“My darling mama, what can I say to you – I know you loved Bertie dearly, and he was my whole life, and one can only be deeply thankful for the utterly happy years we had together.” – Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother to Queen Mary 1
Elizabeth’s daughter was now “The Queen” but she was away in Kenya with her husband, and it took a while to reach them. After the new Queen arrived back at Clarence House, Queen Mary was one of her first visitors. “Her old Grannie and subject must be the first to kiss Her hand”, she said.2 On 15 February, the King’s funeral took place. Elizabeth wrote, “Today has been the most wonderful & the most agonising day of my life – wonderful because one felt the sincerity of the people’s feeling & agonising because gradually one becomes less numb & the awfulness of everything becomes real.”3
Elizabeth would need to move out of Buckingham Palace, but the idea of it distressed her. She was grateful when her daughter gave her the time she needed to move. She was also considering a new role in life. She was a young widow and not ready for retirement yet. In early June, she left for Scotland and stayed in Caithness with friends. Driving around with them, she spotted a “romantic-looking castle.”4 It was now known as Barrogill but had originally been known as the Castle of Mey, which Elizabeth preferred. The owner offered it to her for free but ended up paying a nominal price of £200. The castle would be her escape. By the summer, she had begun to undertake more official duties. On 24 March 1953, Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Queen Mary, passed away. In May, Elizabeth finally moved from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House with Princess Margaret. It came just shortly after her brother Mike had died at the age of 59. She had now lost five of her brothers. In June, it was time for her daughter’s coronation.
Despite her concern for Princess Margaret, who was in the middle of her relationship with Peter Townsend, Elizabeth was back to her normal self. She had new duties to fulfil as counsellor of state when The Queen was on a five-month tour of the Commonwealth and Prince Charles and Princess Anne were staying with her. In 1954, she went on a trip of her own to the United States, and she continued to undertake long trips abroad. She was becoming an avid traveller. In 1960, shortly after the birth of her third grandchild, Princess Margaret’s engagement was announced, and she married Antony Armstrong-Jones on 6 May 1960.
During her long life, Elizabeth became the Royal patron of a lot of organisations, and she continued to play a big role for them until her death. Her first patronages were of Scottish origin, and she often chose organisations close to her heart, such as the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families’ Association. “The very important thing is to be busy”, she believed. 5 Her greatest pleasure was family, and she and her daughter The Queen talked almost every day on the telephone. Her last surviving sibling, Lady Rose, died in 1967 and these years would be marred with the deaths of those she was close to.
As Elizabeth aged, the country she lived in was changing all the time. Her daughter Princess Margaret was the first to divorce in Elizabeth’s immediate family. In the early 80’s, she had some problems with her legs, but she was determined to recover in time for the wedding of The Prince of Wales on 29 July 1981. In 1990, her 90th birthday was celebrated all over the Kingdom as most probably did not expect her to complete another decade. Yet, she soldiered on, despite her health failing more and more. At 93, her legs bruised easily and her skin was very thin. The Queen sent her a walking stick with a note that read, “Darling Mummy, Your daughters and your nieces would very much like you to TRY this walking stick. It has a magic handle which fits one’s hand like a glove and therefore gives one confidence in movement, especially when feeling dizzy!”6 Losing her eyesight was one of the hardest things. In 1995, she had her right hip replaced and stayed in the hospital until she could walk down the steps unaided. The year 1998 began badly for Elizabeth. She slipped, fell and broke her left hip. Her broken hip was replaced later that day, and she was able to return to Clarence House in February. Despite this, she still did 46 engagements in the whole of 1998.
Then came the year 2000, which also marked Elizabeth’s 100th birthday and there were plenty of celebrations. Her final full year would be the year 2001. Elizabeth just went on and on; there was no stopping her. By then, Princess Margaret, who had had two strokes, was in a wheelchair. Elizabeth developed a cough and spent much of the holidays in her rooms. Then on 9 February 2002, The Queen telephoned Elizabeth to say that Princess Margaret had died. A few days after her daughter’s death, she suffered another fall and hurt her arm. She insisted upon attending her daughter’s funeral and was flown in by helicopter. From Easter on, she received regular visits from her doctor and a nurse, who changed her bandages. She stayed in bed or chair, though she still made plenty of telephone calls. It was clear that she had begun to say goodbye. By Good Friday, she was unable to lift her head from her pillow. On Saturday, her doctors realised she would probably not live through the day, and The Queen was called to her mother’s bedside. Prince Charles was in Switzerland and did not make it in time.
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother died at 3.15 in the afternoon of 30 March 2002. Her daughter The Queen and her grandchildren Lady Sarah Chatto and David, Viscount Linley (now Earl of Snowdon) were by her side.
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p. 654
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p. 656
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p. 657
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p. 4669
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p. 732
- Shawcross, William (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography p. 897