Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born on 4 August 1900 as the 9th of 10 children born to Claude Bowes-Lyon, then Lord Glamis and later 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and his wife, Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck. From birth until 1904, she was known as The Honourable Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and after her father became Earl, she was known as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
Elizabeth spent much of her childhood at St Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire, despite the family seat being at Glamis Castle in Scotland. She was particularly close to her brother David, and the two were only 15 months apart in age. They were nicknamed “the two Benjamins” by the family. Within the family, Elizabeth was known as “Buffy.”
Lady Cynthia Asquith recalled, “Her brother David tells me that he and his sister once decided to run away, and laid in a store of emergency provisions. But as their mother has no recollection of this incident, I gather that they cannot have run very far. On one occasion, proudly remembered, they gave a chauffeur palpitations by placing a football directly in front of one of the front wheels of the car. As the car started the football burst with a terrific explosion.”
Her childhood was considered to be idyllic, but her education was quite limited. She did learn to speak fluent French and was taught music, dancing and drawing by her mother. Her nanny Clara Cooper Knight, known as Alah, would also take care of Elizabeth’s own children. On the first day of 1910, Elizabeth began a journal, and she proudly recorded that she had become an aunt. “I had my first nevew (sic) great excitement.”1 In September 1912, Elizabeth was separated from the other Benjamin, when David was sent to St Peter’s Court preparatory school. “David went to school for the first time on Friday. I miss him horribly”, she wrote.2 Elizabeth herself was enrolled in the Misses Birtwhistles school in 1912, though she did not believe she learned much there.
Her childhood came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Glamis Castle was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers, and four of her brothers enlisted in the army. Her brother Fergus was killed in September 1915 at the Battles of Loos. Elizabeth was just 15 years old when she first met Prince Albert, the second son of King George V but it wasn’t love at first sight. She wrote, “Prince Albert was next door, he’s rather nice.”3In 1917, her brother Michael was missing in action and Elizabeth found the waiting unbearable. “Somehow I never thought anything could happen to Mike, everybody is so fond of him, but one forgets that doesn’t count in a war.”4 He was taken as a prisoner of war but survived the war.
In July 1920, Elizabeth was presented at court in July 1920 and on 8 July she attended a ball at the Ritz, which Prince Albert also attended. He did not remember meeting her in 1915 and asked her who she was. They danced, and while the feeling probably wasn’t reciprocated at first, Prince Albert fell in love. Elizabeth wrote, “I danced with Prince Albert who I hadn’t known before, he is quite a nice youth.”5
He continued to call on Elizabeth during the summer and autumn of 1920, and in early 1921, he received his parents’ permission for the match. He proposed marriage on 27 February 1921, but to his horror, she refused him. She wrote to him the next day, “Dear Prince Bertie, I must write one line to say how dreadfully sorry I am about yesterday. It makes me miserable to think of it – you have been so very nice about it all – please do forgive me. Also please don’t worry about it – I do understand so well what you feel, and sympathise so much, & I hate to think that I am the cause of it. I honestly can’t explain to you how terribly sorry I am – it worries me so much to think you may be unhappy – I do hope you won’t be. Anyway, we can be good friends, can’t we? Please do look on me as one. I shall never say anything about our talks I promise you – and nobody need ever know. I thought I must just write this short letter to try and tell you how sorry I am. Yours very sincerely, Elizabeth.”6
He tried again in March 1922 and was again refused. She wrote to him, “Dear Prince Bertie, I am so terribly sorry about what happened yesterday & feel it is all my fault, as I ought to have known. Will you please forgive me? You are one of my best & most faithful friends & you have always been so nice to me – that makes it doubly worse. I am too miserable about it, and blame myself more than I can say. If you ever feel you want a talk about things in general – I hope you will come and see me, as I understand you know. I do wish this hadn’t happened. Yours, Elizabeth.”7 Three times the charm, and on 3 January 1923, he proposed yet again and she accepted a few days later. Her refusal was most likely to due to fears of losing her independence as by then she too had fallen in love. Their engagement was announced on 16 January 1923, and they married at Westminster Abbey on 26 April 1923. As she entered the Abbey by her father’s side, she suddenly went to lay her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Elizabeth left the Abbey as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York. 8
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p.29
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p.39
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p.75
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p.85
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p.104
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p.126
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p.136
- Read also: Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens (UK & US)