There were, says William Shawcross, the Queen Mother’s official biographer, literally thousands of letters, according to the Times of London. Chatty ones, romantic ones, acerbic ones, letters full of the terrible heartbreak, from when she was a little girl to when she was well into her nineties.
Given that she only ever gave two newspaper interviews in her life, on her engagement to the Duke of York, the archive of letters — both to and from the Queen Mother — to which her official biographer was given access, offer an invaluable insight into the life of a woman who was much cherished, much written about but often much misunderstood.
“Her letter-writing was fantastic, from the age of 6 to the end of her life,” says Shawcross. “She was still writing to her friends and family until virtually before she died. From her childhood onward they were very joyous and very free. There was an extraordinary exuberance about them.”
Exuberant, indeed: one letter from when she was a teenage girl during the First World War and had just discovered that her brother Mike, feared dead, was in fact alive, is full of irrepressible joy.
“I’m quite and absolutely stark, staring, raving mad,” she wrote to a friend. “AM I MAD WITH MISERY OR WITH JOY?... Mike is quite safe! Oh dear, I nearly, nearly burst this morning.”
It is easy to trace the thread that links this dizzy young Scottish aristocrat to the Queen Mother of popular imagining, the twinkling, ever-smiling figure who drifted through life on a cloud of sugary charm. But those who knew her well understood that the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon had a core of inner steel that was not to be underestimated.