The Life of a Modern Monarch
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A ROYAL EDUCATION
It was a footman who brought the news to ten-year-old Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on December 10, 1936. Her father had become an accidental king just four days before his forty-first birthday when his older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, a twice-divorced American. Edward VIII had been sovereign only nine months after taking the throne following the death of his father, King George V, making him, according to one mordant joke, "the only monarch in history to abandon the ship of state to sign on as third mate on a Baltimore tramp."
"Does that mean that you will have to be the next queen?" asked Elizabeth's younger sister, Margaret Rose (as she was called in her childhood). "Yes, someday," Elizabeth replied. "Poor you," said Margaret Rose.
Although the two princesses had been the focus of fascination by the press and the public, they had led a carefree and insulated life surrounded by governesses, nannies, maids, dogs, and ponies. They spent idyllic months in the English and Scottish countryside playing games like "catching the days"-running around plucking autumn leaves from the air as they were falling. Their spirited Scottish nanny, Marion "Crawfie" Crawford, had managed to give them a taste of ordinary life by occasionally taking them around London by tube and bus, but mostly they remained inside the royal bubble.
Before the arrival of Margaret, Elizabeth spent four years as an only- and somewhat precocious-child, born on the rainy night of April 21, 1926. Winston Churchill, on first meeting the two-year-old princess, extravagantly detected "an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant." Crawfie noted that she was "neat and methodical . . . like her father," obliging, eager to do her best, and happiest when she was busy. She also showed an early ability to compartmentalize-a trait that would later help her cope with the demands of her position. Recalled Lady Mary Clayton, a cousin eight years her senior: "She liked to imagine herself as a pony or a horse. When she was doing that and someone called her and she didn't answer right away, she would then say, 'I couldn't answer you as a pony.' "
The abdication crisis threw the family into turmoil, not only because it was a scandal but because it was antithetical to all the rules of succession. While Elizabeth's father had been known as "Bertie" (for Albert), he chose to be called George VI to send a message of stability and continuity with his father. (His wife, who was crowned by his side, would be known as Queen Elizabeth.)
Excerpted from Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith. Copyright © 2012 by Sally Bedell Smith. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
From the moment of her accession to the throne in 1952 at the age of 25, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous and longest-serving leader? In this magisterial biography, New York Times bestselling author Sally Bedell Smith brings to life one of the world’s most fascinating and enigmatic women.
Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of the figure who has led her country and the Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last 60 years with unparalleled composure, intelligence and grace.
In Elizabeth the Queen, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes “heiress presumptive” when her uncle abdicates the throne. We encounter the 13-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents would have preferred a titled English aristocrat. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. And we witness the young queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the queen’s daily routines—the “red boxes” of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with 12 prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad and the constant scrutiny of the press. He also delves into her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of 64 years and the love of her life, her children, grandchildren and friends.
Beyond the queen’s storied life, Smith portrays her unique status in a state in which “the power and the glory are kept separate.” While the prime ministers holding the power come and go, the queen endures as head of state. And although, in the author’s words, she “reigns rather than rules,” her presence demands “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.” In this, she maintains remarkable presence and influence—but, throughout her reign, she has still always managed to remain firmly above the political fray.
Compulsively readable and scrupulously researched, Elizabeth the Queen is a close-up view of a woman we’ve known only from a distance, illuminating the lively personality, sense of humor and canny intelligence with which she meets the most demanding work and family obligations. It is also a fascinating window into life at the center of the last great monarchy.
Hardcover Book : 688 pages
Publisher: Random House Inc. ( January 10, 2012 )
Item #: 13-511127
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 x 1.08inches
Product Weight: 29.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Well documented bio without sappiness or harshness. All the main characters were well researched and evenly presented. The author has allowed each reader to form their own opinion of each member of the royal family.
Reviewer: Carol C
I saw Elizabeth's cornation at a movie theater when I was 7. She has facinated me ever since. This book was not dry; it was full of personal information about the monarcy and how they have had to live their lives. I found entertaining reading with a real feeling of knowing that the queen and her family were funny, sad and had problems just like any family. A great read!!
Reviewer: agnese d
I have read a lot about Elizabeth II-biographies by reputable authors, and then the gossipy kinds. This book is very readable, accurate in its historical facts, and I suspect closer to the truth about the personal lives of the Royals than one would think. This book makes the queen sound human, approachable, and intelligent, despite her lack of formal education. Good read, and since she was crowned when I was about 10, I remember a lot of the incidents referred to in the book. Very good-this one I will read again. Will not give this one away.
Reviewer: Joan G