THE QUEEN MOTHER Biography - Royalty, Rulers & leaders

 
 

Biography » royalty rulers leaders » the queen mother

THE QUEEN MOTHER

Born on August 4, 1900, Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon began life as a         
commoner. She was the ninth of 10 children born to Claude Bowes-Lyon and Cecilia       
Cavendish-Bentinck, a vicar?s daughter and a descendant of the Dukes of Portland.       
Four years after her birth, her parents became Lord and Lady Strathmore. They           
remained somewhat impoverished for much of their lives.                                 
                                                                                         
Although the Queen Mother is one of the most admired women of our times, her           
birth is surrounded by mystery. Her father, perhaps out of complacency at the           
arrival of his ninth child, or out of sheer forgetfulness, failed to register           
her birth for six weeks. To this day, it remains unclear as to where she was           
born. Although her birth certificate suggests it was the family home, St Paul?s         
Walden Bury, in Hertfordshire, other accounts would have us believe she was born       
in London.                                                                             
                                                                                         
From an early age, Elizabeth and her younger brother David ? referred to               
affectionately by their mother as the ?two Benjamins? ? exhibited a great sense         
of fun and mischief, a quality that she is still known to possess in abundance.         
On one occasion, after a frantic search around the grounds of St Paul?s, the           
pair were discovered in the ?flea house? sharing a cigarette. The family spent         
much of its time at Glamis Castle, in Scotland, which has been a royal residence       
since 1372. Elizabeth and David would amuse themselves there by pouring ?boiling       
oil? (in fact, nothing more harmful than water) on their mother?s guests from           
the castle turrets, and take the grounds people hostage, tying them up until a ?ransom? 
was paid for their release.                                                             
                                                                                         
Educated at home by her mother and governesses, Elizabeth was fluent in French         
by the age of 10. At 12 ? as David, much to the dismay of his beloved sister,           
was packed off to Eton ? Elizabeth entered the Misses Birtwistle?s Academy,             
where she was taught a broad and traditional curriculum. She was popular with           
her classmates and teachers, but after only two terms, her mother withdrew her         
from the academy and returned her to the watchful eye of another governess.             
                                                                                         
Elizabeth?s formal education came to an abrupt end with the declaration of World       
War I, when she was just 14. Soon after her birthday, she returned to Glamis,           
which was now being used as a military hospital for wounded soldiers. With her         
mother and her elder sister Rosie, Elizabeth cared for soldiers, writing letters       
for them to their loved ones and running errands to buy their tobacco. She also         
enjoyed many a high-spirited game of cards with them. It was this experience           
which enabled the future Queen of England to relate to people of all backgrounds       
and social classes ? a quality which continues to make her one of the most             
popular Royals.                                                                         
                                                                                         
But the family was not without its own pain. In 1915, Elizabeth?s elder brother         
Fergus was killed at the Battle of Loos. Another brother, Michael, was held             
prisoner for two years.                                                                 
                                                                                         
With the end of the war, Elizabeth found a new freedom. In 1919 she was                 
introduced into Royal circles and was relentlessly pursued by numerous suitors.         
Among them was Prince Paul of Serbia, who, upon her subsequent engagement, wrote:       
?My Queen of Yugoslavia is still missing and so I cannot plan my future. When           
will it happen?? James Stuart, a noted philanderer and descendant of the               
illegitimate half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots, was also among Elizabeth?s           
keenest suitors. She is said to have been deeply in love with him, but she             
retained a healthy sense of caution. Perhaps it was his reputation, or the need         
for them both to marry into money that prevented her from accepting a proposal.         
                                                                                         
Ironically, it was through James Stuart that Elizabeth came to marry Prince             
Albert ? HRH the Duke of York, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary.         
Even as a child Elizabeth had been friendly with the children of the King and           
Queen; members of the Royal Family would sometimes come and stay at Glamis. But         
although Elizabeth and Prince Albert, or ?Bertie?, as he was known, had met when       
she was just five, it was through Stuart many years later that they were re-introduced. 
Stuart was employed as the Prince?s equerry and could not very well dissuade his       
master when in 1920 he expressed an interest in the charming Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.     
In any case, it was decided that with a potential Royal match on the cards,             
Elizabeth could not jeopardise her future by being associated with Stuart. And         
so it was that Lady Strathmore and Lady Moray, Stuart?s mother, conspired subtly       
to dispatch him to the oilfields of Oklahoma for the duration of Elizabeth?s           
courtship.                                                                             
                                                                                         
Despite the attentions of her Royal inamorato, Elizabeth maintained a shrewd           
distance. She was reluctant to enter into Royal life and to take on all the             
accompanying trappings, and was cautious of such a match after her father?s             
determination that none of his children should ever ?have any post about the           
Court?. From an early age, Lord Strathmore had warned Elizabeth that she should         
avoid Royal entanglements at all costs. On such advice, and no doubt for her own       
personal reasons, Elizabeth twice rejected Bertie?s proposals, much to the shock       
of his mother, Queen Mary. Finally, on January 13, 1923, as they walked in the         
woods at St Paul?s Walden Bury, Elizabeth accepted his proposal of marriage.           
                                                                                         
Three months later, on April 26, the couple were married at Westminster Abbey.         
Unlike future Royal weddings, there was no broadcast to the nation, as Church           
authorities feared that ?disrespectful people might hear it whilst sitting in           
public houses with their hats on?.                                                     
                                                                                         
For 14 years, the couple lived happily yet quietly together. As the Duke and           
Duchess of York, they were rarely called upon to perform public duties.                 
Elizabeth proved a great support to Bertie, who was a very shy and awkward man,         
and with a speech therapist helped him to overcome his stutter. In 1926, she           
gave birth to their first daughter, Princess Elizabeth, the present Queen of           
England. Four years later, the couple celebrated the birth of their second             
daughter, Princess Margaret.                                                           
                                                                                         
But this picture of domestic happiness was not to last. In 1937, Bertie?s               
brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated in order to be with Wallis Simpson. Bertie,       
although reluctant to undertake the responsibility of public office, felt he had       
little choice but to succeed Edward as his natural heir. He was crowned George         
VI in Westminster Abbey on May 12, 1937, and the family moved into Buckingham           
Palace.                                                                                 
                                                                                         
The Queen Mother never forgave her brother-in-law nor Mrs Simpson, and was             
instrumental in securing their ?exile? from Britain. She had never wanted to           
become Queen, and George VI was never wholly suited to public office. With her         
by his side, he seemed to manage quite well; but on the odd occasions when she         
was absent, he again retreated into the shy and awkward personality he had been         
as a young man.                                                                         
                                                                                         
The new pressures thrust upon the couple were only exacerbated by the outbreak         
of World War II. Despite strong advice that the Queen and the two princesses           
should leave London for Canada, the Queen refused to go. ?The Princesses cannot         
go without me. I cannot go without the King. And the King will never leave,? she       
said as she resolved to remain at Buckingham Palace. Instead she learned to             
shoot a revolver, practising her aim in the Palace gardens.                             
                                                                                         
After air raids, the King and Queen ? she dressed in the finest satin and furs ?       
would visit the scene of devastation and offer consolation to those who had lost       
their homes. It was only after Buckingham Palace was bombed, however, that the         
Queen felt she could really relate to the people of London. ?I?m glad we?ve been       
bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face,? she famously said.       
                                                                                         
As normality slowly returned after the war, the Royal household was again struck       
by disaster. In 1952, at just fifty-two, the Queen Mother was widowed. Bertie,         
her dearest companion, died suddenly of a stroke. This was a time of great             
difficulty. Not only had the Queen lost her husband, but her position too. Her         
daughter, Princess Elizabeth, took her rightful place on the throne.                   
                                                                                         
Although supportive of her daughter, the Queen Mother withdrew from the public         
eye. She wore black for an entire year after her husband?s death. It took the           
cajoling words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill to convince her that she             
could not exist in a permanent state of mourning like that of Queen Victoria           
before her. She re-entered public life, yet maintained a distance from the             
matters of the Court.                                                                   
                                                                                         
There is no official, formal role for the Queen Mother, but she has nonetheless         
played a highly significant part in representing her family and her country. As         
her grandchildren grew older, she was instrumental in helping ?arrange? their           
marriages. Both Diana, to whom she later referred as ?that silly creature?, and         
Sarah Ferguson left for their weddings from Clarence House, the Queen Mother?s         
London residence.                                                                       
                                                                                         
She has proved herself a lifelong confidante to Prince Charles, whom she is             
known to adore. Without her it is widely thought that Charles would have been           
unable to cope with the many stresses with which he has been confronted over the       
past decade. It is even rumoured that she provided a clandestine telephone line         
for him from Balmoral on which he could call his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles.       
                                                                                         
But it is her enduring sense of fun and her boundless energy for which the Queen       
Mother is perhaps best loved and admired. She remains, at 99, a keen and               
successful horse breeder and only gave up fishing, a favourite pastime, at 80.         
Even her recent 4 million bank overdraft, a result of her extravagant,                 
Edwardian lifestyle ? she has five homes, a fleet of cars and an unspecified           
number of staff ? is largely forgiven by the nation. Her sense of contentment           
and a refusal to indulge regrets has carried her through the good and the bad.         
It is this combination, coupled with her steely reserve in times of hardship,           
that has conspired to produce one of our century?s greatest living and much             
loved icons.