On 26 April 1923, the Duke of York, Albert Frederick Arthur George (the second son of King George V and his queen Mary of Teck, known as Bertie to his family) wed Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at Westminster Abbey, thereby gaining an admirable wife and even more admirable father-in-law.
Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born on 4 August 1900 the ninth of ten children to Claude Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis, who would become the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne in 1937, and his wife, Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck. She was the third daughter, but her eldest sister (the couple’s first child) had sadly died of diphtheria at age 11 several years before Elizabeth was born. Regrettably, four of his ten children and his wife would all predecease the earl, who was both a loving husband and devoted father.
While her mother was an excellent parent and her mother’s family had blood the color of Smurfs, coming as they did from British Prime Minister William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, and Governor-General of India Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (the elder brother of another Prime Minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington), as well as several other dukedoms, earldoms, and the occasional French dancing-girl and prostitute, it is Lady Elizabeth’s father who fascinates me and spurs my adoration.
Claude Bowes-Lyon may have had blood blue enough to use it to paint portraits of the Madonna, but he was such a bleeding-heart liberal he was a hair’s breadth away from communism. He disdained the class system that benefited him, and devoted himself to bettering the lives of the working class tenets on his estates. He also got his own hands dirty, refusing to be coddled as a lord when he could work alongside his fellow man.
His contemporaries described him as an unpretentious man, often seen in “an old macintosh tied with a piece of twine”. He worked his own land and enjoyed physical labour in the grounds of his estates. Visitors mistook him for a common labourer. He made his own cocoa for breakfast, and always had a jug of water by his place at dinner so he could dilute his own wine.
I could positively swoon over a man of such principles!! In case it was not obvious to everyone, I am quite the champion of the working poor myself, railing constantly against the embedded systemic inequalities propping up the vast socioeconomic disparity, and crying out against the injustices which continuously flourishs under the current oligarchy. That’s the reason I made Mary Crawford, my heroine in Mansfield Parsonage, an abolitionist Whig; I have a historical crush on those who fought for human rights in bygone eras.
Oddly enough, although almost everyone agrees (with 20/20 hindsight) that slavery is bad and immoral, and that women should have the right to vote, and whatnot, far from everyone embraces modern lefty ideology regarding human equality today. People also forget that at one time those same abolitionists and liberals weren’t “heroes” – they were decried as anarchists and troublemakers who wanted to destroy “our way of life”, were accused of wanting to overthrow law and order, and were in general thought of as ‘libtards’ who couldn’t grasp that blacks were happier enslaved, a woman’s place was in the home under her husband’s thumb, and that the poor were just a venial and mendacious lot that would only drink away a living wage if given sufficient wages and/or assistance.
In contrast to the reactionaries who thrived on the classist Victorian system, Claude Bowes-Lyon was my kinda guy.
He was a also a republican in the days when to hold such views about royalty were tantamount to treason. Elizabeth turned down Bertie’s first proposal because, although she loved him, she had been raised to distrust royals as leaches upon the state and common man, and she did not want to break her father’s heart by marrying such riffraff. Nonetheless, Bertie’s own good character – as well as Elizabeth’s unmistakable love for her Windsor beau – softened Claude’s stance and he told his daughter to marry where her heart led her … even if it led her to palaces and the son of a crowned head.
One can only image Claude’s dismay when his daughter unexpectedly became Queen when Bertie’s elder brother, King Edward VIII, forced a constitutional crisis because he just had to marry fellow Nazi-lover and racist twerp Wallis Simpson, finally abdicating and making way for Bertie to become King George VI. Notwithstanding their being at the undeniable apex of the hierarchical system, she and her husband have done her liberal father proud:
The couple and their daughters embodied traditional ideas of family and public service … She undertook a variety of public engagements … She accompanied her husband on diplomatic tours to France and North America before the start of World War II. During the war, her seemingly indomitable spirit provided moral support to the British public. In recognition of her role as an asset to British interests, Adolf Hitler described her as “the most dangerous woman in Europe” … She laid the foundation stone of the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland – the current University of Zimbabwe. On her return to the region in 1957, she was inaugurated as the College’s President, and attended other events that were deliberately designed to be multi-racial … In 1975, she visited Iran at the invitation of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The British ambassador and his wife, Anthony and Sheila Parsons, noted how the Iranians were bemused by her habit of speaking to everyone regardless of status or importance, and hoped the Shah’s entourage would learn from the visit to pay more attention to ordinary people … Queen Elizabeth made no public comments on race, but according to Robert Rhodes James in private she “abhorred racial discrimination” and decried apartheid as “dreadful” … Woodrow Wyatt records in his diary that when he expressed the view that non-white countries have nothing in common with “us”, she told him, “I am very keen on the Commonwealth. They’re all like us.” … Accompanied by the gay writer Sir Noël Coward at a gala, she mounted a staircase lined with Guards. Noticing Coward’s eyes flicker momentarily across the soldiers, she murmured to him: “I wouldn’t if I were you, Noël; they count them before they put them out.” … After being advised by a Conservative Minister in the 1970s not to employ homosexuals, the Queen Mother observed that without them, “we’d have to go self-service”.
God bless you, Claude Bowes-Lyons, for raising such an amazing daughter!!