Sunday, October 30, 2022

With the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, the royal family has been in the news once again. While fascination with the royal family rarely wanes, the younger generations tend to grab all the headlines.  The Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at the age of 101, led a fascinating life where she encountered many of the well-known people of the day. She, like her daughter, had a great belief in "doing one's duty" and continued to participate in royal duties until just a few months before her death. This book takes a look at her life, decade by decade, to show the woman who tried (not always successfully) to avoid publicity.

I thought from the somewhat comical cover, that the book might be less substantial and focus more on the quips and (perhaps) public gaffs that the Queen Mother was known for. Instead, the book was a very in-depth look at the life of the woman who was born while Queen Victoria was still on the throne and died a century later. Not only are well-known sources quoted, but also people who knew or met the Queen Mother and also private letters and diaries were consulted to form a more rounded picture of the QEII's mum -- warts and all. 

Anyone who is interested in the royal family will enjoy reading about the long and mostly happy life of the woman referred to as Buffy (by her siblings) and Cake (by her enemies in society). It was interesting to learn so many details that I hadn't known, such as the fact that the future King George VI had to propose 3 times to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon before she accepted. She was something of an "it girl" and had no interest in giving up her partying lifestyle for a life of duty and being in the public eye. But eventually, true love prevailed, and she and "Bertie" began their lives together. Everything changed when his brother, King Edward VIII, famously renounced the crown to marry Wallis Simpson. Elizabeth never forgave either of them as it meant her shy, anxious husband with the speech impediment was suddenly thrust into a role he had not really been prepared for. Elizabeth's long-standing grudge with the Duke and Dutchess of Windsor (as they became) throughout their lifelong exile in Paris is one of the more interesting events in the book.  Neither brother (Kings Edward VIII or George VI) comes across in a very positive light, both being described as not overly bright, quick to throwing temper tantrums, and spoiled. But at least Bertie had the same dedication to the job as his wife did and he was surprisingly successful in his time as king. His somewhat unexpected death would leave his wife to live as a widow for the next 50 years. 

There are plenty of funny stories about encounters with the Queen mum, most revolving around her love of a "little drinky-poo" (or twelve) before, during, and after lunch. Many people who had meetings with the Queen mum missed later appointments as she convinced them, quite cheerfully, to just have one more. Her kindness to servants who were employed long after they ceased to be able to perform their duties was also mentioned, as was her willingness to take the blame when things went wrong (so people wouldn't lose their jobs). The criticism of her weight gain was mentioned all throughout the book, but it never seemed to dampen her love of good food and drink, nor dim her cheerful good humor. The book is a fascinating look at the entire twentieth century and events that Elizabeth witnessed first-hand. A particularly poignant scene describes how she was interviewed by a historian about her recollections of Tsar Nicholas II's mother Marie, since Elizabeth was "the only person left alive who remembered her." All in all, a very entertaining book about a formidable woman. 

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.


Arnold M said...

Hi greaat reading your blog

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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