Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900—)

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Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900—)

Queen-consort of England and mother of Elizabeth II. Name variations: Queen Elizabeth; Queen Mum; Duchess of York. Born Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon on August 4, 1900, in London, England; youngest daughter and 9th of 10 children of Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and Nina Cavendish-Bentinck , Lady Strathmore; descendent of Robert Bruce, king of Scotland; married Albert (d. 1952), duke of York, also known as George VI, king of England (r. 1936–1952), on April 26, 1923; children: Elizabeth Alexandra Mary (future queen of England as Elizabeth II, b. April 21, 1926); Princess Margaret Rose (b. 1930).

Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon did not follow the usual path to the throne but arrived there by default in 1936, when her husband Albert, duke of York, became King George VI following the abdication of his brother Edward VIII (who then married Wallis Warfield, duchess of Windsor ). Often described as a reluctant queen, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon helped her husband, a shy, sensitive man with a debilitating stutter, rise to become a national figurehead, and she also became the most popular queen-consort in British history.

A commoner, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born into Scottish aristocracy, the ninth of ten children in a close-knit family that divided their days between Glamis Castle, north of Dundee, and St. Paul's Walden Bury, 30 miles from London. She was an adventuresome child who spent many hours outdoors, romping with a menagerie of family pets and riding her Shetland pony, Bobs. Indoors, she delighted in dragging period costumes from the attic and presenting herself as a "princess" at family gatherings. Having an early fondness for tea cakes and conversation, Elizabeth was described by a governess as being mature beyond her years, with a natural talent for making others feel at ease. Schooled mostly at home (she attended a nursery class in London and two terms at a girls' day school), by the age of 21 she had blossomed into a wistfully pretty girl, confident and witty, with a number of hopeful young men in tow. In February 1922, reportedly while serving as a bridesmaid at the wedding of Princess Mary (1897–1965) and Viscount Lascelles, she met Albert, the young duke of York, known to all as Bertie. Although Elizabeth turned down Albert's first two proposals, they became the next royals to be wed at Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth had a calming, reassuring influence on her new husband and brought fresh air to the somewhat stuffy House of Windsor, providing laughter and good humor to a family not famed for either. Even King George V, with his reputation for gruffness, adored his new daughter-in-law, as evidenced by a letter he sent to Albert shortly after the marriage. "The better I know and the more I see of your dear little wife," he wrote, "the more charming I think she is."

With Elizabeth's encouragement, Albert undertook a long and exhausting treatment for his stuttering, and she remained at his side throughout the regimen of breathing and speech exercises as he gradually began to improve. The couple's first child, Elizabeth (II) , was born in London on April 21, 1926; Margaret Rose followed in 1930. Princess Elizabeth was only seven months old when her mother was forced to leave her to accompany the duke on a state visit to Australia and New Zealand. Bowes-Lyon was so distraught at parting with her baby daughter that the royal car had to make an additional circle around Grosvenor Gardens on the way to Victoria Station, to give her enough time to compose herself before facing the crowds gathered on the platform to see them off.

The coronation of Albert as King George VI and Elizabeth as queen-consort was held on May 12, 1937, just five months after Edward's abdication, which weighed heavily on Britishers who were still mourning the death of King George V. During the first years of their reign, the new royals suffered profound insecurity, which was not helped by the growing threat of war. In the spring of 1939, they undertook one of the first Royal tours in North America—including a visit with the prime minister of Canada and a weekend visit with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at their Hyde Park home. Elizabeth and Albert soon endeared themselves to the public with their refreshing informality, including "walkabouts" and chats, a common touch that would become the hallmark of their reign. The Roosevelts were disarmed when the king and queen joined them for a picnic of hot dogs and beer. The stunning success of the royals across the Atlantic prompted new confidence at home. Their return to London was greeted by a celebratory mood that rivaled that of the coronation. Harold Nicolson recorded the event in his diary entry of June 23, 1939: "We lost all our dignity and yelled and yelled. The King wore a happy schoolboy grin; the Queen was superb. She really does manage to convey to each individual in the crowd that he or she has had a personal greeting. It is due, I think, to the brilliance of her eyes.… She is in truth one of the most amazing Queens since Cleopatra [VII] ."

During the war, the king and queen confirmed their position in the hearts of the people. Braving personal danger, they refused to leave London and remained highly visible throughout the Blitz. They were often seen visiting raid victims, "he in a naval uniform," wrote Elizabeth Longford , "she in flowery hat and pretty shoes stepping over the debris of splintered wood and glass." After the bombing of Buckingham Palace

in 1940, Elizabeth remarked, "I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face." So adept was she in boosting morale that Adolf Hitler often referred to her as the most dangerous woman in Europe.

Cavendish-Bentinck, Nina (c. 1860–?)

Countess of Strathmore. Name variations: Lady Strathmore. Born Nina Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck around 1860; daughter of a Mrs. Scott and Charles Cavendish-Bentinck; married Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, in 1881; children: Violet Bowes-Lyon (1882–1893); Mary Bowes-Lyon (b. 1883); Patrick (b. 1884); John (1886–1930); Alexander (1887–1911); Fergus (1889–1915); Rose Bowes-Lyon (b. 1890); Michael (b. 1893); Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (b. 1900); David (b. 1902).

The king was already ill in 1947, when he and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon shared the happy occasion of their eldest daughter's marriage to Prince Philip. When the king died in February 1952, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was overcome with grief but determined to rebuild her life. Adopting the title of the Queen Mother, while her daughter ascended the throne as Elizabeth II, Bowes-Lyon took refuge in Scotland, where she found solace in restoring a 16th-century castle. (The Castle of Mey has since become her private hideaway, and the only home she personally owns.) Although it was suggested that she be dispatched for a two- or three-year tour of duty to Canada or Australia, her daughter Elizabeth II would not hear of it. ("Oh no, we could not possibly do without Mummy," was the queen's often quoted reaction.) Instead, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon continued the royal tours so popular in the late 1930s and, through the years, became a kind of roving ambassador for Britain.

Considered the matriarch of the entire royal clan since the death of Queen Mary of Teck in 1953, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon spread good will throughout the world and tended to an over-whelming schedule of official duties at home. Ann Morrow , in her biography The Queen Mother, described the queen's workload as so heavy at times that there were frequent changeovers of the ladies-in-waiting, most of whom had difficulty keeping up the pace. Possessed with a remarkable stamina and good health, which she has retained through the practice of homeopathy, the queen mother has always loved the outdoors, which she also attributes to keeping her in the pink. "A good strong wind," she remarked, "blows the germs away." She has also avidly pursued the sport of horse racing and has owned more than 50 horses.

Always a devoted grandmother, the queen mother supported her six grandchildren through difficult passages. In 1978, her grandson Prince Charles wrote of their relationship: "Ever since I can remember, my grandmother has been the most wonderful example of fun, laughter, warmth, infinite security and above all else exquisite taste.… For me she has always been one of those extraordinarily rare people whose touch can turn everything to gold."

In May 1995, resplendent in head-to-toe canary yellow, the queen mother appeared with her two daughters on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Her appearance elicited the same outpouring of affection as it had in 1945, when she, the king, and the two princesses appeared on the same balcony for the first victory observance. As Daniel Pedersen pointed out in an article for Newsweek, the 1995 celebration provided a respite from the cynicism that pervaded the monarchy throughout the 1990s. Amid the failed marriages and scandals of the younger royals, the queen mother remains, in Pedersen's words, as "a living link to an age of national unity and greatness."


Fellowes-Gordon, Ian. Famous Scottish Lives. Middlesex: Odhams, 1967.

Lacey, Robert. Queen Mother. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1987.

Longford, Elizabeth. The Royal House of Windsor. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.

Morrow, Ann. The Queen Mother. NY: Stein and Day, 1984.

Pedersen, Daniel. "Queen Mum: What Royalty Is Good For," in Newsweek. May 22, 1995.

suggested reading:

Forbes, Grania. My Darling Buffy: The Early Life of the Queen Mother. London: Richard Cohen Books, 1997.

Whitmore, Richard. Hertfordshire's Queen. London: Countryside Books, 1997.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts.

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Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900—)

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