THE QUEEN MOTHER by William Shawcross


The Official Biography
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Former Sunday Times journalist Shawcross follows up his tribute to Queen Elizabeth II (Queen and Country, 2002) with an extremely lengthy biography of the much beloved Queen Mother.

Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (1900–2002) was six months old when Queen Victoria died, which should give readers an idea of the broad sweep of years and historical events our subject experienced in full. The ninth child of Lord Glamis (the Earl of Strathmore), the Queen Mother traced her ancestry deep into Scotland, though mostly grew up in a grand country home in Hertfordshire and in London. Known as Buffy, the young woman was comely, small of stature and full of fun, and apparently had many suitors. When the Duke of York, George V’s second son, Albert (“Bertie”), proposed, she rejected him—several times; he was unprepossessing and a stutterer, nothing like his dashing older brother, Edward. However, a taste of royal life was convincing enough and they married in 1923. It seemed they had a happy, stable marriage until his death in 1952, when their first-born, Elizabeth, ascended to the throne. Nonetheless, Buffy and Bertie were, like the rest of the country, shocked and horrified at Edward VIII’s abdication on the eve of World War II, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis. Now Queen Elizabeth (the first commoner to become Queen Consort since the 17th century) to King George VI—he took his father’s name for the sake of continuity—she won the admiration of the world for her resiliency and loyalty during the war, remaining in London despite the bombing of Buckingham Palace. An intrepid traveler, Elizabeth was, like her daughter, “a good judge of horseflesh,” and adored fishing and picnics, among other things. A consummate insider, Shawcross toes the royal line, rarely straying from his slavish devotion to his subject.

Tucking scandals neatly under the rug, the author unfurls an exhaustive biography of the Queen Mother, which may leave non-British readers merely exhausted.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4000-4304-0
Page count: 1008pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2009


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