Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon

Queen Elizabeth (August 4, 1900 - March 30, 2002), born Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, was the Queen consort and wife of King George VI, last Queen-Empress of India, last Queen of Ireland and mother of Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret.

Born in 1900 at St Paul's Waldenbury, the Hertfordshire house of her parents, Sir Claude George Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and his wife, Nina Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck, she was the ninth of ten children. Born and brought up a 'commoner', she spent much of her childhood at the family's English country home in Hertfordshire and in Scotland at Glamis Castle.

World War I broke out when she was 14 years old. An elder brother, the Hon. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, an officer in the Black Watch, was killed in action at Loos in 1915. Glamis Castle was turned into a convalescence home for wounded soldiers, which Lady Elizabeth helped to run.


Princess Albert, Duchess of York
After turning down his first two proposals, she married Prince Albert, the second son of George V, on April 26, 1923, at Westminster Abbey. She became HRH The Princess Albert, though as her husband was immediately granted a peerage of Duke of York, she became styled HRH The Duchess of York. After the wedding they honeymooned at a manor house in Surrey and then went to Scotland. In 1926 the couple celebrated the birth of their first child, Elizabeth, who would later become Queen Elizabeth II. Another daughter, Margaret Rose, was born four years later.

Queen Consort to George VI (1936-1952)

On January 20, 1936, King George V died, and the succession passed to Albert's elder brother David, who became King Edward VIII . Edward however decided to marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson and was forced to abdicate. Quite unexpectedly Elizabeth's husband Albert became King George VI and she consort to the monarch, becoming Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Empress of India (until 1947), and of her husband's multiple Commonwealth Realms, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa. They were crowned on May 12, 1937. Her new crown contained the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

It is said George VI wept on hearing the news he would become King - and Elizabeth never forgave Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson for their actions - she was responsible for the decision not to bestow upon Wallis Simpson the title of Her Royal Highness.

During World War II the King and Queen became symbols of the nation's resistance, and Queen Elizabeth publicly refused to leave London during the Blitz, despite being advised by the Cabinet to travel to safety in Canada. "The princesses will never leave without me; I will not leave without the King, and the King will never leave," she said. She often made visits to parts of London that were targeted by the Germans, in particular the East End, near London's docks. Buckingham Palace itself took several hits during the height of the bombing, prompting Elizabeth to say, "Now I feel I can look the East End in the face".

For security and family reasons, the King and Queen spent their nights not at the Palace (which in any case had lost much of its staff to the army) but at Windsor Castle, about 35 kilometres (20 miles) west of central London, where their daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, lived during the war years. They did, however, work from the palace, spending most of the day there.

Because of her effect on British morale, Adolf Hitler called her "The most dangerous woman in Europe". Prior to the war, however, both she and her husband like most of parliament and the United Kingdom were strong supporters of appeasement and Neville Chamberlain, believing after the experience of World War I that war had to be avoided at all costs. After the resignation of Chamberlain the King initially commissioned Lord Halifax, who had supported appeasement, to form a government. He declined and Winston Churchill was asked to form a government instead, an offer he accepted.

Queen Mother (1952-2002)

King George VI died of lung cancer on February 6, 1952, at which point she became known as H.M. Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (or popularly, simply the "Queen Mother" or even "Queen Mum").

After the death of her husband the grieving Queen Mother went to Scotland. To keep occupied she oversaw the restoration of the remote Castle of Mey on the Caithness coast. It later became her favourite home. She also developed an interest in horse racing that continued for the rest of her life. She soon resumed her public duties, however, and eventually became as busy as Queen Mother as she had been as Queen.

Before the advent of the Princess of Wales, and after her death, the Queen Mother was by far the most popular member of the British Royal Family, with a charm and theatrical flair that marked her apart. Her signature dress of large upturned hat with netting and dresses with draped panels of fabric, created the most distinctive royal wardrobe since Queen Mary.

Behind the soft charm however lay a canny intelligence and iron will, as demonstrated by the shrewd support she gave George VI, her thwarting of the ambitions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and also by her sheer endurance. Like many of her generation, the Queen Mother held a "never complain, never explain" attitude to life, which saw her through many private sorrows and difficulties.

"You think I am a nice person: I am not a nice person." she was once rumored to have warned a friend. However, like anyone in public life, her role demanded a degree of toughness. Yet her most marked characteristic was an eternal optimism: the sunniness of a true life enhancer. The British people recognised this, which is one reason why she was so loved.

The Queen Mother possessed a strong love of the arts which included purchasing works by Monet, Augustus John and Faberge, amongst others. These were transferred to the Royal Collection after her death.

In her later years, she became known for her longevity. Her birthdays became times of national celebration and, as a popular figure, she helped to increase the popularity of the monarchy as a whole. When criticism of the royal family increased in the 1980's, her queenly lifestyle, including the employment of 40 staff, received some negative comment. However her defenders argued that her daughter Queen Elizabeth II, who subsidised much of it, simply allowed her mother to live the sort of life a dowager queen and former empress, who had devoted her life to the nation's service, would have expected her due.

The Queen Mother's penchant for gin and tonic, and her very large overdraft at Coutts bank, was also widely commented on by both her fans and detractors. They were also regularly parodied by television programme Spitting Image, which also portrayed her with a working class accent and an ever-present copy of the Racing Times.

Certainly, an invitation to lunch with the Queen Mother at Clarence House, with hovering footmen, dazzling antique silver settings, congenial company and the summer sunlight glinting off her vast diamonds, was considered by many to be one of London's greatest private pleasures. Whatever her privileges, she possessed a genius for living.


The "Queen Mum"

Though a woman who had deliberately declined to do public interviews, the Queen Mother possessed a dry and often sardonic wit, and some of her 'one-liners' were regularly quoted by the media. Coming across a group of teenagers throwing stones at cars, she wound down the window of her passing Rolls Royce and asked them to stop, with the inspired riposte: "Whatever would American tourists think?" On one occasion, when in her nineties, she asked a group of pensioners "is it just me or are pensioners getting younger these days?" On another occasion, she was rumored to have urged her daughter the Queen not to have a second glass of wine at lunch, with the admonition, "Is that wise, darling? Remember you have to reign all afternoon."

On another occasion, accompanied by the homosexual Sir Noel Coward to a gala function, the two mounted a staircase lined with guardsmen. Noticing Coward's eye's flicker momentarily across the soldiers, Her Majesty murmured to him without missing a beat: "I wouldn't if I were you, Noel; they count them before they put them out."

After her death, her great-grandsons, Princes William and Harry told of another amusing incident. The one hundred year old lady had walked in on them during Christmas at Sandringham while they were watching a video of the controversial English comedian Ali G. The princes showed her how to click her fingers while enunciating Ali's signature catchphrase... which she wasted no time in using. Rising from her seat after Christmas dinner she looked The Queen in the eye, clicked her fingers, and like Ali G, quipped: "Respect!"

She also employed a largely gay personal staff and once said, after her gin and tonic was continuously delayed by backstairs bickering, "When one of you old queens has finished can you bring this old queen a drink?" According to an article in The Observer (November 10, 2002), after being advised by "a Tory Minister in the 1970s not to employ homosexuals, the Queen Mother observed that without them, "we'd have to go self-service."

Her most famous and quotable 'soundbites' remain those (quoted above) from the War years, notably her explanation for why her family would not evacuate to Canada, faced with the threat of Nazi invasion of Britain. "The princesses will never leave without me; I will not leave without the King, and the King will never leave."

The Queen Mother's hundredth birthday was celebrated in suitably grand style, including a parade that celebrated the highlights of her life. She again demonstrated the signature fortitude for which she was so admired, by standing for over an hour while the parade passed by.

The last function the Queen Mother attended was the funeral of her second daughter Princess Margaret.

Queen Elizabeth died peacefully in her sleep at the Royal Lodge at Windsor, with the Queen at her bedside, on March 30, 2002, at around 3:15pm (GMT). She was 101 years old.

More than 200,000 people had filed by her coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall for three days, many of them braving lines that snaked back and forth across Thames bridges for as long as 14 hours in cold winds. There were so many people that officials had to extend the opening hours through the nights and up until dawn on the day of the funeral.

Her four male grandchildren stood watch, for an hour, over the bier as the late queen lay in state. She had six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren at the time of her death.

On the day of the Queen Mother's funeral, more than a million people filled the area outside Westminster Abbey and along the 23-mile route from central London to her final resting place beside her husband, George, and daughter Margaret in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

On her wedding day, as she was about to leave Westminster Abbey, the then Duchess of York spontaneously placed her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At her request, after her funeral the wreath that had lain atop her coffin was placed on the same tomb.

The Queen Mother held the distinction of being the last surviving Queen of Ireland and Empress of India, the former fact marked by the presence of the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, at her funeral.

The full styles and titles of the Queen Mother: Elizabeth, Queen Dowager and Queen Mother, Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Lady of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Grand Master and Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order upon whom had been conferred the Royal Victorian Chain, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John.

See also: British Royal Family


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