Britain's Queen Mother Dead at 101

There has been speculation that Lady Elizabeth delayed accepting Prince Albert's proposal because she was hoping to snare his older brother, the Prince of Wales, known in the family as "David." Elizabeth's later dislike of David's wife, Wallis Simpson, has been cited as evidence. But Elizabeth had other reasons to dislike Wallis, and in any event, once she made up her mind to marry Bertie, they gave every appearance of being a devoted couple.

The king created Bertie the Duke of York, and on April 26, 1923, Elizabeth became the first commoner to marry legally into the royal family in centuries. She was now known as Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York. The couple had two daughters: Elizabeth, born in April 1926 and named for her mother, and Margaret, born in August 1930.

The Abdication Crisis

The Duchess of York planned to give her daughters the same sort of childhood she had enjoyed — warm, happy, uncomplicated. She expected her daughters to grow up, marry well, and live the lives of English country gentlewomen. All that changed, however, when King George V died and David, Bertie's older brother, ascended the throne as King Edward VIII.

The problem was that the new king was in love with a very unsuitable woman — an American named Wallis Warfield Simpson who had divorced her first husband and was still married to her second. Warned by his ministers that the people would never accept her as queen, Edward nevertheless remained besotted.

Wallis and Elizabeth hated each other. The American tried to lord it over the duchess, who once walked into the room as Wallis was in the middle of a cruel imitation of her. Elizabeth believed Wallis was keeping the king from his duty, and she found Wallis presumptuous. The ultra-thin Wallis began to refer spitefully to the duchess, whose figure was becoming considerably fuller, as "Cookie." And tensions between the two women would only grow worse, as Elizabeth feared the Wallis situation would end up placing unlooked-for responsibilities on Bertie's shoulders.

And she was right. On Dec. 11, 1936, King Edward VIII gave up the throne to marry "the woman I love." Bertie, the next in line, became king, taking the name George VI. And Elizabeth became queen consort.

Wartime Queen

George VI and Elizabeth were crowned on May 12, 1937. Neither of them had wanted the job, but they were determined to do their best. Elizabeth worked to work to bolster her husband's confidence (she helped him conquer his stutter, for instance) and they set about the task of restoring the country's faith in the monarchy.

It quickly became clear that Elizabeth made the sort of queen Wallis never could have been. The charming Elizabeth, with her ever-present smile and gracious manners, made a great success in state visits with her husband: to France in July 1938, and to Canada and the United States in May and June 1939.

Britain went to war later in 1939. As children began being evacuated from London, it was suggested that Elizabeth and her daughters would be safer in Canada. The queen famously refused, saying, "The children won't leave without me, I won't leave without the king, and the king will never leave."

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