Queen Elizabeth II
England’s Queen Mother
“Royalty puts a human face on the operations of government and provides an image with which the people of a nation can identify and which they can love.
Queen Elizabeth ‘s face is known and loved throughout the world,” said Dr. Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1980 about Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on her 80th birthday at a special church service in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a fitting tribute – and remained true for the 20 more years she lived as it had all her life.
The lady they honored that day had borne several titles: Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyons, the Duchess of York, the Queen of England and finally in 1952 that she assumed the title that she would carry with love and pride for the next fifty years – Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Yet to many Brits, she is known simply as “Queen Mum.”
There is a story that as a child Elizabeth noted in an autograph album that her favorite pastime was to make friends and in her 100 years of life and service to her family and her nation, she made many.
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons was born in Hertfordshire, England on August 4, 1900 the daughter of Lord and Lady Glamis, the ninth child of 10 and the youngest daughter as well as descendent of Scottish royalty. Then in 1903 with the death of her grandfather, her father became the 14th Earl of Strathmore and the family moved to the family seat of Glamis Castle , the oldest inhabited Scottish castle where Elizabeth grew up with a life-long love of Scotland .
When World War I began in 1914, the family offered Glamis castle as a convalescent medical center for returning veterans. In December of that year within days of the arrival of the first soldiers, Elizabeth knew them by their first names, and kept busy and helpful as she ran errands, played endless games of cards and even billiards with the soldiers. Her own family was also personally involved in the war effort since four of her brother fought in the war, one was killed in action and one was a POW for two years.
After the war, Elizabeth and her friends enjoyed a busy social schedule but she also made time to take part in the Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) in her area, and this common interest brought a friendship with Princess Mary, only daughter of King George V.
Elizabeth served as a bridesmaid in the Princess’ wedding and about this time became better acquainted with Prince Albert, Mary’s brother. Bertie, as he was known in his family, was the second son of King George V. He was shy, awkward, and had a stutter, but he was a frequent visitor to Glamis and it soon became evident that he was very interested in Elizabeth . He proposed marriage several times between 1921 and 1923, but she declined each time. Finally, in January 1923 he tried again and this time she responded. “If you’re going to keep this up forever, I might as well say ‘yes’ now. And so I do.”
With the announcement of their engagement, Bertie and Elizabeth found themselves the center of public and press attention as reporters besieged Elizabeth’s London home and they appeared in several movie newsreels of the time. The wedding was scheduled for Westminster Abbey for April 23, 1923 , and since it was the first wedding of a king’s son since the 1300s there was great festivity and pomp. The new BBC wanted to broadcast the wedding, and while the crown and a few church officials approved, other church officials opposed it. They felt the ceremony was too sacred to be heard in public houses and by “people wearing hats.”
As the Duke and Duchess of York , the traditional title for the monarch’s second son, Bertie and Elizabeth could only anticipate a quiet and routine family life with few royal duties, since Bertie’s older brother the Prince of Wales would logically succeed to the throne. They began their family with the birth of Princesses Elizabeth in 1926 and Margaret Rose in 1930 and renovated and moved into the Royal Lodge at Windsor as their country retreat. It was a quiet period of domesticity for the Yorks but it was soon to change.
King George V died in January 1936 and the Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Edward VIII. Known as David to his family, the new king had never married, instead having frequent relationships with married women. His current companion Mrs. Wallis Simpson was not only married but had been previously divorced so when David insisted that he planned to eventually marry her, the British government and church voiced strong objection. Then when it became clear that he must choose between Mrs. Simpson and his throne, he decided to abdicate and that choice changed the lives of Bertie and Elizabeth and eventually that of their daughters. Stating that he could not reign without the love and support of “the woman I love,” David gave a final radio address and described one advantage of Bertie as his successor. “My brother,” he said, “has one matchless blessing enjoyed by so many of you and not bestowed on me – a happy home with his wife and children.”
David’s abdication in December 1936 did not change the plans for the coronation of the new king and that went forward but with George VI instead of Edward VIII in May 1937 as Bertie as he was Duke of York assumed a position for which he had never prepared.
The new royal family offered a close and loving image to a British nation in the midst of national preparations for war. The Queen spoke often on the radio, particularly to the women who were attempting to keep their homes and children safe and secure. As the months passed and there were frequent bombing attacks the King and the Queen were constantly touring the damaged sites, particularly in the East End of London , Their purpose was to offer the encouragement of their presence, serving to draw the nation tighter and showing the monarchy to be a unifying force. On these tours, the Queen was careful to dress in bright colors, and never in black.
Other European royalty had fled the invading armies to more secure locations in other countries, but the King and Queen refused to leave. Even though a German invasion was a real possibility, and the royal family was advised to at least send the princesses out of the country the Queen would not hear of it. “The princesses cannot go without me,” she declared. “I cannot go without the king, and the king will never go.” During the Blitz or aerial attacks on London , the Princesses were moved to nearby Windsor Castle , but the King and Queen remained in London . As an advisor to Prime Minister Winston Churchill said later: “I don’t think anyone had any doubts and certainly the Prime Minister didn’t – that the influence the queen had on the king was enormously beneficial. He had a very difficult job in wartime and she supported him quite magnificently. Wherever he went and whatever he did she was there by his side. She never for a moment flinched at the danger or bombing or whatever it might be, and I’m she there was no wiser counselor.” When Buckingham Palace was bombed the Queen was glad. “Now I can look the east end in the face,” she said.
After the war, the king and queen shared in the joy of the victory, just as they had shared in the wartime rationing and austerity. Then in 1947 the entire royal family took the first royal tour after the war to South Africa and when they returned the king and queen announced the engagement of the Princess Elizabeth to Philip Mountbatten and they were married in November 1947. Within a year Prince Charles was born, and followed by Princess Anne in 1950.
However, the king’s health had been failing, and he was suffering from cancer. When Princess Elizabeth and her husband set off for a world tour in January 1952, the king came to the airport to see them off. His haggard windswept face was the last public image the nation would see for he was dead within days. His widow of 51 became Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and her daughter now occupied the throne. Yet in her sorrow, the new Queen Mother did not forget her public duties as she reassured the nation: “He loved you all. Every one of you. That was the pledge he took at his Coronation. Now I am left to do what I can to honor that pledge without him.”
As she began the last half of her ultimate 100 years, Elizabeth did not event think of retiring for she continued a full schedule of royal appearances and public duties. Whether it was at a flower show the horse race at Ascot or at the annual Service of the Order of the Garter, the Queen Mother was in public view with a ready smile and wave. She was active until the very last years of her life when the life dedicated to her nation and her family came to an end on April 22, 2002.
Anne Adams is a writer/teacher in Houston , Texas . She has published in Christian and secular publications and her book “Brittany, Child of Joy” was issued by Broadman Press in 1986.