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Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Elizabeth Angela Marguerite; 4 August 1900 – 30 March 2002) was Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions from 1936 until 1952 as the wife of King George VI. After her husband's death, she was known as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, to avoid confusion with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. She was the last Queen of Ireland and Empress of India.

Born into a family of Scottish nobility (her father inherited the Earldom of Strathmore and Kinghorne in 1904), she came to prominence in 1923 when she married Albert, Duke of York, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary. As Duchess of York, she – along with her husband and their two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret – embodied traditional ideas of family and public service. She undertook a variety of public engagements, and became known as the "Smiling Duchess" because of her consistent public expression.

In 1936, her husband unexpectedly became king when her brother-in-law, Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. As queen consort, Elizabeth accompanied her husband on diplomatic tours to France and North America in the run-up to World War II. During the war, her seemingly indomitable spirit provided moral support to the British public, and in recognition of her role as a propaganda tool, Adolf Hitler described her as "the most dangerous woman in Europe". After the war, her husband's health deteriorated and she was widowed at the age of 51 in 1952.

On the death of her mother-in-law Queen Mary in 1953, with her brother-in-law living abroad and her elder daughter Queen at the age of 25, Elizabeth became the senior member of the Royal Family and assumed a position as family matriarch. In her later years, she was a consistently popular member of the family, when other members were suffering from low levels of public approval.

She continued an active public life until just a few months before her death at the age of 101, seven weeks after the death of her younger daughter, Princess Margaret.

Early life

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the youngest daughter and the ninth of ten children of Claude George Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis, (later 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne), and his wife, Cecilia Nina Cavendish-Bentinck. Her mother was descended from British Prime Minister William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, and Governor-General of India Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, who was the elder brother of another Prime Minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

The location of her birth remains uncertain, but reputedly she was born either in her parents' Westminstermarker home at Belgrave Mansions, Grosvenor Gardens, or in a horse-drawn ambulance on the way to the hospital. Her birth was registered at Hitchinmarker, Hertfordshiremarker, near the Strathmores' country house, St Paul's Walden Burymarker, which was also given as her birthplace in the census the following year. She was christened there on 23 September 1900, in the local parish church.

She spent much of her childhood at St Paul's Waldenmarker and at Glamis Castlemarker, the Earl's ancestral home in Glamismarker, Angusmarker, Scotlandmarker. She was educated at home by a governess until the age of 8, and was fond of field sports, ponies and dogs. When she started school in London, she astonished her teachers by precociously beginning an essay with two Greek words from Xenophon's Anabasis. Her best subjects were literature and scripture. After returning to private education under a German governess she passed the Oxford Local Examination with distinction aged 13.

On her fourteenth birthday, Britain declared war on Germanymarker. Her elder brother, Fergus, an officer in the Black Watch Regiment, was killed in action in Francemarker at the Battle of Loos in 1915. Another brother, Michael, was reported missing in action in May 1917. 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 convalescent home for wounded soldiers, which Elizabeth helped to run. One of the soldiers she treated wrote in her autograph book that she was to be "Hung, drawn, & quartered ... Hung in diamonds, drawn in a coach and four, and quartered in the best house in the land."

Marriage to Prince Albert

Prince Albert, Duke of York – "Bertie" to the family – was the second son of George V. He initially proposed to Elizabeth in 1921, but she turned him down, being "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, Queen Mary, visited Glamis to see for herself the girl who had stolen her son's heart. She became convinced that Elizabeth was "the one girl who could make Bertie happy", but nevertheless refused to interfere.

Eventually Elizabeth agreed to marry Albert, despite her misgivings about royal life. The engagement was announced in January 1923. Albert's freedom in choosing Elizabeth, legally a commoner though the daughter of a peer, was considered a gesture in favour of political modernisation; previously, princes were expected to marry princesses from other royal families. They married on 26 April 1923, at Westminster Abbeymarker. Elizabeth laid her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warriormarker on her way into the Abbey, a gesture which every royal bride since has copied, though subsequent brides have chosen to do this on the way back from the altar rather than to it. She became styled Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York. They honeymooned at Polesden Laceymarker, a manor house in Surreymarker, and then went to Scotland.

In 1926, the couple had their first child, Princess Elizabeth – "Lilibet" to the family – who would later become Queen Elizabeth II. Another daughter, Margaret Rose, was born four years later. The Duke and Duchess of York travelled to Australia to open Parliament Housemarker in Canberramarker in 1927.

Accession and abdication of Edward VIII

On 20 January 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 had expressed reservations about his eldest child, "I pray God that my eldest son will never marry and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne."

As if granting his father's wish, Edward forced a constitutional crisis by insisting on marrying the American divorcée Mrs Wallis Simpson. Although legally Edward could have married Mrs Simpson and remained king, his ministers believed that the people would never accept her as queen and advised against the marriage. As a constitutional monarch, Edward was obliged to accept ministerial advice. Rather than abandon his plans to marry Mrs Simpson, Edward chose to abdicate in favour of Albert, who reluctantly became king in his place on 11 December 1936. Albert took the regnal name George VI. He and Elizabeth were crowned King and Queen of Great Britainmarker, Irelandmarker and the British dominions beyond the seas, and Emperor and Empress of India on 12 May 1937, the date already nominated for the coronation of Edward VIII. Elizabeth's crown was made of platinum and contained the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Edward and Mrs Simpson married, and became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but while Edward was a Royal Highness, George VI decided to withhold the style from the Duchess, a decision which Elizabeth supported. Elizabeth was later quoted as referring to the Duchess as "that woman". For her part, the Duchess referred to Elizabeth as "Cookie".

Queen consort to George VI (1936–1952)

Royal tour of Canada and the United States in 1939

In summer 1938, the French press praised the demeanour and charm of the royal couple during a succesful State Visit to France, augmented by an 'all white trousseau' created by Norman Hartnell for the Queen. In June 1939, Elizabeth's husband became the first reigning King to tour Canada, as well as the United Statesmarker. According to the official Royal Tour historian Gustave Lanctot, George VI was to be present in Canadamarker as a living example of Canada's status as an independent kingdom. During the tour of the United States, the King and Queen were accompanied by Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, as the sole Minister in Attendance, rather than by a British minister, by way of reinforcing that their visit to the United States was a visit from Canada.

The extensive tour took them across Canada from coast to coast and back, with a brief detour into the United States, where they visited the Roosevelts in the White Housemarker and at their Hudson Valley estatemarker. According to an often-told story, during one of the earliest of the royal couple's repeated encounters with the crowds, a Second Boer War veteran asked Elizabeth, "Are you Scots or are you English?" She replied, "I am a Canadian!" Their reception by the Canadian and U.S. public was extremely enthusiastic, and dissipated in large measure any residual feeling that George and Elizabeth were in any way a lesser substitute for Edward. Elizabeth told Prime Minister Mackenzie King, "that tour made us", and she returned to Canada frequently both on official tours and privately.

World War II

During World War II, the King and Queen became symbols of the nation's resilience and strength. Shortly after the declaration of war, The Queen's Book of the Red Cross was conceived. Fifty authors and artists contributed to the book, which was fronted by Cecil Beaton's portrait of the Queen and was sold in aid of the Red Crossmarker. Elizabeth publicly refused to leave London or send the children to Canada, even during the Blitz, when she was advised by the Cabinet to do so. She said, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave."

She often made visits to parts of London that were targeted by the German Luftwaffe, in particular the East Endmarker, near London's docksmarker. Her visits initially provoked hostility. Rubbish was thrown at her and the crowds jeered, in part because she dressed in expensive clothing which served to alienate her from those suffering the privations caused by the war. She explained that if the public came to see her they would wear their best clothes, so she should reciprocate in kind; Norman Hartnell dressed her in gentle colours and never black, in order to represent "the rainbow of hope". When Buckingham Palacemarker itself took several hits during the height of the bombing, Elizabeth was able to say, "I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face."

Though the King and Queen spent the working day at Buckingham Palace, partly for security and family reasons they stayed at night at Windsor Castlemarker (about 20 miles [35 kilometres] west of central London) with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The Palace had lost much of its staff to the army, and most of the rooms were shut. Because of fears of imminent invasion during the "Phony War" the Queen was given revolver training.

Because of her effect on British morale, Adolf Hitler is said to have called her "the most dangerous woman in Europe". However, prior to the war both she and her husband, like most of Parliamentmarker and the British public, had been supporters of appeasement and Prime Minister 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 asked Winston Churchill to form a government. Although the King was initially reluctant to support Churchill, in due course both the King and Queen came to respect and admire him for what they perceived to be his courage and solidarity.

Queen Mother (1952–2002)

New role in widowhood

On 6 February 1952, King George VI died of lung cancer. Shortly afterward, 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. Popularly, she simply became "the Queen Mother" or "the Queen Mum".

She was devastated by the King's death and retired to Scotland; however, after a meeting with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, she broke her retirement and resumed her public duties. Eventually she became just as busy as Queen Mother as she had been as Queen. In July 1953, she undertook her first overseas visit since the funeral, laying the foundation stone in Mount Pleasantmarker of the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland – the current University of Zimbabwemarker.

The widowed queen also oversaw the restoration of the remote Castle of Meymarker on the Caithnessmarker coast of Scotland, which she used to "get away from everything" for three weeks in August and ten days in October each year. Inspired by the amateur jockey Lord Mildmay,Rowe, David (31 March 2002), "Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother 1900-2002: The Racegoer", The Sunday Mirror

* she developed an interest in horse racing that continued for the rest of her life, owning the winners of approximately 500 races. Her distinctive light blue colours were carried by horses such as Special Cargo, the winner of the 1984 Whitbread Gold Cup and The Argonaut. Although (contrary to rumour) she never placed bets, she did have the racing commentaries piped direct to her London residence, Clarence Housemarker, so she could follow the races. As an art collector, she purchased works by Claude Monet, Augustus John and Peter Carl Fabergé, among others.

Before the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer to her grandson Prince Charles, and after Diana's death, the Queen Mother – known for her personal and public charm – was by far the most popular member of the British Royal Family. Her signature dress of large upturned hat with netting and dresses with draped panels of fabric became a distinctive personal style.

In December 1966, she underwent a 90-minute operation to remove a tumour after she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Contrary to rumours, she did not have a colostomy.


In her later years, the Queen Mother became known for her longevity. Her hundredth birthday—4 August 2000—was celebrated in a number of ways: a parade that celebrated the highlights of her life included contributions from Norman Wisdom and John Mills; her image appeared on a special commemorative £20 note issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland; and she attended a lunch at the Guildhall, Londonmarker, at which George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, accidentally attempted to drink her glass of wine. Her quick admonition of "That's mine!" caused widespread amusement.

In December 2001, the Queen Mother had a fall in which she fractured her pelvis. Even so, she insisted on standing for the National Anthem during the memorial service for her husband on 6 February the following year. Just three days later, her second daughter Princess Margaret died. On 13 February 2002, at Sandringham Housemarker, the Queen Mother fell and cut her arm. A doctor and an ambulance with a resuscitation unit (the latter only being there as a precaution) were called to Sandringham, where the wound on the Queen Mother's arm was dressed. Despite this fall, the Queen Mother was still determined to attend Margaret's funeral at St George's Chapel, Windsormarker, two days later on Friday of that week. The Queen and the rest of the royal family were greatly concerned about the journey the Queen Mother was facing to get from Norfolk to Windsor. Nevertheless, she made the journey but insisted that she be shielded from the press, so that no photographs of her in a wheelchair could be taken.


The Queen Mother's funeral carriage escorted by the Queen's Guard.
On 30 March 2002, at 3:15 p.m., the Queen Mother died peacefully in her sleep at the Royal Lodgemarker, Windsor, with her surviving daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, at her bedside. She had been suffering from a cold for the last four months of her life. She was 101 years old, and at the time of her death was the longest-lived member of the royal family in British history. This record was broken on 24 July 2003, by her last surviving sister-in-law Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who died aged 102 on 29 October 2004.

Elizabeth grew camellias in every one of her gardens, and as her body was taken from the Royal Lodgemarker, Windsormarker to lie in state at Westminster Hall, camellias from her own gardens were placed on top of the flag-draped coffin. More than 200,000 people over three days filed past as she lay in state in Westminster Hall at the Palace of Westminstermarker. Members of the household cavalry and other branches of the armed forces, stood guard at the four corners of the catafalque. At one point, the Queen Mother's four grandsons Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Viscount Linley mounted the guard as a mark of respect known as the Vigil of the Princes—a very high honour only bestowed once before, at King George V's lying in state.

On the day of the Queen Mother's funeral, 9 April, more than a million people filled the area outside Westminster Abbeymarker and along the route from central London to her final resting place beside her husband and younger daughter in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castlemarker. At her request, after her funeral the wreath that had lain atop her coffin was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warriormarker in Westminster Abbey, a gesture that echoed her wedding-day tribute.

Public perception

Despite being regarded as one of the most popular members of the Royal Family in recent times who helped to stabilise the popularity of the monarchy as a whole, Elizabeth was subject to various degrees of criticism during her life. Among the most serious relates to perceived partiality in relation to the appeasement debate in the 1930s. Upon Neville Chamberlain's return from Munich in 1938, he was invited onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace to receive acclamation from a crowd of well-wishers. While broadly popular among the general public, Chamberlain's policy towards Hitler was the subject of some opposition in the House of Commonsmarker, which led historian John Grigg to describe the King's behaviour in associating himself so prominently with a politician as "the most unconstitutional act by a British sovereign in the present century". However, historians have also argued that the King only ever followed ministerial advice and acted as he was constitutionally bound to do. In 1945, Churchill was invited onto the balcony in a similar gesture.

During the 1939 Royal Tour of North America, U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said that Elizabeth was "a little self-consciously regal". During a visit to London in 1948 she observed, "[Elizabeth and her family] are nice people but so far removed from real life, it seems."

Kitty Kelley, a controversial writer, and others have alleged that during World War II Elizabeth did not abide by the rationing regulations to which the rest of the population was subject. However, this point is contradicted by the official records; Eleanor Roosevelt during her stay at Buckingham Palace during the war reported expressly on the rationed food served in the Palace and the limited bathwater that was permitted.

Kelley also alleged that Elizabeth used racist slurs to refer to black people, a claim strongly denied by Major Colin Burgess. Major Burgess was the husband of Elizabeth Burgess, a mixed-race secretary who accused members of the Prince of Wales's Household of racial abuse. Queen Elizabeth made no public comments on race, but according to Robert Rhodes James in private she "abhorred racial discrimination" and decried apartheid as "dreadful". Woodrow Wyatt records in his diary that when he expressed the view that non-white countries have nothing in common with "us", she told him, "I am very keen on the Commonwealth. They're all like us." However, she did distrust Germans; she told Woodrow Wyatt, "Never trust them, never trust them." While she may have held such views, it has been argued that they were normal for British people of her generation and upbringing, who had experienced two vicious wars with Germany.

Her political views were never publicly disclosed, though a letter she wrote in 1947 described Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee's "high hopes of a socialist heaven on earth" as fading and presumably describes those who voted for him as "poor people, so many half-educated and bemused. I do love them." She told the Duchess of Grafton, "I love communists". Woodrow Wyatt thought her "much more pro Conservative than the Queen or the Prince of Wales" but she later told him, "I like the dear old Labour Party."

In 1987, she was criticised when it emerged that two of her nieces, Katherine Bowes-Lyon and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, had both been committed to a psychiatric hospital because they were severely handicapped. However, Burke's Peerage had listed the sisters as dead, apparently because their mother, Fenella (the Queen Mother's sister-in-law), "was 'extremely vague' when it came to filling in forms and might not have completed the paperwork for the family entry correctly". When Nerissa had died the year before, her grave was originally marked with a plastic tag and a serial number. The Queen Mother claimed that the news of their institutionalisation came as a surprise to her.


Sir Hugh Casson described her vividly as like "a wave breaking on a rock, because although she is sweet and pretty and charming, she also has a basic streak of toughness and tenacity. ... when a wave breaks on a rock, it showers and sparkles with a brilliant play of foam and droplets in the sun, yet beneath is really hard, tough rock, fused, in her case, from strong principles, physical courage and a sense of duty." Peter Ustinov described her during a student demonstration in 1968, "As we arrived in a solemn procession the students pelted us with toilet rolls. They kept hold of one end, like streamers at a ball, and threw the other end. The Queen Mother stopped and picked these up as though somebody had misplaced them. [Returning them to the students she said,] 'Was this yours? Oh, could you take it?' And it was her sang-froid and her absolute refusal to be shocked by this, which immediately silenced all the students. She knows instinctively what to do on those occasions. She doesn't rise to being heckled at all; she just pretends it must be an oversight on the part of the people doing it. The way she reacted not only showed her presence of mind, but was so charming and so disarming, even to the most rabid element, that she brought peace to troubled waters."

Elizabeth maintained a serene image throughout her public engagements, except once, during the 1947 Royal Tour of South Africa, when she rose from the royal carriage to beat an admirer about the head with her umbrella, having mistaken enthusiasm for hostility. Being a keen angler, she once calmly joked, after being rushed to hospital when a fish bone stuck in her throat, "The salmon have got their own back."

She was well-known for her dry witticisms. On hearing that Edwina Mountbatten was buried at sea, she said: "Dear Edwina, she always liked to make a splash." Accompanied by the gay writer and wit Sir Noël Coward at a gala, she mounted a staircase lined with Guards. Noticing Coward's eyes flicker momentarily across the soldiers, she murmured to him: "I wouldn't if I were you, Noël; they count them before they put them out." After being advised by a Conservative Minister in the 1970s not to employ homosexuals, the Queen Mother observed that without them, "we'd have to go self-service". On the fate of a gift of a nebuchadnezzar of champagne (20 bottles' worth) even if her family didn't come for the holidays, she said, "I'll polish it off myself." Her extravagant lifestyle amused journalists, particularly when it was revealed she had a multi-million pound overdraft with Coutts Bank. Her habits were often parodied (with relative affection) by the satirical 1980s television programme Spitting Image – which portrayed her with a Birmingham accent (modelled on actress Beryl Reid) and an ever-present copy of the Racing Post. She was portrayed by Sylvia Syms in the 2006 film, The Queen.

The Queen Mother left her entire estate to the Queen, except for some bequests to members of her staff. Her estate was estimated to be worth £70 million, including paintings, Fabergé eggs, jewellery, and horses. Eight years before her death, she had reportedly placed two-thirds of her money into trusts, for the benefit of her great-grandchildren. The Queen Mother's most important pieces of art were transferred to the Royal Collection by the Queen.

A statue of Queen Elizabeth at the George VI Memorial, off The Mall, Londonmarker, was unveiled on 24 February 2009.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Queen Elizabeth's arms

Titles and styles

Elizabeth held a number of different titles and styles throughout her life, as the daughter of an earl, through her husband, and eventually as consort to the sovereign of multiple states. In common practice, she was referred to most often as simply The Queen or Her Majesty. When in conversation, the practice was to initially address her as Your Majesty and thereafter as Ma'am.


The Queen Mother's coat of arms were the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (in either the English or the Scottish version) impaled with the arms of her father, the Earl of Strathmore; the latter being 1st and 4th quarters, argent, a lion rampant Azure, armed and langued gules, within a double tressure flory-counter-flory of the second (Lyon), 2nd and 3rd quarters, ermine three bows, stringed paleways proper (Bowes).





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