Once upon a time this blog’s intrepid author wrote a post chronicling the decidedly unromantic circumstances surrounding the betrothal and marriage of the Queen’s parents, George Vl and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. While he stands by everything he wrote in that article, nonetheless he’d now like to add a few further details to this already complicated tale of an overly ambitious aristocratic maiden browbeaten into marrying a prince she, and most everyone around her, was convinced was mentally enfeebled. While that part of the story was revealed in the first post, what wasn’t divulged, largely because the author didn’t know it at the time, was that Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon was initially encouraged in her hopes to marry the Prince of Wales by her prospective in-laws, George V and Queen Mary, over a two year period, and that in the meantime not even his own parents took Prince Albert’s pathetic marriage proposals to Elizabeth seriously. It was only when Edward, Prince of Wales made it emphatically clear to Elizabeth, perhaps because he couldn’t biologically fulfill his most basic dynastic obligation to the crown, that he wouldn’t marry her that she finally realized her only chance at one day becoming queen was to wed his little brother. Queen Mary, who’d by then apparently given up on trying to convince her first born to marry Lady Bowes Lyon and deciding to give into her younger son’s most ardent wish to marry her instead, sweetened the pot by socially bullying Elizabeth into “settling for the runt of the litter,” as author Michael Thornton, who the Queen Mother later secretly cooperated with on his book about her relationship with Edward’s eventual wife, quoted the Duke of Windsor as having told him in a 1993 interview he conducted with Kitty Kelley for her book, The Royals. Faced with this fait accompli, Lady Elizabeth was left no choice but to make the best of her situation.
This story begins in the summer of 1920 at the RAF ball held at London’s Ritz Hotel. It was there that Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon was introduced to Prince Albert by her beau for the evening and his equerry, James Stuart. The youngest daughter of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Elizabeth was a popular debutante of the season, but not one with especially glittering marriage prospects. Her small dowry, dowdy taste in fashion, and entirely unremarkable appearance rendered her more appealing as a friend than as a prospective bride by most of the eligible bachelors in London at the time. Lady Colin Campbell and Penelope Mortimer both make it clear in their biographies of the future Queen Mum that James Stuart felt no differently about Elizabeth than any other beau of hers that season, and only courted her because she was so irrepressibly charming and insistent. Prince Albert, however, felt differently.
He fell in love with her at first sight and began ardently pursuing Elizabeth. The fact that his recent marriage proposal to Lady Maureen Stanley had just been rejected, according to Kelley, probably helped fuel his ardor. Elizabeth, on the other hand, despite her ambition to marry as splendidly as possible, was repulsed by his stutter, seeming mental backwardness, social awkwardness, and stated as much in a letter to a friend Lady Campbell quotes in her book. Lady Campbell goes on to state Elizabeth possessed a positive revulsion for people she perceived as mentally disabled that was apparently shared by her entire family. Her subsequent complete neglect and shunning of two nieces of hers who were severely mentally disabled, and her complicity in her family’s decision to deny these nieces’ very existence, is further chronicled in Campbell’s book. Prince Albert, nicknamed Bertie by his family, may’ve been royal, but Elizabeth wanted nothing to do with him.
Undaunted, Albert soon enlisted the help of his mother in his attempt to woe Lady Bowes Lyon. While Queen Mary agreed to have James Stuart dispatched to Oklahoma to go work for an oil company, thus seemingly paving the way for Bertie, her real intention behind this move wasn’t to enable Elizabeth to become the marital caretaker for her developmentally challenged second son, but rather to vet Lady Bowes Lyon as the future queen consort for her first born. David Duff, author of Mother of the Queen: The Life Story Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and George and Elizabeth: A Royal Marriage, both books being well known to have been authorized by the Queen Mother, makes it clear in both works that Queen Mary travelled to Glamis Castle, the Scottish ancestral seat of the Bowes Lyon family, to vet Elizabeth as a potential bride for the Prince of Wales. Impressed with her intelligence, cheerful demeanor and almost pathologically conservative manner, Mary approved of Elizabeth, and invited her to be a bridesmaid at her only daughter, Princess Mary’s, upcoming wedding to Viscount Lascelles. Elizabeth was ecstatic, and there was apparently no mention, by either Elizabeth or the Queen, of Bertie.
There was, also, a political element to Mary’s choice of Elizabeth as well. For the 1920s ushered in the new age in the history of the newly created House of Windsor whereby, to dispel the belief that the royal family was nothing more than a “kingly caste of Germans,” as H.G. Wells had accused them of being at the height of anti-German hysteria during the First World War in 1917, which of course was exactly what they were, George V had instituted a new policy whereby his children would break with their family’s centuries old inbred Teutonic tradition and marry well born British subjects instead of their royal cousins from the fatherland. Chief among his children to follow this policy, naturally, had to be the Prince of Wales. Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon was certainly every inch the British aristocrat , rumors about her real birth mother being a French cook notwithstanding, that George, Mary and their private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, thought ideal to be a future queen. It would appear that Prince Edward, at first, was at least willing to sound the prospect out, and chastely courted Elizabeth initially.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth, aside from obviously being impressed with his position and future prospects, by many accounts fell genuinely in love with Edward, called David by friends and family. In his later interviews with Michael Thornton for his book Royal Feud,he states his conviction that Elizabeth “was overly fond” of him. David Duff quotes her directly as stating her future brother-in-law “was such fun…..then.” The former statement reveals a man being pursued by a woman whose ardor he doesn’t share, while the latter indicates a woman smitten, until she discovers an unpleasant truth. The truth of the matter was David, who knew that his brother was also in love with her, quickly made up his mind about Elizabeth and decided she wasn’t for him.
Aside from preferring slimmer, more stylish, more sexually aggressive and adventurous women than Lady Bowes Lyon, who were decidedly androgynous in appearance, and were also usually older and married, and this is when he wasn’t secretly pursuing other men, David may also have suffered from a medical condition that explains why he was subject to occasional bouts of depression, was reticent about becoming king, and clearly didn’t take the prospect of marriage seriously throughout his tenure as Prince of Wales. In 1911 when he was 16 and studying at The Royal Naval College at Dartmouth along with Bertie, both boys succumbed to an outbreak of the mumps. While Bertie emerged unscathed, many historians believe the same couldn’t be said for David. Harold Nicholson, their father’s official biographer who was privy to a few royal family secrets, is quoted in Frances Donaldson’s biography, Edward Vlll, from his diary stating that “something went wrong with his(Edward’s) gland.” Furthermore, the eventual Duke of Windsor’s abnormally youthful and hairless appearance caused much comment among his intimates throughout his life. Could he have been sterile? Could his parents’ knowledge of this have been the reason why, despite their several attempts to arrange marriages for him, they never pushed him into it? Could his inability to provide heirs to the throne been the real reason why he was such a fatalist when it came to the Monarchy, and often times wished to abdicate before he finally did? And could this be the real reason why Lady Elizabeth, once being made aware of this, finally decided to marry his brother? As with so many of the House of Windsor’s secrets, the author can only speculate.
What is certain is that once David made it clear to Elizabeth that marriage to him was off the table, and he’s even quoted by David Duff as advising her to marry Bertie in the likely event he’d one day become king, Elizabeth was left with few other options. For one thing, David and his parents had strung Elizabeth along, and Elizabeth had in turn strung Bertie along, for two years by the time the Prince of Wales had finally made up his mind. Lady Bowes Lyon was now 23, and most of her fellow debutantes had been married off. Not only was she facing spinsterhood, but her parents’ ill advised attempt at running a newspaper announcement stating spuriously that she was about to became engaged to Prince Edward, in an attempt to publicly shame him into marrying her, completely backfired when Buckingham Palace simply issued a denial that made the Bowes Lyons look desperate and foolish.
In the meantime, Prince Albert hadn’t given up his pursuit of Elizabeth, and after she’d turned down at least three of his marriage proposals, and with David having categorically rejected her, Queen Mary was now willing for Bertie to wed Elizabeth. Lady Bowes Lyon, however, still appeared to be hoping beyond hope that the prince she was truly after would change his mind. That’s when Mary decided to force the issue once and for all. According to Lady Campbell, she secretly ordered Lady Bowes Lyon blackballed from all society events. Elizabeth stopped receiving any and all invitations in an unmistakable attempt to bring her to heal. Needless to write, it worked. Her parents invited Bertie to Glamis in early 1923, he proposed for a final time, and Elizabeth bowed to the inevitable. On April 26, 1923 they were married, becoming the Duke and Duchess of York, and the rest is history.
Of course, Elizabeth would never forget her unrequited love for her brother-in-law, and when the time finally came to sink a knife in his back for rejecting her, she happily obliged. While several factors played into his decision to abdicate in 1936, Elizabeth undoubtedly helped grease the wheels. While most historians agree the China Dossier, a compendium of files documenting the various supposed sexual sins Wallis Simpson, Edward’s embattled American fiancé, engaged in while living in China during her first marriage, was probably composed of fabrications, the threat of having these claims published undoubtedly was the final straw that forced Edward Vlll to give up his throne. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper that was going to run the story was none other that David Bowes Lyon, Elizabeth’s little brother. While several factors motivated her involvement in what was basically a coup d’état as well, good old fashion revenge played no small role. The full story of the abdication, and the surreptitious roles various members of the Royal Family and their courtiers played in it, shall be divulged in a series of forthcoming posts.