Cecilia Bowes-Lyon, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, née Cavendish-Bentinck, was the mother of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and maternal grandmother and godmother to the present Queen.
She was born on 11 September 1862 in Belgravia, London, and came from a well-connected family. She was the eldest daughter of the Rev. Charles Cavendish-Bentinck and his wife Louisa. Through her father, Cecilia was a great-granddaughter of the third Duke of Portland, who served twice as Prime Minister during the reign of George III.
Cecilia’s father died when she was just three years old, and her mother remarried in 1870.
In the 1870s Cecilia met Claude Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis, the eldest son of the 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. He had been educated at Eton College and was serving as an officer in the Life Guards at the time he met Cecilia.
They were married at Petersham Church in Surrey on 16 July 1881. The bride was given away by her cousin, the 6th Duke of Portland. After the reception, the newlyweds departed for St Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire, a stately home that is nowadays best known for its connection with the Queen Mother: it was at St Paul’s that she finally accepted the Duke of York’s marriage proposal.
Lord and Lady Glamis had ten children, four daughters and six sons. In 1904, upon the death of his father, Claude inherited the earldom, and he and Cecilia became the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne.
Their main home was Glamis Castle, in Angus, Scotland, which had been the family home since the 14th century and was mentioned by Shakespeare in Macbeth.
Cecilia was reportedly a good hostess and excellent piano player. She enjoyed gardening and embroidery, and was very fond of her children.
Sadly, she outlived four of them: her eldest daughter, Violet Hyacinth, died of diphtheria aged just 11 in 1893, then her sons Alexander Francis and John Herbert died respectively of a brain tumor in 1911 and pneumonia in 1930. Another son, Fergus, a captain in the Black Watch, had died in 1915 at the Battle of Loos.
Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, later the Queen Mother, was Claude and Cecilia’s ninth and penultimate child, born on 4 August 1900.
During the First World War, Glamis Castle served as a convalescent hospital. The Countess was deeply involved in its running, until she was diagnosed with cancer towards the end of the war, and the responsibility fell on her youngest daughter Elizabeth, who was by then the last remaining unmarried daughter still at home. The Countess underwent a hysterectomy and made a full recovery, so much so that she was able to celebrate her daughter’s wedding to the Duke of York in 1923, act as godmother to her granddaughter Princess Elizabeth in 1926 and, later, to see her daughter crowned Queen consort in 1937.
She suffered a heart attack in April 1938, during the wedding of one of her granddaughters and died on 23 June the same year, aged 75. The King and Queen had been due to depart on a State visit to France just five days later. The trip was postponed for three weeks of mourning, and when the royal couple finally arrived in Paris, the Queen wowed in her famous “white wardrobe”, still regarded as one of the pivotal moments in 20th century fashion. A black mourning wardrobe had been deemed inappropriate for the visit, so royal couturier Norman Hartnell came up with the idea of dressing the Queen entirely in white.
The Countess of Strathmore was survived by her husband, who did not remarry and died at Glamis in 1944, and six of her ten children. The last surviving one was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who died aged 101 in 2002.