Weird History
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11 Small But Vivid Details About The Queen Mother

August 11, 2020 6.7k votes 1.5k voters 181.8k views11 items

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Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (AKA Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) was beloved by many - a rock of consistency who helped the British Monarchy weather the many storms of the 20th century. Others criticized her as emblematic of the insular privilege and wasteful spending that have long characterized the royals in the eyes of some.

But of course, as with all historical personages, she was first and foremost a person, whose essential nature shone through in small gestures and mundane moments. The following anecdotes help to humanize the Queen Mother for those of us who never had the opportunity to meet her.

  • 1

    She Was Totally Not Stuffy

    Colin Burgess, who was on the Queen Mother's staff for a number of years, recalled:

    …when I met the Queen Mother, a real maverick, she just wasn’t stuffy at all. I felt that this was the way everybody should run their life and behave. It was how I wanted to run my life. When you were sitting next to the Queen Mother and she said to you, ‘Let’s do this while no one is looking’ or ‘Let’s sneak away and go somewhere else,’ it seemed fun. … It opened the gates for me to just be myself. I acted very differently before and after I worked for the Queen Mother. … [I]f things like protocol got in the way of friendliness, the Queen Mother would always choose to be friendly.

    Memorable detail?
  • 2

    She Was Glad Buckingham Palace Was Bombed In WWII

    She Was Glad Buckingham Palace Was Bombed In WWII
    Photo: Devon S A (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    During WWII, the Queen Mother (then still the Queen) refused to leave England despite the danger of the German Blitz. Buckingham Palace was damaged nine times by the Luftwaffe.

    The Evening Standard observes:

    The decision [to stay] sparked major public support for the Royal Family and after Buckingham Palace was bombed, the Queen Mother said, 'I am glad we have been bombed. Now we can look the East End in the eye.'

    Memorable detail?
  • 3

    She Advised A Debutante To 'Have A Fling' Before College

    Author Lady Antonia Fraser recalled some advice the Queen Mother gave her at her coming-out in 1950:

    Debutantes had to be presented by someone who had been presented herself, which category included, of course, Elizabeth. I was even able to boast later of exchanging a few words with the Queen.

    This honour could hardly have been accorded to every single debutante at the packed occasion, though I’m sure the perpetually smiling Queen Elizabeth [later the Queen Mother] did her best.

    I was evidently the beneficiary of my father’s official position as a Labour minister. Once again, this was something to set against his disinclination to attend any social occasion designed for my self-promotion.

    'So you are going to Oxford,' said the well-primed Queen Elizabeth in a friendly manner, after I had made my curtsey. 'Well, you must have a fling first.'

    Memorable detail?
  • 4

    She Openly Snubbed Wallis Simpson, The Woman Edward VIII Abdicated For

    The Queen Mother's equerry Colin Burgess passed on this story about her feelings for Wallis Simpson, the American divorcée who famously inspired Edward VIII to give up the throne:

    When Edward VIII acceded to the throne in 1936, the Queen mother and her husband, Albert - then the Duke and Duchess of York - were invited to Balmoral for dinner with Edward’s future wife, Wallis Simpson, acting as hostess. As soon as the Queen Mother walked in, she went past Wallis blasting, 'I have come to dine with the King,' and sat to the right of him throughout proceedings as usual.

    Memorable detail?