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 Edward VIII abdicated for the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson, the shy Duke of York assumed the throne. He took his last Christian name, adhering to the edict of Queen Victoria that no king would reign bearing the name of her beloved Albert, thus he became King George VI. Elizabeth, the new Queen Consort, was the first of non-royal birth since the sixth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr.
Along with Queen Mary and Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent1, the new Queen, decided that her brother-in-law's decision to place love over duty was going to put immense strain on her frail husband and shy daughter Elizabeth, who now became heir presumptive and would become Queen Elizabeth II. These three senior royal ladies insisted that Mrs Simpson should not share her husband's royal status, and therefore she was to be denied the title Royal Highness from her marriage to the ex-king in 1937 for the rest of her life.
The coronation of the new King and Queen, on 12 May, 1937, finally turned the hearts of many who had so loved the outgoing personality of the Prince of Wales, who'd become Edward VIII. Winston Churchill, who had been a staunch and romantic supporter of Edward, turned to Clementine his wife at the point of her crowning with the crown starring the The Koh-i-noor Diamond and said:
You were right: I see now the 'other one' wouldn't have done.
The royal couple became the youngest King and Queen consort since George III and his wife Charlotte. They carried on with their royal duties despite the shadow of war drawing over Europe. In 1938 they undertook a state visit to France. It ended up having to be delayed for a month on account of the death of the Queen's mother. She adopted the French fashion of wearing white for mourning, but charmed the French with the ease with which she held conversation in their own language. The following year they embarked on a tour of the dominion of Canada and on the 9 June, 1939, made history by being the first reigning British Royals to enter the USA post-independence.
The King and Queen were quite vocal in their support for the various peace efforts being pursued by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain was constantly seeking a policy of appeasement and, following his signing of the Munich Agreement, the couple invited him to join them on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. When this agreement fell through the monarchy would have faced its second disaster in the space of three years, but for the focus shifting to a war effort in which the Queen was to excel.
The War Years
Soon after the royal couple's return from the North American tour, and less than three years into his reign, their country found itself at war again with Germany. Following the fall of France, many suggested that the young princesses should be sent to safety in Canada. However, the King and Queen were resolute that they would not take advantage of their status but would stay together as a family for the morale of the nation. The Queen said 'The princesses would never leave without me, and I couldn't leave without the King and the King will never leave'. So it was that the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were moved to Windsor for the duration of the war. Their parents spent every night with them before driving into London to carry out the duties of the State.
As with the Great War, a generation previously, the Queen again encountered personal tragedy. Her nephew Patrick, who was the Master of Glamis2, was killed in action. Another, Andrew, was taken prisoner. Buckingham Palace itself was the victim of several bombing raids, the first on 13 September, 1940, and the King and Queen narrowly escaped. The Queen's comment on this attack on the monarchy was, as always during the war years, to draw attention to her husband's subjects. 'I'm glad we have been bombed,' she said, 'I feel I can look the East End in the face3.
However, with many foreign sovereigns and governments in exile in London, the Queen often found herself acting as hostess to dignitaries. However, because the Royal Family adhered to the rationing that the rest of the nation were restricted to, meagre provisions were served in the grandeur that was all around.
One such guest, Mrs Roosevelt, the wife of the American President, stayed at Buckingham Palace in 1942. Like other guests at the time she received no special treatment. She was said to have suffered from the constant cold due to the limited amount of electric heaters inside the Palace, and was served her humble food rations on the gold and silver dinning services, possibly to emphasis the strain the war was having on the nation.
Towards the end of the war, the Queen's elder daughter joined the army as 2nd Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor where she learnt a lot about vehicle engines. The Queen took great pride in visiting her daughter's unit and realised it must have meant a lot to the future Queen Elizabeth II to be involved as she enthused about driving and maintenance at meal times in Windsor Castle.
The popularity of the Royal Family strengthened during the war and when victory in Europe was declared the family were called to the balcony of Buckingham Palace eight times by the celebratory crowds. They were joined on one occasion by the war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
After the War
Following the war, royal duties resumed more or less as they had been before. In 1947 the whole family headed off on a tour of South Africa, on board HMS Vanguard. It was here that Princess Elizabeth turned 21 with a speech pledging to serve her subjects for the rest of her life, be it long or short. They also visited Southern Rhodesia, Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland. At all stops on the tour the Queen showed tact in the tough situations as the Afrikaaners still held the English in deep resentment for the actions of the Boer War. It was to be her last major tour with her husband.
Upon the family's return, the announcement came of the engagement of her eldest daughter to a naval lieutenant, Philip Mountbatten, who was a Greek prince and fellow descendant of Victoria. They were married in November.
The following year, the Queen celebrated 25 years of marriage to her beloved Bertie and also the birth of her first grandchild, Prince Charles. However 1948 was also the start of the end for the King: he was diagnosed with incipient arteriosclerosis. This resulted in a tour to Australia and New Zealand being cancelled. His health continued to decline and, in 1951, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, most likely brought about by his lifetime of smoking. Part of his left lung was removed in September and he made a slight recovery.
In January of the following year, the King made his last public appearance, standing on the tarmac, waving off his daughter and son-in-law as they embarked on the first stage of a world tour. On the 5 February, 1952, he was out shooting at his favourite estate Sandringham, but the following morning he could not be woken.
This left Queen Elizabeth a widow at 51, but little did any one know at the time she had half her life still ahead of her. Her eldest daughter was recalled from Kenya to begin her reign as Queen Elizabeth II, only the sixth queen to rule in her own right over England. However, with the widowed Queen Elizabeth's mother-in-law, Queen Mary, still being alive she was also in a sort of limbo; being no longer the sovereign's wife nor the eldest surviving Queen Dowager.