Queen Mother Elizabeth, the royal matriarch who helped the House of Windsor survive the abdication crisis and cheered Britons on through the horrors of World War II, died peacefully in her sleep today, Buckingham Palace said. She was 101.
Beloved by Britons as the "Queen Mum," she died just seven weeks after the death of younger daughter, Princess Margaret, on Feb. 9. Her elder daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, was at her mother's side.
"Her beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth, died peacefully in her sleep this afternoon, at Royal Lodge, Windsor," Buckingham Palace said.
The widow of King George VI had remained active despite her advanced age and a series of health problems that might have sidelined anyone less determined. She had two hip replacements in her 90s and broke her collarbone in a fall in November 2000. On Aug. 1, 2001 — just days before her 101st birthday — she was hospitalized for treatment of anemia.
On Aug. 4, 2000, thousands of Britons turned out to help the "Queen Mum" celebrate her 100th birthday, cheering as she rode in a carriage along The Mall in London. She was feted with a 41-gun salute, marching bands playing "Happy Birthday" and a big bash at Windsor Castle.
A Crowded Century of Living
Her life spanned the entire 20th century. When she was born, Queen Victoria still occupied Britain's throne, and the Boer War was on. She lived through World War I and the crisis surrounding the abdication of her brother-in-law, Edward VIII — an event that rocked Britain and brought Elizabeth and her husband to the throne.
She helped rally the country through World War II, saw her elder daughter become queen, and saw the royal family's standing tarnished by the public feud of Charles vs. Diana and Fergie's high jinks. And through it all, the dowager queen remained a beloved figure.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother started out life on Aug. 4, 1900, as the Hon. Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon. When her father, the Scottish Lord Glamis, became the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, she became known as Lady Elizabeth.
Lady Elizabeth was educated privately at home, as was the practice for girls of her class. Her family was descended from the medieval Scottish King Robert the Bruce and the family seat, Glamis Castle, was once the home of Macbeth.
World War I — which broke out on her 14th birthday — changed things dramatically. Glamis Castle became a hospital and Lady Elizabeth, too young to work as a nurse, helped entertain wounded troops. One of her brothers, Fergus, was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915.
After the war, Lady Elizabeth entered society. The ranks of England's eligible young gentlemen had been decimated by the war, but she was nevertheless a popular debutante. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was not a classic beauty, but her big blue eyes, flawless complexion and enchanting smile attracted a number of admirers, including Prince Albert, the second son of George V and the indomitable Queen Mary.
"Bertie," as the prince was known, had served bravely in the war, but he was shy and he stuttered. Plus, Elizabeth knew there were real drawbacks to joining the insular and very carefully behaved royal family.
Bertie may not have been terribly prepossessing, but he was determined. Twice he asked Lady Elizabeth to marry him and twice she refused. He proposed a third time, and she said yes.