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Elizabeth the Queen

Cover of Elizabeth the Queen

Elizabeth the Queen

The Life of a Modern Monarch
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    ONE

    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.) But Bertie had not been groomed for the role. He was in tears when he talked to his mother about his new responsibilities. "I never wanted this to happen," he told his cousin Lord Louis "Dickie" Mountbatten. "I've never even seen a State Paper. I'm only a Naval Officer, it's the only thing I know about." The new King was reserved by nature, somewhat frail physically, and plagued by anxiety. He suffered from a severe stammer that led to frequent frustration, culminating in explosions of temper known as "gnashes."

    Yet he was profoundly dutiful, and he doggedly set about his kingly tasks while ensuring that his little Lilibet-her name within the family-would be ready to succeed him in ways he had not been. On his accession she became "heiress presumptive," rather than "heiress apparent," on the off chance that her parents could produce a son. But Elizabeth and Margaret Rose had been born by cesarean section, and in those days a third operation would have been considered too risky for their mother. According to custom, Lilibet would publicly refer to her mother and father as...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Just in time for the Diamond Jubilee, this entertaining biography traces Queen Elizabeth II's life and reign. Rosalyn Landor's posh British voice lends a perfect aristocratic tone to this respectful account of the graceful queen's politics and personality, especially her delightful wit, political savvy, and remarkable commitment to the constitutional limits of the monarchy. Landor lends a subtle twinkle to amusing details such as what the queen carries in her ubiquitous handbags and what frozen food fascinated her during her spontaneous stop at a suburban grocery store during a mid-1950s visit to the U.S. Landor's straight reading is exceptionally effective--but a bit distracting for some famous voices: It's odd to hear the words of George W. Bush in a posh British accent. N.M.C. (c) AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine
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    "Fascinating....After 60 years on the throne, the monarch of Britain is better known for her poker face than for sly wit or easy charm. Yet in biographer Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth the Queen, Her Majesty sparkles with both. Via interviews with a legion of royal watchers, from horse trainers to lords and ladies, Smith teases out a woman both austere and animated, duty-bound yet undeniably authentic."

  • Booklist "All the details are here for the reader to gather a comprehensive picture of a life so rarefied none of us could imagine it....[Smith] brings into focus the personal side of the ordinary-extraordinary balancing act that has been not only the queen's trademark style but also the cause for continued appreciation."
  • Publishers Weekly "A respectful, engrossing, and perceptive portrayal."
  • JON MEACHAM "She was so young, and the task was so enormous. Yet with grace and a determination to do her duty come what may--and so much has indeed come--Elizabeth II studiously made herself part of the fabric of global civilization in the most tumultuous of times. This is a terrific book about a fascinating figure."
  • AMANDA FOREMAN "A deeply researched, unvarnished, and therefore totally fascinating portrait of the transcendent icon of our age . . . Many authors have written about Elizabeth II, but none of them can match the literary style, wit, or insightful commentary of Sally Bedell Smith."
  • WALTER ISAACSON "In an era plagued by flawed public figures, the world's most famous woman has graced her realm impeccably for sixty years. She does so by being both mysterious and grounded. Sally Bedell Smith, through great reporting and insightful writing, provides a revealing look inside the palace to show how the Queen balances being both modern and traditional. Our celebrity-saturated world could learn a lot from her--and from this book."
  • NANCY MILFORD "This is a biography that avoids none of the difficult questions. Sally Bedell Smith asks them in a way no one else has dared."
  • MARGARET MACMILLAN "Elizabeth the Queen shows the woman as well as the monarch, and helps us to understand how Elizabeth has become a key figure in the history of our times."
  • LYNNE OLSON "A compelling, deeply human portrait of the remarkable Elizabeth II. This is a biography not to be missed."
  • MICHAEL KORDA "Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth the Queen is a remarkable and sympathetic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. At the same time, it provides a fascinating picture of the major modern enterprise that monarchy has become. It is a deft and very readable book."
  • PAUL JOHNSON "Sally Bedell Smith's book on Queen Elizabeth II is an enterprising, well-researched and intelligent work on a difficult subject, and deserves to be widely read."
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The Life of a Modern Monarch
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