Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Queen Mother; prev. Queen Consort
File:QueenM cropped.JPG
Consort 11 December 19366 February 1952
Coronation 12 May 1937
Consort to George VI
Elizabeth II
Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Full name
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Windsor
HM The Queen Mother
HM The Queen
HRH The Duchess of York
Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
The Hon Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Royal House House of Windsor
Father Claude, Earl of Strathmore
Mother Cecilia, Countess of Strathmore
Born 4 August 1900
Baptised 23 September 1900
Died 30 March 2002
Royal Lodge, Windsor
Burial 9 April 2002
St George's Chapel, Windsor

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Elizabeth Angela Marguerite; 4 August 190030 March 2002) was the Queen Consort of King George VI from 1936 until his death in 1952. After her husband's death, she was known as "Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother," to avoid confusion with her elder daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Before her husband ascended the throne, from 1923 to 1936, she was known as the Duchess of York.

Elizabeth was the last Queen of Ireland and Empress of India. As Queen Consort, Elizabeth was famous for her role in providing moral support to the British public during World War II, so much so that Adolf Hitler described her as "the most dangerous woman in Europe."[1] In her later years, she was a consistently popular member of the British Royal Family, when other members of the family were suffering from low levels of public approval.

Early lifeEdit

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Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the fourth 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. The location of her birth remains uncertain, but reputedly she was born in her parents' London home at Belgrave Mansions, Grosvenor Gardens, or in an ambulance on the way to hospital.[2] Her birth was registered at Hitchin, Hertfordshire,[3] near the Strathmores' country house St Paul's Walden Bury, and she was christened there on 23 September 1900, in the local parish church. She spent much of her childhood at St Paul's Walden and at Glamis Castle, the Earl's ancestral home in Glamis, Angus, Scotland.

On her fourteenth birthday, Britain declared war on Germany (See: World War I). Her elder brother, Fergus, an officer in the Black Watch Regiment, was killed in action at Loos, France in 1915. Another brother, Michael, was reported missing in action in May 1917. However, 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 and...quartered...hung in diamonds, drawn in a coach, and...quartered in the best house in the land."[4]

Marriage to Prince AlbertEdit

When Prince Albert, or "Bertie" to the family, the second son of George V and who later became George VI, proposed to Elizabeth in 1921, she turned him down, being "afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to."[5] When he declared he would marry no other, his mother, the 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.[6] It has been alleged that she had intended to marry his elder brother Edward, an engagement between them was even gossiped about in the papers, but historians assume that this is simply a case of misreporting.[7] Albert's freedom in choosing Lady Elizabeth, a commoner, as his wife was very unusual when royals were expected to marry other royals. It was said, at that time, that Albert's marriage to a commoner was considered a modernising gesture politically.[8]

Eventually, Elizabeth agreed to marry Bertie, despite her misgivings about royal life.[9] They married on 26 April, 1923, at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth laid her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior on her way into the Abbey, a gesture which every royal bride since has copied, though they chose to do this on the way back from the altar rather than to it. She became styled HRH The Duchess of York. They honeymooned at Polesden Lacey, a manor house in Surrey, and then went to Scotland.[10]

In 1926 the couple had their first child, Elizabeth, who would later become Queen Elizabeth II. Another daughter, Margaret Rose, was born four years later. In 1927, the Duke and Duchess of York travelled to Australia to open Federal Parliament in Canberra.

Queen consort to George VI (1936-1952)Edit

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Accession and abdication of Edward VIII; accession of George VIEdit

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 and Mary had been forthcoming as to their reservations about their eldest child. Indeed, George had expressed the wish, "I pray God that my eldest son will never marry and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne."[11]

As if granting his parents' wish, Edward forced a constitutional crisis by insisting on marrying the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Although legally Edward could have married Mrs. Simpson and remained king, his ministers advised him that the people would never accept her as queen and indeed that they would be obliged to resign if he insisted; this would have dragged the King into a general election thus ruining irreparably his status as a politically neutral constitutional Monarch. So Edward abdicated the throne in favour of Albert, who had no desire to become king and had even less training for the role (despite his parents' aforementioned hopes for him). Nevertheless, Albert became king and took the name George VI. He and Elizabeth were crowned King and Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and the British dominions beyond the seas, and Emperor and Empress of India on 12 May, 1937.[12]

When the ex-king and his wife were created Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth supported George VI's decision to withhold from Simpson the style of Royal Highness.[13] She was later quoted as referring to the Duchess as "that woman".[14]

Royal tour of Canada and the United States in 1939Edit


In June 1939, Elizabeth and her husband became the first reigning King and Queen to visit Canada and the United States. The Canadian portion of the tour was extremely extensive, from coast to coast and back — they also briefly detoured into the United States, visiting the Roosevelts in the White House and at their Hudson River Valley estate — and the royal couple's reception by the Canadian and US public was extremely enthusiastic, dissipating in large measure any residual feeling that George and Elizabeth were in any way a lesser substitute for the charismatic Edward. Elizabeth told Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minister, "that tour made us,"[15] and she returned to Canada frequently both on official tours and privately.

In Canada she was extensively quoted throughout her life as to her reported immediate response on landing in 1939: a World War I veteran asked, during one of the earliest of the royal couple's repeated encounters with the crowds, "Are you Scotch or English?" She replied, "I'm Canadian!"[16] However, perhaps reflecting reduced consciousness of Commonwealth sensibilities on the part of the British governmentTemplate:Cn, on her death only her British honours were mentioned at her funeral in the UK, though her membership in the Order of Canada was mentioned at her memorial held in Ottawa.

World War IIEdit

During World War II, the King and Queen became symbols of the nation's resistance. Shortly after the declaration of war, The Queen's Book of the Red Cross was conceived: the book was ready for printing in two months. Elizabeth publicly refused to leave London even during the Blitz, when she was advised by the Cabinet to do so. "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave," she said.[17]

She often made visits to parts of London that were targeted by the German Luftwaffe, in particular the East End, near London's docks. Buckingham Palace itself took several hits during the height of the bombing, prompting Elizabeth to say, "Now I feel I can look the East End in the face."[18][19]

Though the king and queen spent the working day at Buckingham Palace, for security and family reasons they stayed at night at Windsor Castle (about 20 miles, 35 kilometres, west of central London) with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. (In any case, the Palace had lost much of its staff to the army.) Due to fears of imminent invasion during the "Phony War" the Queen was given revolver training.[20]

Because of her effect on British morale, Adolf Hitler is said to have called her "the most dangerous woman in Europe."[1] However, prior to the war both she and her husband, like most of Parliament and the British public, had been strong supporters of appeasement and 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 was constitutionally required to commission Winston Churchill to form a government. Although the royal couple were initially reluctant to support the bellicose Churchill, in due course they came to respect and admire him for his courage and solidarity (which they shared, as later events showed.)

Queen Mother (19522002)Edit

New role in widowhoodEdit

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.[21] Eventually she became as busy as Queen Mother as she had been as Queen. In July of 1953 she undertook her first overseas visit since the funeral, laying the foundation stone in Mount Pleasant of the current University of Zimbabwe.

The widowed queen also oversaw the restoration of the remote Castle of Mey on the Caithness coast of Scotland, which later became her favourite home. 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.

File:QEQM 100th birthday.jpg

Before the marriage of Diana Spencer to Prince Charles, and after Diana's death, the Queen Mother, known for her charm and theatrical flair, was by far the most popular member of the British Royal Family. It was said that her popularity was on account of her coming from a more common background than that of past Queens.[22] Her signature dress of large upturned hat with netting and dresses with draped panels of fabric became a distinctive personal style. The Queen Mother had a discerning love of the arts and purchased works by Claude Monet, Augustus John and Peter Carl Fabergé, among others. The works she obtained were transferred to the Royal Collection after her death.[23]

Behind the soft charm lay a canny intelligence and iron will, as demonstrated by the shrewd support she gave George VI, her thwarting of the ambitions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (albeit considerably less forthrightly than that of Queen Mary), and by her sheer endurance. In her later years, she became known for her longevity. Her birthdays became times of celebration and, as a popular figure, she helped to stabilise the popularity of the monarchy as a whole.


The Queen Mother's hundredth birthday was celebrated in a number of ways, including a parade that celebrated the highlights of her life. Though 100 years old she insisted on standing for over an hour while the parade passed by, brushing away aides who sought to get her to sit on a chair kept in readiness. The last function the Queen Mother attended was the funeral of her second daughter Princess Margaret.

On 13 February 2002, at Sandringham House, 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 by the doctor. Despite this fall, the Queen Mother was still keen to attend Margaret's funeral at Slough, west London 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 Slough, since she had been suffering from a cold and chesty cough since November 2001. It was understood that the Queen Mother was getting up from a chair when she stumbled and fell.


File:Queen Mother Carriage.jpg

On 30 March 2002, at 3:15pm, the Queen Mother died peacefully in her sleep at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, with her surviving daughter 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 held the record for the longest-lived royal in British history.[24]

She grew camellias in every one of her gardens, and as her body was taken from the Royal Lodge, Windsor 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 filed by her coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall of the Palace of Westminster for three days. On the day of the Queen Mother's funeral, 9 April, more than a million people filled the area outside Westminster Abbey and along the 23-mile route from central London to her final resting place beside her husband and younger daughter in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. At her request, after her funeral the wreath that had lain atop her coffin was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, a gesture that eloquently echoed her wedding-day tribute.

Reported quipsEdit

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Though she declined to give interviews to the press, the media regularly quoted her:

  • After being rushed to hospital when a fish bone stuck in her throat at a dinner party, the Queen Mother, a keen angler, said: "The salmon have got their own back."[25]
  • On another occasion, she was rumoured to have urged her daughter the Queen not to have a second glass of wine at lunch, with the admonition, "Is that wise, darling? Remember you have to reign all afternoon."[26]
  • Accompanied by the writer and wit Sir Noël Coward, who was gay, at a gala function, she mounted a staircase lined with Guards. Noticing Coward's eyes flicker momentarily across the soldiers, she murmured to him without missing a beat: "I wouldn't if I were you, Noël; they count them before they put them out."[26]
  • On hearing that Edwina Mountbatten was buried at sea, "Dear Edwina, she always liked to make a splash."[25]
  • According to an article in The Observer (10 November, 2002), 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."[26]
  • To a pilot after having decided that helicopters were a useful convenience: "The chopper has changed my life as conclusively as it did Anne Boleyn's."[25]
  • On the fate of a gift of a nebuchadnezzar of champagne (20 bottles worth) even if her family didn't come for the holidays: "I'll polish it off myself."[27]
  • After the U.S. President Jimmy Carter kissed her on the lips: "No man has done that since my husband died."[28]


Despite being regarded as one of the most popular members of the British Royal Family in recent times, the Queen Mother was subject to various degrees of criticism during her life:

  • During the 1939 Royal Tour of North America Eleanor Roosevelt's verdict was that Elizabeth was "a little self-consciously regal";[29] after Mrs Roosevelt "lunched alone with the King & Queen & Elizabeth & Margaret Rose" during her 1948 visit for the unveiling of the statue of President Roosevelt in Grosvenor Square she observed, "It was nice & they are nice people but so far removed from real life, it seems."[30]
  • In her sensationalist The Royals[31] Kitty Kelley alleges that during World War II Elizabeth did not abide by the rationing regulations that the rest of the population was subject to. The book also alleges that Elizabeth used racist slurs to refer to black people, a claim strongly denied by Major Colin Burgess.[32] However Kelley's book is unpublished in the United Kingdom, its publishers being unwilling to submit it to the scrutiny of the law of libel, and many of its assertions are unsourced. The occult and paranormal writers Picknett, Prince, Prior and Brydon also allege that the royal family ignored wartime rations[33]; however, more conventional historians and biographers do not make this point and 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.[34]
  • Elizabeth's extravagant lifestyle was latterly somewhat quizzically commented upon, particularly when it was revealed she had a multi-million pound overdraft with Coutts Bank.[35] She was known to like horse racing, and to be a keen gambler, reputedly installing a direct line to her bookmakers in her residence. Her habits were often parodied by the satirical 1980s television programme Spitting Image—which portrayed her with a Birmingham accent and an ever-present copy of the Racing Post, though the gentle and even affectionate satire on Elizabeth cannot be described as serious criticism.
  • Probably her only serious solecism was 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.[36]
  • In the 2006 film The Queen, a semi factual account of the week following Princess Diana's death, the Queen Mother is depicted as fairly harsh towards Diana and joins other members of the royal family in opposing a public display of mourning by any member of the royal family. Because of the public outrage towards the royal family in general for their initial lack of visible grief over Diana's death, any criticisms towards the royal family would include the Queen Mother although she was not singled out at the time.


According to the controversial, revisionist historian, David Irving, the undisclosed contents of "box 24" of the Monckton papers, deposited at the Bodleian Library, may contain items of correspondence relating to Elizabeth's views on the abdication crisis, the Duchess of Windsor and Britain's role in and after World War II, including private letters between Elizabeth and the once pro-appeasement Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax.[37] The British Government has given assurances that all papers relating to the Abdication crisis in its possession were released after the Queen Mother's death.[38] The Queen Mother's official biographer, William Shawcross has been given full access to her personal papers, lodged in the Royal Archives.[39] His book is scheduled to be published in October 2007.[40]


File:QM Arms.png

The Queen Mother's coat of arms were the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom impaled with the arms of those of her father, Earl of Strathmore. Outside Scotland: 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, ermine three bows, stringed paleways proper (Bowes). Supporters: Dexter, a lion Or armed and langued Gules royally crowned proper; Sinister, a lion per fesse or and gules. The shield is surrounded by the Garter. In Scotland, the 1st and 4th quarters of the Royal Arms were transposed with the rampant lion of Scotland and the 2nd quarter featured the three lions passant guardant of England (the Garter was also replaced with the Thistle collar).

The Queen Mother was also entitled to grant a Royal Warrant to suppliers of services, who would display her arms on their signage and packaging. The Queen Mother's arms were shown until the start of 2007, when they automatically expired.

Titles and honoursEdit

Shorthand titlesEdit


See Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon's honours


Footnotes and sourcesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 The Churchill Centre
  2. Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, Revised edition (Pimlico, London, 1996) p.330
  3. Civil Registration Indexes: Births, General Register Office, England and Wales. Jul-Sep 1900 Hitchin, vol. 3a, p. 667
  4. Judy Wade, The Sunday Express, 9 October 2005
  5. John Ezard, The Guardian (Manchester), 1 April 2002 p.18
  6. Mabell Ogilvy, Countess of Airlie, Thatched with Gold (Hutchinson, London, 1962) p.167
  7. Sarah Bradford The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI (St Martin's, New York, 1989), pp.104-5
  8. Antonia Fraser, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England p.350
  9. Elizabeth Longford, The Queen Mother (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1981) p.23
  10. Patrick Howarth, George VI (Century Hutchinson, 1987) p.37-38
  11. Philip Ziegler, King Edward VIII: The Official Biography (London: Collins, 1990) p.199.
  12. Her crown contained the Koh-i-Noor diamond and was heavily based on that of Queen Mary, whose crown was taken to Garrard's with "the purpose of preparing designs for a new Crown for the Queen" (See British Royal Family website, "HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: Crown"). The arches on the crown are detachable, a feature which was used in 1953 when Queen Elizabeth did not wear the arches at her daughter's coronation.
  13. Letter from George VI to Winston Churchill in which the King says his family shared his view, quoted by Howarth, p.143
  14. Life Magazine, 17 March 1941, quoted by Howarth, p.130
  15. Sarah Bradford, p.281
  16. Speech Delivered by Her Majesty the Queen at the Fairmont Hotel, Vancouver, Monday, 7th October 2002
  17. The Official Web-site of the British Monarchy
  18. BritainExpress
  19. On War
  20. Bradford, p.321
  21. Lady Jean Rankin in: Hogg and Mortimer (eds.) The Queen Mother Remembered (BBC Books, 2002) p.161
  22. Fraser, p.351
  23. The Royal Collection
  24. A record later 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.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Queen of Quips In: The Straits Times (Singapore), 7 August 2000
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Thomas Blaikie, You look awfully like the Queen: Wit and Wisdom from the House of Windsor (Harper Collins, London, 2002) ISBN 0-00-714874-7
  27. Graham Taylor, Elizabeth: The Woman and the Queen (Telegraph Books, 2002) p.93
  28. Carter kiss causes a royal grudge In: The Globe and Mail (Canada), 14 February 1983, p.11
  29. Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (Norton, New York, 1971) p.582
  30. Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone (Norton, New York, 1972) p.47
  31. Kitty Kelley, The Royals (Time Warner, New York, 1977)
  32. In his book, Behind Palace Doors: My Service as the Queen Mother's Equerry (John Blake Publishing, 2006) p.233. Major Burgess is the husband of Elizabeth Burgess, the mixed-race secretary who accused members of the Household of Charles, Prince of Wales of racial abuse. See BBC News for details.
  33. Picknett, Prince, Prior and Brydon, War of the Windsors: A Century of Unconstitutional Monarchy (Mainstream Publishing, 2002 ISBN 1-84018-631-3) p.161
  34. Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1995) p.380
  35. Christopher Morgan, The Sunday Times, 14 March 1999
  36. Bradford, p.391
  37. David J C Irving v Penguin Books Ltd and Deborah Lipstadt; libel action, plaintiff's closing speech - 14 March 2000
  38. Graham Stewart, The Times (London), 30 January 2003, p.7
  39. Government News Network 9 July 2003
  40. Green and Heaton Publishers

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