September 21

The Queen Mother: Official Biography

I am waiting to receive my copy of the biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by William Shawcross, which has just been published. The affection in which she was held by people around the world was in evidence on her passing.

As William Shawcross writes ( Daily Telegraph, London, 18 September) ” To the astonishment of the government and many commentators, hundreds of thousands of people stood for hours in the biting cold to pass by the coffin of a woman who had helped define the country for so many decades. “

The Sydney Morning Herald's Mike Carlton had been particularly dismissive about any concern with her passing; later he had to recant.

“Six summers ago,” he says “I received a letter from the Queen’s then Private Secretary, Sir Robin Janvrin, inviting me to write the official biography of Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother. I was honoured and thrilled. In the years since then, the work of trying to recreate on paper the life of this remarkable woman has been a joy. "

"This was principally because of the character of my subject – Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, Duchess of York, Queen and Queen Mother was, throughout her life, filled with optimism, a sense of duty matched only by a sense of fun – and her appreciation of the value of a restorative drink. “


“She had a consuming interest in other people, a deep love of God and a total commitment to Britain and the Commonwealth. She grew up principally in the countryside and was always happiest there; her interest in her prize sheep and cattle, and her corgis, was enduring, and she adored horse racing. She loved traditions but to the end of her life she was fascinated by young people with whom she surrounded herself.”

“Best of all, she expressed all of these passions, and many more, in a stream of remarkably vivid and beautifully written letters to her family and friends. These show that the open, happy personality that people remember with such pleasure was with her from the start. More than that, they also show a girl and a woman who, despite scant formal education, was remarkably well-read, (not just in PG Wodehouse), articulate, perceptive, sensitive to politics and to her own constitutional role and brave.”

“I have long been aware of the emotional power of monarchy. One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother weeping in our garden. When I asked her what was the matter, she replied “The King has died”. It was February

“My mother’s grief was profound and shared by millions of people in Britain and across the world. All the grown-ups I knew were united by the black arm band they wore for a month after the death of the shy King who, with his Queen, had symbolised and bolstered British resistance to the Nazis.”

“That was perhaps my first exposure to what the philosopher Roger Scruton, in a happy phrase, called the monarchy’s “light above politics”. In recent years, I have tried to understand a little more of that light. In 2002, I presented four films for the BBC, Queen and Country, and wrote a book celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.”

Charles Moore, former editor of the London Telegraph says ( Daily Telegraph 18/9) that recently he was speaking to someone who has spent his life dealing diplomatically with oppressive regimes. Almost without exception, he said, dictators try to found a dynasty.

“Their countries have no institutions which they trust, so the field is open for the men who grab power to try to perpetuate it. Having offered what Queen Elizabeth called "ordinary vulgar leadership", they try to add "King" to it. “

“Our history, perhaps, is not so different in its origins. Once upon a time, violent men struggled for mastery and to put their descendants on the throne. But, luckily for us, this all happened very long ago. Our dynasty gradually lost power, but not all meaning or prestige. It came to fulfil needs which democracy alone could not.”

“Queen Elizabeth understood this. So did Diana, Princess of Wales, though, through unhappiness, she blew her chance. It probably helps, when trying to lead in a way that politicians cannot, to be a woman. Queen Elizabeth understood the importance of performance, of identifiability (the turned-back brim of the hats, the little wave), of giving enough time for people, of being as different as possible from the crowds, and yet as sympathetic as possible to them."

" Politics is full of what she called "rather bogus upheavals", and politicians always want votes. She endured, and smiled, and did not want anything from the people whom, for all her grandeur, she served. In all this, she displayed a romantic imagination, a quality which is currently almost completely excluded from our public life.”




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