As one of the most-loved members of the British Royal Family, we look at the life of The Queen Mother from her earliest years, to her unexpected rise to Queen Consort and her eventual death at the remarkable age of 101. So who was Queen Elizabeth’s mother?
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, better known as The Queen Mother or queen mum, was born on the 4th August 1900. She was the ninth of ten children and the youngest daughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis, and Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck.
After the death of her grandfather when the Queen mum was four years old, her father inherited the Lyon’s family ancestral home, Glamis Castle, in Angus, Scotland, and the young Elizabeth became Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. She was closest to her younger brother David and the pair would often greet guests by pouring water on them from the castle ramparts, earning her the family nickname “merry mischief”.
Elizabeth was educated by her governess until the age of eight before attending a private academy in London. Coinciding with her fourteenth birthday, the onset of the First World War would precipitate fundamental changes in Elizabeth’s life, not least the conversion of Glamis Castle from family home into a military hospital.
Even at such a young age, the steely, committed nature for which she would become renowned, started to take root. She helped with the treatment of wounded soldiers and proved instrumental in sparing the castle from ruin when a fire broke out in 1916. The conflict further blighted Elizabeth’s life when her brother Fergus was killed during the Battle of Loos.
Following the end of the First World War, her arrival on the debutante scene would eventually lead to the first of three proposals by Prince Albert, the Duke of York. His first in 1921 was turned down with Elizabeth declaring she was “afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak, and act as I feel I really ought to.” Agreeing to his third in 1923, she later said that “I felt it my duty to marry Bertie, and fell in love with him afterwards.”
Their wedding on April 26 1923, featured in the documentary
Elizabeth was the first commoner, albeit a member of the nobility, to marry into the Royal Family since the time of Richard II, but she quickly charmed the public with her natural, informal approach with a warmth not readily associated with the Royal Family. Three years into their marriage, Elizabeth gave birth to Princess Elizabeth and four years later, Princess Margaret.
The smooth progression of their family life was halted after the death of King George V in 1936. Echoing the brief reign of King James II, Elizabeth’s brother-in-law Edward took the throne for a matter of months before abdicating to marry his divorced lover Wallis Simpson.
With Prince Albert next in line, doubts were raised about his ability to endure the rigours of becoming king. Ultimately, it was Elizabeth’s popularity with the public that proved pivotal with their coronation taking place on 12 May 1937. Her bitterness towards Wallis Simpson and Edward lingered as the reality of her new role as queen set in, later describing it as an “intolerable honour.”
Elizabeth elected to remain in London during World War II despite recommendations to relocate. Following the numerous bombing raids on Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth reaffirmed her bond with the British public by declaring that “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.” In the late 1940s, rumours began to spread about the king’s ill-health. Elizabeth took control of his duties in 1949 but on February 6 1952, he succumbed to lung cancer.
With her elder daughter now crowned Queen Elizabeth II, many would have expected The Queen Mother to fade into the background. However, in the decade following her husband’s death, she toured 22 countries, lightening the load placed upon her daughter. Her remarkable longevity and dedication meant she continued to carry out engagements into her nineties, as well as providing patronage to a variety of charities and organisations.
Viewed by many as the nation's favourite grandmother, the classless appeal of The Queen Mother never faltered despite the tarnishing effect of royal scandals throughout her lifetime. Resolute until the end, at age 101, she insisted on standing for the national anthem at her husband’s memorial service despite having recently suffered a fractured pelvis. After her funeral in 2002, at her request, the wreath that lay on her coffin was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, just as she had done on her wedding day 79 years earlier.