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VINE VOICEon 23 October 2009
Queen Elisabeth, The Queen Mother or just Queen Mum was a household name all over the world. I suppose all of us who read this official biography have followed her life and have personal recollections of her. She war a fixture of royal life and events in her trademark clothes and pearls, always gracious and smiling, a real character and a real lady. Most of us will have formed an opinion about her.

Writing a biography on such a personality is not an easy task. Her first biographer Hugo Vickers had spent too much energy and pages on the Queen Mother's outfits and colour schemes of her dresses. He was all a bit to "loyal" and keeping with the myth, a bit to close to her and bit too admiring. Does William Shawcross fare better?

In my view yes indeed he does, very much so. He managed to get to the bottom of her personality, her basic functioning, and her basic personality: her great zest for life, her liking of people, her sense of duty and great loyalty and her positive approach to life in general, and her great sense of humour. But he is blind to her faults. There is a balance of this book - unless the official biography on Queen Mary he does not focus at length on her childhood and rushes through the "Queen Years". Of course, this is not my first biography of the Queen Mother and therefore not much came as a surprise to me, but there are new elements to discover. First, this is the first biography were one learns about the events and her views through herself - by her fantastic letters. Oh gosh how will future biographies been written? Based on text messages and emails...?? Secondly, the relationship with The King becomes clearer and more balanced. Popular view has it that she was the strong one and that he relied on her. Yes, that is true, but she relied very much on him too. It was a partnership in the true sense: Elizabeth & Bertie, Duke and Duchess and King and Queen together.

Shawcross is critised for having avoided the difficult issues - the abdication, her real political influence, her real political views. Well, I only agree partly. I think with regards to the abdication it is pretty clear where she stood and what she thought about it. Her attitude towards the Duchess of Windsor is as well crystal clear. That she was kind to the Duchess when she stayed in BP for the funeral of the Duke of Windsor is by far no indication of Shawcross glossing over the issue and white washing the Queen Mother. When it comes to her real political influence on running the monarchy with her husband and with her daughter indeed things are a bit more difficult. The Queen Mother was very discreet (or as she put it "very cagey") when it came to putting things into writing on political issues. Her letter exchange with Queen Mary on the abdication proves this quite clearly. The RF talked about it. Furthermore Princess Margret had scanned the writing and ordered many letters to be destroyed. She did what Princess Beatrice did with Queen Victoria's diaries. But I feel that Shawcross could have tried to find other means to find out. The same applies to the more recent ups and downs like the Charles-Diana-Camilla saga. So there is an area which can be explored further.

Before concluding a word on Shawcross style of writing: the whole book is written with a great flow and in very entertaining way. It is easy to read, without being superficial. It is massive (2,5 kg heavy), but never boring.

All in all, I think it is an excellent biography and properly the very best official biography I have ever read. Highly recommended.
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on 5 June 2010
This was very well-written, but offered no original insight into its subject. The author is clearly an Establishment figure (I laughed aloud at his sniffy, purse-lipped description of the new millennium party at the Millennium Dome) who had no desire to discuss the Queen Mother in any depth for fear of upsetting her relatives, who had cooperated with him in the writing of this hagiography.

For example, we learn that she took many months to consider Bertie's proposal, but there was no mention of the common belief that, encouraged by her social-climber of a mother, she was actually holding out for the bigger and more handsome prize; his older brother, the Prince of Wales. This was certainly Wallis Simpson's opinion, and it was shared by several 1920s/1930s Society figures - why was it not explored?

The deaths of Princesses Margaret and Diana merit a page or two apiece, yet the QM's safari, and her trip to Canada, are dealt with in excrutiating detail. I skim-read several sections of this book.

In short, if you want to know exactly what the QM was up to on 1st June 1936 (or any other date), this is the book for you. If you want an analysis of her motivations, character and beliefs, then look elsewhere.
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on 10 December 2014
If you are interested in how many regiments Queen Elizabeth inspected, snippets from letters to her (own) family, rather creepy correspondence between her and her mother in law, Queen Mary and other such trivia, then this book is for you.

However, if you want to know what motivated Queen Elizabeth in an extraordinary period of the British Royal Family, forget it. We learn nothing of her relations with her royal contemporaries; nothing of the family's views, actions or attitudes to their European cousins as their world closed; nothing not already known about the family's reaction as their world imploded with the abdication of Edward Vlll (and what we do get is sketchy in the exteme). We get a detailed account of the self indulgent and selfish life of the widowed Queen, but nothing of the period when she and the Royal Family were at the centre of a monumental gathering, and happening storm.

The book is far too long.

Don't bother : bad history; bad book.
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on 28 December 2011
This reeks of that wierd sycophantic atmosphere that surround those biographers lucky enough to be granted official access to the papers of the rich and famous. And somehow in all the very uneven meticulous detail the author fails to find the spark that makes this woman's life likeable. Instead she comes across as spoilt, sheltered and very much of her era, but with a grain of common sense that stood her in good stead.

Particularly pointless are the lengthy chunks devoted to her first foreign tours, including the genial slaughter of various animals as she levelled her Purdey guns at one and all. We get a hint of a Duchess who seemed to be universally popular before she became Queen, and she certainly had an idyllic childhood. But can we trust this image? Any hint of melancholy undercurrents are firmly hustled out of sight. About the one fact that did surprise me was that the young princess Elizabeth was left at home at a very early age while her mum and husband toured Australia for 7 months. Think that one through...
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on 31 October 2010
This is a dry and unappetising account of a 100 years in the life of a woman whose life surely must have amounted to much more than these boring lists of what clothes she wore, which toff nonentities were present at which uneventful house party, how every monotonous hour was spent on a tour of Canada.

Anyone with access to the Royal Archives could have come up with the same humdrum catalogue. The book feels less like biography and more like copying out passages from sources.

I am still waiting for a BIOGRAPHY of the late Queen Mother.
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on 12 January 2010
William Shawcross has written a biography in two halves - almost as though he lost interest in his subject half way through the book. The Queen Mother's early years are written about with real insight, and trace her development with sensitivity and clarity. Similarly, the war years are covered with equal care, and provide an excellent view of a very difficult time. The problems arise with her roles as, first of all mother, and then as Queen Dowager, when Shawcross skirts over the upbringing of the two Princesses, and then limits some chapters to being little more than lists of the Queen Mother's patronages or of her foreign tours. Hagiography takes the place of analysis, and one suspects he has been unwilling to risk offending the Royal Family. Access to the Royal records obviously brings responsibility, but an author of Shawcross' class must not be afraid to pull punches, and should use his unique opportunity to throw a comprehensive light on the character and actions of his subject.
The book is an easy read, despite its size, but ultimately a disappointment.
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on 2 August 2010
A big lead balloon of a book, weighted down by minute, trivial details and by the author's eagerness to over-praise.
We are shown the trees but we never get to see the wood. There is no perspective, in other words.

It was clearly not Mr Shawcross's intention, but a rather unflattering picture emerges of a woman more skilled in using a knife and fork than in using a pen. The extracts from her letters sound so gushing and over the top.

There are a few occasions in the book which I feel sure are completely invented because I saw with my own eyes a different story. Two examples:-
1) The opening of her 100th birthday card.
This book tells us it was the QM who said "Use your sword, William" to the equerry. Funnily enough on the day, that equerry, keen to pass the credit to a royal, said that it was Prince Charles's idea. In any case, the Queen Mother said nothing.

2) The Duke of Windsor's funeral.
The QM allegedly took Wallis's arm in a gesture of queenly magnanimity. What I believe I saw on the TV screen was Wallis attempting unsuccessfully to take the QM's arm. The latter was having none of it.

Queen Mary too comes in for her share of sycophantic praise. She is portrayed as loving mother. Hmm. Her grim expression and the unhappiness of her children would tend to lead me to another conclusion.

I read to the end, but in many places I was skipping chunks of dry useless details (especially the tour of Canada.)

I learned nothing new from this biography.
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on 5 January 2010
I feel this is a 'one-cheer' salutation to someone who deserved at least a 'three-cheer'. It is, ostensibly, a laudation of HRH, Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It does celebrate her inclusivity, but makes very light of her (extreme) prejudices, and very right wing views.

It takes us, through many pages, over her unexeceptionable, happy and therefore extremely boring , childhood, her considered acceptance of the King's younger son, and then into drama ..... except we do not share in that .... we are given no insight into her feelings about the Prince of Wales's marriage, nor his younger brother, not their subsequent separations and divorces.

We are also given a blank sentence about Diana's death.

And we are given absolutely no information at all about QE the QM's own personal life after her husband died.

This is not a biography, this is a trawl through the bits of the royal archive that the Royal Famly felt like making available.
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on 3 October 2009
What makes this book different are the frequent and, in some cases, extensive quotes from the letters of the Queen Mother to members of her family and friends.

These display a great deal of wit, strong convictions and a refreshing ability to see the funny side of life. You begin to get a sense of her as a person rather than the familiar figurehead. She emerges as likeable - but not in the 'sugary' way in which she was normally portrayed.

The better part of the book covers her life up to the death of King George VI in 1952. This part of the book illustrates the impact which she had on the evolution of the monarchy and her influence over her husband and family (which was subtle rather than overbearing). The chapters covering her long widowhood consist largely of rather tedious and repetitive descriptions of a social life and official engagements which varied little from year to year. While this life sounds a happy one, if there really was so little of substance to say about it, the opportunity could have been taken to reduce the book in size from it hefty 943 pages of text.
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on 13 December 2010
Some interesting themes in Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon's life.Her support for Chamberlain in the appeasement era,her strong dislike of Attlee's 1945-51 government and the people who elected it ("half-educated" was how Bowes-Lyon refered to the Great Unwashed at this time)and her abiding dislike of Germany and the Labour Party,as revealed by Woodrow Wyatt.
A shame Shawcross doesn't explore these themes of a right-winger who was contemptuous of the rabble(the British taxpayer) who paid to keep her in the style to which she'd became accustomed.Shawcross goes for a list system of what dresses Bowes-Lyon wore or what party she went to,or what a drag it is to visit Canada-even though someone else is paying for it.Akin to an extended diary with next to no analysis,never mind critical analysis.
Arise Lord Shawcross of Brown Nose.
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