on 12 June 2006
Hugo Vickers' biography of the Queen Mother is a great disappointment. It has its moments: the drama of the abdication is well captured. But too much of the book is padding - an endless list of engagements with obscure people rightly long forgotten.
The Queen Mother lived an extraordinary life. She deserves a better biography than this - and so do we.
on 27 November 2005
This book was a great disappointment to me. I had hoped to find the bio of the Queen Mum embellished with the rich descriptions of her life in the varied eras from Edwardian Times to the present. Instead, I found what amounted to a social calendar of events that she attended. On such and such day in May she did this and presented this, followed by another sentence of what she wore the next day at another event. Paragraph after paragraph go on like this in each chapter.
Little is written of her emotions surrounding the births of her daughters, their marriages or even her relationships with her sisters in laws except in a passing phrase here or there. A whole chapter is spent on the Crawfie situation and in that chapter more information than necessary is given on the people who led Crawfie astray in writing her memories.
Another chapter is devoted to her staff. While that is nice, I really was not interested in reading about early biographical information on her staff. Most of it was totally irrelevant to the life of the Queen Mum.
Much was given over to her clothing changes during a photo shoot with Cecil Beaton, a whole page of the paintings in her home etc. While when her father died, we are only told that she went north for the funeral and the coffin was carried on a cart to the cemetary? Did she not have any feelings? Did his death not make a difference to her?
Missing in the book is the Queen Mum's role in raising her children, running a palace, coping with the real fears of the war, depression etc. Even though I know the story of the Queen Mum well, I thought that I would gain more insight from this long promised book. I can only call it dry, emotionless and full of the minutiae of useless information about people around her, not her life.
I kept reading to the end, wanting, hoping to be taken into the story, into her chambers and salons, sit next to her at a dinner party and find out what really drove this woman.
Instead I found a lifeless story,rushed in parts because the author was trying to cram every social event that she ever attended into the book. That got old after awhile.
If you like to read the old social columns full of fluff and trivia, this is the book for you. If you want to gain more insight into the woman whose life spanned two centuries through many major historical events, look elsewhere.
on 20 April 2013
Fascinating book. I got it after reading the books by William Shawcross. This book gives a more personal insight into Queen Elizabeth.
it seems that this is the final verdict of Hugo Vickers on the Queen Mother, even tough is wording is a bit more careful (page 503). Well does his biography actually support this quite sweeping statement?
I agree with the previous reviewer that the biography remembers graciously a gracious lady; however that does not make the Queen Mother the greatest queen consort ever.
I believe it is pretty hard to write the very first full biography on the life of a personality more or less every one of us remembers and has formed an opinion already. The first biography sets the standards and the ground on which future biographies will be measured. And here Hugo Vickers has done a great job. The book is very well written and highly enjoyable to read. There was never ever a moment where I wanted to stop reading further. One learns a hell of a lot about her life; her family, the Royal Family and the changing of times.
Alas, there is a but to this all. I was missing the passages on the political importance of the Queen Mother during her time as consort and during her time as Queen Mother. As consort one kind of knows that she was the "most dangerous woman in Britain" as Hitler was suppose to say, keeping up spirits and being the power behind the throne. But there is not much about this in the book. The Queen Mother did not like to be described as such as she properly felt it would diminish the achievements of The King; her beloved husband. How was really the "working relationship" between King and Queen, did she influence decisions, if yes how far. Here Vickers is really shy and not knowledgeable. The passages on the abdication and the Windsor’s, the Princess Margaret's affaires or later on the younger royals are less then satisfactory. Something is simply missing and one gets the impression that she was simply a by-stander. Does one really believe this? Maybe she was but than she could hardly be the greatest consort ever. I wished he would have given more concrete thought about this and spending less energy and pages on the Queen Mother's outfits and color schemes of her dresses. This is all a bit to "loyal" and keeping with the myth. Maybe Vickers is a bit to close to her and bit too admiring. He is at least honest about his association with the Queen Mother, but I am not sure that his assessment of his own level of objectivity is correct.
All in all, it is a book one should read and should not miss. But I believe this is not the last word on the Queen Mother and future biographies will have to be written in order complete the picture of the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother was an extraordinary personality and to capture this one needs an extraordinary biography. This is a very good one, but not an extraordinary one.
Therefore, I feel 4 stars is the appropriate rating.
on 7 August 2009
As other reviews here illustrate, this book takes a descriptive rather than analytical approach to its subject.
It gives limited insight into Queen Elizabeth's political role or her influence on the development and perception of the monarchy during her reign and that of her daughter.
The strength of this book is in its descriptions of the Queen's social milieu and, in that respect, it contains a great deal of detail - much of which is quite entertaining - such as wry observations on individuals, situations and 'royal' occasions.
It may be that Queen Elizabeth had very little influence on the role of the monarchy but I rather doubt it. In any event, this book leaves you none the wiser. Hopefully, her forthcoming official biography will address this gap.
on 19 May 2011
Do you remember the massive line of people who queued to pay their respects to the Queen Mother after she died? It stretched all the way from Westminster Hall where she lay in state, along the Embankment, over Lambeth Bridge, back past Westminster bridge on the opposite bank, and then down the River beyond the Royal Festival Hall. Who was this woman that she was afforded such an amazing gesture of public affection?
Hugo Vickers does an excellent job in providing the answer. His is an authoritative account of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother's life and achievements. As someone fortunate enough to have actually meet the Queen Mother, I have to say that his portrait provides a true and fair account that is fascinating and well written. It is chock full of interesting and unknown facts. More than being an account of her life, the granular details of her circle of friends provide historical insight into British Society during her life and reign as Queen Consort. In particular, Vickers goes to great lengths to explain exactly why he thinks she was the greatest ever Queen Consort: she was intelligent, possessed a strong personality, had great integrity and an extraordinary sense of duty. He reveals much about the early influences in her life that made her such a remarkable person as well as providing the reader with ample anecdotes that illustrate her great charm and inner strength.
The Queen Mother's husband, King George VI, had a very difficult reign - probably the most difficult of any monarch over the last 200 years. When his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated, the events leading up to it caused a constitutional crisis that threatened to end the Monarchy. Then there was the Second World War, which we won only through great sacrifice and effort. Then George VI presided over the decline of the British Empire; he became the chief architect of the Commonwealth persuading many reluctant former colonies to enter into a new kind of relationship with the United Kingdom. In his final years, he was forced to bravely face the onset of cancer. All of these things required an extraordinary strength, courage, wisdom, diplomacy and commitment. George VI succeeded admirably even though his brilliant reign was short-lived. He never wanted to be King, fearful that he had neither the ability nor the temperament and that his terrible stutter would make him an embarrassing failure. It was his wife who encouraged him and who became his strength and inspiration. He triumphed largely thanks to her. The Queen Mother's story needed to be told. She may have been Britain's favourite grandmother, but as Hugo Vickers's biography explains, she deserves more than a footnote in history.
If I have any criticisms of the book it is that I feel he has been too generous in his description of the Duke of Windsor and Wallace Simpson, but since he has had access to so many personal letters and other documents, if anyone knows, he does. Vickers is also and understandably sensitive to the fact that the Queen Mother's daughter is still alive, which means he may have pulled the odd punch. Despite this, the book is still thorough and amazingly complete. It provides some of the more juicy anecdotes that William Shawcross's equally brilliant official tome foregoes.
Is this book better than Shawcross's? Well, that's like asking who is the better painter Monet or Van Gogh? if you're interested in this subject, it certainly isn't too much of an effort to read both. What I will say is that it was Hugo Vickers who was asked to be an advisor in the film 'The King's Speech' not William Shawcross. Make of that what you will.
I recently heard a Hugo Vickers talk describing the history behind the King's Speech. It was superb. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject as well as a consuming passion for it. These are excellent start points for any biographer. In summary, this is a great book and well worth reading.
on 30 September 2015
This is not the Queen Elizabeth that I knew and my grandmother would not recognise this biography. Her birth is glossed over and no mention of her mother who was undoubtedly the family cook whose name was one given to Elizabeth The author writes of her saintliness and does not mention the cunning of this extraordinarily self obsessed woman. Elizabeth's desire to marry the Prince of Wales is not mentioned nor the newspaper article that a Scottish peer's daughter to marry him and who tipped of the press to be at Aberdeen station to see the Prince of Wales meet Mrs Simpson?These all bear the hand of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon as is the "China Dossier" which has never been seen and yet emanated from Elizabeth as Duchess of York. Elizabeth, from her young days, would always take to her bed to scheme and plot. Developing whooping cough on her honeymoon was strange as there were no other cases so from whom did she catch it? All her friendships with the clergy were to advance her position from Duchess to Queen when the Prince of Wales fell in love with Mrs Simpson. No mention is made of Bertie's mistresses and in particular Evelyn (Boo) Laye who and not Elizabeth introduced him to Lionel Logue. Her hatred of the Duchess of Windsor verged on paranoia and her treatment of her once loved David turned to the most un Christian treatment of them. Her poor husband was forced into withholding all that was due to the Duke and Duchess. King George and Queen Mary were well aware of her ambition and did not trust her. Whenever I met her she tried to charm with her artificial smile and none of my family or friends were taken in by this tiny woman of artifice.
on 6 September 2015
Just as I suspected and informed by my grandparents. She was a nasty piece of work, for which a brain dead nation fell for.
on 19 December 2012
I am very happy with my order very good value i would recommend other buyers, very good value,
on 1 November 2005
The Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy asserted that, "Selfish writers leave you with the memory of their book. Generous writers leave you with the memory of the world they evoked." Hugo Vickers is, indeed, a generous writer. It is inconceivable that his account will not become the standard one not only for all accounts of the life of the late Queen Elizabeth, mother of the current Queen, but of the era in which she flourished. His research is meticulous yet never pedantic, his prose approachable without being condescending, and his reporting of incidents throughout the life of the Queen are interesting and humorous without stooping to the level of common gossip. There is no question that she was the making of her husband, King George VI, who was ill-prepared to assume the throne when his selfish and immature brother abdicated. A lesser woman would have carried a chip on her shoulder so large and heavy that she would have been forced to her knees under its weight. Yet Queen Elizabeth was the one who, through her dedication and sheer hard work, brought her husband's subjects eagerly and willingly not to her feet but to her side. Shawcross, the chosen biographer of the late Queen, might just as well pack up and go home. No one will be able to match Vickers' work. He has done justice to a great lady and we are greatly in his debt.