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Posts Tagged ‘biographies of queens’

At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor snaps a souvenir picture of the Queen Mum (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen Mum

At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor cannot resist snapping a souvenir picture of "the Queen Mum" (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen Mum,” born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), was the beloved British Royal Family matriarch from 1953 until her death at age 101. Of Scottish birth, she served as Queen consort to her husband King George VI from 1936 until his death in 1952, when their daughter Princess Elizabeth took the throne as Elizabeth II.

During the London Blitz in WWII, the Queen Mum – who was then naturally referred to as Queen Elizabeth – insisted that she and the King remain in Buckingham Palace after it was bombed by the German luftwaffe. The Queen remarked to her mother-in-law that she was more affected by the bombing of the East End of London than by the bombing of the Palace:

“I’m glad we have been bombed,” she said. “Now, I can look the East End in the eye.” (1)

British King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) survey the damage to Buckingham Palace from German bombs. Both the King and Queen were in the Palace when the attack hit the palace grounds and chapel on the morning of September 13, 1940. As they made their way to the palace shelter, they felt the Palace shake under the assault of high explosive and incendiary bombs. They were unhurt. Undeterred by the danger, the royal couple vowed to stay in London in the Palace.

I am still just as frightened of bombs as I was at the beginning,” the Queen wrote to a favourite niece. “I turn bright red and my heart hammers….I’m a beastly coward but I do believe that a lot people are, so I don’t mind! Well, darling, I must stop. Tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”(2)

Her indomitable spirit in the face of German aggression boosted British morale to such a degree that Adolf Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

Her scary skinny sister-in-law, Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, hated and mocked her, calling her by the unflattering nickname “Cookie” behind her back, mocking her love of sweets and resulting plumpness. The Queen Mum, however, did not hide her love of fun, jokes, champagne, and good food. In the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech,” the Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is shown eating candies in the backseat of a car.

Her ultimate accolade for anyone or anything was “delicious.”(2)

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

A new book by British monarchy chronicler, Brian Hoey, gives us yet another “behind the palace walls” glimpse of the Queen Mum enjoying her sweets.  Not in Front of the Corgis, scheduled for a June 2012 release, relates this anecdote: 

Lord Callaghan, when he was prime minister (1976-1979), was a frequent guest of the Queen Mother’s at Clarence House. Once, when just the two of them were present, she was eating from an enormous box of chocolates when he arrived.  She asked him if he would like one. He said, “Yes.” She then pointed to one in the middle of the box and said, “Have that one.” During the time he was eating his one specified chocolate, she ate three more. 

She then invited him to take another, once again selecting the one he should have. This went on for the remainder of the morning, with Her Majesty always pointing to the ones he could have.

As Callaghan left, he spoke to The Queen’s Page, asking why he was offered only particular chocolates by the Queen. The Page let him in on the secret:

“Those are the ones with hard centers. Her Majesty only eats the chocolates with soft centers.”(3)

(1) Source: BBC

(2) Source: The Daily Beast

(3) Source: The Daily Beast

Faithful readers:

  •  For more on the Queen Mum on this blog, click here.
  • For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Elizabeth Taylor on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor on this blog, click here.

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The Romanov Children in 1906: Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra had four daughters and one son. (L-R) The Grand Duchess Olga (b.1895), Tsarevich Alexei (b.1904), Grand Duchesses Tatiana (b.1897), Maria (b.1899) and Anastasia (b.1901) Romanov. They were the last Imperial children of Russia. They were murdered with their parents 12 years after this photo was taken, in 1918.

The Romanov girls – Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia – were born only six years apart, which brought them close. As daughters of the Tsar, they naturally grew up in a very cloistered environment, without the usual playmates. This brought them even closer, closer than most sisters. They loved each other very dearly. 

The grand duchesses thought of themselves as one unit and, by adolescence, decided to declare this unity by adopting the single autograph, “OTMA,” derived from the first letters of their names. As OTMA, they jointly gave gifts and signed correspondence.

Unlike most sisters, they did not squabble over possessions. Rather, they freely shared their belongings with one another. Tatiana once remarked to Baroness Buxhoeveden, one of her ladies-in waiting: 

We sisters always borrow from each other when we think the jewels of one will suit the dress of the other.” 

The girls were thrilled when their mother, Empress Alexandra, gave birth to a son in 1904. They warmly welcomed little Alexei, the tsarevich or heir,  into their fold. He became everyone’s baby, especially when it was learned he was gravely ill with hemophilia.

Since there were five of them then, the grand duchesses modified the acronym OTMA to reflect the addition of their baby brother. OTMA thus became OTMAA.

Readers: For more about the Russian Royal Family on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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U.S. President Jimmy Carter (right) visits Buckingham Palace in May, 1977, and is greeted (l to r) by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and the Queen Mother. Let me just point out that both Elizabeth and her mum are carrying purses. The Queen is never without her purse. The Queen Mum's purse blends so nicely with her frock they look cut from the same cloth! Although the Queen wears both gloves, her mother has taken off her right glove, presumably to shake Carter's hand - but he has something else in mind for her! (Lisa's History Room)

U.S. President Jimmy Carter only visited the British Royal Family once during his presidency but, in that short time, he made a very strong impression. In London for an economic summit in May, 1977, Queen Elizabeth II invited Carter to Buckingham Palace. While meeting her and other members of the royal family, Carter broke protocol and kissed the Queen’s mother right smack on the lips. 

Carter’s Southern hospitality did not sit well with the Queen Mother (1900-2002) who snapped,

Nobody has done that since my husband died.”(1)

Her husband, King George VI, died in 1952.

The Queen Mother took an instant dislike to the former peanut farmer from Georgia. Later, she wrote about the unpleasant encounter. Evidently, she had seen Carter leaning in for a smooch and had tried to dodge his ample lips:

 I took a sharp step backwards – not quite far enough.” (2)

While there are no obligatory ways to greet the Queen and the royal family, often a man bows his head or simply shakes hands. An American is not required to bow or curtsy. Planting a kiss on the royal lips is definitely out of bounds!

(1) www.mirror.co.uk

(2) Shawcross, William. The Queen Mother: The Official Biography. 2009

READERS: For more posts on the British Royal Family, click here.

For more on Jimmy Carter, click here.

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Queen Elizabeth II of England suffered two wardrobe malfunctions at a private party in London for her cousin King Constantine of Greece. A fellow guest spilled something on her beautiful blue gown, leaving huge stains running down the right side, then the chain link strap on her silver handbag broke. (June 3, 2010)

Two nights ago, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain helped King Constantine of Greece celebrate his 70th birthday and, at the party, had not one but two fashion mishaps. Someone – a fellow guest, possibly, or a waiter maybe – spilled what is purported to be coffee on the 84-year-old British monarch’s pale blue floor length gown, staining it permanently. Then, on top of that, the metal strap on the Queen’s ever-present handbag broke in half.

Queen Elizabeth clutches the broken strap of her evening handbag at King Constantine's 70th birthday party in a private London home.

Poor Queen! Where were all those ladies-in-waiting when she needed them most? Couldn’t someone have thrown a cloak over the Queen’s dress to hide the stains or stood in front of her to block her from the paparazzi’s unrelenting snaps?

If the Queen was ruffled by being uncharacteristically messy, she didn’t show it. Her Majesty – who is always neat, clean, and fastidiously turned-out – held high the royal chin throughout the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad night and had a very good time, thank you, in spite of her multiple fashion faux-pas. Jolly brave, Elizabeth partied for hours alongside fellow royals — including son Prince Andrew, daughter Princess Anne, Queen Sofia of Spain, and Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, who hosted the bash at his London home.

King Constantine of Greece escorts his cousin Queen Elizabeth down the steps at the end of his 70th birthday party. Despite the obvious food stains running down the Queen's dress and the broken strap of her glittery evening bag, the Queen maintained her always noble demeanor.

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Queen Victoria at her Golden Jubilee, 1887. Note the tiny crown atop her mourning veil.

In my previous post, “Queen Alexandra’s Royal Bosom,” I mention that Queen Victoria refused to wear a crown to the Thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey that was part of her Golden Jubilee celebration in June, 1887. She did, however, consent to wear a crown for her official Jubilee photograph (shown here), which we may assume she wore to the banquet celebrating her 50 years on the British throne. Fifty European Kings and princes and the American author Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain) attended.

After her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861, the Queen had largely disappeared from public view. She had vowed to publicly mourn her husband until her death and wear nothing but black widow’s weeds and her white lace mourning veil. In 1870, under government pressure, Victoria began to appear in public again. But she refused to wear her Imperial State Crown again, for several reasons. Chiefly, it was too big and heavy and was impossible to wear with her mourning veil.

The Imperial State Crown of Great Britain worn by Queen Victoria at her coronation. It includes a base of four crosses pattée alternating with four fleurs-de-lis, above which are four half-arches surmounted by a cross. Inside is a velvet cap with an ermine border. The Imperial State Crown includes several precious gems, including: 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies.

Queen Victoria shown wearing the Imperial State Crown at her Coronation, 1837

Consequently, a new crown, a small one, was designed for the Queen. It sat atop her mourning veil. The Queen was satisfied and so was the government. Wearing the tiny crown atop her veil allowed her to look like both a widow and a queen.

“The crown followed standard design for British crowns. It was made up of four half-arches, which met at a monde, on which sat a cross. Each half-arch ran from the monde down to a cross pattee along the band at the bottom. Between each cross pattee was a fleur-de-lis. However, because of its small size (9 centimeters across and 10 centimeters high) Victoria’s small diamond crown possesses no internal cloth cap. The crown was manufactured by R & S Garrard & Company.”
 

Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown created in 1870 measures 3.7 inches (9.9 cm) high and 3.4 inches (9 cm) in diameter. It was worn atop a widow's cap. The silver crown was made in 1870, using some 1,300 diamonds from a large necklace and other jewelry in the Queen's personal collection. Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown remains on show in the Jewel House in the Tower of London.

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"The Landing of H.R.H. the Princess Alexandra at Gravesend, March 7, 1863," by Henry Nelson O'Neil, 1864.

When Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived on English soil in 1863 to marry the Prince of Wales, the heir of Queen Victoria, she was the very picture of modesty. No jewelry was visible and she wore a handmade bonnet. Alexandra may have been Danish royalty, but she wasn’t rich. Matter of fact, her family had lived on handouts to get by. She was shy, kind, and very beautiful. Everyone loved her immediately.

Queen Victoria, 1873

Queen Victoria of Great Britain, 1873

When Alexandra joined the British royal family, over two years had passed since Queen Victoria‘s husband, Prince Albert, had died.  Yet Victoria was still plunged into deep mourning. Victoria had wished she had died with her beloved Albert. Upon his death, she had renounced all pleasures and vowed to wear dreary black crape dresses the rest of her life as a token of mourning. She spent many of her waking hours kneeling in Albert’s carefully-preserved bedroom, crying and pleading with God to help her. (See “Queen Victoria in the Blue Room with a Bust.”)

Alexandra discovered that Victoria had amassed an enormous jewelry collection.  But, after Albert’s death, the Queen had became convinced that excessive display of jewels awakened anti-monarchial feelings in the English people. Princess Alexandra tried to convince her to wear her pretty, glittering things but to no avail. Famously, Victoria refused to wear a crown to the Thanksgiving service honoring her 1887 Golden Jubilee. The Queen of Great Britain arrived at the state ceremony wearing a bonnet.

Whereas Victoria had renounced all pleasures, Princess Alexandra had just begun to live. She had grown up poor and now she was rich and the future Queen of England! She was not about to be sucked into Victorian mourning dress. Although her husband, “Bertie,” was a serial adulterer, Alexandra accepted his infidelity and got on with her life, moving with him from party to party with the artsy crowd. Dressing herself in fine jewels and frivolous clothes became her passion – and she indulged herself completely.

Queen Alexandra at her Coronation, 1902

Initially, Princess (later Queen) Alexandra adopted dog collar chokers, called a ‘collier de chien’ to cover a small scar on her neck. For state and formal occasions, though, she plastered herself from head to waist in necklaces, tiaras, ribbons, sashes, and brooches of pearls, diamonds, and other jewels. Her long strings of pearls became her signature look. Alexandra became quite popular and women copied her style and bearing. American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., remarked that:

Queen Alexandra “possessed the world’s most perfect shoulders and bosom for the display of jewels.”
 

Readers: “Queen Victoria’s Tiny Crown” follows this post.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1854. They had been married 14 years and are both about 34 years old. This is the first time Victoria had been photographed. Queen Victoria reigned as Queen Regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837-1901 and as the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1876 -1901. Her reign as the Queen lasted 63 years and 7 months, longer than that of any other British monarch before or since, and her reign is the longest of any female monarch in history. The time of her reign is known as the Victorian Era, a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military progress within the United Kingdom.

Throughout their 21-year marriage, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria delighted in showering each other with gifts of art. A new major exhibition of the Royal Collection (March 19-October 31, 2010) at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, is the first ever to focus on the royal couple’s shared enthusiasm for art. “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love” showcases over 400 paintings, drawings, photographs, jewelry, and sculpture from the years of their courtship (1836-1839) and marriage (1840) until Albert’s untimely death of typhoid (1861).

Gold, enamel, and tooth brooch belonging to Queen Victoria (1847, probably commissioned by Prince Albert)

Many trinkets exchanged between the royal couple were sentimental in nature, marking special occasions in the royal household, such as this gold and enamel brooch, seen for the first time ever. This unusual and tiny brooch in the form of a thistle has, as its flower, the first milk tooth lost by the firstborn of their nine children, Princess Victoria (1840-1901). An inscription on the reverse states the tooth was pulled by Prince Albert at Ardverikie (Loch Laggan), on September 13, 1847. (To see more of Victoria’s jewelry made with teeth, click here.)

Princess Victoria was the subject of many art commissions; her parents were overjoyed at her birth because she almost wasn’t born. When the Queen was four months pregnant, she had been the target of a failed assassination attempt. Edward Oxford fired two shots at her as she and Prince Albert rode up Constitution Hill in a carriage in June of 1840. Fortunately, neither the queen, prince, or the unborn Princess Royal was harmed.

An attempt is made to assassinate Queen Victoria by Edward Oxford, June 10. 1840, as the Queen rides up Constitution Hill with Prince Albert. Oxford was arrested for high treason, tried, and acquitted by reason of insanity.

Prince Albert was a man of many talents. He designed many of Queen Victoria’s jewels, including this 1842 brooch featuring a miniature of Princess Victoria as a bejewelled angel.

Queen Victoria's enamel, gold, and jewel brooch, 1842, with a miniature of Princess Victoria as an angel, Prince Albert, designer; William Essex, after William Ross, miniaturist

The queen appreciated Albert’s talent in jewelry design. She wrote:

“Albert has such taste & arranges everything for me about my jewels.”

In addition to designing the queen’s personal jewelry, Prince Albert designed many pieces of her state jewelry. He designed most of her tiaras, including the Oriental Circlet, also a part of this year’s special exhibition.

Queen Victoria's State Jewelry: "The Oriental Circlet," 1853. Diamonds, rubies, gold. The inspiration for the design of this tiara, which includes ‘Moghul’ arches framing lotus flowers, came from Prince Albert who had been greatly impressed by the Indian jewels presented to the Queen by the East India Company.

Readers, you might also enjoy: “Queen Victoria in the Blue Room with a Bust.”

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