This weekend, 4 August to be specific is The Queen Mother’s birthday (and may I also give a birthday wish to my Dad who was born on the same day). Many books have been written about Elizabeth-Bowes Lyon who would later be known as Queen Elizabeth and further down the road Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. I chose not to write about her years as a child but jump ahead to where her character as a person and future monarch began to take shape.
During World War I, Elizabeth turned Glamis Castle into a makeshift convalescent home for the wounded soldiers returning home. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, the various scenes when Downton was turned into something similar come to mind. After the war, she became reacquainted with Prince Albert, the Duke of York, whom she knew since she was a young child. Prince Albert fell in love with her immediately and was determined to marry her despite her reluctance to take on the trappings of royal life. Elizabeth accepted the Dukes proposal on his third try. The Duke certainly was a persistent chap.
On 26 April, 1923, in Westminster Abbey, the future King and Queen of England were married. On her way to the altar, Elizabeth laid her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, a tradition that till this day exists. The Duchess of Cambridge had her bouquet sent over as she needed the flowers for her wedding photos. The Duke and Duchess of York had limited public duties, and the next decade or so was reasonably quiet. During this time Elizabeth helped the Duke to overcome his stutter with the aid of a speech therapist.
Their first daughter and future Queen, Princess Elizabeth, was born in 1926. Four years later the couple welcomed a second daughter, Princess Margaret. In 1936 the nation mourned the death of King George V and was shocked when Edward VIII soon abdicated the throne to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson. His younger brother Bertie was thus crowned King George VI in Westminster Abbey on May 12, 1937. It is widely acknowledged that the new queen, whose own sense of duty was so strong, never forgave her brother-in-law or Mrs. Simpson. Nevertheless, though she had never wanted to be queen, Elizabeth was determined to support her husband in the new burdens thrust upon him as king. It wasn’t long before Britain became entangled in another war with Germany. The queen’s hard work during this time did much to restore respect for the monarchy. She was strongly counseled to take her young daughters to Canada, but she refused to go. Instead the girls were sent to Windsor Castle, and the king and queen remained at Buckingham Palace. When Buckingham Palace was shelled during the Blitz, the royal couple were a mere 30 yards away from what might have turned into a tragedy. Determined to do her duty and express optimism, the queen visited bombsites day after day, offering comfort and inspiration.
Late in 1951 the King’s health began to decline, and he died on 6 February 1952. The Queen retreated to Scotland and wore black for a year following the king’s death. Winston Churchill is attributed with coaxing her to return to public life, at which time she took up residence at Clarence House near Buckingham Palace.
As Elizabeth II began her reign, her mother began a new career as beloved Queen Mother, national grandmother and traveling ambassador. In 1958 a Canadian reporter lovingly referred to her as the “Queen Mum,” and the nickname stuck. The Queen Mother was patron or president of more than 300 organizations. Throughout her widowhood maintained a busy schedule, making in excess of 100 public appearances the year she turned 90. In the last few years of her life, her failing health did not allow her to make public appearances, although she seemed there in spirit. On 9 February 2002, Princess Margaret died as a result of a stroke. A few days later the Queen Mother fell in her sitting room and suffered cuts and shock. Despite her fall, she attended her daughter’s funeral on 15 February, 50 years to the day after the funeral of her husband, George VI. She died aged 101 in 2002, seven weeks after her daughter Princess Margaret.