Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother

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HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (née Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon)

Her Majesty The Queen Mother Queen Elizabeth,C.C.,L.G., L.T., C.I., G.C.V.O., G.B.E., LL.D. (Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Windsor, née Bowes-Lyon) (4 August 190030 March 2002) was the Queen consort of George VI of the United Kingdom from 1936 to 1952. She was the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, the current British monarch. After her husband's death she was known as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother or, more popularly, the Queen Mum.

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. Before her husband's accession to the throne, she was known as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York, and before her marriage she was styled The Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon as the daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

Queen Elizabeth was famous for her role in providing moral support to the British public during World War II. In her later years, she was a consistently popular member of the British Royal Family.


Early life

Detail of "HRH The Duchess of York" by Philip de Laszlo, 1925
Detail of "HRH The Duchess of York" by Philip de Laszlo, 1925

She was the fourth daughter and the ninth of ten children of Claude George Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis (later 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne), and his wife, Nina Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck. She reportedly was born in her parents' London home, though the location of her birth remains uncertain. Her birth was registered at Hitchin, Hertfordshire, near the Strathmores' country house St. Paul's Walden Bury. This unconventional registration has led to numerous rumours over the years regarding the Queen Mother's actual parentage, with some critics surmising that she actually was the daughter of the Lord Strathmore by a Welsh maid, hence the unusual six-week delay in the registration of her birth. Others have pointed out that the Queen Mother, born seven years after the next-youngest Bowes-Lyon child, resembled neither her parents nor her siblings in any discernible fashion. She spent much of her childhood at St. Paul's Walden Bury and at Glamis Castle, the Earl's ancestral home in Scotland.

The First World War broke out when she was 14. Her elder brother, Fergus, an officer in the Black Watch Regiment, was killed in action at Loos, France in 1915. Another brother, Michael, was reported missing in action in May 1917. However, he had actually been captured after being wounded and remained in a Prisoner of War camp for the rest of the War. Glamis was turned into a convalescence home for wounded soldiers, which Elizabeth helped to run. One of the soldiers she treated wrote on a card that she was to be "Hung, drawn and quartered: hung in diamonds, drawn by the best carriages, and quartered in the finest palaces in the land".

Prince Albert

When Prince Albert, the second son of George V, proposed to Elizabeth in 1921, she turned him down: "Afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to." When he declared he would marry no other, his mother, the formidable Queen Mary, visited Glamis to see for herself the girl who had stolen her son's heart. She then arranged for Albert's rival, the Earl of Moray, to be conveniently dispatched to a post overseas, clearing the prince's way.

They married on April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth laid her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior on her way into the Abbey, a gesture which every royal bride since has copied, though she chose to do this on the way back from the altar rather than to it. She became styled HRH The Duchess of York. 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 brother, Prince Edward the Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VIII. George and Mary had made no bones about their dislike of their eldest child. Indeed, George had expressed the wish that nothing come between Albert and Princess Elizabeth and the throne.

As if granting his parents' wish, Edward forced a constitutional crisis by insisting on marrying the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Although, legally, Edward could have married Mrs Simpson and remained king, his ministers advised him that the people would never accept her as queen. So, Edward abdicated the throne in favour of Albert, who had no desire to become king, and had even less training for the role (despite his parents' aforementioned hopes for him). Nevertheless, Albert became king and took the name George VI. He and Elizabeth were crowned King George VI and Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Empress of India (until 1947) on May 12, 1937. Her crown contained the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

It is said Albert wept on hearing the news of the abdication, and that Elizabeth never forgave Edward and Mrs Simpson for their actions. When the ex-king and his wife were created Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth was responsible for the decision not to give the Duke's wife the style of Her Royal Highness. Even at the funeral of the Duke in 1972, when Wallis was physically frail and becoming senile, Elizabeth refused to speak to her.

In June 1939, she and her husband became the first reigning British king and queen to visit the United States.

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With Eleanor Roosevelt in the U.S. on June 17. 1939.

During World War II, the king and queen became symbols of the nation's resistance, and 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 German Luftwaffe, 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 the princesses lived during the war years. However, they did 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," and said that "If [Winston] Churchill is the man in Europe I must fear most, then surely she is the woman I have most to fear of 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 the First World War that war had to be avoided at all costs. After the resignation of Chamberlain, the King commissioned Winston Churchill to form a government.

Queen Mother (1952–2002)

Shortly after King George VI died of lung cancer, on February 6, 1952, Elizabeth began to be styled "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother." This style was adopted because the normal style for the widow of a king, "Queen Elizabeth," would have been too similar to the style of her elder daughter, now Queen Elizabeth II. The alternative style "The Queen Dowager" could not be used because a senior widowed queen, Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, was still alive. Popularly, she was simply "the Queen Mother" or "the Queen Mum."

To keep occupied, the widowed queen oversaw the restoration of the remote Castle of Mey on the Caithness coast of Scotland. 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 Diana, 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 a most distinctive royal wardrobe.

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.

The Queen Mother had a love of the arts which included purchasing works by Claude Monet, Augustus John and Peter Carl Fabergé, among 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 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 1980s, her queenly lifestyle, including the employment of 40 staff, and running a massive bank overdraft 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 to which the Queen Dowager and former empress had become accustomed. The Queen Mother was not unique in this. Her father-in-law, King George V, often despaired of his mother's spending habits, but he continued to subsidise Queen Alexandra throughout her widowhood.

In 1987 it emerged that she had two nieces Katherine Bowes-Lyon and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon. Both had been locked away in a psychiatric hospital and the Royal Family lied to Burke's Peerage claiming that the sisters had passed away. When Nerissa finally died, her grave was originally marked with a plastic tag and a serial number. [1] (

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

Though she had deliberately declined to give public interviews, the media regularly quoted some of her ‘one-liners’ revealing a dry and often sardonic wit. Coming across a group of teenagers throwing stones at cars, she wound down the window of her passing Daimler 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 rumoured 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 eyes 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 reportedly looked the queen in the eye, clicked her fingers, and like Ali G, quipped: "Respec'!"

She also employed a largely homosexual personal staff and once said, after her gin and tonic was continuously delayed by backstairs bickering, "When one of you young 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."

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 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.

The Queen Mother survived her younger daughter, and two nephews — Gerald Lascelles and Prince William of Gloucester. Also she was one of two surviving daughters-in-law of King George V and Queen Mary; the other being HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. The other three sisters-in-law were HRH The Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood, who died in 1965; HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, who died in 1968, and the Duchess of Windsor, who died in 1986.


The Queen Mother's death had been anticipated for many years, with broadcasting organisations holding regular internal rehearsals in preparation. Indeed, in November 1993 a Sky TV employee had caught sight of such a rehearsal and, thinking it to be a real broadcast, leaked it via his mother to the Australian media, which then put out premature reports of her death. Additionally, in 2003, fragments of her pre-written obituary were inadvertently published on CNN's website (along with obituaries of several other famous figures) due to a lapse in password protection.

But having lived longer than all expectations, Queen Elizabeth finally died peacefully in her sleep at the Royal Lodge at Windsor, with the current queen at her bedside, at around 3:15pm on March 30, 2002 (Easter Saturday). She was 101 years old, and at the time held the record for the longest-lived royal in British history. (That record would later be broken on July 24, 2003 by her last surviving sister-in-law Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who later died aged 102 on October 29, 2004.)

Queen Mother's funerary hatchment
Queen Mother's funerary hatchment

More than 200,000 people filed by her coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall of the Palace of Westminster for three days. Many of them braved lines that snaked back through Victoria Tower Gardens, across Lambeth Bridge, and along the south bank of the Thames 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 grandsons stood watch for an hour over the bier as the late queen lay in state. [2] ( She had six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren at the time of her death.

At the same time Queen Mother lay in state, U.S. President George W. Bush paid his respects to her, doing so as Prime Minister Tony Blair visited him at his ranch in Texas, as they both discussed the Middle East. Blair made note of the lying in state in the news conference. [3] (

On the day of the Queen Mother's funeral, 9 April, 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 and younger daughter in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. At her request, after her funeral the wreath that had lain atop her coffin was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, a gesture that eloquently echoed her wedding-day tribute.

Styles and Honours

  • The Honourable Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
  • The Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
  • Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York
  • Her Majesty The Queen
  • Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Honourary military appointments

She was the only woman to serve as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Preceded by:
Sir Robert Menzies
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by:
The Lord Boyce

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External links


es:Isabel Bowes-Lyon fr:Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon nl:Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon no:Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon pl:Elżbieta (królowa matka) pt:Rainha Elizabeth, A Rainha Mãe la:Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon


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