Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born 4 August 1900, the ninth child of Claude George Bowes-Lyon and Nina Cecilia Bowes-Lyon, Lord and Lady Glamis. The family divided its time between Glamis Castle in Scotland and homes in Hertfordshire and St James’s Square, London.
When war broke out in 1914, Glamis Castle was used as a reception centre and hospital for the wounded and young Elizabeth helped out where she could, entertaining wounded troops with reading, playing games or running errands.
In 1920 she met Prince Albert, second son of King George V, known as Bertie to his family, at a party in Grosvenor Square, London. Elizabeth was charming and vivacious and for Bertie it was love at first sight.
Lady Elizabeth and Prince Albert, by now the Duke of York, were engaged on 15 January 1923. Wary of losing her freedom, it took three proposals from Bertie before Elizabeth agreed to be his wife. They married in Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1923. Elizabeth’s medieval-style silk crepe moire bridal gown, embellished with pearls and silver thread, was designed by Madame Handley Seymour and was the height of twenties fashion.
The Duke and Duchess of York had two daughters, Princess Elizabeth, on 21 April 1926 and Princess Margaret on 21 August 1930.
The idyllic lives of ‘we four’, as King George VI would call his small family, changed forever when on 11 December 1936, Bertie’s brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated his throne so that he could marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson. Suddenly, thrust into the top job, shy Bertie needed the support of his more gregarious wife. Elizabeth never forgave the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as King Edward VIII and Wallis were styled after his abdication, for the damage inflicted on Bertie’s health after his unexpected accession to the throne.
The constancy and resilience of ‘we four’ was of paramount importance during the war years of 1939 – 1945, when the royal family remained close to London and witnessed first-hand the devastation of The Blitz.
King George VI died on 6 February 1952. Queen Elizabeth was now styled Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. She continued in her public work for the rest of her life. She died on 30 March 2002, the first member of the royal family to become a centenarian.
I’m guessing that for most people born after 1960 their image of the Queen Mum, as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was affectionately known, was of pastel dresses with matching coats and a clear umbrella if raining, with a trim matching the outfit of the day. She also wore big colour-coordinated veiled hats, often with large upturned brims, items that sometimes looked like she was wearing a small cushion on her head.
Earlier this year, I visited Bath Fashion Museum for their Royal Women exhibition. It opened my eyes to the possibility that this Barbara Cartland-esque woman was in her younger years a beautiful and stylish aristocrat who wore the 1920s fashion trends with aplomb. Later, during what would appear on the surface, her mumsy middle-aged years, where she was unfavourably compared to the forever-thin Duchess of Windsor, she, it was noted, loved fashion and would accessorise with jewels, feathers, hats and gloves. She was stylish as she aged and dressed for the occasion and you can see her influence in the present Queen Elizabeth II’s outfits during her later years.
I’m not a fashion historian, I can just about make out the 1920s drop-waisted dresses and cloche hats that symbolise the twenties styles, yet the images I’ve selected epitomise the elegance of the era, and feel slightly cheated that the Royal Women exhibition concentrated on a small number of outfits post 1950 and not the exquisite examples of modern dress worn as hemlines were rising and women were enjoying more freedom after the turbulent war years enforced a more egalitarian society. The 1920s Elizabeth can be seen to be as glamorous as Diana, Princess of Wales was during her heyday and as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is today.
To read my post Thoughts on George VI click here.
To read my post 8 May 1945: Victory in Europe click here.
To read my post The Tiaras of a Duchess and Queen click here.
All photos from Pinterest