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The Queen Mother

Cover of The Queen Mother

The Queen Mother

The Official Biography
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The official and definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: consort of King George VI, mother of Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother of Prince Charles—and the most beloved British monarch of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon—the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore’s ten children—was born on August 4, 1900, and, certainly, no one could have imagined that her long life (she died in 2002) would come to reflect a changing nation over the ourse of an entire century. Now, William Shawcross—given unrestricted access to the Queen Mother’s personal papers, letters, and diaries—gives us a portrait of unprecedented vividness and detail. Here is the girl who helped convalescing soldiers during the First World War . . . the young Duchess of York helping her reluctant husband assume the throne when his brother abdicated . . . the Queen refusing to take refuge from the bombing of London, risking her own life to instill courage and hope in others who were living through the Blitz . . . the dowager Queen—the last Edwardian, the charming survivor of a long-lost era—representing her nation at home and abroad . . . the matriarch of the Royal Family and “the nation’s best-loved grandmother.”

A revelatory royal biography that is, as well, a singular history of Britain in the twentieth century.


From the Hardcover edition.
The official and definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: consort of King George VI, mother of Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother of Prince Charles—and the most beloved British monarch of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon—the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore’s ten children—was born on August 4, 1900, and, certainly, no one could have imagined that her long life (she died in 2002) would come to reflect a changing nation over the ourse of an entire century. Now, William Shawcross—given unrestricted access to the Queen Mother’s personal papers, letters, and diaries—gives us a portrait of unprecedented vividness and detail. Here is the girl who helped convalescing soldiers during the First World War . . . the young Duchess of York helping her reluctant husband assume the throne when his brother abdicated . . . the Queen refusing to take refuge from the bombing of London, risking her own life to instill courage and hope in others who were living through the Blitz . . . the dowager Queen—the last Edwardian, the charming survivor of a long-lost era—representing her nation at home and abroad . . . the matriarch of the Royal Family and “the nation’s best-loved grandmother.”

A revelatory royal biography that is, as well, a singular history of Britain in the twentieth century.


From the Hardcover edition.
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    PROLOGUE

    Wednesday 19 July 2000 was the day chosen for the pageant celebrating the hundredth birthday of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. In London, the day did not begin well. There were bomb scares, the controlled explosion of a suspicious bag, and many trains were cancelled. Senior police officers considered whether the whole event should be abandoned. It was not.

    The celebration, on Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall, had been designed as a joyful tribute to Queen Elizabeth and the hundreds of organizations with which she was connected. In warm afternoon sunshine, as the National Anthem was performed by massed military bands, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a choir of a thousand singers, Queen Elizabeth, dressed in pink, arrived with her grandson the Prince of Wales in a landau escorted by the Household Cavalry.

    After she had inspected the troops, she and the Prince sat on a flower-bedecked dais (though she stood much of the time) to watch the parade together. It began with a march-past of the regiments of which she was colonel-in-chief, followed by the King's Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery and the Mounted Bands of the Household Cavalry. One hundred homing doves were released as a young boy sang 'Oh for the Wings of a Dove'.

    Then came a cavalcade of the century, a light-hearted look at the hundred years she had lived through; more of a circus than a parade, it included 450 children and adults, with a variety of stars. Among the scenes and players who passed in front of her were soldiers of the First World War, ballroom dancers from the 1920s, a Second World War fire engine and ambulance, Pearly Kings and Queens from the East End of London, and people in 1940s dress celebrating victory in 1945.

    Then came a series of post-war cars -- Enid Blyton's Noddy in his yellow car, the first Mini Minor, James Bond's Aston Martin, an E-type Jaguar. More recent -- and perhaps more surprising -- twentieth-century memories were recalled by Hell's Angels on their bikes, punk-rock youths in black and the television characters, the Wombles.

    After this eclectic depiction of the previous ten decades, representatives of 170 of the more than 300 civil organizations, charities and other groups with which Queen Elizabeth was associated marched past her. This part of the parade began with Queen Elizabeth's page leading two of her corgis, the breed of dog which had for so long shared her life. There were more animals: camels (ridden by members of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, whose emblem is a camel), horses, an Aberdeen Angus bull, North Country Cheviot sheep, chickens, racehorses. The groups waving gaily as they passed included the Girls' Brigade, Queen Elizabeth's Overseas Nursing Services Association, the Cookery and Food Association (a hundred chefs all in their whites), the Mothers' Union, the Poultry Club of Great Britain, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the National Trust, the Royal College of Midwives, St John Ambulance Brigade, the Royal School of Needlework, the Colditz Association, the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, the Bomber Command Association and, bringing up the rear, twenty-two holders of the Victoria and George Crosses, Britain's highest awards for heroism, followed by the venerable Chelsea Pensioners marching stiffly but proudly in their bright red uniforms. Everyone in the stands stood up as these brave men and women passed.

    RAF planes from the Second World War -- a Spitfire, a Hurricane, a Lancaster bomber, a Bristol Blenheim -- flew overhead, followed by the Red Arrows trailing red, white and blue vapour trails. And all the while the bands and the orchestra played on and the choirs sang. Hubert...

Reviews-
  • USA Today

    "Fascinating . . . Anglophiles and lovers of the crown will relish every morsel."

  • The Times (London) "A totally absorbing and highly readable account of a remarkable life. . . . Shawcross's book is genuinely revelatory."
  • Los Angeles Times "Remarkable."
  • The Economist "Lively and elegantly written. . . . A rich portrait."
  • The Daily Telegraph (London) "Splendid. . . . An entertaining page-turner. . . . This masterly biography reveals a character whose charm was matched by courage, optimism, a strong sense of duty and a liking for fun. . . . A wonderful book, authoritative, frank and entertaining. It sets new standards for royal biography. . . . Anyone who finds royal biographies dull and dutiful is in for a surprise."
  • Bloomberg News "A portrait of a remarkable life lived in step with a century of sweeping change."
  • Daily Mail (London) "A colossal book about a colossal life, a spectacular journey across the entire 20th Century through the eyes of a thoughtful woman who took the hand of a shy royal understudy and was propelled through modern history."
  • Tucson Citizen "A behind-the-scenes glimpse at the Royal Family. . . . Fascinating reading. . . . Shawcross has written a remarkable book."
  • A. N. Wilson, Daily Mail (London) "Shawcross has been given access to the Royal Archives and they have yielded a rich harvest. . . . [There is an] immense amount of new material here. . . . He is to be congratulated for selecting so many juicy tidbits."
  • The Washington Times "Engaging. . . . Colorful. . . . Delightful as well as dignified."
  • The Associated Press "The correspondence in [The Queen Mother] is illuminating for both royal watchers and historians. . . . Divulges the Queen Mother's opinions on topics ranging from feminism to homeopathy."
  • The Independent (London) "Impressively researched. . . . Shawcross avoids the traps [of] hagiography. . . . He succeeds in the difficult task of keeping his subject resolutely centre-stage in an elegant account."
  • Sunday Telegraph (London)
    "Shawcross's journalistic skills are evident in the innumerable dabs of pointilliste detail. . . . There are many unexpected vignettes. . . . He serves his subject well."
  • Mail on Sunday "Offers new and fascinating insights into the woman behind the pearls and pastel dresses."
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