Friday 30 March 2012

Queen Elizabeth: Ten Years On

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall attended a memorial service in Saint George's Chapel at Windsor Castle today to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, His Royal Highness's maternal grandmother. 

Queen Elizabeth was born Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 4th August 1900, the ninth child of Claude, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and his wife, Nina Cecilia (née Cavendish-Bentinck). During the First World War, Elizabeth helped run Glamis Castle, when it was converted into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers; her mother's ill-health prevented her from executing her duties as chatelaine. Elizabeth was instrumental in saving the legendary castle from destruction from an accidental fire during those years, in which she also made her Society debut as a debutante in London. She came from a particularly close family and all were devastated when her elder brother, Fergus, was killed in active service in 1916. Another brother, Alexander, had died as a result of cancer five years earlier, at the age of twenty-four.  Some of the very few occasions on which Elizabeth was subsequently to show strong upset in public was whilst attending the memorial services at The Cenotaph every November.

At the age of twenty-two, Elizabeth married King George V's second son, Prince Albert, known in the family as "Bertie". He was a shy but dignified man, with a strong sense of duty who often felt frustrated by the stammer he had developed as a child. Elizabeth was tireless in her support of her husband and in her relentless quest to find him a "cure" for his speech impediment, something movingly and fairly accurately dramatised in the recent Oscar-winning movie The King's Speech. Through her marriage, Elizabeth acquired the titles of Duchess of York, Countess of Inverness and Baroness Killarney. One of Elizabeth's first official visits as a member of the Royal Family was to Northern Ireland, where she commented on the warmth of the reception she received from the crowds in Belfast. The visit also gave the young Duchess a chance to stay with old friends, who were members of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, mainly relatives of the Duke of Abercorn, who was then the Governor of the newly-created state of Northern Ireland. The Duke and Duchess of York took a townhouse in London as their first main residence, as the Duchess was still in her early twenties and allegedly reluctant to abandon the fun and excitement of the London Social season. The Royal couple subsequently had two children - Princess Elizabeth, the current Sovereign, born in 1926, and her younger sister, Princess Margaret Rose (1930 - 2002).

In 1936, Elizabeth's husband became King and assumed the regnal name of King George VI, following his brother's decision to abdicate in order that he might marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. King George ruled with exemplary dedication to his country from 1936 to 1952 and he led the nation through the horror, trauma and difficulties of the Second World War. Due to her many public appearances, her refusal to abandon London even during the Blitz and her constant good humour, Queen Elizabeth was widely credited with boosting and sustaining the public's morale during the war years. She was complimented on this fact by both Winston Churchill and, rather bizarrely, by Adolf Hitler, who grudgingly described her as "the most dangerous woman in Europe".

In 1952, King George lost his battle with lung cancer and his widow assumed the title of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; her daughter assumed the throne as Sovereign. The Queen Mother continued to remain one of the most consistently popular members of the Royal Family, as her 100th birthday celebrations in August 2000 showed. Even her extravagance and love of horse-racing and gambling were generally affectionately regarded by the public and she was well-known for her wit, charm and her joie de vivre. Upon receiving a magnum of champagne from sailors in the Royal Navy, the eighty-something year-old Dowager publicly joked that she was planning to drink the whole thing herself when she got home.

The Queen Mother passed away at Royal Lodge, her home in Windsor, on 30th March 2002, at the age of one hundred and one. She was buried next to her husband in Saint George's Chapel, after a State funeral. Controversy was caused at the time when the BBC news reader making the official announcement accidentally forgot to don a black tie when broadcasting the news for the first time to the nation.

Reflecting on Queen Elizabeth's enduring popularity, her commitment to nearly eighty years of public engagements and her indefatigable devotion to the monarchy and to the nation, the Archbishop of Canterbury was moved to quote the words spoken of Queen Esther in the Bible, when delivering the Queen Mother's funeral eulogy, "And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

I was on holiday in Scotland with my family at the time The Queen Mother passed away and had the opportunity to sign one of the many books of condolence set up across the nation; in my case, one at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. She was a very great lady, with style, wit and a naughty sense of humour. She was the last of her kind and I admire her tremendously.

The moment the television was halted across the nation and the official announcement was made, followed by the customary playing of the National Anthem for such announcements, can be watched below.


  1. The Bowes-Lyon family was very aristocratic, so people tend to forget the mother's side of the family. Just as aristocratic, but far more politically involved.

    Her mother was descended from the Prime Minister William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, and Governor-General of India Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, who was the elder brother of another Prime Minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Pretty impressive!

  2. Queen Elizabeth has just become a great-grandmother so the service was also a perfect opportunity to thank for the new member in the Royal family. By the way I follow the events in England and it seems that not a single day goes by without a new revelation of something that will contribute to the jubilee celebrations and I have to say that the organizers have done a great job thus far. One of the most positive things is that the celebrations will take place not only in London but all around the world. That's why I think it's great that the members of the Royal family have been promoting the jubilee in the Commonwealth countries as well. The bond between Canada and Queen Elizabeth has always been very strong and the jubilee is a great opportunity to celebrate her life as well as the values that we and the British have in common.


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