Counting One's Blessings: Selected Letters Of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
- Pan Macmillan
- Publication Date:
- 11 October 2012
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Apparently whenever Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1900-2004) arrived at Claridge’s Hotel for afternoon tea the band would strike up The Teddy Bear’s Picnic and this is really the leitmotif of this volume of selected letters – entertaining, affectionate and full of fun. She was famously discrete; as she told Queen Mary ‘since I married I have made a strict rule never to discuss anything of Family matters with my own relations’, and there are noticeable gaps in the correspondence. There is only the briefest mention of resources: ‘I am going to spend my Marland Oil (when it goes up) in doing several things’. She was an astute in her assessment of King George V’s ‘Monarchical temper’. Even in the 1920s she despaired of press intrusion (‘How beastly the papers are – nothing but lies!) and she could not conceal her antipathy to political opponents: ‘I am extremely anti-Labour.’ There are glimpses of the Abdication Crisis and the toll it took on both Queen Elizabeth and King George VI but she felt ‘Inadequate, but unfrightened’, as she told Osbert Sitwell, and they both prayed ‘most sincerely that we shall not fail our country’, as she confessed to the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is also a delightful susceptibility to dashing men throughout her life. On the way to Glamis, in 1915, ‘Two most beautiful sailors were also travelling in the same corridor. [...] Rather amusing what?’ In 1958 she was taken with Australian cowboys: ‘Very tall, with long legs encased in tight trousers, blue eyes, a drawl & a Stetson – they are too charming for words’.William Shawcross’s selection itself is discrete but fascinating, especially mixing the letters with her wartime broadcasts. As her life progresses the sense of fun increases, mixed with foreign tours and racing interests. On one friend’s death she wrote ‘How wonderful to have lived a life ... spreading gaiety & kindness around you, & goodness & courage as well.’ She could have been writing of herself. Early in her royal life, she apologised to a friend as ‘my pen rushes along these little lines leaving sad drivel for you to read I fear.’ No one picking up this rather weighty volume would agree.
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