Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother of England.

Queen Mother portrait

One of England’s most beloved members of the royal family was Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.  Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born on August 4, 1900; her father was Claude Bowes-Lyons, known as Lord Glamis and later the 14th Earl of Strathmore, and her mother was Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck.  There has been some confusion as to her actual birthplace but officially her birth is registered in Herfordshire near the Strathmore’s country house in St. Paul’s Walden Bury.  Her family also had a house in London but their ancestral home was Glamis Castle in Scotland and this was where Elizabeth spent most of her childhood.  Later during World War I Glamis Castle was used as a military convalescent home for wounded soldiers and, even though she was only 14 years old  at the time, Elizabeth was able to help with the war effort by assisting the patients in writing letters home and keeping them company during their hospitalization.

Elizabeth as a young girl

After the war, Elizabeth spent some time in London attending various social events, such as the wedding of Princess Mary in 1922 when she was a bridesmaid, and eventually she became acquainted with Prince Albert, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary.  Prince Albert, known as “Bertie” to his family, was enchanted by the charismatic Elizabeth and he proposed several times over the next couple of years but Elizabeth was hesitant about marrying into the royal family because of the restrictive life that she would have to lead.  Eventually she accepted Prince Albert’s proposal and the couple were married on April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abbey in London.  (For more information about their wedding, please click on the Celebration post link British Royal Weddings – Part Three)

York Wedding

After their wedding the royal couple, now known as the Duke and Duchess of York, undertook a full schedule of public engagements.  Elizabeth performed her duties with grace and proved to be very popular with the crowds charming them with a constant smile and pleasant conversation.  Unfortunately, Prince Albert had a severe stammer and he had great difficult speaking in public but eventually he improved with the aid of a speech therapist named Lionel Logue.  (This situation was beautifully documented in the 2010 film, “The King’s Speech” starring Colin Firth as Prince Albert who later became King George VI, and Geoffrey Rush playing Lionel Logue)

George and Elizabeth 1923

In 1926, the Duke and Duchess had their first child; a girl was born on April 21, 1926 at her parents’ home at 17 Burton Street in the Mayfair section of London.  She was named Elizabeth Alexander after her mother and her maternal great-grandmother who had died six months earlier.  She was christened in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace and her family called her “Lilibet”.  Four years later a second daughter was born named Margaret Rose on August 21, 1930 at Glamis Castle in Scotland.  The two Princesses were raised by their governess Marion Crawford and they also received private lessons in history, language, literature and music.  (Special note: Marion Crawford wrote a book, “The Little Princesses”, about her life as the governess in the royal household.  After it was published in 1950, even though the book did not reveal any scandal or family secrets, the Queen Mother severed all ties with the former governess and she never spoke to her again.  The book is hard to find as it has been out of print for years, but if you can find a copy it is a very interesting read about the royal family)

The Royal family 1

In 1936, King George V died in January and his son, the Prince of Wales, was the heir to the throne.  But before his coronation as King Edward VIII, he confirmed his love for a commoner named Wallis Simpson, and shockingly abdicated the throne.  His brother, Albert, was now the King and he was a very shy and reserved man. He would rise to the challenge with his wife, Elizabeth, by his side he would be able to succeed in his new role as monarch.  The coronation of King George VI with Queen Elizabeth as his consort took place on May 12, 1937 in Westminster Abbey in London.  (Historical note: As a result of this situation, 1936 became known as the year of the three Kings – King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI)

King George and Queen Elizabeth coronation

In the first years of his reign, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth traveled on various diplomatic tours throughout Europe and North America.  Prior to the Paris trip in 1938, Queen Elizabeth’s mother the Countess of Strathmore died and the trip was postponed for three weeks.  The Queen’s dress designer, Norman Hartnell, had been commissioned to design 30 outfits for the upcoming Royal visit to France.  Since the court was in mourning after the death of the Queen’s mother, the clothes were deemed inappropriate and Hartnell came up with an ingenious idea.  As a result, the famous White Wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth was created for the Paris trip and it turned out to be a great fashion success.  (If you are looking for more information about the Hartnell designs, please click on the link above)

In 1939, King George and Queen Elizabeth traveled to Canada and toured the country from coast to coast.  Then they went to Washington, D.C. and this marked the first time in history that a British monarch had ever visited the United States.  The royal couple went to the White House and later spent time with President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, at their private Hudson Valley home in New York.  One of the major reasons for the visit with President Roosevelt was to establish a firm political alliance with the United States due to the increasing hostilities in Europe which ultimately lead to World War II.

King George and Queen Elizabeth with President Roosevelt

During World War II, King George and Queen Elizabeth traveled to the bombed areas of London caused by the Blitz to assess the damage and provide moral support to the victims.  As she visited the East End to view the devastation Queen Elizabeth always dressed in her most elegant and expensive outfits that would normally cause anger in the poor people of that part of the city but she eventually charmed everyone with her gentle manner and constant smiles.  During the most intense period of the Blitz bombings, King George wanted Queen Elizabeth and their children to leave London for a safer place but she refused to leave his side.  A compromise was reached and instead of sending the children to Canada as recommended Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret would go to Windsor Castle just outside of London for the duration of the war and the King and Queen would see them in the evenings and stay with them on the weekends.  The King and Queen continued to work at Buckingham Palace during the week with a minimum staff and very narrowly missed several direct hits during the Blitz that caused extensive damage to the Palace.  At the time, Queen Elizabeth famously stated that now that since she had personally lived through the bombing of her home she could now proudly face the people of the East End knowing that she experienced the same terrors of the war and in making this statement she gained the admiration of the public.

King George and Queen Elizabeth view east End bombing sites

After the end of the war, England started the slow process of recovery, rebuilding the damaged areas of London and adjusting to the economic hardships.  Then in 1947, King George and Queen Elizabeth with their two daughters embarked on an extensive three month royal tour of South Africa.  The royal family traveled from England on a round trip voyage across the Atlantic on the H.M.S. Vanguard which arrived and departed from Cape Town.  To begin their journey the royal family traveled aboard eight custom designed air-conditioned railroad cars that were painted an elegant ivory color, this is the reason it became known as the legendary White Train.  The train transported the royal family across South Africa to destinations such as Victoria Falls.

South Africa royal tour 1947    

King George had been a very heavy smoker and combined with the stress of his royal position in solving the post-war problems of England this caused his health to rapidly decline.  In 1948, a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand was postponed due to the King’s medical conditions.  In early 1949 the King underwent a successful operation to improve the circulation caused by an arterial blockage in his right leg.  Later in the year, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent another operation to remove part of his left lung.  Sadly in 1951, a malignant tumor was discovered in his left lung and his health condition continued to decline.  As a result of his health issues and an extended recovery period both Queen Elizabeth and their eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, the heir presumptive, fulfilled the King’s public commitments.

The delayed Australia and New Zealand had been rescheduled but Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, would be going in the place of the King and Queen. In January 1952, the young royal couple left England on route by airplane to Kenya in Africa for brief stop before beginning their royal tour.  There is a rather touching film of the King George and Queen Elizabeth waving goodbye to the couple as they board the plane for their trip and the King looks notably pale and extremely thin.  Sadly, King George died on February 6 1952 and Princess Elizabeth immediately returned to England as the new Queen.

Queen Elizabeth at the time of King George's death

With the death of King George VI and the ascension of their daughter to the throne, the widow Elizabeth was given the rather grand title of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother so as not to be confused with her daughter the new crowned Queen Elizabeth II.  The Queen Mother was completely devastated by the death of husband and she briefly retired from public life to spend time in Scotland.  Scotland held a very special place in her heart because of her childhood spent at Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland.  While staying with friends during her mourning period shortly after the death of her husband, the Queen Mother found the charming but dilapidated Castle Mey located on the coast of northern Scotland with amazing views of the North Sea.  Castle Mey was originally built between 1566 and 1572 as the home of George Sinclair, the 4th Earl of Caithness.  Over the centuries the castle remained within the Sinclair family until 1889 when George, the 15th Earl of Caithness, died unmarried and with no heirs to inherit the estate.  According to the will, Castle Mey was given to his friend, F.G. Heathcote, and eventually his widow sold it to Captain F.B. Imbert-Terry who in turn sold it to the Queen Mother in 1952.  At that time, Castle Mey was in a severe state of disrepair and the Queen Mother had extensive renovations made to the building’s interior and exterior while a beautiful garden was planted on the grounds.  Over the years, the Queen Mother enjoyed spending her annual summer holiday from the months of August to October.

Castle Mey

With the encouragement of the former Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother came out of her secluded life and brief retirement and returned to public life eager to resume her royal duties.  Over the years, as the family matriarch, she charmed the public with her seemingly mild persona and frequent smiles to become one of the most popular members in the British Royal Family, she was affectionately known now as the “Queen Mum”.  She continued an active life while taking on a full schedule of public engagements and she was also a patron of 300 organizations.

The Queen Mother enjoyed a long life, spending time with her numerous grandchild and even great-grandchildren.  In 1995, she had some health problems requiring two different operations, one was eye surgery to remove a cataract in her left eye and the other was hip replacement surgery on her right side.  In 1998, she fell and broke her left hip requiring another replacement surgery.  In 2000, there was a special reason for celebration as the Queen Mother turned 100 years old.  To mark the occasion, numerous tributes appeared in print, both in the national and international newspapers and also several commemorative books were published, as well as numerous television specials and several public events.  In 2001, the Queen Mother was recovering from a recent blood transfusion but she had recovered in time for her traditional public appearance to commemorate her birthday outside of her London home Clarence House.  At the end of 2001, more health problems occurred when she fell and fractured her pelvis, she was also suffering from a severe cold.  Sadly, Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother’s youngest daughter died on February 9, 2002 and because of her recent medical conditions it was a possibility that she would be able to attend the funeral.  Arrangements were made and she was flown by helicopter from Sandringham House in Norfolk to Windsor Castle to attend the services at St. George’s Chapel but to be respectful of her privacy she was shielded from the press.  After the funeral, the Queen Mother went to her home, Royal Lodge, located nearby where she continued to recuperate from a persistent cold she had since the Christmas holiday.

The Queen Mother died on March 30, 2002 at the age of 101 with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, by her bedside.  Her coffin was draped with the Queen Mother’s personal standard (flag) with a spray of camellias grown in her personal garden on top.  The Queen Mother’s platinum crown set with 2800 diamond and the massive 105 carat Koh-I-Nor diamond which was made for the 1937 coronation of her husband, King George VI, and that she worn many times over the years was also placed on the top of the coffin.   The crown is now on display along with the other British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. (For more information about Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s crown please click on the link Crown Jewels of England – Part Two)

The coffin was taken to Westminster Hall to lay in state and over the following three days more than 200,000 people filed past while members of the household cavalry and other branches of the British armed forces stood guard.  On the final day, the Queen Mother’s four grandsons; Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Viscount Linley, stood at the four corners of the catafalque to show their respect.  This was done once before in 1936 by the four sons of King George V prior to his state funeral and it was called the Vigil of the Princes.

Queen Elizabeth death grandsons vigil    Queen Mother funeral

The Queen Mother’s funeral took place on April 9, 2002 at Westminster Abbey, years prior to her death the Queen Mother had planned every detail of her funeral including the symbolic request that after the funeral the floral arrangement from her coffin be removed and laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior which was the same simple gesture that started a royal wedding tradition over 79 years before when Lady Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), then the new bride of Prince Albert (King George VI) placed her bouquet at the same place as a tribute to the brave men lost in World War I.  The Queen Mother’s final resting place is in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle where she is buried with her beloved husband King George VI.

Queen Mother in later life

Celebration – British Royal Weddings (Part 3)

In the previous posts of the British Royal Weddings series, I discussed the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 in Part One and the weddings of Prince Albert (later King Edward VII) to Princess Alexandra of Denmark and Prince George (later King George V) to Princess Mary of Teck in Part Two.  In this post, I will discuss the weddings of a father who was unexpectedly made King and his daughter who is the current Queen of Great Britain.  The father was Prince Albert (later King George VI) to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and his daughter was Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Prince Phillip.

Prince Albert (later King George VI) to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother)

Date and location: April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abbey in London

Prince George and Lady Elizabeth wedding 2

Prince Albert, known to his family as Bertie, was the second son of King George V.  Bertie had fallen in love with Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and proposed to her several times over the course of several years but she was very hesitant to accept because she had great misgiving about joining the royal family, but finally she accepted in 1923.  Like all royal marriages, this union needed the approval of the King and the bridal choice was very unusual at the time because normally princes were expected to marry princesses; Elizabeth was not considered royal and she was only the daughter of a British peer.

York Wedding

Upon the announcement of their marriage, the people of Wales presented the bridal couple a rather large nugget of Welsh gold from which Elizabeth’s wedding ring was made.  This same piece of Welsh gold also has traditionally been used to make the wedding rings of several other members of the royal family, such as Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II), Princess Margaret (sister of the current Queen) and Prince Charles (son of the current Queen) and most recently for Catherine Middleton on the occasion of her marriage to Prince William (grandson of the current Queen)

As it has seemed customary for British Royal weddings, the weather was projected for rain but over a million people gathered along the parade route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey.  As the invited guests began to arrive, the bells of the Abbey had already been ringing for four hours prior to the start of the service. Shortly before the start of the service the aged but still elegant Queen Alexander, grandmother of the groom, arrived with her sister, Dowager Empress Marie of Imperial Russia.  (Sadly it is her son, Tsar Nicholas II, along with his wife and family who had tragically died six years earlier during the Bolshevik Revolution which brought an end to  the reign of the Romanov Dynasty)

On the morning of the wedding, the twenty-two year old bride departed for Westminster Abbey to meet her twenty-seven year old groom from her family home on Burton Street located near Berkeley Square in London.  The maroon and gold 1920 State landau was pulled by four perfectly matched grey horses and as it arrived at the Abbey the sky cleared and the sun came out casting light through the beautiful stained-glass windows.

Then, prior to the start of the wedding ceremony, an unexpected and spontaneous gesture by Elizabeth was to start a royal tradition that has continued throughout the years.  On her way to the altar, Elizabeth set her bouquet of white roses, lilies of the valley and heather at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which is located near the entrance of the Abbey.  She wanted to honor her brother, Fergus, who had died in World War I and she placed the bouquet there in his memory.  Since then, the bouquets of royal brides have traditionally been placed at the tomb with the one exception that is done after the wedding ceremony rather than before.

Lady Elizabeth’s wedding dress was unlike other recent royal brides and it was designed in a simple medieval style made from ivory chiffon moiré designed by Madame Handley Seymour.  The dress featured a square neckline with a bodice that was cut straight to the waist and decorated with horizontal silver lame panels that were heavily gold embroidered with pearl and paste beads.  The antique ivory point of Flanders lace veil was secured with a simple wreath of myrtle leaves with a cluster of white York roses and white heather positioned on either side of her head.  The veil was presented from the bride’s future mother-in-law for the bride to wear on the wedding day.

This photograph is for slide/reference use only. Not for reproduction.     Lady Elizabeth's bridal bouquet

After the wedding ceremony, the bridal couple and their guests gathered at Buckingham Palace for a lavish breakfast.  Then the new Duke and Duchess of York left London for an extended honeymoon first in Surrey at Polesden Lacey and then at Glamis Castle, the bride’s ancestral home of the Strathmore family, which is located in Scotland.

The wedding of Prince George and Lady Elizabeth also set another precedence for royal weddings when it was filmed with the footage of the event shown later in theaters throughout the country.  Prior to then, royal weddings were strictly private events and the bridal party was only seen traveling to and from the venue and sometimes there was the occasional public appearance on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the ceremony.

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten

Date and location:  November 20, 1947 at Westminster Abbey in London

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillips wedding 2

Princess Elizabeth meet her future groom when she was just a young girl, she was only 13 years old when she fell madly in love with the dashing naval officer and the two began to exchange letters.  Almost ten years later, in July of 1947, after Princess Elizabeth returned from a long trip to South Africa with her parents their engagement was officially announce to the public.

Princess Elizabeth received a beautiful diamond engagement from Phillip.  The large 3-carat diamond originally came from the tiara that had belonged to Phillip’s mother.  Phillip was personally involved in the designed that also included eleven additional diamonds.

At the time of the Royal wedding, World War II had recently ended two years before but coupon rationing was still in effect.  After the engagement was announced, thousands of clothing coupons were received at Buckingham Palace to assist in making the wedding dress but it was illegal to transfer coupons and they were rightfully returned with a personal letter from Princess Elizabeth thanking them for their thoughtfulness.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillips wedding 1    Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress

Norman Hartnell, the Royal Designer, received the commission to create Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress.  He designed a lovely gown of ivory duchess satin with a fitted bodice and full skirt that extended into a 15 foot train.  Princess Elizabeth completed her bridal attire with white silk tulle veil held in place by the diamond King George III Fringe Tiara.  While preparing for her wedding day the frame of the tiara broke in half but luckily the royal jeweler was called in to quickly make the repair before the ceremony.

Princess Elizabeth’s bridal bouquet was made by the local British florist Longmans from three different kinds of British-grown orchids; cattleya, odontoglossum and cypripedium.  A sprig of traditional myrtle was picked from the garden at Osborne house and was also added to the bouquet.

On the day of the wedding day Prince Phillip arrived dressed in his naval uniform and accompanied by his cousin David Mountbatten, the Marquess of Milford Haven. The next to arrive at the Abbey were the bride’s mother, Queen Elizabeth and grandmother Queen Mary, then the bride’s eight bridesmaids, including Princess Margaret, who were wearing dresses designed by Hartnell.  Finally, Princess Elizabeth and her father, King George, arrived from Buckingham Palace traveling in the magnificent golden Irish State Coach.  Finally, on the arm of her father, as the trumpets played, they slowly walking down the nave to the altar steps to meet Prince Phillip.  The hour long ceremony included vows from the Book of Common Prayer and per the bride’s request, the service was the same as her parent’s wedding service which happened almost twenty-five years earlier in the same Abbey.

At the conclusion of the service, the new Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh entered the Chapel of Edward the Confessor to sign the register officially recording their marriage.  King George, Queen Elizabeth and also Queen Mary and Princess Andrew, the groom’s mother, also signed the register.  Immediately following the service the bridal party exited to the sound of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and then their guests went to Buckingham Palace for a grand wedding breakfast. Afterwards, Elizabeth and Phillip left for their honeymoon spent partly at Broadlands, the Mountbatten home located in Hampshire.

The wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip set a precedence for royal weddings when it was broadcast live on the radio. (Royal Note: In 1961, the wedding of Princess Margaret (the sister of the current Queen) to Anthony Armstrong-Jones was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on the television)

For more information about additional British Royal Weddings, please click of the following links:  Part One – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.   Part Two – Prince Albert (later King Edward VII) to Princess Alexandra of Denmark and Prince George (later King George V) to Princess Mary of Teck.   Part Four – Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer and Prince William to Catherine Middleton.