The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

6634223It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog, but since my return from London in May, I decided it’s time to get back to reading again. And because I don’t do anything by half, I decided to start with the official biography of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Most of my knowledge of Queen Elizabeth prior to reading her biography was gathered from watching “The King’s Speech.” After almost 1,000 pages, I have a lot more insight into this aristocratic woman pursued by Prince Albert who became Queen and lived another 50 years beyond. If nothing else, it was interesting to read about and ponder the changes in technology, transport and communication during her long lifetime. She went from the days of horse and buggy to flying in the Concord shortly before her death. I was particularly interested to read about the Abdication and WWII from her perspective.

However, some things got pages and pages of coverage and others were clearly deemed insignificant. During the Yorks trip to Africa for safari, there was an entire chapter dedicated to descriptions of what they killed and where. In comparison, the pregnancy and birth of Princess Elizabeth (the current Queen) was covered in about two pages, even though the Duchess had a c-section at that time. Clearly, the author is limited to what he had in writing from the Duke and Duchess as well as their friends at the time and the Duchess of York was not a fan of being pregnant in public, but it seemed like a momentous life event that received very little coverage. The pregnancy and birth of Princess Margaret received even less. I’m not saying I needed a play-by-play of the Duchess in labor, but it seemed like there could/should have been more.

I was not aware of how charismatic Queen Elizabeth was, but Shawcross was sure to tell us at every detailed engagement how much her presence cheered those in her gaze. While I’m sure this was true and she was much-loved during her life (and after), after a while, the constant references just felt insincere. It’s also clear that Prince Charles was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite grandchild and this clearly influenced how the Prince and Princess of Wales were covered in the later part of the book. Though he seems to be going out of his way not to denigrate the much-love Princess Diana, there is not one mention of Camilla Parker-Bowles or anything that could be construed as misconduct on the part of the Prince. Diana simply wasn’t suited to the life of service demanded of a Royal and didn’t find joy in motherhood the way everyone thought she would. It does seem that the Princess and Queen Elizabeth were friendly while the Princess was married to Prince Charles and after, but the whole chapter came off very strangely. Or perhaps, I’m just reading it as an American.

The book meanders a bit after the death of King George VI, with more than fifty years of her life to go. The detailing of her various patronages and engagements becomes quite tedious and I found myself skimming as I went along. The author’s attention to detail is without fault and I’m sure he must have made sure to mention each charity, horse race, etc to avoid favoritism and keep everyone happy, but it wasn’t very exciting to read. All in all, it was an enjoyable book, but it could have been reduced by a third and still had the same effect.