Friday, June 10, 2011
Consort Profile: Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
However, the Duke of York was adamant that he would have no other girl but Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and Queen Mary, after meeting her, agreed. After Elizabeth appeared as a bridesmaid at the wedding of Albert’s sister Princess Mary in 1922 the Duke proposed again and, again, Elizabeth turned him down. However, in 1923 the persistent Duke proposed again and the third time was the charm. Elizabeth agreed and the couple were married on April 26 at Westminster Abbey with the new Duchess of York placing her wedding bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in an unplanned tribute, an act which has been repeated by every royal bride thereafter. Despite her hesitation in joining the Royal Family there was no doubt of the level of devotion that the new Duke and Duchess of York felt for each other. The two traveled extensively from Northern Ireland to Aden to Africa and in 1926 welcomed their first child into the world, HRH Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen. The Duchess of York was also a compassionate and comforting support to her husband as he worked to overcome his speech impediment as he was called upon to make more public speeches as part of his royal duties.
There was some family tension over this, and the now Queen Elizabeth was understandably less than thrilled at her elevation. She had been reluctant enough to endure the scrutiny and pressure of marrying the younger royal son, now the abdication had made her husband King and herself Queen. The stress on the new King George VI was considerable and there was some feeling that it had been unfairly thrust upon him by a brother who put personal wishes before national duty. However, there would be none of that with the new King and Queen who were devoted to duty from start to finish. In the prelude to World War II, the King and Queen understandably wanted peace and to avoid conflict if at all possible. However, the Queen was not blind to the threat that Nazi Germany represented and, seeing her on television, Adolf Hitler famously called Queen Elizabeth, “the most dangerous woman in Europe”. When World War II came, King George and Queen Elizabeth embodied the motto “Keep Calm and Carry On”. King George focused on his duties as Commander-in-Chief, the Queen worked to comfort the public and maintain morale while Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
Peace came as a relief but the stress had taken its toll on the King whose health deteriorated rapidly. The Queen was very protective of him and could be quite combative such as when she hit someone with her umbrella who she (mistakenly) thought was threatening the royal party. She was absolutely devastated when King George VI died in 1952 and, for a time, retired to Scotland, but was persuaded to return to public service out of her sense of duty and her wish to help her daughter, newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. Known as HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, she remained, easily, the most widely popular member of the Royal Family, both because of her charm and friendliness and also because of the history she represented, memories of World War II and her calm in times of crisis. Britain was going through drastic changes as the British Empire was dismantled and socialism was brought in. Someone asked the Queen Mother what it was like to be a “Queen-Empress” because, with the independence of India, she was the last to hold such a title. She replied that, “it was very nice while it lasted”.