READ EXCERPT: 'The Queen Mother'

How did she do it? What combination of qualities had enabled this young Scottish aristocrat to come into the Royal Family and play such a central role in the life of the nation for almost eighty years? What part did she play in her unique family, as a young married woman, as a mother, as grandmother and great-grandmother? And on the national stage, how did she earn and, more remarkably, how did she retain her popularity through all of the turbulent twentieth century? What were the drawbacks to her very particular style? What did she really contribute to the monarchy and to the nation in times of crisis and social revolution? Would the British monarchy have evolved in a very different way without her influence? And would that have helped or hindered the institution and the country? All these questions can perhaps be examined in the context of a few words from Walter Bagehot, the mid-nineteenth-century writer who is often seen as the greatest interpreter of modern monarchy: 'The nation is divided into parties, but the crown is of no party. Its apparent separation from business is that which removes it both from enmities and from desecration, which preserves its mystery, which enables it to combine the affection of conflicting parties – to be a visible symbol of unity.'

Excerpted from "The Queen Mother," by William Shawcross, Copyright © 2009 by William Shawcross. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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.

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