Sickly Sweet

Critics on New Collection of Queen Mum's Letters

There's a new book of the Queen Mother's letters out, and the best review is undoubtedly by Craig Brown at the Daily Mail.

Among the gems: "Hers was a world that made Downton Abbey look like the Crossroads Motel: had her parents ever come across the Earl of Grantham, they would doubtless have taken him for the under-butler and handed him their shoes for shining."

"Her single-minded pursuit of jollity makes reading this vast selection of her letters a slightly sickly affair, like being force-fed Violet Creams... she keeps anything unheavenly or – another of her favourite words – ‘unhelpful’ out of her letters. Anyone reading these letters without prior knowledge of the Royal Family would come away thinking that the first marriages of her grandchildren Andrew, Charles and Anne were still going strong."

The new collection of the Queen's mother's letters - entitled "Counting Ones's Blessings" has been edited by William Shawcross, a 66-year-old historian who was authorised to compile the collection after he wrote a much-admired official biography of the Queen Mother, published in 2009.

By today's standards, the Queen Mother's formal education was limited, but he says, 'her letters showed a relish for language and sparkled with the joy of living'.

Aged ten she wrote an essay entitled 'A recent invention: Aeroplanes'.

"An aeroplane is usually shaped like a cigar, and has a propellor at one end and on each side the great white wings, which make it look like a bird. They are not quite safe yet and many, many axidents have happened," she wrote.

In summer 1939, as war with Hitler loomed, she wrote to her mother-in-law, Queen Mary, that she was reading Hitler's "Mein Kampf". “It is very soap-box but very interesting,” she wrote. She later sent a copy to Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, but advised him not to read it all, “or you might go mad and that would be a great pity.”

On September 13, 1940, German bombs hit Buckingham Palace while the King and Queen were in residence, damaging the Palace. Later she wrote to her daughter; “My Darling Lilibet... This is just a note about one or two things in case I get 'done in’ by the Germans! I think that I have left all my own things to be divided by you & Margaret, but I am sure you will give her anything suitable later on... Let’s hope this won’t be needed, but I know that you will always do the right thing, & remember to keep your temper & your word & be loving – sweet – Mummy.”

In 1933, writing to her mother-in-law Queen Mary, she cannot bear to write the name ‘Wallis Simpson’ and simply refers to a ‘certain person’ among a clique of ‘naughty ladies’.

In 1936, following her sudden elevation to Queen Consort after Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis, Queen Elizabeth wrote to her brother-in-law that she and her husband were “overcome with misery” at being unexpectedly thrust on to the throne.

‘The mass of people do not forgive quickly the sort of thing that he did to this country,’ she writes to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia in 1939. ‘And they hate her.’

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After war is declared, she writes to Queen Mary: ‘I haven’t heard a word about Mrs Simpson – I trust that she will soon return to France and STAY THERE; I am sure that she hates this dear country & therefore she should not be here in war time.’