Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

William Shawcross wrote a biography about Queen Mum. If you remember him as an avid journalist and keen observer, then this book is not for you. This is an eulogy and could have been produced in this form by any well instructed and paid for ghost writer.

Macmillan published Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother written by William Shawcross. The book is an authorize biography and therefore avoids anything even remotely bordering on controversial. Authorized biographies and autobiographies suffer from the same shortcoming: They show the life of the book's subject as the writer wants it to be remembered, not as it was. In that sense, such books are psychologically the most interesting fiction you can get your hands on.

The bad news first: You have to plow through 1,000 pages from cover to cover. William Shawcross didn't take any shortcuts in the timeline and meticulously retells a century long life almost day by day. That takes up space, even when skipping the relevant items at the behest of the PTB. If you are expected to have this book, you might convert into a small cocktail table to be in keeping with the subject.

Anybody expecting even a whiff of journalism from William Shawcross will be sorely disappointed. William Shawcross, in case you don't know, is the journalist who exposed the secret bombing of Cambodia by the United States. Any bombs you might have expected exploding in this book have been carefully edited out. The book stays safely on the glossy magazine surface and even glosses over old news if they threaten to scratch the sugary coating.


As Queen Consort of the Unite Kingdom and Empress Consort of India, she was a prime performer on the world stage. The book concentrates on her masterly performances and forgets to take a look at the actress behind the role she was playing. If you want to believe the book, the Queen Mum was all affability. You never get to see the ruthless politician with an steel core that was the real her. Her personality and political views make Margaret Thatcher look like a cuddly toy. Her political views are never mentioned in the book; they would make Prince Philip look like a model in political correctness and a communist to boot.

The book completely fails to show how the woman who didn’t want to become a Queen Consort was such a success. Affability and charm were not part of the role, they were used as the icing to hide the power broker behind. It also doesn’t mention that she was the driving force behind the total exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and divorcee Wallis Simpson), or why she was so right in doing that to two Nazi sympathizers.

Should anyone read this book? Apart from the undiscerning fan crowd I can't see anyone profiting from the exercise. I had to battle through pages and pages of descriptions of each and every piece of fashion that was ever made for her from top to toe. As a historical compilation of fashion over a century, the book might just serve a purpose. But be warned if the latter sounds intriguing to you, it is written as badly as any of Dame Barbara Cartland’s novels.

I can’t recommend the book as a good read for a rainy afternoon, either; the repetitions were boring and tedious, and when the author used the words ‘delightful’ and ‘thrilled’ for the thousandth time, I could happily have throttled him (that was around page 400). What is exciting about the book is the fact that it shows an Empress of India that never came to grips with the fact that she had become an ex-Empress after the war. It also completely eluded her that she wasn't a prime player in world politics anymore, but consort to a king of a small, unimportant country slipping off the edge of Europe. Even more fascinating is William Shawcoss' development and as a writer over the length of the book: He loses his perspective more and more and regresses into her warped views.

It is, in that sense, a perfect representation of Britain today: A country lost in the grandeur of yesteryear; a government laboring under the delusion that Europe or the world are in any way interested in their views; and people hardly able to write and read, thanks to the shambles they call schools.

Further reading
Royal Connections can be Deceiving
Queens Consort of England
The Prince, The Princess, and The Perfect Murder