Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
by Arthur Bousfield
Queen Elizabeth, Consort of King George VI, is best remembered as “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother”, the title she bore for fifty years as the King’s widow. Queen Consort by marriage, Queen Elizabeth was an outstanding personality in her own right. She not only lived until almost 102, the greatest age ever attained by a Queen Consort of the Royal House, but was also the perfect helpmeet and support of her husband. She provided her own form of leadership, a charism universally recognised as unique, in the years in which she shared the Throne with the King. At the time of the King and Queen’s state visit to France in 1938, Adolf Hitler described Queen Elizabeth as “the most dangerous woman in Europe”.
The marriage of the King and Queen was a well-known love match. They had a happy life of nearly three decades together. Queen Elizabeth provided the King with the extra strength that gave him the self-confidence to embrace the destiny awaiting him. It was the Queen who persuaded him to make a final attempt to overcome his speech impediment, so limiting in any royal personage but especially in a monarch. She directed him to the Australian therapist Lionel Logue, who proved successful in helping him where others had not.
Though not of royal birth, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, as Queen Elizabeth was before her marriage, belonged to an ancient noble family that had played a distinguished role in the history of Scotland. Among her ancestors were Kings of Scotland and Ireland. She was descended from Red Hugh O’Neill, the last King of Ulster. Some of Queen Elizabeth’s Scottish ancestors remained loyal to the Stuart Royal Family after the deposition of King James II. Her family gave their names to Canadian places such as Strathmore, Alberta and Bentinck township in Ontario.
“Canada made us!”, King Geroge VI and Queen Elizabeth both said on many occasions about their great 1939 tour of Canada. The tour was the first major undertaking of their reign. Making it a success schooled them in the practice of monarchy. The Queen’s role in the tour was particularly important. In Ottawa, she laid the cornerstone of the Supreme Court Building and, at St Catharines, Ontario, opened the Queen Elizabeth Highway, Canada’s first super highway, named in her honour. Though the functions Queen Elizabeth carried out alone were few, Canadians one and all, French-speaking and English-speaking, westerners and easterners, were captivated by her charm, her majesty, her naturalness and simplicity, her genuine interest and concern for them.
Canadians’ outpouring of loyalty and affection in turn engaged Queen Elizabeth’s feelings. “When I first came here with the King – a few months before the outbreak of war”, she told them time and again in later years, “I did fall in love with Canada, and my affection has grown with each succeeding visit”. The relationship of monarchs and people, revitalised by the tour, the first by reigning monarchs of Canada, carried over into the war. “I saw the Queen when she was in Canada”, a young Canadian soldier remarked; “I said if there is ever a war, I’m going to fight for that little lady”.
Queen Elizabeth’s first appointment in the Canadian Army dated from her Coronation year, 1937, when the King made his wife Colonel-in-Chief of The Toronto Scottish Regiment. On the outbreak of World War II Queen Elizabeth made a radio broadcast in November, 1939 to the women of the Empire. About the same time she broadcast to France entirely in French. In 1940 Her Majesty opened the Beaver Club for Canadian service personnel in London, an establishment that was to be frequented by tens of thousands.
Throughout the war the Queen, almost always wearing her large maple leaf brooch from the ’39 tour, visited and maintained close personal touch with Canadian wounded, Red Cross and service personnel. At the height of the Blitz she and the King pondered the suggestion of His Majesty’s Canadian Government that the young Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, be evacuated to Canada for safety. In the end they thought it best for morale to keep the whole Royal Family together, even if it were in the war danger zone. “The Princesses”, Queen Elizabeth said, in words that became famous, “will not go without me. I won’t leave the King, and he will never go”. Before the Normandy landings, Queen Elizabeth, the King and their daughter and heir, Princess Elizabeth, visited Canadian troops preparing to assault Hitler’s Fortress Europe. In 1947 following the war, Her Majesty received her second appointment in the Canadian Army – Colonel-in-Chief of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada.
The King’s death occured just six years after the war ended. A grief-stricken Queen Elizabeth thanked the Commonwealth for its sympathy. “My only wish”, she wrote, “is now that I may be allowed to continue the work we sought to do together”. It was a signal to all that she did not intend to retire into widowed seclusion. At the same time she declared that she was to be known as “Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother”. Sometime later, on a solo tour in Canada, a journalist applied the affectionate and lasting term “Queen Mum” to Her Majesty.
Canada received a large share of Queen Elizabeth’s public work as Queen Mother. So popular was Her Majesty among Canadians that rumours circulated that she was to take up the post of Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief. By 1957 the rumours to that effect were so strong that the Palace had to issue a denial. In 1954, on her first return to Canada, Queen Elizabeth opened the new Bytown Bridges spanning the mouth of the Rideau River in Ottawa, visited Hull and re-designated the canal road Colonel By Drive. In 1955 she accepted the position of Grand President of the renowned Victorian Order of Nurses, and presided at its annual meeting in 1962 at Government House.
For her 1962 Canadian tour Her Majesty made aviation history by choosing a Trans-Canada Airlines commercial aircraft on a routine flight for crossing the Atlantic. On this tour she attended her second Queen’s Plate and presented the purse for the first time herself. Her 1965 tour was devoted to Toronto to mark the fiftieth anniversary of her regiment, the Toronto Scottish. She presented them with new colours and took the salute as they marched past in front of University College. On a stopover the following year in Vancouver, Her Majesty laid the cornerstone of what was to become the Royal British Columbia Museum.
For Centennial Year, Queen Elizabeth toured the four Atlantic provinces with HMY Britannia as her floating residence. She became the first member of the Royal Family to receive an LLD degree from Dalhousie University. Two presentations to her two regiments of Queen’s Colours, based on the new National Flag, were highlights of a tour in 1974. Three years later she became Colonel-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces Medical Services. In 1979 Her Majesty attended the Gathering of the Clans in Nova Scotia, the first held outside Scotland, and was present for the Dominion Day celebrations in Queen’s Park, Toronto. In 1981 she celebrated the bicentenary of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, where she reviewed the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, a unit descended from the Loyalist Butler’s Rangers.
Four years later Queen Elizabeth presented the Queen’s Banner to the Canadian Forces Medical Services in Toronto, opened the Aberdeen Angus World Forum in Edmonton and visited Saskatchewan. Driving in a landau in Regina, she said to the Lieutenant-Governor, “There’s something wrong. These horses can’t get into a proper gait. They can’t gallop, they can’t canter, they can’t trot, they can’t walk, and, unless something is done about it, they’ll all go and have a sleep.” “Signal to the lead car”, Her Majesty instructed His Honour, “and have them step it up a bit”. This was done and the horses got into the right gait. Queen Elizabeth’s 1987 visit to Quebec was an important one as it tested the waters for that of her daughter Queen Elizabeth II, planned for the following year. After the Black Watch regimental dinner at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, the Queen Mother “heard the rock band from a high school prom in another ballroom. She decided to have a look and, accompanied by her kilted officers, entered the room. Recovering from the initial shock of seeing Her Majesty, the teenagers burst into cheers and asked her to join them. It was with great difficulty that her entourage was able to get Queen Elizabeth to leave the company of the young people.”
On her 1989 tour, Queen Elizabeth was just a few weeks from her eighty-ninth birthday. That year was the Golden Anniversary of the great 1939 cross country and back tour by the King and Queen. She marked the anniversary in Ottawa and Toronto, and, in London, Ontario, lit a Flame of Hope that will burn until a cure for diabetes is found. Though Queen Elizabeth spoke of a future tour, her daughter the Queen decided, because of her mother’s great age, that the 1989 one would be her last.
But Queen Elizabeth was to live thirteen more years. She had established a record in the Royal Family for the number of Queen’s Plates she attended – eight in all – and had become Patron of the Ontario Jockey Club. Her Majesty was also an Honorary Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada and Patron of Women’s College Hospital, Toronto. She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2000. Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Montreal is one of several named for her. Queen Elizabeth Island in the St Lawrence River also bears her name, as does Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother M’Nidoo-M’Nissing (Island of the Spirit) Provincial Park on Manitoulin Island, created in 2000 to mark her hundredth birthday.
Queen Elizabeth died on 30 March, 2002 at the Royal Lodge, which had been such a happy home for the King, the Queen and their daughters. Her last public act was to give her approval for a new wing to Belmont House, a Toronto residence for seniors, to bear her name. Following her death, the Toronto Scottish Regiment, of which she had been Colonel-in-Chief for sixty-five years, was re-named The Toronto Scottish Regiment (Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Own).
Copyright (c) 2013 Arthur Bousfield