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HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - Her Early Years (1900 - 1923)

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HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
Her Early Years (1900 - 1923) | Duchess of York (1923 - 1936) | The Abdication of Edward VIII
Queen Consort (1936 - 1952) | Her Passion for Horse Racing | The Queen Mother

When Elizabeth Angela Marguerite was born on 4 August, 1900, to the distinguished and ancient Scottish Bowes-Lyon family, Queen Victoria was still the reigning monarch after having celebrated over 60 years on the throne. When Elizabeth, who by a twist of fate became Queen Consort, died on the 30 March 2002, her daughter (Queen Elizabeth II) was making preparations for her Golden Jubilee.

Early Life

The Bowes Lyon family were direct descendants of Robert II, King of the Scots. Claude George Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis, who in 1904 became the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, already had seven surviving children1 aged seven to 17 when his wife Cecilia Nina announced that she was pregnant once again at the age of 38. On 4 August, 1900, the child, a healthy baby girl, was born. The exact location is not known, or was never publicly disclosed by the future and final Empress of India. Another reason for this mystery is that her father paid a fine for not registering her birth for seven weeks. When he eventually did he listed the place of birth as being St Paul's Walden Bury, although it is more likely that seven weeks previously her mother was at the London home in Grosvenor Gardens.

She was given the names Elizabeth Angela Marguerite2 and spent most of her early life between the family's home in Grosvenor Gardens, St Paul's Walden Bury. When her father inherited his title, the family spent more time at Glamis Castle in Scotland. So began Elizabeth's love affair with the nation of her royal ancestry.

She had a happy childhood, especially as two years after she was born a little brother David became a playmate, but the outbreak of war in 1914 soon brought a different focus of duty to her nation into her life. Her three eldest surviving brothers Patrick, Jock and Fergus all immediately rejoined the Black Watch and a fourth, Michael, left his studies at Magdalen College, Oxford to join the Royal Scots. The remaining family members got behind the war effort at the home front. After all, they had been promised it would all be over by Christmas.

The family retreated from London to Glamis, and Lady Strathmore immediately opened up the castle as a convalescence hospital equipped with 16 beds. Elizabeth and David would eventually help out in the wards once the first patients arrived from the Western Front after Christmas. In 1915, Fergus returned on home leave to see his baby daughter for the first time but three days after his return to the front he was killed in action at the Battle of Loos. Lady Strathmore was devastated and withdrew from the running of her hospital. But her two daughters Rose (a qualified nurse) and Elizabeth (not yet 15) carried on the work.

Elizabeth had no formal nursing training but she would write letters, fetch tobacco or entertain the patients. She was the life and soul to the convalescing soldiers in effect being the best morale officer they could have. A role she would later take on for the whole nation in the Second World War.

In 1917 the Bowes Lyons suffered for three months when it was reported that Michael was also killed in action. However, the anguish was turned to joy when he was later found to be alive and being treated in a German prison hospital. Elizabeth would always remember her and her brothers' exploits in the war and was later invited to be Colonel-in-Chief of her brothers' regiment - the Black Watch.

Debutante and Marriage Proposals

Elizabeth was a very attractive young lady and at the end of the war, Lady Strathmore took no time in organising a coming out dance for her youngest child. She would there be able to show off her passion for dancing but more importantly her availability for an upper class husband. However, one of her most attractive qualities was her femininity and sense of duty, this no doubt attracted one suitor to the young Lady Bowes-Lyon, George V's second son Prince Albert, the Duke of York. Another was the prince's equerry Major James Stuart who was a neighbour and friend of the Bowes-Lyon family from Tayside. As Major Stuart was often up at Balmoral on official business he would drive over to Glamis to woo the young lady, however he was often accompanied by his charge, the shy young Prince.

The Strathmore's, however, would not merely be attracted by Royal privilege, indeed the Earl had objected to the behaviour of the Prince's grandfather Edward VII while he was Prince of Wales. But Queen Mary herself took events into her own hands. She drove over to Glamis to observe for herself Lady Elizabeth and deemed her a most suitable potential bride not necessarily for Bertie but for his elder brother, the Prince of Wales. However. she did not go so far as to become an official match-maker, instead she watched the events unfurl of their own accord. Major Stuart soon found himself removed from royal duties and overseeing oil exploration in Oklahoma.

In 1921 and '22 Bertie apparently twice proposed marriage to Elizabeth and on both occasions she turned him down, citing that she was terrified of facing so public a life as her reason. In January 1923 Bertie visited the Strathmores at St Paul's Walden Bury. On the Sunday morning, he and Elizabeth were excused church and went for a long walk in the gardens and came back engaged. The Prince telegrammed his father at Sandringham using a prearranged code 'All Right, Bertie'. The King and Queen were delighted that at least one of their sons had taken the first step to settle into married life, and quite possibly hoped that Bertie's example would encourage his elder brother David to seek out a suitable match of his own. The King set the date for the wedding as 23 April.

1An eldest daughter Violet had died aged only 11.2'Elizabeth' after the Tudor Queen, 'Angela' because her father thought of her as an angel, and 'Marguerite' the name of a common white daisy, her mother being a keen gardener.

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