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The Queen Mother: The Official Biography

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The official and definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: consort of King George VI, mother of Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother of Prince Charles—and the most beloved British monarch of the twentieth century. Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon—the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore’s ten children—was born on August 4, 1900, and, certainly, no one could have The official and definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: consort of King George VI, mother of Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother of Prince Charles—and the most beloved British monarch of the twentieth century. Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon—the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore’s ten children—was born on August 4, 1900, and, certainly, no one could have imagined that her long life (she died in 2002) would come to reflect a changing nation over the course of an entire century. Now, William Shawcross—given unrestricted access to the Queen Mother’s personal papers, letters, and diaries—gives us a portrait of unprecedented vividness and detail. Here is the girl who helped convalescing soldiers during the First World War . . . the young Duchess of York helping her reluctant husband assume the throne when his brother abdicated . . . the Queen refusing to take refuge from the bombing of London, risking her own life to instill courage and hope in others who were living through the Blitz . . . the dowager Queen—the last Edwardian, the charming survivor of a long-lost era—representing her nation at home and abroad . . . the matriarch of the Royal Family and “the nation’s best-loved grandmother.” A revelatory royal biography that is, as well, a singular history of Britain in the twentieth century.


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The official and definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: consort of King George VI, mother of Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother of Prince Charles—and the most beloved British monarch of the twentieth century. Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon—the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore’s ten children—was born on August 4, 1900, and, certainly, no one could have The official and definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: consort of King George VI, mother of Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother of Prince Charles—and the most beloved British monarch of the twentieth century. Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon—the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore’s ten children—was born on August 4, 1900, and, certainly, no one could have imagined that her long life (she died in 2002) would come to reflect a changing nation over the course of an entire century. Now, William Shawcross—given unrestricted access to the Queen Mother’s personal papers, letters, and diaries—gives us a portrait of unprecedented vividness and detail. Here is the girl who helped convalescing soldiers during the First World War . . . the young Duchess of York helping her reluctant husband assume the throne when his brother abdicated . . . the Queen refusing to take refuge from the bombing of London, risking her own life to instill courage and hope in others who were living through the Blitz . . . the dowager Queen—the last Edwardian, the charming survivor of a long-lost era—representing her nation at home and abroad . . . the matriarch of the Royal Family and “the nation’s best-loved grandmother.” A revelatory royal biography that is, as well, a singular history of Britain in the twentieth century.

30 review for The Queen Mother: The Official Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    At 943 pages, this may be more than anyone who isn't a "royalty buff" may ever want to know about Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. I'm fairly exhausted after reading the book--primarily because the sucker is really, really heavy. I've been reading this book for what seems like weeks, 50 and 100 pages at a time, and still I'm left feeling unsatisfied. It's an official biography, which apparently means that the author is a total admirer of the Queen Mother and the current Queen so that scandals At 943 pages, this may be more than anyone who isn't a "royalty buff" may ever want to know about Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. I'm fairly exhausted after reading the book--primarily because the sucker is really, really heavy. I've been reading this book for what seems like weeks, 50 and 100 pages at a time, and still I'm left feeling unsatisfied. It's an official biography, which apparently means that the author is a total admirer of the Queen Mother and the current Queen so that scandals are swept under the rug along with any information that casts the main character in an unflattering light. I was interested in the information about Prince Albert wooing Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon and in the fact that she repeatedly turned down his marriage proposals. Why she then changed her mind and accepted is really not made clear. Also I was longing to get to the parts of the book featuring the Queen Mother's relationships with and feelings about Wallis Warfield Simpson and Princess Diana. Sadly, that was glossed over for the most part. In the end, this is a fluff piece--a really, really long fluff piece. Yet I came away admiring the woman that Elizabeth was, missing warts and all.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Leigh

    Oh, Lord...what can I say? The book is a total whitewash of Queen Elizabeth (the one that was married to George VI) and her life. Granted, she was a hard working Royal who was devoted to the British public. But she also drank hard, held grudges like a bulldog and ran up a multimillion debt at Coutt's, Britain's richest bank. She was one of the most interesting women of the 20th century and this book could have been a really interesting look at her. But instead it glosses over her weaknesses, jus Oh, Lord...what can I say? The book is a total whitewash of Queen Elizabeth (the one that was married to George VI) and her life. Granted, she was a hard working Royal who was devoted to the British public. But she also drank hard, held grudges like a bulldog and ran up a multimillion debt at Coutt's, Britain's richest bank. She was one of the most interesting women of the 20th century and this book could have been a really interesting look at her. But instead it glosses over her weaknesses, justifies her faults and trumpets her strengths to no end. It's a shame.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    This book was fantastic! I usually reead a couple of books a day, but this one lasted almost three weeks. The author used hundreds of sources to flesh out, not only the person of the Queen Mother, but her husband, King George VI, his parents, their kids, his brother King Edward and the woman he abdicated his throne for, and many, many others, including Winston Churchill. The historical perspective it gave was priceless, stretching from the beginning of the twentieth century for a hundred years. This book was fantastic! I usually reead a couple of books a day, but this one lasted almost three weeks. The author used hundreds of sources to flesh out, not only the person of the Queen Mother, but her husband, King George VI, his parents, their kids, his brother King Edward and the woman he abdicated his throne for, and many, many others, including Winston Churchill. The historical perspective it gave was priceless, stretching from the beginning of the twentieth century for a hundred years. I also learned so much about the rules and customs governing the royals and how they came about. I was impressed to learn that at the beginning, even the most humble peasant felt it an honor to support the royalty, while at the end, the populace had come to feel as if the royals were living off the back breaking work of the common man. The hundreds of small changes over those hundred years added up to cause one of the most far-reaching transformations in the history of the British Empire. This book is a must read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Vincent Nelson

    One of the best biographies I've read of an incredibly interesting life and an even more fascinating woman. While not for the faint of heart at almost 1,000 pages, The Queen Mother portrays the interesting life and experiences of a common woman who ascends to the throne of England. The Queen Mother proves a fascinating character shaped by her childhood experiences, sense of duty, joy for life, and love of family. Her experiences alone make this book worthwhile, but by reading her correspondences One of the best biographies I've read of an incredibly interesting life and an even more fascinating woman. While not for the faint of heart at almost 1,000 pages, The Queen Mother portrays the interesting life and experiences of a common woman who ascends to the throne of England. The Queen Mother proves a fascinating character shaped by her childhood experiences, sense of duty, joy for life, and love of family. Her experiences alone make this book worthwhile, but by reading her correspondences with family and friends, one gets to really understand the reason for her appeal during her 101 years of life. In addition to learning about the Queen Mother, you also get a glimpse of the 20th century in England from World War II, the abdication crisis, World War II, and the emergence of the modern UK. And as they say, sometimes truth is much better than fiction.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Loe

    I didn't expect a seminal work from this official biography - I should probably give Hugo Vickers' 2002 work a whirl for that. But I did appreciate the liberal use of correspondence and other personal papers Shawcross was given access to. The bio is riveting up through George VI's death and then went off a cliff into some rather numbing recitations, including her "welfare and warfare" patronages. I can't decide if her life did turn boring after her husband died or if Shawcross is just being enor I didn't expect a seminal work from this official biography - I should probably give Hugo Vickers' 2002 work a whirl for that. But I did appreciate the liberal use of correspondence and other personal papers Shawcross was given access to. The bio is riveting up through George VI's death and then went off a cliff into some rather numbing recitations, including her "welfare and warfare" patronages. I can't decide if her life did turn boring after her husband died or if Shawcross is just being enormously discreet about still living people in the second half of her life. Probably the latter.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    Highly recommend this book for "Royal Fans". What a strong woman. Author Shawcross did an amazing job with this biggie. Do not be intimidated at the size of the book. I did make some notes as I went along.. Interesting tidbits of how the Prince of Wales felt knowing he would become a king one day. Not sure he thought it would be this long though. Edward did not appear to have the personality and strength to become King, abdication was an easy choice for him. Did you know Edward owned a ranch in Al Highly recommend this book for "Royal Fans". What a strong woman. Author Shawcross did an amazing job with this biggie. Do not be intimidated at the size of the book. I did make some notes as I went along.. Interesting tidbits of how the Prince of Wales felt knowing he would become a king one day. Not sure he thought it would be this long though. Edward did not appear to have the personality and strength to become King, abdication was an easy choice for him. Did you know Edward owned a ranch in Alberta, Canada for several years. As I am from southwestern Ontario, I learned the details of the King and Queen's visit to Windsor Ontario as it was reported that there was a large influx of Americans crossing into Canada at the rate of 30,000 people per hour, over a million viewing their visit. No border security back in those days. Both the King and Queen and later Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip did trips abroad when their children were very very young. A close bond was built by the Prince of Wales and the Queen Mother as Charles and Anne spend a lot of time with their grandparents. Remember Charles was only 3 when his mother gave her life to public service in 1952. Over the years, the Queen Mother saw so many changes with regards to their security protection and as well especially when visiting sitting US Presidents and changes between Roosevelt and Eisenhower's tenures. After the King died, the Queen Mother found her own niche of public service and also made several public appearances to continue in service. She loved to travel especially to Canada, Toronto being her favourite, taking in the 130th running of the Queen's Plate at Woodbine Raceway during the time of her 89th birthday. After recovering from a hip replacement when she was 95, she still continued on, doing 54 public engagements in her 97th year. During her 100th birthday celebrations, she walked and greeted other wheel chair bound centurions so inspirational to all. Near the end of her life, wheel chair bound, she insisted on standing and greeting over 200 guests at least 20 different times throughout the evening of the staff Christmas Party. Words read at her funeral from the Book of Proverbs 31:25 "She is clothed with strength & dignity and laughs without fear of the future...… That in my mind sums up the queen Mother.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    Absolutely fascinating and surprisingly topical look into not only the Queen Mother's personal and private family life, but a simultaneous look into the history and politics of Great Britain during the Queen Mother's 100+ year life. William Shawcross the biographer and historian, explains how the Queen Mother and members of her immediate family made important decisions and how they then lived with the outcomes of these decisions. Topical book because what went on with Great Britain in the 193 Absolutely fascinating and surprisingly topical look into not only the Queen Mother's personal and private family life, but a simultaneous look into the history and politics of Great Britain during the Queen Mother's 100+ year life. William Shawcross the biographer and historian, explains how the Queen Mother and members of her immediate family made important decisions and how they then lived with the outcomes of these decisions. Topical book because what went on with Great Britain in the 1930's through the 1970's is going on right now in America. For example, the breakdown of traditional marriage, the emergence of a secular society, the growth of a casual society with a growing lack of civility and respect for others, government pouring money into poor schools to no avail because the underlying problem was the breakdown of the family, the growth and intrusion of government in general, inflation, an agricultural drought and how a single "Death Duty" tax bankrupted the "Landed Gentry" class, their way of life and the massive loss of jobs of the traditional servant class they employed, the loss of industry due to corrupt unions and unskilled workers, the loss of the power of Great Britain on a grand, worldwide scale, class warfare, unending government spending again and again, even after the infusion of 25 Billion US dollars the American Heiresses infused into Britain's economy from the 1880's up until before WWI, and the effect two world wars had on their federal budget, the Royals in general, the Queen Mother, her immediate family, and their way of life.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Reader57

    This amazing woman, who became queen only because she was married to the brother of Edward VII who abdicated the throne, was gracious and as well-loved as Princess Diana two generations later. Born in 1900 and buried in 2002 she experienced the entire 20th century including two world wars, drastic changes in the views of the people toward the monarchy, and personal pain as she outlived siblings and her husband. This is a wonderful story of what she and her world were like.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    THe first half was really enjoyable, but after King George VI dies, the book becomes more a compilation of her patronage organizations and house party guests. The earlier part of the book gives insight into family relationships by quoting letters from various royals, especially Queen Mary, but as the book goes on the material is thinner. There is no discussion of her relationship with Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, or her grandchildren.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (SEMI-HIATUS; BW Reviews; he/him/his)

    This review can also be found here! The thing that stands out most to me is the small print about this being the official biography of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. Shawcross states as much in the introduction that Queen Elizabeth II asked him to write this biography. Which means that this is pretty biased towards her. It glosses over the nasty things. Such as Diana, the Queen Mother’s reported alcohol abuse (although reading up on it a bit, I don’t see it as abuse), and her intimate thoughts This review can also be found here! The thing that stands out most to me is the small print about this being the official biography of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. Shawcross states as much in the introduction that Queen Elizabeth II asked him to write this biography. Which means that this is pretty biased towards her. It glosses over the nasty things. Such as Diana, the Queen Mother’s reported alcohol abuse (although reading up on it a bit, I don’t see it as abuse), and her intimate thoughts on things. It’s pretty clean. It keeps calm and cool and diplomatic, just as she was in her public life. So, that’s important to remember. This is a biography that her daughter asked the author to write. But, honestly, I really liked this book. I found her life interesting beforehand because of the circumstances of it. She was never going to be a queen. Never. She married Albert and then, because of his brother, Albert became George VI and history changed. And then her husband died so young, leaving her widowed and she lived half of her life without him. That’s crazy and fascinating to me. The Queen Mother was a fascinating woman. She had such life, such vivacity. She lived through two huge wars, members of her family dying in each. She became something that she never expected in her life. And she handled it all with such grace and was a role model for so many people because of how she was. Sure, I don’t agree with her conservative views, but I still think that she was a fantastic woman someone can look up to. I hope that I can hold my head up, find humor in all things, and enjoy life fully like she did. I’m very glad I read this book, even if I wish it had gone more into how she felt about huge points in the history of her daughter’s reign. Would I reread this? Maybe. Maybe one day when I want to delve back into her life because she had a great one that she lived to the fullest.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ekaterina

    The Queen Mother was an amazing person! Wow! She was incredible. When I picked up this book, I was hoping to also learn a little bit about British history in the 20th century. I was not disappointed. The book was primarily about the Queen Mother, obviously, but I also learned a lot about the changes in England, the monarchy, and about the economy (generally speaking.) I really loved the part in the book about England during World War II. I knew that England was important in the war, suffered from The Queen Mother was an amazing person! Wow! She was incredible. When I picked up this book, I was hoping to also learn a little bit about British history in the 20th century. I was not disappointed. The book was primarily about the Queen Mother, obviously, but I also learned a lot about the changes in England, the monarchy, and about the economy (generally speaking.) I really loved the part in the book about England during World War II. I knew that England was important in the war, suffered from the bombings, and how Winston Churchill was important, but I had no idea how large those three things were. At one point in the book, Eleanor Roosevelt visits England before America enters the war. She describes how you can see Nazi occupied France over the channel, you really get the feeling like the enemies are in your backyard. In America, they didn't know what that felt. That made an impact on me, especially thinking about America's part during World War II. I also really liked the quotes in the book from Winston Churchill. I didn't realize how eloquent he was. I now want to learn more about his life. The writing was slightly dry. I was expecting this because it's an in-depth biography, but I don't think everyone would enjoy the book based on the writing. I would recommend this book to anyone who is extremely interested in royalty in general, history, and the British royal family.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Angie Rhodes

    This has taken me months to finish, over a 1000 pages, but a great read, some reviews have said that she was a little full of herself as a child etc, personally I just think, she was comfortable in her own skin., liked to help people when and where she could. I enjoyed reading about her life, her family,,and what made her tick. Some people will hate it. others will love it. You don't have to be a Royalist to enjoy it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    A phenomenal book! Author, William Shawcross states in the Epilogue that fate dealt the Queen Mother an extraordinary hand and that this book attempted to show what she made of it. She had an incredible life! I learned so much about the Queen Mother and her family from this book; I also gained a wealth of information about Great Britain and its history. For example, in 1772 the Royal Marriages Act was put into place after two of King George III's brothers secretly married commoners of whom the Kin A phenomenal book! Author, William Shawcross states in the Epilogue that fate dealt the Queen Mother an extraordinary hand and that this book attempted to show what she made of it. She had an incredible life! I learned so much about the Queen Mother and her family from this book; I also gained a wealth of information about Great Britain and its history. For example, in 1772 the Royal Marriages Act was put into place after two of King George III's brothers secretly married commoners of whom the King did not approve. The Royal Marriages Act requires the sovereign's approval before members of the royal family can marry a commoner -- this "law" is still in effect today! Queen Elizabeth and King George VI married for love and theirs was a cherished period in the history of England. However, her relationship with the Duke of Windsor after he abdicated the throne and Wallis Simpson could be described as chilly at best. I believe she long thought that by abdicating the throne, the Duke, was responsible for the death of King George VI at such a young age. People are always debating the merits when the United States steps into various conflicts around the world. Both Churchill and King George VI wanted to draw the US into the war as an ally of Britain. While Roosevelt was willing to provide supplies to Britain, he was not yet willing to "go to war". Early in 1941, a new basis for the purchase of American material was introduced. It was intended to make arms and supplies available to governments whose defense was considered vital to the defense of the United States. The Land-Lease Act, passed by Congress on March 11th, gave Britain extended credit, allowing the country to buy equipment, oil and other supplies, and would not have to be paid for until the end of the war ... However, this war debt was not actually paid off until 2007!! Many people on Goodreads have stated that this book is not very good after King George VI dies. I disagree. The reader is introduced to a slightly different side of Queen Elizabeth in the 50 years after the King's passing. And yes, she is known as Queen Elizabeth after the King dies. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II (the reigning monarch) is known as THE QUEEN. Queen Elizabeth developed a keen interest in horses and horse racing beginning in the early 50's. One of her jockeys was none other than famed author, Dick Francis, who recently passed away at the age of 89. I mentioned the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 above. That Act came into play again when Princess Margaret was contemplating marriage to Peter Townsend, a commoner in the mid-50's. Queen Elizabeth believed that people should marry for love, but she also believed that duty to the crown should always come first. If Princess Margaret wished to marry Townsend, she would have to renounce her royal status. After a matter of some arduous years, they mutually decided that marriage would not work. Throughout this book, I thought about this relationship and that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana vs. Camilia Parker Bowles. How would history have changed if these people had been allowed to marry for love instead of for duty? Queen Elizabeth had may patronages that she supported through the years. For the reader, there is a 15-page alphabetical list at the end of this book of all the patronages Queen Elizabeth sponsored along with the years and offices served. As you read this book, it will come as no surprise to learn that she had a special affection for groups relating to WWII. She also had some other interesting passions including the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society (p. 742). Queen Elizabeth had a passion for her patronages, but she was also impassioned for her family. She spoke to The Queen at least once a day and had great relationships with her grandchildren -- King Charles was a favorite! She also had a fantastic relationship with Antony, Earl of Snowdon before and after his divorce from Princess Margaret. It was [naturally:] very upsetting whenever Queen Elizabeth lost a family member or friend or employee -- at 101, she outlived so many including all of her siblings. I do not mean to be disrespectful, but it could almost be considered a fluke that she lived as long as she did. Probably the saddest event (besides the death of the King) was the passing of her younger daughter, Princess Margaret on February 9, 2002. Princess Margaret had been ill for awhile and while her death came as no surprise ... the death of a child ... Queen Elizabeth passed away at 3:15 on March 30, 2002. There is so much more that I could have added to this review, but did not. The information discerned in this book is fascinating! I am not a student of the royals meaning I have not read everything out there, but I do like history and I sincerely believe that anybody who has a taste for learning about the past, will love the book!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hollingsworth

    The author was given exclusive access to the archives of the Royal family to write this biography. As a result it is a warm and generous, yet balanced, perspective on the life of the Queen Mother. More importantly it is a unique perspective on the history of the 20th century, with the Queen Mother being born in 1900 and living for over 100 years. You cannot but help feel a great deal of sympathy for her as you read this book. Growing up in the period of the First World War, when her house became The author was given exclusive access to the archives of the Royal family to write this biography. As a result it is a warm and generous, yet balanced, perspective on the life of the Queen Mother. More importantly it is a unique perspective on the history of the 20th century, with the Queen Mother being born in 1900 and living for over 100 years. You cannot but help feel a great deal of sympathy for her as you read this book. Growing up in the period of the First World War, when her house became a military hospital, and so many of her friends were killed in that most tragic conflict. Then a reluctance to marry into the Royal family, eventually gave way to love for the future King George. The author captures wonderfully the relationship between the Queen Mother and the Royal family, and handles with care and considerable skill that most difficult period of the abdication in 1936 of King Edward brought about by his relationship with Mrs Simpson. You feel the immense burden that fell upon the Queen Mother, the new king George, and her 2 daughters, one of whom of course goes on to be Queen herself. The rest as they say is history, and through skilled narrative, diary and letter extracts, we see the Queen Mother emerge from the tragedy of the early death of her husband, whilst still a relatively young woman and then how she handles the next 50 years of her life as a widow. What emerges is a very human account of a remarkable woman, who was still enjoying tea from her 1940s brown china teapot, and strong dry martinis, well into her 90s! This book is an inspiration in how to enjoy life to the full.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Tyler

    What ho! as the Queen Mother was wont to begin her letters when she was a young woman. This biography sheds fascinating light on the Queen Mother as a child and as a young woman. Especially amusing were the quotations from the letters she wrote at the time---a bit racy and saucy and fill of puns, double entendres, and other lively palaver. After she married "Bertie" (the Duke of York and then King George VI) the book becomes much more decorous and starts to bog down. I doubt that she lost her viv What ho! as the Queen Mother was wont to begin her letters when she was a young woman. This biography sheds fascinating light on the Queen Mother as a child and as a young woman. Especially amusing were the quotations from the letters she wrote at the time---a bit racy and saucy and fill of puns, double entendres, and other lively palaver. After she married "Bertie" (the Duke of York and then King George VI) the book becomes much more decorous and starts to bog down. I doubt that she lost her vivacity but I suspect that she had to train and restrain it to fulfill her public role. Intelligent without being learned, witty without being callow, energetic without being manic, this great Queen seems to have been the perfect ingredient to add to the royal family. She provided a little touch of humanity to off-set the stifling propriety of Kine George V and Queen Mary. Because it's an official biography--or maybe because she was very well-disciplined, the Queen Mother's letters become more stilted and less natural as time passes. She was an endearing character who managed to win love and respect both from Bucks House and from the public. This book is huge and it's not totally satisfactory as history or as biography. And what ho! That saucy Princess Margaret burned so many of her mother's letters that we have lost some potentially great commentary and a possible dish of dishiness. Alas!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Baxter

    None of my friends or relatives would likely read this biography. One review I read of it had the reader 'tired' from covering almost 1,000 pages of 101+ years of history, holding a 5 pound book along the way. I feel somewhat the same way having just finished it. Well written, though does get bogged down w/ reviews of QEQM's regiments, patronages, trips to Canada. During her widowhood, the 22 'private' trips to France w/ her entourage over 30 years were interesting in that her private secretary None of my friends or relatives would likely read this biography. One review I read of it had the reader 'tired' from covering almost 1,000 pages of 101+ years of history, holding a 5 pound book along the way. I feel somewhat the same way having just finished it. Well written, though does get bogged down w/ reviews of QEQM's regiments, patronages, trips to Canada. During her widowhood, the 22 'private' trips to France w/ her entourage over 30 years were interesting in that her private secretary had to find just the right French region, the best chateau, the wealthiest host and busy iteneraries to keep her interested. What determination this lady possessed. QEQM was the last of a breed of aristocrats who had the pampered life and loved it without guilt. But she also could mix with all types, thereby endearing herself to the masses. She and Churchill likely held Britain together after the abdication and WWII. She kept going almost to the end. A wonderful life!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sheena

    This was unbelievably difficult to get through. I have not ever read anything as detailed, meticulously researched and with as many footnotes. I have to say that I am very glad that I stayed the course and finished it. I thoroughly enjoyed the history of both World Wars and it brought to life all the stories I had been told during childhood. My impetus for reading this book was really seeing the current film "The King's Speech". The subject of George VI's stuttering problem is given very little This was unbelievably difficult to get through. I have not ever read anything as detailed, meticulously researched and with as many footnotes. I have to say that I am very glad that I stayed the course and finished it. I thoroughly enjoyed the history of both World Wars and it brought to life all the stories I had been told during childhood. My impetus for reading this book was really seeing the current film "The King's Speech". The subject of George VI's stuttering problem is given very little attention. Since this book is actually an "official biography", I feel this is probably a very sanitized version of most events. Great care seems to have been taken to cast the royal family in a favorable light at all times and very little is mentioned in regard to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson's roles as Nazi sympathizer's. I really was not interested in so much staggering detail. I feel as though I was present for every meal and conversation that the woman had in her entire life.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This book started out as a bang for me. The Queen Mum was way more fascinating then I anticipated or remembered about her. Towards the end the book starts to lose itself. Entire chapters (which are not short) were devoted to her charity work and travels. Although, on the surface this seems like a good thing to write about it, it knocks the entire book out of chronological order for a very dull side road---especially as they had been peppered through out the previous 600 pages. Interesting enough This book started out as a bang for me. The Queen Mum was way more fascinating then I anticipated or remembered about her. Towards the end the book starts to lose itself. Entire chapters (which are not short) were devoted to her charity work and travels. Although, on the surface this seems like a good thing to write about it, it knocks the entire book out of chronological order for a very dull side road---especially as they had been peppered through out the previous 600 pages. Interesting enough she had political views, forgiving and never let first impressions scare her...otherwise she would have always feared Churchill. Speaking of Churchill he SHINES in the book. I found myself highlighting whole pages of gems and even learned something new.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Phillis

    What an amazing book. I felt as if I lived her whole life as a friend and from day one, August 1900 until her death in March 2002. The author has writtien about the life of a very well loved woman without sugar coating or over dramatizing the Queen Mother's life. The author's insight and research was complete and non-biased and made for a very entertaining history of this most loved person. For questions on why she did or didn't do certain things was explained by way of learning the how and why What an amazing book. I felt as if I lived her whole life as a friend and from day one, August 1900 until her death in March 2002. The author has writtien about the life of a very well loved woman without sugar coating or over dramatizing the Queen Mother's life. The author's insight and research was complete and non-biased and made for a very entertaining history of this most loved person. For questions on why she did or didn't do certain things was explained by way of learning the how and why of Elizabeth, the person. I am looking forward to reading William Shawcross' book of Queen Elizabeth II.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I wanted to read more about the Queen Mother after seeing "The King's Speech." I didn't realize how long this biography was until it came in the mail...943 pages. There was a little TOO much detail for me. It wasn't just in the page numbers (I loved Walter Isaacson's 650 page biography on Steve Jobs)...there was just so many small details. Of course I wanted to know more about how she felt about Princess Diana...that was a blip in the book. Next I would like to read more about her daughter, Quee I wanted to read more about the Queen Mother after seeing "The King's Speech." I didn't realize how long this biography was until it came in the mail...943 pages. There was a little TOO much detail for me. It wasn't just in the page numbers (I loved Walter Isaacson's 650 page biography on Steve Jobs)...there was just so many small details. Of course I wanted to know more about how she felt about Princess Diana...that was a blip in the book. Next I would like to read more about her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Not THAT much. Just a little.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Isa Lavinia

    The Queen Mother On being pregnant with the future Queen Elizabeth II:   "'The sight of wine simply turns me up! Isn’t it extraordinary?’ she wrote to her husband in September. ‘It will be a tragedy if I never recover my drinking powers.’ She need not have worried." LOL   Very tame, but then again it's an official biography. Still, The Queen Mother did write very entertaining letters.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    Being an "official" biography it's a little squeaky clean, but still plenty interesting, well-written and well-narrated. ** Please support your local independent bookstore when buying this book! Buying from Amazon.com hurts your local economy. If you don't know where to go, check here: http://www.indiebound.org/indie-store... **

  23. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Read in tandam with Shawcross' book of her letters, this book gave the Queen who saw Great Britain through its darkest days her due. Highly enjoyable

  24. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Print

    A very well researched, interesting, and insightful biography of the Queen Mother. It took me a good few months to work through this biography, but it was worth it and I learnt a lot about the Queen Mother and royal family along the way. This is a positive portrayal of the Queen Mother, without ignoring her faults! Some chapters were more gripping than others, but I have a new found appreciation for how much the royal family do, and some of the challenges that they face.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born in 1900 and was the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore's ten children. Although born to a well to do, aristocratic family, likely no one, including Elizabeth herself, would have guessed that she would die in 2002 as the Queen Mother of Queen Elizabeth II. After a very happy and carefree childhood amongst her close family, Elizabeth finally agreed to marry the Duke of York. After her initial hesitation, the two appeared to have had a loving and close m Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born in 1900 and was the ninth of the Earl of Strathmore's ten children. Although born to a well to do, aristocratic family, likely no one, including Elizabeth herself, would have guessed that she would die in 2002 as the Queen Mother of Queen Elizabeth II. After a very happy and carefree childhood amongst her close family, Elizabeth finally agreed to marry the Duke of York. After her initial hesitation, the two appeared to have had a loving and close marriage and two beloved daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Although she married the second son of King Edward V, Elizabeth likely never anticipated that her husband's brother, the Prince of Wales would abdicate his throne for a divorced woman, making her husband King of England. Elizabeth became a much adored and devoted queen, particularly during World War II, when she and the king risked their lives to remain in London during the Blitz. After the king's death in his fifties, the Queen Mother continued to carry out hundreds of royal engagements each year and represent the Royal Family internationally up until her ninth decade. She was a charismatic and kind ruler and the matriarch of the Royal Family we still love and admire today. I loved learning more about the Queen Mother and her family through this book. I had no idea how hard the Duke had to work to get her to accept his marriage proposal. It wasn't until his third attempt that she finally agreed to marry him. I was impressed by her discretion; she refused to discuss the royal family, even with members of her own family. I was also moved by her sense of duty to her country and the countless organizations for which she served as patron. Throughout her eighties, she continued to carry out around one hundred official engagements annually (765). I also saw Prince Charles in a different light in this book as I had no idea that he was so close and so devoted to his grandmother. In many ways, this book allowed me to learn more about Queen Elizabeth II's childhood and upbringing, through examination of the life of her mother, with whom she was very close. With any book that is written with royal permission, the transparency of the text comes under question. The author does try to address this in the preface, stating, "I was encouraged to write what I wished" and "the decision on what to publish remained mine alone" (xxiv). Shawcross certainly does include details that the Queen Mother would likely not have liked to remember - such as embarrassing gaffes while on royal tours, scandal within the royal family, and negative quotes about her from those who knew her. For example, one criticism repeated several times was the fact that the Queen Mother had a very lackadaisical approach to her daughters' education and both princesses "felt under-educated" as a result of it (623). On the other hand, surely the fact that the Royal Family would be reading the manuscript made an impact on what the author chose to highlight in this biography. As this is the only biography of the Queen Mother I have read, it's difficult to know what, if anything, has been glossed over or omitted entirely. This book is a daunting read. It stands at nearly one thousand pages and is even heavy to hold upright. That being said, I do think there were subjects that were more skimmed over than others. For instance, after the birth of their second daughter Margaret, both the Queen Mother and her husband are quoted as hoping for future children yet no other children were ever born to them. The author never addresses this, likely because it is a delicate subject. Yet reams of the book are devoted to detailed descriptions of the Queen Mother's many royal engagements and trips. I would have preferred to have seen more details of his personal life, which likely were omitted or skated around due to the sensitivity of the author in writing this "official biography." There is an abrupt shift in the final chapters of the book from a chronological sequence of events to a summary of the final decades of Elizabeth's life. This is likely due to her status as dowager queen and the similarity of many years of patterned behavior in her old age, yet I found these chapters less interesting and somewhat harder to follow regarding the passage of time than the first three quarters of the book. This book certainly underscores the "arduous profession" of royalty: "Their daily tasks, for months ahead, are prescribed and set out in a diary of engagements for which only illness can excuse them. None but those trained from youth to such an ordeal can sustain it with amiability and composure. The royal motto 'ich dien' is no empty phrase. It means what it says - I serve" (761). Although not born to the task, the Queen Mother proved more than willing to serve. As a new bride, she quickly won over the royal family and she continued to win over the hearts of those who met her until her death. Upon her death at the age of 101, the royal family received more than 30,000 messages and "extra staff had to be brought in, some of whom worked twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week for a month, to reply to all well-wishers" (861). In many ways, the legacy of the current British Monarchy owe greatly to this epitome of a gracious ruler.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Yooperprof

    950 pages of text! You might ask yourself, is such length really necessary for a person who, however charming, was not really "a world historical figure"? 400 pages - maybe. 600 pages for an exceptionally full account that includes "longeuers". But 950 pages? You have to be a masochistic royalty-watcher (like me) to survive the complete book. Alas, this book is well-padded with endless passages about royal tours - eleven to Canada alone. If I had to read about one more wreath-laying in Toronto I 950 pages of text! You might ask yourself, is such length really necessary for a person who, however charming, was not really "a world historical figure"? 400 pages - maybe. 600 pages for an exceptionally full account that includes "longeuers". But 950 pages? You have to be a masochistic royalty-watcher (like me) to survive the complete book. Alas, this book is well-padded with endless passages about royal tours - eleven to Canada alone. If I had to read about one more wreath-laying in Toronto I think I was going to scream! A good test for any modern "royalty" book for me is whether or not it mentions the rumors surrounding George, the Duke of Kent (1900-1942). Of all the sons of King George V, he was Queen Mary's favorite, as well as the most intelligent, artistic, and "fun". He also made the most glamorous marriage - to the beautiful Princess Marina of Greece. He was the Duchess of York's brother-in-law, and apparently they were very close in 1920s. There are numerous rumors that the Duke of Kent was addicted to cocaine - and that he engaged in homosexual affairs - including a possible love affair with Noel Coward. What did the sweet Duchess of York make of all this? You won't find out in this book. Shawcross doesn't mention the rumors at all. (The treatment of Prince Charles long relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles is exactly the same. He doesn't mention it AT ALL. He even manages to make it seem as if the Princess of Wales was herself entirely to blame for the breakdown of her marriage. Again, it is well-known that the Queen Mother was particularly close to both the Prince and Princess - Charles doted on his grandmother, and Diana was the granddaughter of one of the Queen Mother's favorite ladies-in-waiting. So it is appropriate to wonder how she felt about her dear grandson's long-term adultery - especially in light of her earlier condemnation of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.) Maybe this wouldn't have seemed quite so tedious if there had been more gossip, more scandal, or at least more slightly embarrassing stories about the British royals. But NO! Shawcross is discreet to a fault, and comes across as fawning as the most devoted courtier. This is hagiography, not biography; and though it was certainly official - written with the assistance of Bucky Palace - it is by no means definitive. Oddly enough, Shawcross is perhaps best known for his hard-hitting journalistic exposes of American foreign policy in the Vietnam era, and for his path-breaking work on the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s. But here he writes as if he works for "Hello!". I really wish Alan Bennett had written this book instead! Actually, I think I would have enjoyed the Queen Mother's company. I certainly would have enjoyed her hospitality, and her conviviality! I just think that it's a pity that although this book is almost the size of "War and Peace," it really doesn't convey much of the Queen Mother's spiky personality. I did give this book three stars - "I liked it" - barely enough, because I liked the subject matter. And occasionally you do get a glimmer of the sense of this woman - who was born in 1900, who nursed soldiers coming back from the trenches of World War I, and who was very much a product of the gaily despairing 1920s. She believed in living life fully, in experiencing as much of the joy of the earth as possible, fulfilling duty but also preserving your own individual sense of pleasure in the good things of life. Here is a quote to that effect from the tenth decade of her life - sometime in the 1990s. "Wouldn't it be terrible if you'd spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't eat things, took lots of exercise, all the things you didn't want to do, and suddenly one day you were run over by a big red bus, and as the wheels were crunching into you you'd say, 'Oh my God, I could have got so drunk last night!' That's the way you should live your life, as if tommorow you'll be run over by a big red bus."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shoshanah

    I have read biographies of English monarch before, except only those during the Middle Ages or Renaissance. And while not non-fiction, I have read about Queen Victoria, who until now, was the most modern British monarch I'd read about. The Queen Mother is interesting because she was born in 1900, what I consider history, but lived until 2002, what I, instead, consider modern times. Because of her long life, the book reads not only a a history of her life, but also of the 20th century itself. It w I have read biographies of English monarch before, except only those during the Middle Ages or Renaissance. And while not non-fiction, I have read about Queen Victoria, who until now, was the most modern British monarch I'd read about. The Queen Mother is interesting because she was born in 1900, what I consider history, but lived until 2002, what I, instead, consider modern times. Because of her long life, the book reads not only a a history of her life, but also of the 20th century itself. It was almost fascinating to me reading how the times changed throughout the book. For example in the early years of the future King & Queen's marriage (then the Duke & Duchess of York), they go on a safari to Africa. Except this was in the 1920s. In there's a quote from the future King George VI that's almost heartbreaking about the almost extinct white rhino in which he explains, "only three or four are allowed to be shot a year as they are becoming scare. I did not want to shoot one on hearing this, but they wanted me to get one." And so of course the Duke does, to add another kill to his collection. On a similar vein it mentions a 6 month trip the Duke & Duchess took to Australia. Not necessarily heartbreaking, except when you consider that then Princess Elizabeth hadn't even reached her 1st birthday, and she stayed in England all 6 months. I'm not saying there's aren't still wealthy who travel the world without their children, but this was part of the reason Diana was noted as being different from the monarchy. Of coarse in the 1930s traveling from England to Australia meant a long sea voyage instead of the (comparatively) quick plane ride today. I also loved some of the details the remain quite relevant today especially considering the recent royal wedding. When Elizabeth Bowes Lyon married the Duke of York, it was the first time an English prince had married someone who wasn't already royal. (Although she was a Lady, unlike Kate who as we've heard is a "mere commoner.") That marriage set the precedent for who would pay for the wedding (the monarchy not the parents of the bride), and her royal title (Her Royal Highness the Duchess, but still considered a princess). My only complaint was number of people mention, but more importantly how they were mentioned. I understand that in 100 plus years you're going to interact with a lot of people. But it almost felt like people were mentioned just so they could claim to be in the biography. And more than that every time someone new was mentioned there was a footnote at the bottom of the page mentioning who the married, how they died, and what they did. Don't get me wrong I understand why that information is there, but part of me would have rather had in with the footnotes at the end of the book instead of the bottom of the page. Even with this minor complaint I still really enjoyed the book. I had been introduced to the Queen Mother in The King's Speech, but besides that I knew little about her. After getting this look into the modern monarchy it only makes me want to learn more. I have a feeling I'll definitely be reading a few more books on the modern English monarchy in the months to come.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    It takes a lot of pages to tell the story of a life than spans more than a century. However, the contents of these pages may not be everything you're expecting. This book is precisely what it purports to be - a biography of the life and times of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Here are the things that this book is not, although you might wish it to be: a House of Windsor tell-all (Diana appears only briefly, Fergie is a non-character, and there aren't any juicy Wallis Simpson/Duchess of York p It takes a lot of pages to tell the story of a life than spans more than a century. However, the contents of these pages may not be everything you're expecting. This book is precisely what it purports to be - a biography of the life and times of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Here are the things that this book is not, although you might wish it to be: a House of Windsor tell-all (Diana appears only briefly, Fergie is a non-character, and there aren't any juicy Wallis Simpson/Duchess of York powder-room spats, if that's what you're looking for); a critique of the monarchy (the author discusses the idea that post-war Britain wanted a modernized monarchy, but the book is about the QM, so most questions are considered from her point of view); an in-depth 20th-century history of Britain (I found myself wanting to know more about certain historical and political events; outside research may be warranted). The earliest parts of the book, before the high-spirited, friendly girl from Scotland becomes the Duchess of York, may be the most compelling. One of Shawcross's stated purposes is to find out how a woman who grew up with no expectation of (or aspiration to) marrying into the British royal family became one of its most popular members. As a result, you'll hear lots about how much the future Queen was beloved by friends and family even before donning a tiara. She is referred to, as well, as “the last Edwardian,” and as such you’ll find her ideas and beliefs interesting to consider as Britain changes over the decades, if not precisely progressive. I was intrigued by the idea that she represented the last of a class of people who saw their hereditary privilege as a responsibility and a duty, rather than a embarrassment. On the other, I had to smile every now and then at the mentions of post-war Labour government initiatives, which seemed to occasionally be presented as overreaching socialism willfully destroying do-gooder-ism. I thought the folks who survived the Blitz deserved a little subsidized healthcare, but hey - who am I to speculate? This one takes some time to finish, and you may find yourself a bit bogged down in the detailed accounts of the Queen’s overseas tours and duties. Still, it’s a very unique look at the daily life and responsibilities of a member of a royal family, as well as a glimpse of the glamorous perks (I suspect the royal yacht was quite enjoyable). It’s a fascinating read that covers a lot of important people and a lot of important history - if it raises new questions and makes you want to learn more, then all the better.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sascha

    4.5 stars, maybe. This book was a huge undertaking, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The second half of Queen Elizabeth's life was for me less exciting, since she had to take more of a backseat (though one can argue she didn't do this at all!) in her role as Queen Mother. I didn't sigh my way through the frequent Canada tours so much as other reviewers did, but I'll grant that this section was probably the least entertaining and interesting of the whole book. I enjoyed reading about her early years - 4.5 stars, maybe. This book was a huge undertaking, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The second half of Queen Elizabeth's life was for me less exciting, since she had to take more of a backseat (though one can argue she didn't do this at all!) in her role as Queen Mother. I didn't sigh my way through the frequent Canada tours so much as other reviewers did, but I'll grant that this section was probably the least entertaining and interesting of the whole book. I enjoyed reading about her early years - her spelling mistakes in her early letters amused me! I hadn't realized how much of a role she had played in taking care of convalescing soldiers during WWI. I of course was enthralled by the Abdication, and indeed most of the sections with King George VI; I admit to being rather enamoured of dear 'Bertie' (and not just because Colin Firth played him, either)! It becomes quickly apparent, especially in the account of the Abdication, that Shawcross endeavored to paint a rather restricted picture of Queen Elizabeth - there's no way such a headstrong and opinionated woman as she was didn't carry strongly negative opinions, more so than those more trivial points accounted for in the book. Shawcross undoubtedly wished to portray her as an overwhelmingly positive character, and in doing so missed out discussing any bad side to her. But I didn't really expect anything different in an official biography which received the green light from her daughter, The Queen. The book was so bulky as it was, and deviating from Shawcross' goal to portray the Queen Mother as an outstanding and constantly inspirational member of the Royal Family by delving into her inevitable bad side, as all of us have, would have been detrimental to the overall book, I think. I took a long time to get through the book (25 February to 14 April), but I enjoyed it a lot, and never really found it too tiresome to want it over with. To fit 101 years of life into fewer than 1000 pages was probably a difficult challenge, but it was lovely how much detail was put into certain descriptions of both places and people. Queen Elizabeth had a long life, a brilliant memory, a great significance both in her years as Queen and as Queen Mother, and I think Shawcross' book is a deserving legacy to the woman Hitler once called "the most dangerous woman in Europe".

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Overall, this was a very engaging book. Though extremely long, as befits such a long and noteworthy life story as that of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the combination of personal anecdote, education about royal custom and the monarchy, and history makes this worth the read. There are some annoyances, such as the author's tendency to namecheck, usually in a detailed footnote, what seems like every single person with whom the Queen Mother ever came into contact (I didn't feel as though knowin Overall, this was a very engaging book. Though extremely long, as befits such a long and noteworthy life story as that of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the combination of personal anecdote, education about royal custom and the monarchy, and history makes this worth the read. There are some annoyances, such as the author's tendency to namecheck, usually in a detailed footnote, what seems like every single person with whom the Queen Mother ever came into contact (I didn't feel as though knowing the names of the anesthesiologist for each of her several surgeries exactly enhanced the reading experience), but perhaps this is the kind of thing people like to use to claim that their great grand uncle once knew the Sovereign. One thing the author is particularly adept with is weaving the letters that were used as the primary source material into the narrative as unobtrusively as possible. Shawcross manages to convey the deep emotion involved in many of the cornerstones of the life of the Queen Mother, particularly the abdication of Edward VII, the beginning and end of WWII, and the deaths of George VI (I found this part to be the most moving in the entire book) and finally of the Queen Mother herself. Occasionally though, the more typical 'royal biographer' tone takes over; this tone, where it seems like they are writing with the main intent of not angering the royal family still living, is especially notable when dealing with the death of Princess Diana (which seems especially glossed over) and is detectable when dealing with mentions of the Queen. It's not too troubling, given that the book isn't about them, but the deference is clear. I would consider this a must-read for the avid Anglophile, but maybe not for those more interested in history of the monarchs in general.

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