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Elizabeth [née Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon]free

(1900–2002)
  • Lawrence Goldman

Elizabeth (1900–2002)

by Cecil Beaton, 1970

Elizabeth [née Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon] (1900–2002), queen of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British dominions beyond the seas, sometime empress of India, consort of George VI, later styled Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, was born on 4 August 1900, the ninth of the ten children, and the youngest of the four daughters, of Claude George Bowes-Lyon (1855–1944), Lord Glamis, afterwards fourteenth earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and his wife, Nina Cecilia (Celia), née Cavendish-Bentinck (1862–1938). Celia was the daughter of the Revd Charles William Frederick Cavendish-Bentinck and his second wife, Caroline Louisa Burnaby of Baggrave Hall, Leicestershire, and a cousin of the sixth duke of Portland. Elizabeth's birth was registered as having taken place at the family home of St Paul's Walden Bury, near Hitchin, Hertfordshire, though there is some doubt about this, and it has been suggested that the delivery occurred in a horse-drawn ambulance in London or perhaps at her parents' town house in Grosvenor Gardens. For failing to register the birth within the required forty-two days Lord Glamis was fined 7s. 6d. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was christened at All Saints' Church, St Paul's Walden Bury, and was nursed by a local farmer's daughter, Clara (known as Allah) White.

The family was descended from ancient Scottish royalty and nobility. Sir John Lyon (d. 1382), keeper of the privy seal, chamberlain of Scotland, and son-in-law of Robert II of Scotland, was granted the Glamis estate, near Forfar in the Scottish lowlands, by his king in 1372. His descendant Patrick Lyon, ninth Lord Glamis, was created first earl of Kinghorne by James VI and I in 1606. His grandson, also Patrick Lyon, became earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne in 1677. In the eighteenth century the ninth earl married Mary Eleanor Bowes, heir of the Bowes family of co. Durham who owned substantial lands rich in coal. On the death of her grandfather, the thirteenth earl, in February 1904, Elizabeth, as the daughter of an earl, was styled Lady Elizabeth. The family was not particularly wealthy by the standards of the Edwardian aristocracy, but enjoyed, nevertheless, the lifestyle of that privileged class.

Childhood and education

Elizabeth spent her first fourteen years at the country house in Hertfordshire and at 20 St James's Square, London. In the late summer and autumn each year the family moved to Glamis Castle. She enjoyed a carefree childhood among her older brothers and sisters. She was especially close to her youngest brother, David, the last of the children, who was born in May 1902, and with whom she was educated in the household. From the age of five Elizabeth had a much-loved French governess, Mlle (Madé) Lang, from whom she derived her very good and lasting command of the French language. (Much later, on the fall of France in 1940, she was able to broadcast to the women of France in their own language.) In 1913, after Madé had departed in the previous year to marry, a second governess, Fräulein Kuebler, known as ‘Miss Fräulein’, came from Germany. Less of a success, she returned in the following year. Elizabeth attended a kindergarten in Marylebone High Street and also, for a matter of months, the Misses Birtwhistle's day school in Sloane Street at the age of twelve. Her education lacked academic rigour, but she was interested in history, and like many girls of her class and period she learned to draw and paint, to dance, and play the piano. She was bridesmaid at the weddings of her brother Patrick and her sister Mary in 1908 and 1910 respectively. Elizabeth and her sisters were friends of the children of the prince and princess of Wales, from 1910 King George V and Queen Mary. According to an apocryphal story, at the age of four Lady Elizabeth apparently found herself seated next to her future husband, Prince Albert, then aged nine, the second son of the prince of Wales, at a children's party in Mayfair. It is said that they discussed her horse and pets.

The First World War

War was declared on the day of Lady Elizabeth's fourteenth birthday. If her steadfastness and courage during the Second World War were among the most memorable features of her later reign, Elizabeth learned the meaning of war, and saw some of its consequences, as a teenager during the First World War. The family left London for Glamis Castle, which became a hospital for convalescing soldiers recovering from their wounds. The castle, largely dating from the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, was supposedly haunted by several different ghosts, among them the hairy, egg-shaped Monster of Glamis, but was an ideal location for soldiers' recuperation, a process that was assisted by Elizabeth's games, pranks, friendship, and kindness to the men billeted with the Bowes-Lyon family. With a notable gift for conversation, she became a real favourite among the more than 1500 soldiers who spent time at Glamis, some of them Australians discharged from Dundee Infirmary.

The Bowes-Lyon family could not long remain untouched by the conflict. Four of her brothers enlisted. In September 1915 Fergus, a captain in the Black Watch, and the sixth of the ten children, was killed at the battle of Loos. In 1917 Michael, the eighth child, who had left his studies at Magdalen College, Oxford, to join up, and was a captain in the Royal Scots, was reported dead. Three months later the family learned that he was in a German prison hospital with a serious wound to the head. His return to Glamis, unannounced, in 1919 was a memorable day. Mourning the loss of a son, Lady Strathmore withdrew from social engagements, and after her sister Rose married in May 1916, Elizabeth found herself largely responsible for running the hospital. In December of that year, when a fire broke out, she saved Glamis by phoning immediately for the local fire brigade and organizing the retrieval of the most valuable objects. The last of the patients left the castle in 1919 and in the same year her mother organized a coming-out dance for Elizabeth. But she had long since grown up in other ways, leaving her carefree Edwardian childhood behind.

Royal marriage

After the war the focus of Lady Elizabeth's life moved back to London, where she was widely known and admired for her beauty, grace, and poise, but was not a renowned socialite. She herself was drawn to Major James Stuart, a younger son of the seventeenth earl of Moray, later an MP, Conservative chief whip, secretary of state for Scotland, and first Viscount Stuart of Findhorn. He was then equerry to Prince Albert, known as Bertie, created duke of York in 1920 [see George VI (1895–1952)], whom she had met again at dances and balls in London. The duke had also fallen for Lady Elizabeth's charms. He was first invited to Glamis in 1920 and returned in the following year. As he then wrote to his mother, Queen Mary, 'It is delightful here and Elizabeth is very kind to me. The more I see of her, the more I like her.' His admiration was shared by the queen and her husband, George V, who thought that this pretty, natural, level-headed, and unassuming young woman would be a good partner for their unconfident son. Initially, indeed, they had thought her a possible match for Bertie's elder brother, Edward, prince of Wales (subsequently Edward VIII). Although a betrothal was expected, Elizabeth had her doubts and reservations about her suitability for public life and perhaps about her feelings for the duke. She apparently turned down his first two proposals of marriage but eventually accepted him during a walk in the woods at Walden Bury on 13 January 1923. In triumph he telegraphed a pre-arranged message to the king and queen, 'ALL RIGHT. BERTIE'. He was the first royal prince close to the succession to become legally engaged to a non-royal since James, duke of York, later James II, in the seventeenth century. The betrothal was made public two days later; the wedding, conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, took place on 26 April 1923 in Westminster Abbey. In a famous and significant gesture, during the ceremony Elizabeth placed her bouquet of flowers on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. After a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace and an appearance—the first of many, and by no means the most memorable—on the palace balcony facing The Mall—the couple honeymooned at Polesden Lacey in Surrey, then the home of their friend the society hostess Mrs Ronald Greville.

The duke of York was nervous, had a bad stammer, disliked public engagements, and was in the shadow of the prince of Wales. In 1926, at the suggestion of the duchess, he agreed to see the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who assisted him successfully for several years. It was evident very soon that with the duchess by his side he was a more relaxed and confident man. She calmed him, advised him, and gently guided him in a truly companionate marriage that was the making of him. He grew in stature and assurance in the years following their marriage, which were devoted to raising a young family and undertaking public duties, including official visits and tours. His wife also charmed his parents, even to the point where George V, a notorious stickler for punctuality, forgave his daughter-in-law for often being late.

After some perambulations around London during which they lived at White Lodge, Richmond Park, Curzon House, Mayfair, and Grosvenor Square, the duke and duchess settled eventually at 145 Piccadilly, by Hyde Park Corner, in 1926. Later, in 1931, they were given as a weekend home Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, which they renovated extensively. On 21 April 1926, at her parents' house in Bruton Street, the duchess gave birth to a daughter, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary (later Elizabeth II), by caesarean section. The Conservative home secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, was present to ensure, in traditional fashion, that no other child was introduced in her place. Princess Elizabeth was christened in Buckingham Palace on 29 May. Before the birth the duke and duchess had already ventured abroad on official duties to Yugoslavia and to east Africa and Sudan in 1923 and 1924 respectively. Some eight months after Princess Elizabeth was born, leaving the infant behind they made a most successful six-month tour to Australia, New Zealand, and the West Indies, their first major official responsibility. In Canberra the duke gave a speech at the opening of the Australian federal parliament without difficulty. When the duchess temporarily lost her voice owing to a throat infection he showed that he was now able to cope effectively with public engagements.

The duchess gave birth to a second daughter in her mother's bedroom at Glamis on 21 August 1930, this time in the presence of the Labour home secretary and president of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, J. R. Clynes, who had been staying in the area for some weeks awaiting the late arrival of the second royal infant. It was probably of little comfort to him that this was the last occasion when the home secretary was required to be present at a royal birth. The baby was christened Margaret Rose in October. The early 1930s were years of economic depression and privation for the nation, but for the duke and duchess they were the quietest and most stable period of their marriage, during which they deepened their relationship, delighted in their children and family circle, and undertook public duties in the positions they both expected to hold for the rest of their lives as members of the royal family. The death of George V on 20 January 1936 and the accession of the prince of Wales as Edward VIII changed these expectations radically and quickly.

The abdication crisis

The duke and duchess of York had had only limited contact with the prince of Wales and his notorious circle in the past, and did not meet the new king's American mistress, Mrs Wallis Simpson [see Windsor, (Bessie) Wallis, duchess of Windsor], until April 1936 when, on a Sunday afternoon, she and the king motored over to Royal Lodge in Windsor. In her memoirs the duchess of Windsor recalled her sense of Elizabeth's disapproval at this first meeting. They met again at a dinner in York House in July. In September dinner at Balmoral went badly when the duchess of York showed her displeasure that Mrs Simpson, not yet divorced from her second husband, should assume the role of hostess there. Unaware of his brother's intentions, and never consulted by him, the duke of York seems to have been unprepared for the crisis in the monarchy, though that very ignorance of, and distance from, events was also to be an advantage, ensuring that the duke and duchess were untainted by the scandal and the consequent political negotiations in the weeks before Edward VIII's abdication. They were first warned of Mrs Simpson's forthcoming divorce, and of the possibility that the king might choose to abdicate, by Sir Alexander Hardinge, private secretary to Edward VIII and to George V before him, at the end of October. Though the duke wrote to his brother to offer his assistance, they met only once in the following month when, on 17 November, the king told him that he intended to marry Mrs Simpson.

By 3 December these intentions were public knowledge. A week later, on 10 December, the duke and his brothers witnessed the instrument of abdication. On the following day, Friday, the duke became king when Edward VIII gave his assent to the Declaration of Abdication Act. In his farewell broadcast the king said of his brother: 'He has one matchless blessing, enjoyed by many of you and not bestowed on me, a happy home with his wife and children.' On 12 December the new king, taking the name George VI, swore the oath of accession at the accession council in St James's Palace and paid tribute to the new queen: 'With my wife and helpmate at my side, I take up the heavy task which lies before me.' Perhaps fortuitously, during the climax of these remarkable events, from 8 December, Elizabeth had not been beside her husband at all, but in her bed suffering from influenza. When she recovered she wrote to Cosmo Lang, the archbishop of Canterbury, that 'I can hardly now believe that we have been called to this tremendous task and (I am writing to you quite intimately) the curious thing is that we are not afraid' (Lockhart, 407).

The new king and queen moved into Buckingham Palace in February 1937 and were crowned on 12 May in Westminster Abbey. Significantly, Elizabeth's throne on that occasion was placed level with the king's. Later, in 1943, she was appointed a councillor of state, allowing her to deputize for the king in official matters—the first queen consort to fulfil the role—and she also held investitures on her own. How much she influenced the subsequent settlement made with the duke of Windsor, as Edward VIII became, especially the decision to deny the title of her royal highness to Mrs Simpson after her marriage to the duke in June 1937, has been the subject of speculation. The letter offering to restore the title his royal highness to the duke, but explicitly denying it to his new wife and any issue from the marriage, came from the king, though the duke of Windsor did not believe it was his doing. Opinion in the dominions, especially in Canada and Australia, was against granting the duchess a royal title. There was also a generalized concern that Mrs Simpson's third marriage might easily founder and that she would then be free to take the title with her, wherever that might be. The king restated his negative position in a letter to Winston Churchill on 8 December 1942. There is no reason to believe that the queen was directly responsible for the decision, therefore. Yet her opinion on the matter may be imagined. She saw Mrs Simpson as an interloper who had disrupted both the public position of royalty and private relations within the royal family. In the queen's view Mrs Simpson's actions had forced an unexpected and unwelcome change to her settled family life and had imposed ultimate burdens on her husband. To a woman who placed the highest value on responsibility, whether to family or nation, Mrs Simpson's irresponsibility, as she saw it, could not be tolerated, nor should it be rewarded.

As for the general policy of keeping the duke and duchess away from Britain and the limelight, there were sound reasons, rather than spite, for this decision. Their presence would have undermined the status of the new monarchs and might have compromised the monarchy as an institution. The duke's lifestyle, and his later dalliance with the Nazi regime when he visited Germany in October 1937, whether prompted by naïvety or by some underlying political sympathy, would have threatened the position of the royal family had he been shown more favour and been allowed to return swiftly to Britain. According to Walter Monckton, the duke of Windsor's representative in the delicate negotiations at this time, the prime minister, by then Neville Chamberlain, thought that eventually the duke might be allowed to undertake some of the minor royal functions and be treated 'as a younger brother of the King'. Apparently, the king himself 'was not fundamentally against' this view. But in Monckton's opinion 'the Queen felt quite plainly it was undesirable to give the Duke any effective sphere of work'. She thought the duke 'was an attractive, vital creature who might be the rallying point for any who might be critical of the new King who was less superficially endowed with the arts and graces that please' (Birkenhead, 169). It is difficult to criticize this defence of her husband's position, and if Monckton's account is accurate, the queen's judgement was surely sounder than that of the prime minister and king.

The duke and duchess of York may have been taken by surprise at the speed of events in the last weeks of 1936, but they were not unprepared for their duties, and perhaps this explains the new queen's absence of fear. They had very considerable experience of the public responsibilities of monarchy. The new king had built a reputation already as earnest, conscientious, hard-working, and serious-minded; the new queen was a popular figure, known for her patronage of charities and good causes. She was practised and adept at supporting her husband in his public functions. Too much has been made of George VI's various and, in the circumstances, understandable remarks that he was unready and unfitted for kingship. More should be made of the speed and relative ease with which he re-established the normal workings of the monarchy and royal household. His sense of duty, derived from his father but also self-generated, ensured an orderly and dignified transition from one reign to the next, and demonstrated the resilience of the monarchy and its sensitivity to public feeling. A motion to replace the monarchy with a republic at this time, moved in the House of Commons as an amendment to the Abdication Bill by the Independent Labour MP James Maxton, was defeated by 403 votes to 5. This reflected the absence of serious opposition to monarchy in early twentieth-century Britain. That it remained so muted, during and after the abdication crisis, owed much to the conduct of George VI and his queen.

The wartime queen

George VI's reign was dominated by the Second World War—its origins, prosecution, and aftermath at home and abroad. One of the king and queen's first major engagements was a state visit to Paris in 1938 prompted in part by the need to reinforce the Anglo–French alliance. It was all the more successful thanks to the magnificent white outfits designed for the queen by her couturier, Norman Hartnell, which drew the approbation of Parisians. In the following year, after the breakdown of the Munich agreement in the spring of 1939 when Hitler invaded what remained of Czechoslovakia, the scheduled six-week royal visit to Canada was extended to include several days in the United States in June. The welcome bestowed by Americans on the first British sovereign to visit the country was characteristically warm and exuberant. Accolades in the press, including appreciation of the queen's graceful style and dress, greatly boosted the self-confidence and morale of the king and queen. They spent considerable time in the company of President Franklin Roosevelt, and visited him at his home, Hyde Park, in upstate New York. It was a significant moment in the developing 'special relationship' between the two nations and one of the most important royal visits in the history of the modern monarchy. In October 1942 Eleanor Roosevelt, the president's wife, stayed with the royal family at Buckingham Palace and Windsor.

After war was declared on 3 September 1939 the queen was appointed commandant-in-chief of the Women's Royal Naval Service, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. But in the conflict to come it was not her formal appointments that counted, so much as her informal manner and the spirit in which she reached out to the British people, sharing their experiences in a way that royalty had never done before. Interestingly, she chose not to appear in uniform during the war and came to symbolize the virtues of normality and peace. When the subject of the possible evacuation of the princesses to Canada was broached by the government the queen dismissed it: 'The children could not go without me. I won't leave the King, and of course the King will never leave.' When Buckingham Palace was bombed on the night of 12/13 September 1940, she is said to have remarked to a policeman the next day, 'I'm glad we've been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face' (Wheeler-Bennett, 470). The palace was hit nine times in total during the war, and from September 1940 the king and queen slept at Windsor. But they returned each day to the city, prompting the popular song, 'The King is Still in London'. The queen learned to fire a .38 service revolver, practising in the gardens at Buckingham Palace, and she told Harold Nicolson, in reference to the crowned heads of Europe swept away by Nazi invasion, 'I shall not go down like the others' (Nicolson, 100).

To reinforce their identity with the people, and their shared experience, the royal family supposedly conformed to the wartime rationing of clothes and food. The austerity and chill in Buckingham Palace was noted by Mrs Roosevelt in her letters to her husband in 1942. They also made many morale-boosting visits to those towns and cities most ravaged by German bombing, including Plymouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, and Liverpool, often in the immediate aftermath of an attack. They shared the experience of bereavement. The queen's nephew John, styled master of Glamis as eldest son of the queen's brother Patrick, Lord Glamis, was killed in action while serving as a lieutenant in the Scots Guards in 1941. In August 1942 the duke of Kent, the king's youngest surviving brother, was killed on active service in a flying accident in Scotland. In November 1944 the queen's father died of natural causes, and her brother Patrick succeeded as fifteenth earl. When war ended in Europe, on VE-day, 8 May 1945, the crowds outside the palace cried out 'We want the King! We want the Queen!' Her appearance and reappearance—eight times in all—on the balcony facing The Mall to acknowledge the crowd on that occasion, with her husband, her daughters, and Winston Churchill, was one of the most memorable images of the British twentieth century. The crowd's cheers demonstrated that the monarchy's position had become even stronger during the Second World War. In large part this was due to Queen Elizabeth's instinctive response to the national predicament. In the process, the traditional monarchy that the people celebrated and had welcomed into their communities began to change. Its conscious modernization came later, and was undertaken by her children and grandchildren.

After the war: the death of George VI

The queen was at her husband's side on 9 June 1946 at the allied victory parade, the largest military parade in British history. In 1947 the royal family went on a four-month visit to South Africa, a memorably happy occasion. On their return in June Princess Elizabeth's engagement to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (formerly Prince Philip of Greece), nephew of Lord Louis Mountbatten, was announced and the couple were married on 20 November in Westminster Abbey, Philip being created duke of Edinburgh. On 22 June 1948 the end of empire in India, and its partition, required that the king and queen relinquish their titles of emperor and empress of India. A few weeks earlier, in her broadcast to the nation on the occasion of her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, on 26 April, the queen paid tribute to the happiness of her marriage, the opportunities it had afforded for service to the nation, and 'the blessings of our home and children'.

Yet from the end of the year the king's ill health—the narrowing of his arteries which was probably caused by his habitual heavy smoking—cast a shadow over the royal family. He was operated on for arteriosclerosis in March 1949. When he was found to have developed lung cancer part of his left lung was removed in an operation in September 1951. The king's last significant public engagement, in May 1951, was to open the Festival of Britain on the south bank of the Thames in London. He died at Sandringham on the night of 5/6 February 1952, aged fifty-six. The queen's grief and sorrow were immense and palpable and were captured in another famous image of the century, a photograph of the three veiled queens—George VI's mother, wife, and daughter—at his funeral in St George's Chapel, Windsor, on 15 February 1952. In her public message three days after the funeral Elizabeth said, 'He loved you all, every one of you, most truly. Now I am left alone to do what I can to honour that pledge without him.'

The queen mother

Just as Disraeli had encouraged Queen Victoria to play a more active and public role after the death of Prince Albert, so a visit to the former queen at Balmoral in the aftermath of her bereavement from Winston Churchill, prime minister again, may have assisted her in finding a new role in British life as the queen mother, a title she adopted at this point, and by which she was known universally for the next fifty years. (Courtiers in her own household referred to her as Queen Elizabeth, which she reportedly found more pleasing.) But it seems equally likely that the strength of character and the imagination required to play this new role came also, and quite naturally, from Elizabeth herself. She had no wish or aptitude for the role of retiring dowager. Comfortable with her people, adaptable, and with an unaltered ethic of service, she returned to public duties in May 1952 when, in her capacity as colonel-in-chief of the Black Watch, she bade farewell to the regiment's 1st battalion leaving for service in the Korean War. A visit to the United States in 1954 to receive an educational fund collected in memory of her husband was a very notable success: New York cab drivers stopped in the streets to acclaim her and she was mobbed in the Saks store on Fifth Avenue. Thereafter she found a valuable and authentic role for herself and helped to establish the reality of a working royal family. In the process she became the focus of remarkable public affection and a trusted counsellor to the younger members of her family, forming an especially close bond with the first of her grandchildren and the heir to the throne, Prince Charles.

She was president or patron of over 300 organizations and charities, and frequently presided at their meetings or represented them in public. From 1955 until 1980 she was chancellor of the University of London. She was also colonel-in-chief of thirteen regiments, eight in the British army and five in armies of other Commonwealth countries. She travelled extensively throughout the Commonwealth and beyond, sometimes representing Elizabeth II, though often in her own right. She developed interests that brought her into contact with a wide variety of people and helped endear her to the public, including gardening and fishing for salmon in her beloved Scotland. National Hunt racing was her passion and she counted more than 450 winners among the horses she owned. Their jockeys wore her colours, blue with buff stripes, with a black velvet cap and gold tassel. Her first horse, Monaveen, which won four races, was purchased for her in 1949. Thereafter there were many highlights. Manicou won the King George VI chase on Boxing day 1950; Makaldar won the 1965 Mackeson hurdle; Tammuz won the 1975 Schweppes gold trophy. Special Cargo, an especial favourite of hers, indeed, won the Whitbread gold cup at Sandown Park in 1984 and the grand military gold cup three times consecutively in 1984–6. Devon Loch, ridden by Dick Francis, famously and inexplicably 'sat down' when in the lead in the home stretch of the 1956 Grand National at Aintree, a defeat she took phlegmatically, though she never entered another horse in the national.

From 1953 the queen mother lived in Clarence House, near St James's Palace in London, which had been designed by John Nash in the 1820s for William IV when duke of Clarence, and at Royal Lodge, Windsor. But her love for Scotland, and for annual holidays there, never dimmed. She lived at Birkhall when on the Balmoral estate; and soon after the death of her husband she began the project of restoring Barrogill Castle in Caithness, overlooking the Pentland Firth, which had fallen into disrepair. Once restored, it was renamed the Castle of Mey and was used by the queen mother for a few weeks each year. As warden of the Cinque Ports from 1978 she could also reside at Walmer Castle, Kent. To fill her homes she showed herself the best judge and most enthusiastic patron of art among the royal family. With the advice of the art historian Kenneth Clark she collected works by, among others, Walter Sickert, Philip Wilson Steer, Paul Nash, Augustus John, and John Piper. She lived lavishly in her later years, maintaining a large staff with chauffeurs, pages, secretaries, and maids aplenty. She enjoyed entertaining guests, and wanted to be entertained by their conversation at the luncheons she organized. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she ran up a considerable overdraft at Coutts Bank—said to be £4 million in 1999. Yet her sheer joie de vivre, and her charm, ensured that her extravagance was not resented (as it has been in the case of other members of the royal family). Noel Coward, who knew her well, described her 'infinite grace of mind, charm, humour and deep-down kindness … She puts everyone at ease immediately without condescension or apparent effort' (The Noel Coward Diaries, ed. G. Payn and S. Morley, 1982, 593). Her personal qualities were reinforced by her engaging manner and physical characteristics: her endearing smile, her hand twirling in greeting, and the tilt of her head as she listened to people speaking to her. 'She had the star's trick of looking fearlessly into the camera and looking on it as a friend' (Bradford, 288, 437).

In many respects Queen Elizabeth was, and remained, devoted to tradition. She never spoke publicly about controversial issues. She gave only a single interview to the press when first engaged to be married, perhaps because her informality on that occasion drew disapprobation from George V. Her views on family matters and the abdication crisis remained her own. Whatever the tensions of the past, she attended the funerals in St George's Chapel, Windsor, of both the duke and duchess of Windsor in 1972 and 1986 respectively. She was said to hold conservative opinions and this was apparently confirmed in 1998 with the posthumous publication of the memoirs of Woodrow Wyatt, chairman of the Horserace Totalisator Board (the Tote), which were criticized severely for breaking royal confidences. The stability and propriety of her own marriage contrasted markedly with the marital problems of her younger daughter in the 1970s and of her grandchildren in the 1980s and 1990s. The separation of Prince Charles from his wife, Diana, in 1992 and their divorce in 1996 were especially hard to bear as they attracted so much adverse publicity and coincided with, if they did not wholly cause, a pronounced decline in the popularity of the royal family and support for the monarchy in general in the early 1990s. But the decline did not affect the esteem in which the queen mother was held; and her continued presence may have helped to repair the royal family's reputation in subsequent years.

The queen mother's health remained remarkably robust. She had an appendectomy in 1964, and a colostomy operation in December 1966 did not diminish her energy or appetite for travel and work. Twice, in November 1982 and May 1993, she required surgery to remove fish bones from her throat. Both her hips were replaced when she was in her nineties, and she broke her collar bone in 2000. But though she grew visibly frailer, she remained active until her last months. She was present again on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to wave to the crowds attending the celebrations on the fiftieth anniversary of VE-day in 1995. On her eightieth and ninetieth birthdays there had been public events in celebration. To commemorate her hundredth birthday, on 11 July 2000 she attended a service of thanksgiving in St Paul's Cathedral, and took pleasure in a light-hearted pageant in Horse Guards Parade a few days later. On that occasion representatives from her regiments and the many organizations with which she was associated took part, from the Battle of Britain Fighter Association to the Dachshund Club. Her final appearances at the end of 2001 included a visit to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and a luncheon for the Injured Jockeys Fund in London. In the last weeks of her life she had to endure the death of Princess Margaret on 9 February 2002. She insisted on attending her daughter's funeral at Windsor on 15 February, even though she had suffered a fall just two days before. It was fifty years to the day after her husband's funeral. Seven weeks later, in the afternoon of 30 March, she died at Royal Lodge, Windsor, with her elder daughter at her bedside. A week of public mourning followed. Her coffin lay in state in Westminster Hall for three days and it was estimated that a quarter of a million mourners came to pay their respects (The Guardian, 8 April 2002). Her funeral, conducted by the dean of Westminster, at which the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, preached, was held at Westminster Abbey on 8 April. She was buried beside her husband in the George VI memorial chapel in Windsor.

Assessment

The queen mother's death was the occasion for reflection on the course and nature of British history in the twentieth century. Her life had been so bound up with the great events and changes in national life since her birth in 1900, and she was such a central figure in the collective memory of them, that this reflection was both automatic and universal. Not since the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 had there been such a moment and opportunity. In her later years she was referred to fondly as the nation's grandmother. She was loved and admired for growing old gracefully and for continuing to perform public duties with such zest and enjoyment until her last weeks of life. Even the most consistent opponent of monarchy in the post-war era, the Labour MP and republican Willie Hamilton, was forced, despite himself, to pay tribute to her on her eightieth birthday as a 'remarkable old lady' and a 'superb royal trouper'. To those who could remember her services in wartime, however, she was admired for more substantial virtues than these: for her courage, steadfastness, and commitment to the British people. When she received an honorary degree from Columbia University, New York, in 1954 she was described in the citation as 'a noble Queen, whose quiet and constant courage in time of great stress sustained a nation and inspired the world'. It was not hyperbole. Her strong principles, her upright conduct, and her instinct for propriety secured public admiration. She demonstrated that the monarchy could retain respect and also develop a new type of personal loyalty in the modern era if, in the eyes of the people, it served them with dignity and responsibility. She never sought to innovate, and she was probably never conscious of the new constitutional and social relations she was pioneering. Yet by going to the people in 1940, and by continuing to play an extensive role in public life and philanthropy thereafter, she helped develop a new role for the monarchy in civil society. No longer merely the apex of the state, by the time of her death the monarchy, and the royal family more generally, had come to represent the nation, both to itself and to the rest of the world. As a queen consort, her support for her husband made it possible for him to fulfil the role of king. Indeed, it was as a wife, behind the scenes, that she may have performed her greatest service to the monarchy and the nation.

Sources

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  • P. Mortimer, Queen Elizabeth: a life of the queen mother (1986)
  • A. Morrow, Without equal: her majesty Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother (2000)
  • G. Talbot, The Country Life book of Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, 3rd edn (1989)
  • H. Montgomery-Massingberd, Her majesty Queen Elizabeth the queen mother (2001)
  • S. Smith, Royal racing: the queen and queen mother's sporting life (2001)
  • J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, King George VI: his life and reign (1958)
  • R. Rhodes-James, A spirit undaunted: the political role of George VI (1998)
  • S. Bradford, King George VI (1989)
  • V. Bogdanor, The monarchy and the constitution (1995)
  • K. Rose, George V (1983)
  • P. Ziegler, King Edward VIII (1990)
  • F. Donaldson, Edward VIII (1974)
  • Duke of Windsor, A king's story (1951)
  • The heart has its reasons: the memoirs of the duchess of Windsor (1956)
  • Lord Birkenhead, Walter Monckton (1969)
  • H. M. Hardinge, Loyal to three kings (1967)
  • J. G. Lockhart, Cosmo Gordon Lang (1949)
  • H. Nicolson, Diaries and letters, 1939–1945 (1967)
  • P. Brendon and P. Whitehead, The Windsors: a dynasty revealed (1994)
  • The journals of Woodrow Wyatt, ed. S. Curtis, 3 vols. (1998–2000)
  • B. Pimlott, The queen: a biography of Elizabeth II (1996)
  • The Times (1 April 2002)
  • The Guardian (1 April 2002)
  • The Independent (1 April 2002)
  • Daily Telegraph (1 April 2002)

Archives

  • Royal Arch.
  • BL, corresp.
  • Durham RO, Bowes-Lyon family, earls of Strathmore, family and estate papers
  • Herts. ALS
  • NA Scot., Bowes-Lyon family, earls of Strathmore, family and estate papers
  • NL Scot., letters to Lord Ballantrae [closed]
  • priv. coll., letters to her mother, Nina Cecilia Bowes-Lyon
  • priv. coll., letters to Lady Hardinge of Penshurst
  • PRONI, letters to Lady Londonderry, D3099/3/13
  • TNA: PRO
  • U. Durham L.

Film

  • BFINA, ‘The queen mother: the steel behind the smile’, Royal Portraits, L. Jameson (producer), ITV, 19 Dec 2000
  • BFINA, Elizabeth R: the life and times of the queen mother, ITN (produced), Channel 4, 30 March 2002
  • BFINA, Elizabeth R: the life and times of the queen mother, ITN (produced), Channel 4, 31 March 2002
  • BFINA, ‘Queen Elizabeth the queen mother: 1900–1945’, BBC1, 31 March 2002
  • BFINA, ‘Queen Elizabeth the queen mother: 1945–2002’, BBC1, 31 March 2002
  • BFINA, ‘HM Queen Elizabeth the queen mother: a tribute’, Channel TV, 7 April 2002
  • BFINA, current affairs footage
  • BFINA, documentary footage
  • BFINA, news footage

Sound

  • BL NSA, AIRC programme sharing collection, ‘Among her own folk: a gentle portrait of the queen mother from the highlands’, Moray Firth Radio, 1985
  • BL NSA, recorded talks

Likenesses

  • F. & H. Thurston, vintage bromide prints, 1902–5, NPG
  • R. Martin, photographs, 1907, NPG
  • Lafayette, bromide press print, 1909, NPG
  • Hay Wrightson, photographs, 1919, NPG
  • B. Park, photographs, 1921–1931, NPG
  • Vandyk, photographs, 1922–4, NPG
  • Bassano, photographs, 1923, NPG
  • P. A. de Laszlo, oils, 1923, Royal Collection
  • L. F. Roslyn, bust, exh. RA 1923; formerly in the collection of the queen mother
  • J. S. Sargent, two charcoal drawings, 1923, Royal Collection
  • S. Sorine, pencil, watercolour, and bodycolour, 1923, Royal Collection
  • S. Warburton, miniature, watercolour on ivory, 1923, NPG
  • H. R. Wicks for Bassano, double portrait, sepia-toned platinotype, 1923 (with George VI), NPG
  • R. G. Eves, oils, 1924, NPG
  • M. Adams, photographs, 1927–1940, NPG
  • P. A. de Laszlo, oils, 1931, priv. coll.
  • P. A. de Laszlo, oils, 1933, Royal Collection
  • E. Malindine, modern resin print from original negative, 1935, NPG
  • P. Metcalfe, gold medal, 1937, Royal Collection
  • D. Wilding, photographs, 1937–54, NPG
  • G. Kelly, oils, 1938, NPG
  • A. John, oils, unfinished, 1939–41, Royal Collection
  • C. Beaton, photographs, 1939–70, NPG
  • M. Hankey, pencil, watercolour, and white bodycolour, 1940 (after photograph by C. Beaton), Royal Collection
  • G. Kelly, oils, 1940, NPG
  • Studio Lisa (Lisa Sheridan), photographs, 1940–41, NPG
  • G. Kelly, oils, 1940–44, Royal Collection
  • J. Gunn, oil sketch, 1945; formerly in the collection of the queen mother
  • J. Gilroy, oils, 1950×59, Walmer Castle, Kent
  • J. Gunn, group portrait, oils, 1950 (Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor), NPG
  • double portrait, vintage press print, 1950 (with George VI), NPG
  • B. Johnson, oils, 1954 (after photograph by D. Wilding), NPG
  • E. Seago, pencil drawing, sketch for portrait, 1955, Royal Collection
  • W. Reid Dick, bronze bust, 1961, Bolton town hall
  • G. Sutherland, oils, sketch for portrait, 1961–7, Royal Collection
  • F. Belsky, bust, 1962, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham
  • F. Belsky, bust, 1962, U. Birm.
  • A. Buckley, modern bromide print from original negative, 1963, NPG
  • D. O'Neill, group portrait, semi-matt bromide fibre print, 1968, NPG
  • C. Beaton, bromide fibre print on white card mount, 1970, NPG [see illus.]
  • L. Boden, oils, 1971, Royal College of Music
  • M. Noakes, oils, 1973, priv. coll.
  • J. Cocks, colour print, 1974, NPG
  • N. Parkinson, photographs, 1975–85, NPG
  • M. Plomer, cibachrome print, 1977, NPG
  • B. Hailstone, oils, 1979–80, Dover Collections, Kent
  • A. Arikha, oils, 1983, Scot. NPG
  • A. Shead, colour print, 1985, NPG
  • A. Watt, oils, 1989, NPG
  • A. Crickmay, cibachrome print, 1990, NPG
  • D. Cregeen, bronze bust, 1991, Middle Temple, London
  • N. McBeath, bromide print, 1999, NPG
  • J. Swannell, group portrait, pictograph, 2000, NPG
  • J. Wonnacott, group portrait, oils on foamboard, 2000 (The royal family: a centenary portrait), NPG
  • P. Jackson, bronze statue, 2009, The Mall, London
  • Bassano, double portraits, glass negatives (with George VI), NPG
  • M. Noakes, oils, U. Lond.
  • W. Reid Dick, bust, ; formerly in the collection of the queen mother
  • photographs, Royal Collection