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Official But Revealing: A Century Through One Woman's Life
on November 6, 2009
Its important to understand that William Shawcross has written an authorized or official biography of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. That means, as Shawcross states in his Introduction, that he was invited by Queen Elizabeth II to write her mother's life. Shawcross was given access to the Royal Archives and other private collections as well as tape recorded reminiscences made by the Queen Mother herself in her final years. He also interviewed hundreds of former servants and friends. In the Introduction, Shawcross emphasizes that he was given "absolute freedom to write as I wished." There is no doubt in my mind that The Queen and Royal Family did indeed allow him to write freely, knowing that he would craft a truthful but respectful chronicle. This is by way of saying that one should not read this work expecting sensational gossip or shocking "revelations". Others have written about such things, and no doubt many more will be written in coming years. This book portrays the Queen Mother much as she herself would wish to be portrayed.
Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born in August, 1900, the daughter of a wealthy family of Scots and English nobility. The ninth of ten children, she had a happy childhood unburdened by too much education, did nursing in World War I, and eventually made her debut with the prospect of making a brilliant match. She attracted one of the most brilliant names available, Prince Albert Duke of York, second son of King George V. After refusing him several times she agreed to marry him in 1923. She became an early royal superstar, beloved by the British for her charm and good humor. Her awkward, stammering husband gained new confidence with her help, and when his older brother abdicated in 1936, he was able, with the support of his wife, to ascend the throne and perform admirably as King George VI through World War II. After the King's death in 1952 the Queen Mother lived another fifty years, becoming an ever more greatly beloved matriarch with her bright smile, sparkling jewels, and elegant and befeathered wardrobe.
Shawcross does an admirable job detailing the Queen Mother's life, producing a detailed, almost day to day chronicle. In so doing he also provides a fairly good political history of Britain during the twentieth century albeit through the eyes of a woman whose upper class antecedents and milieu hardly made her sympathetic to many of the social reforms enacted during her lifetime. Her personal relationships with her husband, daughters, and grandchildren are also well but respectfully covered.
This is a well written biography with impeccable scholarship. If it does not satisfy the appetites of those who wish only to read scandal, it nevertheless will please those who remember the Queen Mother as a strong personality who helped guide her country and her family through some of their greatest and darkest hours.