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Queen Mother dies: People loved her for the way she chatted so easily with king and commoner alike; Bitchy Windsors called her'The Dowdy Duchess' - but her life was a triumph compared to theirs YOUNG ELIZABETH GAVE THE KING'S SON CHERRIES FROM HER CAKE... BUT YEARS LATER SHE REFUSED TO MARRY HIM.

FEW of us can remember a time when she wasn't with us - part of the background tapestry that colours British life.

Always perceived as the rock on which the Royal Family sought shelter from wartime and personal disasters, it's hard to imagine the nation without her.

She became a royal at her family's Hertfordshire country home on January 13, 1923, when the Duke of York, younger son of King George V, asked for her hand.

They met first at a children's party when she, aged five, gave "Bertie" the cherries off the top of her cake. They did not meet again until May 1920, when Elizabeth at once captivated him.

The ninth of ten children, she had grown up in the blissful security of a large, happy family which cared little for formality and encouraged individuality.

Her mother, a clergyman's daughter and cousin of the Duke of Portland, raised her children without frills.

She taught them their first lessons and had governesses for French and German, which Elizabeth came to speak fluently.

With her brothers, the young Elizabeth learned fly-fishing, always her favourite sport, and the piano, for which she showed talent. She could play Beethoven and Bach when she was eight. Her upbringing at Glamis Castle, in Scotland, associated with Shakespeare's Macbeth, was never luxurious. Like the children of the estate's tenants, she learned to sew, cook and keep house.

As Duchess of York, she would spend the mornings in the kitchen, afternoons with her children, and evenings with her husband. The appeal of her home life was one of the secrets of her popularity.

On her 14th birthday, Britain entered World War One and Elizabeth's formal education stopped. Glamis became a military hospital and the earl's youngest daughter doubled as hostess and orderly.

THE war turned Elizabeth Bowes Lyon into a woman who knew the meaning of duty and sacrifice. In a world where the mass of people lived in poverty, where workers had few rights, where children died because parents could not afford doctors, she had led a privileged life.

Little in this rare, exclusive world would, you might think, have taught her the qualities she would eventually become famous for.

Her acclaimed common touch, her ability to get on with people from all walks of life, seem odd in retrospect.

Yet part of her upbringing ensured, as in all old aristocratic families, that she could address commoner or king with equal respect. As a debutante in postwar society, she was reputed to be the best ballroom dancer in London. But she was never seen at a nightclub, then the height of fashion.

Her gaiety was one of the things which enchanted the Duke of York, a shy young man who lived in the shadow of his headstrong and popular elder brother, the Prince of Wales.

The Duke soon decided he meant to marry Elizabeth. She, however, was unimpressed, did not want to become a duchess, and turned him down. When he begged her to accept, pressing his suit three times, she became the making of the man.

YEARS later, she was said to have confided to a friend: "It was my duty to marry Bertie and I fell in love with him afterwards."

Their betrothal was announced on January 19, 1923, and the glittering wedding took place at Westminster Abbey on April 26. Wearing a gown of English silk and Nottingham lace, made to her own design by the firm of Handly Seymour, she could have had little idea of the major role she would be called upon to play within her new family.

Little was known about Lady Elizabeth before her engagement. A distant, upper-class girl, not particularly fashionable, her existence meant little to the ordinary British public.

Discreet as ever, she was hardly going to admit to being worried about her loss of privacy, or to the trepidation she felt at the thought of entering the cloistered life of the royal household.

She was 22, adorable-looking in a soft, feminine way and a perfect addition to a family who deplored the hard, cocktail-swigging elegance of her Twenties contemporaries.

Years later, when she was Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor would refer to her bitchily, and no doubt jealously, as "Cookie" and the "Dowdy Duchess."

YET it was the "dowdy" one whose life can be considered a triumph when compared to the futile merry-go-round of social nonsense that was the Windsors' lot.

The remarkable transformation of the shy, diffident Duke of York was undoubtedly achieved by his young and beautiful wife.

From childhood he had suffered from a speech impediment which made him stammer badly, increasing his natural shyness.

His parents had accepted it, but not the new Duchess. Soon after they married she called in a speech therapist, and gradually they brought about a cure.

In public she was seen mouthing the words with him, as if willing him to utter them fluently.

A week after the Westminster Abbey wedding, she brought Bertie to Glamis, the Strathmores' ancestral home, where they spent the second part of their honeymoon in a suite of rooms prepared by the countess.

It was here that, along with her mother and sister Rose, she helped to nurse men coming to terms with their terrible war wounds.

Today, framed letters from those grateful soldiers hang in the Glamis museum - a testament to the loving care they received from the young Elizabeth.

Lt-Col Cardwell Moore, who looks after Glamis, said: "I believe that looking after those young men, helping them come to terms with life without legs or arms, helped form the personality she became. This is where her sense of duty began."

They were a popular couple, but were at their happiest alone in their first home, White Lodge, a tall, rambling building in Richmond Park.

There the Duke would work on his needlepoint, making chair covers, while the Duchess played the piano, or read to him.

Three years after their wedding, their first child was born in 17 Bruton Street, the Strathmores' London house.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, the future Queen Elizabeth II, was born third in line to the throne.

Her father, amazed at the interest the world seemed to take in his baby daughter, joked that his only claim to fame was being the father of Princess Elizabeth.

The Duchess's happiness was short-lived. When her daughter was seven months old, she was asked by the King to accompany her husband on a tour of New Zealand and Australia.

It would mean being away for six months. Unlike Princess Diana, who was one day to take her son William on tour, there was no thought of this young mother rebelling against the sacrifices demanded by the Monarchy.

KISSING her child goodbye, she was in such distress that the chauffeur had to circle the house twice before she was able to compose herself.

The Duchess wanted her next baby to be born at Glamis, and in 1930 a sister, Margaret Rose, arrived.

The Yorks' life was an almost idyllic one until the mid-Thirties. Then came one of the great sadnesses of her life, when the 1936 Abdication pitched her into the unwanted role of Queen.

"We must take what is coming and make the best of it," she told one of her household philosophically. But privately, she was furious at Edward VIII's decision to abdicate and marry the twice-divorced Mrs Ernest Simpson.

During one encounter with Edward, she was said to have exploded at his "shameful dereliction of duty."

Her worst fears about joining the Royal Family, the loss of privacy and the disruption of her family life which she held so dear, had been realised.

Ever after, she steadfastly refused to be reconciled with Edward, created Duke of Windsor after the abdication, and his Duchess.

But now she and her Bertie had to do what they could to erase the damage the crisis had done to the Monarchy.

On May 12, 1937, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were crowned in Westminster Abbey in the last blaze of royal splendour before World War Two.


AT HOME: With future King George VI, daughter Elizabeth and baby Margaret in 1931; MAJESTIC: Royal pose at the Palace in 1939 and (inset) as a girl; DUTIFUL: Marriage to the king's second son, Prince Bertie, at Westminster Abbey on April 26, 1923
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 31, 2002
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