Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

Buffy’s World

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: The Official Biography


Macmillan 1093pp £25

The Queen Mother’s life was one of the longest, happiest and most successful of her time. She was not only happy herself but had the gift of making those around her happy too. She has quite captivated her official biographer, William Shawcross. He obviously enjoyed tracing her footsteps, inspecting her many homes and, above all, reading the countless ebullient letters. He finds all the details absorbing and can’t bear to leave anything out. As a result his book is a heavyweight, topping out at 943 pages of text, plus a further 150 of notes and index. It has been criticised as being too heavy to hold and a strain on the binding. So what? It is full of fun and jokes – plenty of poetry too – and will provide nourishing material for future historians. It is fit to stand alongside the other successful biography of a royal woman, James Pope-Hennessy’s life of Queen Mary, and makes Wheeler-Bennett’s life of George VI seem awfully dull.

Elizabeth Lyon, as she called herself, was born in 1900 and was therefore the genuine pre-Great War human article, as her vowel sounds sometimes indicated. She was lucky. The Strathmores were noble but far from grand, well-off but never rich (Glamis Castle had oil-lamps and no electricity), and

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