Queen Elizabeth II's mother is remembered as an affectionate parent who patiently, cheerfully stood by her daughter through thick and thin. But the life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was a lot more colorful than most people know. Both as a queen in her own right and eventually as a royal mum, Elizabeth became one of the most beloved - yet polarizing - Windsors in history.
Born on August 4, 1900, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a member of one of Scotland's most illustrious noble families. In 1923, she married Prince Albert, second son of King George V. But when Albert’s older brother abdicated the throne so he could marry the love of his life, Bowes-Lyon and her husband were thrust into the royal spotlight.
Suddenly, the fate of the monarchy rested on their shoulders, and they became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. After leading the country through World War II, George VI tragically died in 1952, and Bowes-Lyon went from the Queen to the Queen Mother as her eldest daughter inherited the throne and became Queen Elizabeth II.
Though she is remembered as a kind of grandmother to the United Kingdom, Bowes-Lyon wasn’t always the cheery, loyal, and steady royal mum of popular imagination. In fact, her biography reveals a far more interesting - and controversial - story that has earned her both fans and detractors.
She Drank More In A Day Than Most People Do In A Week
Queen Elizabeth II throws back no less than four boozy drinks a day - and she picked up the habit from her mother. The Queen Mother would have her first drink early in the day and would basically keep going until it was time for bed. According to her former equerry, it wasn't unusual for her to have more than six drinks a day.
She was especially a fan of red wines, and one of her favorite drinks was Dubonnet and gin. Her heavy drinking did not seem to have a significant toll on her health, however, since she lived to the ripe old age of 101.
Her Views Were Deeply Impacted By Racism
The Queen Mother was born into a Great Britain which boasted an enormous empire built on institutionalized racism. That, coupled with the fact the era was still heavily shaped by a racist worldview, makes it not entirely surprising she privately held views that would be considered as such.
On one occasion, she called Africans "blackamoors." Even as her country fought the Third Reich, she expressed sentiments that were at least a little bit in step with the Nazi state's anti-Semitism. She reportedly harbored "some reservations about Jews."
Two Of Her Nieces Were Locked In An Institution, But She Ignored Their Existence
The Queen Mother's older brother John had five children with his wife. Two of them - Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon - were born with mental disabilities. In 1941, when the nation was locked in a war with Nazi Germany, both Nerissa and Katherine, now young women, were committed to a mental institution.
The two women spent the remainder of their lives there, and they were tragically viewed as a secret the royal family needed to hide. Indeed, the two sisters were basically erased from the family: Burke's Peerage - the who's who of British nobility - listed the sisters as being deceased, even though both were very much alive. Nerissa lived until 1986 and Katherine died in 2014, but during her life their royal aunt always kept her distance.
She Personally Made Her In-Law's Life Hell
Bowes-Lyon became the queen consort because her brother-in-law abdicated the throne in order to marry his mistress, the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. In fact, she may have had a central part in lobbying for King Edward VIII's abdication. To say that Bowes-Lyon didn't like Simpson would be an understatement - she absolutely loathed her. In her eyes, Simpson was merely "that woman." She regularly went out of her way to avoid meeting her scandalous sister-in-law.
Both Simpson and her husband struggled to find their way forward after Edward VIII's abdication. Bowes-Lyon didn't want to make anything easy for them, and was committed to icing them out of the royal way of life. If his wife couldn't be queen, Edward at least wanted her to have the honorific title "Her Royal Highness." But the idea horrified Bowes-Lyon, and she played a part in her husband's refusal to extend the title to his sister-in-law.