Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother

I finished it!

When I first saw copy of William Shawcross's Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother I laughed. It is massive. It's close to 1200 pages and it's hardcover. You would think that it weighs a ton but for its size it's surprisingly light (I think they must have used some special magic process on it to make it light). Then I put it down and walked away as I had no interest in reading it because a. I'm not particularly interesting in the Queen Mother and b. did you see me mention it's HUGE?

But then it bugged me. There were things about the Queen Mother that interested me after I stopped and thought about it. She was born in the year 1900 and lived to be 102. She was a true centenarian and she would have seen the century from a particularly unique perspective. Included in those events of the 2oth century are the two World Wars, which I have a particular interest in. And I've yet to read an account of the British WWII home front that doesn't make some reference to her as a symbol of strength in those times.

So I went back and bought it and was determined to read it. I set myself a goal of reading 10 pages a night. That was more doable than really thinking of how I was going to finish it. And when I broke down the number of pages by the number of years that she lived it was less than 10 pages per year. That almost didn't seem like enough when you think that she lived through two world war, an abdication (she was never supposed to be queen) and various other royal scandals.

At times the writing was really interesting. I'd argue that the most interesting periods were the the earlier year - the 1920s up until the death of King George. There are even really try parts in there. There's a lot of footnotes that indicate that this person is the Lord of this or the Baron of that. Honestly, unless you are a hardcore royalist most of the footnotes you can easily ignore.

Particularly after the King's death there are really, really dry parts. Up to that point it's told more or less chronologically but after that it bounced. There's a whole chapter devoted to her patronages (wow was that a dry chapter). Overall though, I was left with the impression that the Queen Mother was a person who really tried to do her best and who really cared. She saw what she was doing as her duty and thought that it had to come first. It's really quite remarkable considering that while she was gentry she wasn't raised royal.

When I looked at the endnotes I was really quite struck but how much of the text was quoted from personal letters. Shawcross really did have full access. But there's certainly nothing scandalous about anything you'll read.

I don't think it would be a book that I'd recommend but I did find the chapters about the abdication and WWII particularly interesting. All the references and trips to Canada didn't hurt either. ;-)