The women behind the Crown: Influential Queen Mothers – The Queen Mother

18 August 2014 - 10:17am
Edited by Cindy Stockman - Spotted an Error?


Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon lived for over a century, being born during the time of Queen Victoria’s reign and living until she passed away in 2002, fifty years into her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. She lived an incredible life and became an iconic figure of the Royal family.

Born on 4th August 1900, Elizabeth was the ninth of ten children of Claude Bowes-Lyon and Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck. Her father seemed to have forgotten to register her birth for six weeks, therefore her birthplace ranges from Hertfordshire to London. Historians have claimed that London is the safer bet.

Queen Elizabeth visiting a patient suffering from tuberculosis with Dr R.Y. Keers, Medical Superintendant at Glen O'Dee Red Cross Sanatoria in Kincardine, 1949.

Queen Elizabeth visiting a patient at Glen O’Dee Red Cross Sanatoria in Kincardine, 1949.

In 1904, Elizabeth’s grandfather died and thus her parents became Lord and Lady Strathmore. She spent her childhood at the family home in St Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire and at Glamis Castle, which was the family home in Scotland. It was at Glamis that Lady Elizabeth was educated by a host of governesses and her mother.

At the onset of World War, which coincidentally was Elizabeth’s 14th birthday, Glamis became a makeshift hospital. If you have watched series two of Downton Abbey, where Highclere Castle becomes a convalescent home for soldiers during World War I, then you get the idea. Duty was the hallmark of Elizabeth’s family and she believed in this from a young age. She spent many days caring for the soldiers convalescing at Glamis. One can ascertain it was this experience that began her lifelong commitment of compassion and caring for those from all walks of life, a symbol of her legacy.

After the war ended, Elizabeth began socialising in the royal circles and was pursued by several suitors. It was during this time that she revisited her acquaintance with King George V and Queen Mary’s second son, Prince Albert, The Duke of York. Albert and Elizabeth first met when she was five years old. Albert, the shy prince with a stammer, fell head over heels in love with the enchanting Elizabeth. She rebuffed his advances as her father cautioned her about living a royal life. There is the saying ‘third time is a charm’, and according to numerous books and sources it was finally on the third time the relentless Duke of York asked for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage that she deferred.

The Royal visit to Canada in 1939.

The Royal visit to Canada in 1939.

On 26 April 1923 the couple married in Westminster Abbey. As she made her way to the altar, Elizabeth laid her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. It is well known that the wedding was not broadcast on the radio as officials from the Church believed that “disrespectful people wearing hats might listen in public houses”.

The next 14 years The Duke and Duchess of York carried out few official engagements and led a somewhat quiet life. Princess Elizabeth was born in 1926 and four years later, in 1930, Princess Margaret joined the family.

In 1936, after the family and nation mourned the death of King George V, the York’s rather quiet life was about to be turned upside down. After being King for less than a year, Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. The abdication thrust Bertie, as he was affectionately known, to become King. On 12 May 1937, the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth took place at Westminster Abbey.


It is well-known that Elizabeth, who since the days of helping the wounded soldiers of World War I felt that duty took precedence over anything else. Many historians say she never forgave her brother-in-law or Wallis Simpson.

The Queen would now be witness to a Second World War. Her endeavours during this time would endear her to the nation and bring about the utmost respect and admiration for the monarchy. During the war, when advised to go to Canada with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, The Queen allegedly said: “The Princesses cannot go without me. I cannot go without the King. And the King will never leave.” Consequently, the Princesses were sent to Windsor Castle and The Queen stayed at Buckingham Palace, where she learned how to shoot a revolver.

When Buckingham Palace was bombed during the Blitz, King George and his wife dodged being killed by approximately 30 yards. “I’m almost glad we’ve been bombed. Now we can look London’s East End in the face,” she commented.

Unwavering in her duty and determined to show the country some hopefulness, she visited bomb sites day after day, extending consolation and reassurance. Because of her never-ending hope to unify the country, Adolf Hitler dubbed her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

large_5377829170After the war and the Royal Tour of South Africa in 1947, Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten. The following year, The Princess would give birth to Prince Charles, the King and Queen’s first grandchild and third in the line of succession.

It was during the next few years George VI’s health began to take a turn for the worse and the King died on 6 February 1952. The Queen withdrew to Scotland and for the next year she wore black in mourning for her beloved husband. She would later return to public life, taking up residence at Clarence House.

As her daughter became Queen Elizabeth II, her mother became known as The Queen Mother. It was a Canadian reporter in 1958 who warmly named her the “Queen Mum.” As a grandmother, the Queen Mother took an active role in watching after her grandchildren when The Queen was away on official business. She was especially close to the Prince Charles and the two often attended royal engagements together in her later years.

The Queen Mother’s legacy, beside her unending duty and service, is her longevity. She celebrated her 90th birthday in August 1990, and maintained an active schedule with appearances at official celebrations.

She underwent surgeries for a cataract, hip replacements and a broken collarbone. In December 2001, at age 101, the Queen Mother had a fall and fractured her pelvis. She recovered enough to be able to be present at a memorial service for her late husband on 6th February 2002.

A few days later on 9th February 2002, her youngest daughter, Princess Margaret, died at the age of 71. In spite of falling and wounding her arm a few days after Margaret’s death, she still attended her daughter’s funeral.

On 30th March 2002, The Queen Mother died in her sleep at the Royal Lodge at Windsor Great Park, with Queen Elizabeth II at her side. She was 101 years old.

It is quite probable that Elizabeth never imagined herself becoming a Queen Mother when she accepted The Duke of York’s marriage proposal. However, when the events of the 1930s occurred and she became Queen Consort, Elizabeth was dedicated to the cause and took her royal duties seriously. This resolute attitude most certainly passed onto her daughter, Elizabeth II, who has always shown great commitment to her duties. The Queen Mother was a figure of strength and compassion during times of warfare and hardship, and she was a caring mother and grandmother. Even age and illness did not prevent her from her responsibilities, illustrating her continued devotion to the Royal family.

Photo credits: British Red CrossToronto Public Library Special Collections and jasons_show via photopin cc

  • pjk

    During the blitz, when touring the bomb sites of the east end, The Queen was advised not to wear her jewellery or fur, so as not to appear too well protected from the rigours of the war.

    She replied by saying that if they were visiting her, the people of the east end would wear their best clothes and she was returning the compliment

    What a very astute and inspired woman!

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