘Bobo’ MacDonald, the Queen’s nursemaid turned lifelong servant, who used to wake Her Majesty every morning at Buckingham Palace with a pot of Earl Grey and a tray of Marie buscuits.
Philip, meanwhile, first began calling his future bride Lilibet at the end of her teens, after years of romantic correspondence via letter (darling being hit other per name for his wife). After their marriage, the Duke wrote a letter to the Queen Mother, then still Queen Elizabeth, expressing his devotion to her eldest daughter. ‘Cherish Lilibet? I wonder if that word is enough to express what is in me. Does one cherish one’se sense of humour or one’s musical ear or one’s eyes? I am not sure, but I know that I thank God for them and so, very humbly I thank God for Lilibet and for us’.