Counting One's Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

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William Shawcross’s official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, published in September 2009, was a huge critical and commercial success.


One of the great revelations of the book was Queen Elizabeth’s insightful, witty private correspondence. Indeed, The Sunday Times described her letters as “wonderful . . . brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness.”


Now, Shawcross has put together a ...

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Counting One's Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

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William Shawcross’s official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, published in September 2009, was a huge critical and commercial success.


One of the great revelations of the book was Queen Elizabeth’s insightful, witty private correspondence. Indeed, The Sunday Times described her letters as “wonderful . . . brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness.”


Now, Shawcross has put together a selection of her letters, drawing on the vast wealth of material in the Royal Archives and at Glamis Castle. Queen Elizabeth was a prolific correspondent from her earliest childhood before the First World War to the very end of her long life at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and her letters offer readers a vivid insight into the real person behind the public face.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

One of the unexpected treats of William Shawcross' well-received 2009 official biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900-2002) was his excerpting of the long-lived royal's lively correspondence. Those quotations, however, turn out to be only a sampling of her prolific, lifelong output. Counting One's Blessings shares a generous selection of the queen mother's letters, which reaffirm The Sunday Times' previous judgment of them as "wonderful...brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness." The collection includes private letters from her childhood to her husband George VI's reign and beyond. A joy of the season for royal watchers.

Publishers Weekly
On the eve of WWII, Queen Elizabeth, consort to King George VI, famously declared that she would not leave London: "The children could not go without me, I could not possibly leave the King, and the King would never go." Her stalwart devotion to family and country were why her country loved her, and form the most notable aspect of this collection of many of the letters she composed throughout her long life. (She died at 101 in 2002). Royal watchers will enjoy reading about the Windsors through the Queen Mother's comforting and intimate, although not revealing, voice, such as this observation about her scandal-plagued brother-in-law, the one-time King Edward VIII (David to the family): "David does not seem to possess the faculty for making others feel wanted." Insights into the Queen Mother's character include some surprising glimmers of humor and a deep compassion for the English people but are not enough to mitigate excessive length and the lack of a strong editorial hand. Shawcross covers this material more efficiently in his own biography of the Queen Mother. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Among British media sorts, Shawcross is royalty; he's the official biographer of the Queen Mother and writer/presenter of the BBC series Monarchy. Here he assembles this anthology of correspondence from the Queen Mother, which span the 20th century. Go, royalty fans!
Kirkus Reviews
A lifetime of letters by the beloved queen mother reflects a tumultuous century in England. Edited by Shawcross (The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, 2009, etc.), these letters by Elizabeth Bowes Lyon (1900–2002) move from the gushing expressions of a young privileged person to a grasp of sobering responsibility and mature conviction as world events began to shape her future. The vivacious youngest daughter to Lord and Lady Strathmore, growing up amid a big, happy family on their country estates, Elizabeth reveals her early sunny disposition in letters to her mother and rather disorganized education but keen mimicry of the Scottish dialect as written to her favorite brother, David. Evidently well-loved and popular, she attracted many suitors, including the stammering, awkward second son of George V, called Bertie, whom she politely rebuffed for two years but then accepted in January 1923 ("I feel terrified now I've done it…in fact nobody is more surprised than me"). Fourteen years as the Duchess of York followed fairly happily, during which Elizabeth ("Lilibet") and Margaret were born. The untimely death of George V and the stunning abdication of Edward VIII delivered back-to-back blows, and Elizabeth reveals an authentic loyalty to her husband ("I am terrified for him…do help him," she wrote to her reprobate brother-in-law) and growing confidence bolstered by religion and a sense of being in touch with the British people. Her natural touch helped gain the crown enormous support during World War II, as revealed in her radio appeals to British and American women. Courtly, engaging, down-to-earth letters by a kindly English aristocrat of the old school.
From the Publisher
“[The Queen Mother’s letters] do offer a fascinating, provocative first-hand glimpse into another world . . . Perhaps the most endearing side of the collection is the sheer number of earnest thank-you notes, written for everything from gifts to visits, and a great many written to Elizabeth's mother-in-law, Queen Mary, with whom Elizabeth carries on a warm and intimate correspondence. Elizabeth clearly delights in her friends, and is charmingly quick to offer assistance, take an interest in others' lives, and have a laugh at her own expense . . .  Read [Counting One’s Blessings] for the sheer entertainment value.” —Heather Horn, The Atlantic

“William Shawcross, a renowned writer and broadcaster who has been given access to nine decades of remarkable correspondence from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, has traced the stories the letters tell . . . From childhood onwards, her words danced on the page, teeming with vitality, ebullience and optimism . . . Her letters showed a relish for language and sparkled with the joy of living.” —The Times of India

“The intriguing new book of letters shows the unlikely evolution of the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a charming, vivacious young woman who was one of the most sought-after debutantes of her day, into a gifted queen who became an enduring symbol of the British monarchy . . . she evolved into a curious, vital young woman who was an avid reader.” —Lorna Koski, Women’s Wear Daily

“With correspondents ranging from Kenneth Clark to Osbert Sitwell, as well as her parents-in-law, daughters and eldest grandson, the Queen Mother’s selected letters—collated by her official biographer, William Shawcross—are seldom dull . . . [Counting One’s Blessings] provides a study of maturing character against the background of great events . . . However fluffy the Queen may have seemed when young, she proved her mettle in 1939–45. Her wartime letters, showing her abnegation, selfless duty and distress, make impressive reading. They reach, at moments, an eloquent intensity . . . These letters exemplify the truth of a remark of Auden’s. ‘Be good and you will be happy is a dangerous inversion,’ the poet wrote. ‘Be happy and you will be good is the truth. Men often speak of their right to happiness. In fact, it is their only duty.’ The Queen saw happiness as a duty—not an entitlement—because it was her route to good works.” —Richard Davenport-Hines, The Times Literary Supplement

“One of the most appealing aspects of the Queen Mother was her zest for life to the end—her passion for the arts, horse racing, foreign travel and whizzing round the country in helicopters. She cared nothing about money; even the Queen complained wryly about her extravagance. ‘There’s something about her that's kept very young,’ Ted Hughes wrote . . . [Counting One’s Blessings is] expertly edited and introduced by William Shawcross.” —Sarah Bradford, The Literary Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374185220
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Pages: 688
  • Sales rank: 642,156
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William Shawcross is a widely renowned writer and broadcaster. His books include The Queen Mother: The Official Biography and Queen and Country. In 1995 he wrote and presented the BBC television series Monarchy and in 2002, to tie in with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he wrote and presented the BBC television series Queen and Country. He lives in London and Cornwall.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xiii

Part 1 Elizabeth 1

Part 2 Duchess of York 69

Part 3 Queen 241

Part 4 Queen Mother 449

Appendix: Family Trees 623

Notes 629

Index 647

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    Must Read

    Great read and insight into the Queen Mum's life. As you read, you feel like you are in the moment with her. Definitely makes an ordinary person realize how normal the royal family was and how loving they were towards one another.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating Look at the Woman Who Never Thought She' d be Queen

    I really enjoyed this book. I read it in tandem with The Queen Mother which came out 2 years ago. A great look at the times in which she lived and how she and her husband led the British empire through its darkest hour.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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