The Death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
"You can shed a tear
Because she's gone
Because she lived."
It was cold and the hail beat persistently on my window, sounding like the military Timpani Drums of old, as I sat on that January afternoon writing of the death of George VI, our Queen's Accession to the Throne, and her Coronation. I little realised as I did so that in just a few weeks two of the main characters of those newsletters would no longer be with us.
The death of the Queen Mother has, I feel, touched everyone, even the young adolescent who seem, on the whole, to be oblivious to our Royal Family and happenings within it. At 5:45pm on Saturday 30th March 2002, as we began to celebrating our Easter Holidays TV programmes were taken off the air to announce the Queen Mother's death, and as if to illustrate what I have just mentioned my eighteen year old son commented, "Aught What a shame I liked her. My grandad used to look after her and her husband during the war, he always said what a nice lady she was." And a Lady is what she remained right to the end.
She was born in the reign of queen Victoria, during the Boer War, shortly after the Relief of Mafeking, on on 4th August 1900 in the red brick Georgian house of St. Paul's Walden, Bury, Herefordshire. Her childhood being spent partly between her birthplace and Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland, said to be the castle mentioned in Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, where he murdered King Duncan.
It was during her childhood that she met a boy who was later to become her future husband. This was while attending a children's party given by the Duchess of Buccleuch in 1905 at Montagu House, London, where one of the guests was the ten year old younger son of the Prince of wales, Prince Albert.
The First World War broke out on her fourteenth birthday and she spent it converting rooms in the castle into wards for convalescent, injured soldiers. The length of time she spent helping on the wards grew, much to the disgust of her mother who did not consider it to be a fitting thing for a young lady of her stature to do.
Their single meeting, years before, made such an impact on the future King that it was remembered by him years later when they met, once again at a party, this was given by Lord Farquhar in London following the First World War. The newly created Duke of York fell in love almost instantly and soon became a frequent visitor to Glamis Castle. But Elizabeth was reluctant to take on the responsibilities that marrying the Duke of York would bring and he had to woo her for three years and propose a number of times before she would accept him. They were engaged for three months before the marriage at Westminster Abbey on 26th April 1923.
Their first home was White Lodge, Richmond Park, but pressures of work necessitated their move nearer to the hub of state and political affairs and the King purchased 145 Piccadilly for them. While alterations were completed they lived at 17 Burton Street and it was here that their first child was born on 21st April 1926 who was to be christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, at Buckingham Palace on 29th May 1926, she was later to become our Queen.
In 1901 Australia became a commonwealth and in 1927 the Queen Mother undertook the first of her important Royal Duties when she and Bertie, officiated at the inauguration of Camberra as the Australian Capital.
On 21st August 1930 their second child was born, this time at Glamis Castle. The baby was again a beautiful little girl and was christened Margaret Rose. She was the first royal baby to be born in Scotland for three hundred years and there was much celebration to mark the event.
It was in 1931 that King George V gave them the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. It was in much need of restoration; in fact many described it as being dilapidated. But with much hard work at weekends the house, woodlands and gardens were turned into a simple but comfortable home in which to bring up children, and for at least five years the Queen Mother and her beloved Bertie with their children led an idyllic life there.
Then in 1936 crisis hit the Royal Family when, in the space of one year: King George V died; his successor Edward VIII abdicated and her husband was thrust into being Monarch and Emperor. A role that he had been totally unprepared for. He was also extremely vulnerable and because of these things needed the support of his
wife as Queen Consort.
Most of us know that during World War II Buckingham Palace was bombed and she famously said, "I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face." But in actual fact it was bombed nine times in all. It became common for her to work sixteen or seventeen hours a day, rarely going to bed before midnight. She and the King travelling to every corner of the country, wherever the bombing had been the worst, boosting the fighting spirit of the people. She never wore a uniform, preferring to wear a loving smile and those Lilac, Dusky Pink, and Blue suits, for which she became synonymous. Churchill stated "Many an aching heart found some solace in her gracious smile." While Hitler described her as "The most dangerous woman in the world."
In 1947 her eldest daughter married Phillip Mountbatten and they had four children Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward. Then she began to worry intently as her husband's health began to deteriorate, culminating in his sad death from cancer in 1952. As Queen Dowager she thought it best to go into retirement as others had done before her, but following a visit from Churchill this idea was put firmly out of her mind. Although she kept The Royal Lodge at Windsor, she exchanged London homes with her elder daughter and moved to live at Clarence House.
In the early 1950's while travelling to see friends in the north of Scotland she saw a derelict castle and heard that it was to be demolished. It was in an isolated position, exactly what she wanted for getting away from the pressures of London, state and politics and bought it for a pittance. In 1955 Barrogill Castle was ready for her to move in.
Another of her Scottish properties was the small house of Birkhall, near Balmoral. Here she indulged in another of her favourite pursuits, fishing, and during the spring loved to fish the River Dee for salmon.
The Queen Mother's love of racing, in particular jump-racing, was legendary. The most memorable moment of all when her horse, Devon Loch, carrying her colours of blue with a buff stripe and black cap with gold tassel, came to the front in the Grand National of 1956 and was sure to win. Suddenly, while in the lead during those final few strides it launched itself into the air and fell onto its belly. Her response was "That's racing, I suppose." In 1975 her horse Tammuz won the Schweppes Gold Trophy at Newbury and in 1984 Special Cargo won her the Whitbread Gold Cup. Although her horses did not win her many prizes horses bred by her did, 442 of them winning prizes over fences and 7 on the flat. It seems such a shame that she will never see the last of her horses reach the peak of his career, he is aptly named First Love, great things are expected of him as on his first outing last December he won the race.
Her other main interest was history and this can be seen in her collections of pictures, antiques and silver. These she started to collect after her marriage and added to over the years. Her art collection, besides containing many of the old masters and French Impressionists, has in it modern works by Augustus John, Graham Sutherland, Seago and Lowry. Like most people she watched TV, she also loved to read poetry, play the piano, and spent time outdoors walking Or gardening.
All these activities had to be fitted into a tight schedule, which resulted in her spending much of her time at Clarence House, with weekends at the Royal Lodge, Windsor. When the Royal Family went up to Balmoral in August and September she went to stay at Birkhill where she gave a party for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother became a widow at the age of fifty-one years, which was much younger than her predecessors, and until recently continued to get through a huge amount of work that would be formidable to people half her age. This echoes the words of her late husband nearly six decades ago when he famously said, "We are not a family. We are a firm."
When the death of the Queen Mother was announced it seemed that the whole country wanted to savour every detail released via the press in an effort, to keep her present. Though people seemed genuinely saddened by her loss, their need to celebrate her long life was also of great importance to them.
On Tuesday 2nd April, her coffin draped in her personal Royal Standard was moved from Windsor to Westminster Hall where it would lie in state until the funeral on Tuesday 9th April.
On Friday 5th April the passing of the last Empress of India was marked on a scale not seen since the death of Churchill. Huge crowds, much more than anticipated, watched the half mile procession as more than 1,600 servicemen and fourteen members of the Royal Family, including the Princess Royal in an unprecedented move, walked behind the coffin on its twenty-eight minute journey.
The vigil was maintained by relays of officers until finally on the evening of Monday 8th April the Queen Mother's four grandsons, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex and Viscount Linley, stepped up, just as the four sons of George V had done at his lying in state on exactly the same spot in 1936.
The day of the funeral arrived and the procession started at 11:15am as Big Ben chimed. The coffin, on the same gun that had carried her 'beloved Bertie' fifty years earlier, began its short journey from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, this procession marking the Queen Mother's final military farewell.
From being part of history to becoming history, the death of the Queen Mother surely marks the end of an era.