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2. The Universe / The Earth / Europe / United Kingdom / General United Kingdom / The British Monarchy / HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Duchess of York (1923 - 1936)
HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - Her Early Years (1900 - 1923)
King George V announced the engagement of Prince Albert, Duke of York to the Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in January 1923. In a break with tradition it was also announced that the wedding would be a grand public affair at Westminster Abbey instead of some Royal Chapel. The last time a King's son had been married there was Edmund, Earl of Lancaster (son of Henry III) in 1269. The reason for so public a wedding can only have been to lift the spirits of the nation following the ravages of the Great War (1914 - 1918).
The Royal Wedding
The Wedding took place on 26 April, with the Duke becoming the first Royal to wear the uniform of the newest branch of the forces, the RAF, for a wedding. His bride wore an ivory chiffon dress with a train of Nottingham lace. She was attended by eight bridesmaids; his best man was his brother David, the Prince of Wales.
It turned out to be one of the last public appearances of the Dukes' grandmother Queen Alexandra, Consort to Edward VII. At the time of her death two years later she was possible the eldest Queen Consort1 in British history. Ironically, the bride was to far surpass that record for longevity, by over 20 years.
Duty to the Nation
In 1923 it was not assumed that a royal duchess, even one as close as Elizabeth to the throne, would undertake too actively in public engagements. However, the new duchess threw her personality and sense of fun into the duty of being royal with great gusto. Initially she took up local engagements that were offered to her by friends, but eventually she started to receive requests to accept presidencies or patronages for national organisations in her own right. Some of these she would remain loyal to for the rest of her life. One such was the Woman's Institute at Sandringham, which had a founding President in Queen Mary - the new Duchess became co-President and remained so, attending the institute's AGMs until her death.
In the winter of 1924-25 she accompanied her husband on her first royal tour visiting East Africa and the Sudan. However, in their early years of royal engagements the Yorks were constantly overshadowed by the Prince of Wales, who was a dashing, eligible bachelor.
But in 1927 they embarked on their first world tour which incorporated state visits to Australia and New Zealand. It was a chance for the Duke of York to show of the improvement in his speech2 brought about, at his wife's insistence, by a series of sessions with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. This was especially important as the Duchess was suffering from a throat infection in New Zealand. In Australia, the Duchess broke completely with protocol by asking a wounded officer to dance with her, this was no ordinary officer though but one of the many she helped nurse back to health at Glamis during the war.
Her sense of informality, combined with duty, helped to endear her to the public and the King. It was to breathe a little freshness into the Royal Family, quite possibly helping it to overcome the crisis that was looming that led her beloved Bertie to the throne.
The Yorks' first home was White Lodge in Richmond Park, but as their public engagements increased so did the need for a more central location. They moved in 1927 to a town house at No 145 Piccadilly, near Hyde Park, and Apsley House (aka No 1 London) the house that had been given to the Duke of Wellington. This was to remain the family home until the family moved to Buckingham Palace. Considering how much support they gave to others who were bombed during the war, the fact that this house was also destroyed in the blitz must have also helped them to relate to those left homeless.
Almost three years after their wedding on the 21 April, 1926, the Duchess gave birth to a daughter. The birth took place not at any Royal Palace or estate but at her parents' London home, 17 Bruton Street. From these humble beginnings - humble for a royal - the Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary would eventually become Queen Elizabeth II. A second daughter, Margaret Rose was born on 21 August, 1930, again at a Strathmore residence, this time the ancestral home of Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland.
In 1931, the King gave his son and his family a gift of the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. This soon became a favourite weekend retreat for the family and remained so during the reign of George VI, instead of the more austere Windsor Castle. Following the King's death, Elizabeth maintained this as her home at Windsor preserving his desk. It was eventually to be the place she would die.
The two princesses had a happy early life spread between the Royal Lodge and 145 Piccadilly. They were educated at home by their governess Marion Crawford affectionately called 'Crawfie' But following the abdication of Edward VIII the quiet family life of the Yorks was still to be replaced by greater pomp and occasion. They did still try to maintain some level of normality for their children, though.
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