Biography reveals Queen Mum's private letters
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, reacts, during the Royal Smithfield Show in London, England in 1998. (AP / Kevin Lamarque)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, September 17, 2009 6:46AM EDT
LONDON - She was known for much of her life as the queen mother. And according to her official biography, she detested it.
"Horrible name," she wrote in a 1953 letter to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, died in 2002 at the advanced age of 101. The official account of her life by royal biographer William Shawcross runs past 1,000 pages and divulges the queen mother's opinions on topics ranging from feminism to homeopathy.
In the preface of the book, which will be released Friday, Shawcross said he quoted extensively from the queen mother's private correspondence, "because few of them had been seen before and because I found them remarkable -- from childhood to old age she wrote with clarity and verve. Her letters illuminate sides of her character which were not always clear to people beyond her immediate family."
According to publishers MacMillan, it is the first official royal biography to be released in nearly 20 years. The last was the 1990 biography of Edward VIII, by Philip Ziegler, the publisher said.
The correspondence in "Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother" is illuminating for both royal watchers and historians. In a 1940 letter to her mother-in-law, Queen Mary, she describes the German bombing raid on Buckingham Palace, the royal family's London residence. A bomb struck the chapel, sending glass flying and leaving three people injured.
"One could not imagine that life could become so terrible," she wrote. "We must win in the end."
The letter ends with a postscript: "Dear old B.P. is still standing, and that is the main thing."
For the queen mother the attack brought home some of the realities that Londoners -- particularly in the eastern neighborhoods -- had struggled with daily while living through the Blitz. It also led to an oft-repeated phrase, that she could "now look the East End in the face."
Along with chronicling the queen mother's official life, there are references to her private time. Her chef recalled that she liked sole and haddock, but wasn't crazy about monkfish. Omelets were a favored dish, and dislikes included smoked salmon, capers, oysters, and coconut.
Her preferred residence in the London area, according to Shawcross, was the Royal Lodge in Windsor. He described the home as "somewhat tired," with unreliable plumbing and central heating. "All this, together with the clutter of Wellington boots and gardening clothes just inside the front door, enhanced the feeling of old-fashioned country house living at Royal Lodge."
Originally titled the Duke and Duchess of York, neither the queen mother nor her husband -- the future King George VI -- thought they would one day reign over the country. The abdication of Edward VIII -- who stepped down to marry Wallis Simpson in 1937 -- came as a "terrible surprise," the book quotes her as saying.
The queen mother also rejected a suggestion by Edward VIII that he remain king and marry Simpson.
Some of her thoughts on Simpson are in the book, including her serious reservations over the appointment of Edward VIII as governor of the Bahamas. According to a copy of notes written in 1940, she says Simpson is held in low opinion by many, can't be counted on to set an example to the Bahamas, and that for Edward VIII, "a very difficult situation will arise over his wife."
King George died in 1952, sending his eldest daughter, Elizabeth -- known to her family as Lilibet -- to the throne. She was just 25 at the time.
"It is impossible for me to grasp what has happened, last night he was in wonderful form and looking so well," the queen mother wrote to Queen Mary. "It is hard to grasp, he was such an angel to the children and me, and I cannot bear to think of Lilibet, so young to bear such a burden."