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France and Marianne: Dolls for the Little Princesses

Dolls given by the children of France to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret

A pair of pale pink silk slippers with two silver buttons on the front of the shoe joined with a silver link and cut-out moons. With leather soles stamped with crosses.
Shoes ©

France and Marianne and their magnificent ensemble of 360 pieces of clothing and accessories were given to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose in 1938 to mark the State Visit to France by George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The 'little princesses', then aged twelve and eight, did not accompany the king and queen, so the director of the newspaper Le Journal conceived the idea of the dolls as a gift to them from the children of France. The metre-high dolls and their belongings were exhibited to the public in Paris before being dispatched in a huge crate to London. They were formally presented to the princesses at Buckingham Palace by the French Ambassador and were placed on show at St James's Palace in aid of the Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children.

Exhibition of dresses worn by the dolls Marianne and France [Box: KGVI & family]©

Although the dolls were intended as a tangible expression of the entente cordiale between Great Britain and France on the eve of the Second World War, they also served as a showcase for the French fashion industry and the glamorous world of Parisian haute couture. All the famous Parisian designers of the 1930s were represented. Every occasion, time of day and season was accounted for, including Ascot gowns, yachting outfits, fur coats, silk negligees and mackintoshes, all with matching shoes, hats, and gloves.

Photograph of HM Queen Elizabeth when Princess Elizabeth of York and Princess Margaret when Princess Margaret of York, c. 1935©

Ahough Le Journal’s reports about France and Marianne ended with the 1938 exhibition at St James’s Palace, the dolls still had journeys ahead of them. In August 1939 they were sent to Scotland to raise funds for King George V’s Jubilee Trust. During Queen Elizabeth’s royal tour of North America that year, further plans were made to send the dolls to Canada on an exhibition tour in aid of the National Committee en Refugees (CNCR). This tour was a resounding success, inspiring designers, raising funds and creating precedence for future fundraising tours across America of other dolls belonging to the Princesses. They returned to England in 1946, undamaged and internationally renowned.

Click on an object below to learn more about the dolls and their extensive set of outfits and accessories.

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.