Elizabeth: The Queen Mother
Peter McCluskey, CBC News Online
It is right to pause and reflect on the life of this grand lady. Although she never wrote a symphony or built a cathedral, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother will be mourned.
The Queen Mother's death came six weeks after the funeral of her daughter, Princess Margaret.
In a much less hectic time, when news moved around the world in days rather than nanoseconds she stood in the eye of the hurricane of some of the greatest events in the history of Britain, the Empire and the world. She was an accident of history. A woman who came to the throne only after a monumental event that shook the very foundations of the monarchy, the British parliamentary system and by implication the governments in such remote and distant lands as Canada, South Africa and Australia. The event, of course, was the abdication of King Edward VIII, the man who rejected the crown over the love of a divorced American named Wallis Simpson.
In the frantic days of November and December 1936 a constitutional crisis developed over Edward's decision. Never before had a King or Queen of Britain resigned. Parliament and the public watched in disbelief as the
cornerstone of their history and culture rocked back and forth. Before Edward made the ultimate decision there were secret talks about who should replace him.
King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
Since he had no children the job of king would be passed to one of his brothers. Albert, although being the second oldest, had no constitutional claim to the throne. Since Edward had no children there was no heir apparent and the decision as to who would become the new King or Queen was strictly a matter to be decided by Edward, the prime minister and their advisers. Albert was, in fact, terrified of the prospect of becoming the monarch. There was however, one factor that persuaded the King, the prime minister, and even the country to accept him. Her name was Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born on August 4, 1900. Her early life was unremarkable. She was educated at home, spent her days at her family's estates in Hertfordshire and in Scotland. She came from privilege but was a commoner, a country girl.
On the day she turned 14 the First World War began. Her family home in Scotland, Glamis Castle, was turned into a hospice for sick and injured soldiers. Her adolescence was spent as a volunteer helping to look after the victims of war.
In her 20s she met Prince Albert, 'Bertie', and they married. They led a peaceful life of gentility until they were thrust into the hellfire of the abdication crisis. In short order Bertie (later King George VI) and Elizabeth became the King and Queen.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
During her 13 years as part of the royal family Elizabeth had become immensely popular with the public. She had won praise and acclaim for her charitable works and she had made a favourable impression on every politician she had met.
If anyone would be able to steer the monarchy back into the good graces of the public after the abdication scandal, it was thought, she would. In 1939, less than three years after moving into Buckingham Palace, the King and Queen visited Canada and the United States. By all accounts their visit to Canada (the first ever by a reigning monarch) was an unqualified success.
They landed at Wolfe's Cove, Quebec on May 17, to a tumultuous reception that never wavered as they moved west.
In Toronto, Cecile Dionne, one of the world famous quintuplets, ran up to kiss the Queen. Elizabeth swept the child into her arms. In Ottawa at the unveiling of the war memorial in Connaught Square Elizabeth broke with all tradition and strolled into the audience of veterans gathered to witness the unveiling. Reports from the time said the six or seven thousand veterans opened up lanes so the Queen and King could pass. The old soldiers "kept most perfect order," wrote Lord Tweedsmuir. Some cried to be so close to the royal couple.
The King and Queen remain in London during the Second World War
Just a few months later, with Europe plunged into war again, the King and Queen made the decision to stay in London, come what may. Suggestions that she take her daughters Elizabeth and Margaret Rose to Canada for safety were met with a typical straightforward response: "The girls will not go without me. And I won't leave without the King. And of course the King will never leave." It was a decision that would be forever remembered and held up decades later as a shining example of loyalty and commitment.
Elizabeth spent her days boosting morale. She visited factories and hospitals. She toured the camps and visited the troops. She took the time to visit the East End of London, which had been badly damaged by the German bombing. When Buckingham Palace itself was bombed she said, "Now I can look the East End in the face."
The abdication, the scandal, the cries of 'abolish the monarchy' quickly faded.
Seven years after the end of the war, George died. His daughter Elizabeth would become Queen. Her mother assumed the title of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, to avoid confusion.
Her family, like many others, would disappoint. But never would the public see the strain on the face of the Queen Mother, nor would her popularity ever flag.
Her passion for horseracing never flagged either. During her lifetime her horses would win more than 400 races over jumps. Family photos show her exercising another passion - holding fish she caught while on holiday in Scotland.
Elizabeth lived a life of charm and privilege never accorded to most mortals.
She had tea and conversation with Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Eleanor Roosevelt was her houseguest at Buckingham Palace in 1942. She watched from a unique vantagepoint as the tumultuous events of the past century unfolded. She made a difference to millions around the world with her bravery, courage and commitment at a time when such characteristics seemed lacking in the royal household.
She and Bertie rescued the British monarchy from its darkest crisis only to see it two generations later plunged back into tumult.
The present royal family could learn much from her life, if they chose to do so. That seemed to be what her daughter was hinting at in her 1998 Christmas Message to the Commonwealth. "I would say that my mother has much to say to me," said the present Queen. "Indeed her vigour and enjoyment of life is a great example of how to close the so-called generation gap." Anthony Eden said Elizabeth had "great character and common sense."
(AP Photo/Ian Waldie, Pool)
Another prime minister, Neville Chamberlain described her as "the only royalty I enjoy talking to, for though she may not be an intellectual she is always natural and moreover appears to be thoroughly enjoying herself."
Rest in peace.