Canadian Royal Heritage Trust

A National Educational Charity

Youth of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

by Claudia Willetts

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 4 August, 1900. Geoffrey Wakeford in Thirty Years a Queen: A Study of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, sets the scene by reminding us that the Boer War was at its height in South Africa, and Queen Victoria still had six months to live. The author also says that British queen consorts before Elizabeth’s time, back to the sixteenth century, had had European ancestors, but hers were Scottish and English. She brought into the royal Family the first Scottish blood since King James I, from whom the House of Windsor is descended. On her mother’s side, she traced her lineage from the Welsh sovereign King Henry VII.

The new baby girl was baptised, with the names Elizabeth Angela Marguerite, according to Helen Cathcart in The Queen Mother Herself. “Elizabeth” for an aunt of her mother’s, “Angela” recalled an elder sister who had died, and “Marguerite” satisfied a family penchant for floral girls’ names.

David Sinclair in Queen and Country: The Life of Elizabeth the Queen Mother, tells us that Elizabeth was born into a happy, secure and close-knit family, the ninth of ten children born to the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. Her mother was described as a charming, gifted woman with seemingly inexhaustible reserves of understanding and sympathy. She had a genius for family life and was responsible for organising a settled, peaceful existence. The child was precocious, walking and talking early, often displaying the quiet dignity of her father, combined with the lively intelligence and joie de vivre of her mother.

Cynthia Asquith in The Duchess of York: An Intimate & Authentic Life Story, tells us that her vivacity, consideration for others, and grace of manner showed themselves early, and that the child was the miniature of the woman. Her mother educated her daughter entirely at home, first teaching her how to read, and later giving her her first music, dancing and drawing lessons. Later Elizabeth learned French and German, and even travelled to Italy briefly. She read books avidly, rode her pony and kept birds and a variety of pets.

Elizabeth Longford in The Queen Mother tells us that at thirteen, her governess found her “far more mature than her years warranted”. Miss Longford comments that this “prematurity” was always to be the fate of Elizabeth. Since babyhood, the child could always be relied on to make people feel at ease. As a young wife, she would be pitched into a maelstorm, and her widowhood occurred well before the normal time.

Elizabeth’s family’s home in Scotland was Glamis Castle, write Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli in The Queen Mother and Her Century: An Illustrated Biography. As she grew up, she enjoyed conducting guests over the castle and explaining its long history, but a watershed in her adolescence occurred on her fourteenth birthday when World War I broke out. Elizabeth spent the war at Glamis Castle assisting her mother there as hostess of a convalescent hospital. She attended soldiers arriving with head injuries and broken limbs, played cards with them and sang songs to her own accompaniment. In addition she was guide to groups of visiting soldiers who wished to see Glamis, and her horizons were widened by this contact with men from across the Commonwealth. Gradually she assumed a greater role after the marriage of her sister and the illness of her mother. The authors remark that after the war, her relaxed but traditional upbringing placed Elizabeth, as far as men were concerned, in the category of potential wives, as opposed to the flighty, bright young things of the twenties with whom they would be afraid of settling down.