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Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

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In this magisterial new biography, New York Times bestselling author Sally Bedell Smith brings to life one of the world’s most fascinating and enigmatic women: Queen Elizabeth II.

From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and ...

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New York, NY 2012 Hard cover First edition. New ed. New in new dust jacket. Tight binding with Clean text. New. First edition, with full number line. Sewn binding. Cloth over ... boards. 688 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. In this magisterial new biography, a "New York Times"-bestselling author brings to life one of the world's most fascinating and enigmatic women: Queen Elizabeth II. Compulsively readable and scrupulously researched, "Elizabeth the Queen" illuminates the lively personality, sense of humor, and canny intelligence with which she meets the most demanding work and family obligations Read more Show Less

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Overview

In this magisterial new biography, New York Times bestselling author Sally Bedell Smith brings to life one of the world’s most fascinating and enigmatic women: Queen Elizabeth II.

From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.
 
In Elizabeth the Queen, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes “heiress presumptive” when her uncle abdicates the throne. We meet the thirteen-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents prefer wealthier English aristocrats. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. We see the young Queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Sally Bedell Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the Queen’s daily routines—the “red boxes” of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with twelve prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad, and the constant scrutiny of the press—as well as her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of sixty-four years and the love of her life; her children and their often-disastrous marriages; her grandchildren and friends.
 
Compulsively readable and scrupulously researched, Elizabeth the Queen is a close-up view of a woman we’ve known only from a distance, illuminating the lively personality, sense of humor, and canny intelligence with which she meets the most demanding work and family obligations. It is also a fascinating window into life at the center of the last great monarchy.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Elizabeth II was not even a teenager when, in 1936, she became "the heiress presumptive" to the throne of Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations; and she was only twenty-five when she ascended to the throne in 1951. Since then, she has ruled with dignity and often tight-lipped circumspection, which this 720-page biography somehow manages to penetrate. Author Sally Bedell Smith has an enviable track record of successfully tackling large-scale projects, having already composed lives of Princess Diana, the Kennedys, and the Clintons. Elizabeth the Queen tracks the private side of a monarch who has been under public scrutiny for more than three quarters of a century.

Publishers Weekly
In her 60-year-reign, Elizabeth II has evolved “from beautiful ingénue to businesslike working mother to wise grandmother,” whose grave public persona conceals her spirit, intelligence, humor, and joie de vivre. In a respectful, engrossing, and perceptive portrayal, Smith (Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess) relates that Elizabeth defied her mother in marrying her cheeky third-cousin Prince Philip of Greece, but she bowed to Churchill in not adopting Philip’s surname, which strained their marriage; while her laissez-faire attitude toward child-rearing allowed a flinty, critical Philip to dominate the sensitive Charles. Her compassion in shaking hands with cured Nigerian lepers in 1956 prefigured Diana’s handshake with an AIDS patient in 1987. But while some of the inner workings of the monarchy are exposed, Smith often pulls her punches; the queen’s passion for her dogs and horses gets more ink than daughters-in-law Camilla and Sophie, and the monarch remains distant, her thoughts and feelings ultimately unknowable. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Smith (contributing editor, Vanity Fair; Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House) has written a satisfying biography of a woman who is both very private and one of the most famous people in the world. The Queen has never given an interview or authorized a biography, but Buckinham Palace staff courteously help authors such as Smith and Andrew Marr (The Real Elizabeth, reviewed above). Smith interviewed over 200 people who have interacted with the Queen, the majority of whom spoke on the record, including both Bush presidents, Lucian Freud, Helen Mirren, and Paul McCartney, as well as lesser-known relatives and friends. She succeeds in portraying something of the monarch's personal life through anecdotes that show the Queen's sharp intelligence and dry sense of humor. VERDICT The results are as informative as they are entertaining. Comparable to Ben Pimlott's excellent The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II (1998), but with information on nearly 15 more years, this will appeal to readers of biographies, British history, and all followers of the British royal family. The Queen's 2012 Diamond Jubilee should increase demand. With impressive source notes and bibliography. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]—Elizabeth Mellett, Brookline P.L., MA
Library Journal
Best-selling biographer Smith yes, she's done Diana, Princess of Wales is out to get the goods here. While conducting multitudinous interviews with royal friends and family, she also had access to some of the queen's previously unavailable correspondence and the journals of both a former adviser and a former U.S. ambassador. This will certainly be in demand; with a seven-city tour.
Kirkus Reviews
A microscopically detailed portrait of the reigning Queen of England. Vaulted unexpectedly onto the throne at a young age after the death of her father, and before that the abdication of her uncle, Elizabeth II has occupied the position for 50 years, as the British Empire faded into the Commonwealth and the monarchy turned from making history to making tabloid headlines. Smith (For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years, 2007, etc.) traces the queen's life with exhausting thoroughness, down to what was served for dinner at seemingly every royal function she attended. As an American, the author brings an outsider's perspective to the insular world of British royalty; those already familiar with its intricacies may want to skim the detailed explanations of protocol and the meaning of each ritual. Behind all the pomp and circumstance, Smith reminds us, is a real person, a wife and mother as well as a monarch. Though we do see glimpses of her humanity through the years, it becomes clear that Elizabeth's position, and her duty to uphold its honor, is who she is at her core--Queen and country always come before wife and mother. Though Smith is clearly a supporter, she does not shy away from showing the blemishes beneath the polished facade, and readers in search of juicy gossip will find plenty of palace intrigue, illicit affairs, breaches of protocol and other drama. Of particular note are the events leading up to the Annus horribilis of 1992, with Prince Charles portrayed as the victim in his tragic relationship with Diana, who is shown as selfish, childish and emotionally and mentally unstable. But Elizabeth rarely makes a misstep, remaining the solid center that keeps the monarchy standing. God save the Queen. She is a human being, and an extraordinary one at that.
Liesl Schillinger
…an excellent, all-embracing new biography…Ms. Bedell Smith pulls fascinating details into her portrait of Elizabeth, shining a beam onto underlighted corners of the monarch's experience.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
“Fascinating….After 60 years on the throne, the monarch of Britain is better known for her poker face than for sly wit or easy charm. Yet in biographer Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth the Queen, Her Majesty sparkles with both. Via interviews with a legion of royal watchers, from horse trainers to lords and ladies, Smith teases out a woman both austere and animated, duty-bound yet undeniably authentic.”
--More
 
“All the details are here for the reader to gather a comprehensive picture of a life so rarefied none of us could imagine it….[Smith] brings into focus the personal side of the ordinary-extraordinary balancing act that has been not only the queen’s trademark style but also the cause for continued appreciation.”
--Booklist
 
A respectful, engrossing, and perceptive portrayal.”
--Publishers Weekly

“She was so young, and the task was so enormous. Yet with grace and a determination to do her duty come what may—and so much has indeed come—Elizabeth II studiously made herself part of the fabric of global civilization in the most tumultuous of times. This is a terrific book about a fascinating figure.”
—JON MEACHAM
 
“A deeply researched, unvarnished, and therefore totally fascinating portrait of the transcendent icon of our age . . . Many authors have written about Elizabeth II, but none of them can match the literary style, wit, or insightful commentary of Sally Bedell Smith.”
—AMANDA FOREMAN

“In an era plagued by flawed public figures, the world’s most famous woman has graced her realm impeccably for sixty years. She does so by being both mysterious and grounded. Sally Bedell Smith, through great reporting and insightful writing, provides a revealing look inside the palace to show how the Queen balances being both modern and traditional. Our celebrity-saturated world could learn a lot from her—and from this book.”
—WALTER ISAACSON
 
“This is a biography that avoids none of the difficult questions. Sally Bedell Smith asks them in a way no one else has dared.”
—NANCY MILFORD

Elizabeth the Queen shows the woman as well as the monarch, and helps us to understand how Elizabeth has become a key figure in the history of our times.”
—MARGARET MACMILLAN

Elizabeth the Queen is an engaging, insightful, and altogether entertaining journey through the life and trials of the world’s most beloved monarch. By the end of Sally Bedell Smith’s winning book, I felt as if I had a new friend in Buckingham Palace.”
—TOM BROKAW

“A compelling, deeply human portrait of the remarkable Elizabeth II. This is a biography not to be missed.”
—LYNNE OLSON

“Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen is a remarkable and sympathetic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. At the same time, it provides a fascinating picture of the major modern enterprise that monarchy has become. It is a deft and very readable book.”
--MICHAEL KORDA

“Sally Bedell Smith's book on Queen Elizabeth II is an enterprising, well-researched and intelligent work on a difficult subject, and deserves to be widely read.”
—PAUL JOHNSON

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400067893
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/10/2012
  • Pages: 688
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.74 (h) x 1.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Sally Bedell Smith is the author of the bestselling biographies of William S. Paley, Pamela Harriman, Diana, Princess of Wales, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 1996, she previously worked at Time and The New York Times, where she was a cultural news reporter. She was awarded a Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for magazine reporting in 1982 and was a fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center in 1986.

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Read an Excerpt

ONE

A ROYAL EDUCATION

It was a footman who brought the news to ten-year-old Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on December 10, 1936. Her father had become an accidental king just four days before his forty-first birthday when his older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, a twice-divorced American. Edward VIII had been sovereign only nine months after taking the throne following the death of his father, King George V, making him, according to one mordant joke, "the only monarch in history to abandon the ship of state to sign on as third mate on a Baltimore tramp."

"Does that mean that you will have to be the next queen?" asked Elizabeth's younger sister, Margaret Rose (as she was called in her childhood). "Yes, someday," Elizabeth replied. "Poor you," said Margaret Rose.

Although the two princesses had been the focus of fascination by the press and the public, they had led a carefree and insulated life surrounded by governesses, nannies, maids, dogs, and ponies. They spent idyllic months in the English and Scottish countryside playing games like "catching the days"-running around plucking autumn leaves from the air as they were falling. Their spirited Scottish nanny, Marion "Crawfie" Crawford, had managed to give them a taste of ordinary life by occasionally taking them around London by tube and bus, but mostly they remained inside the royal bubble.

Before the arrival of Margaret, Elizabeth spent four years as an only- and somewhat precocious-child, born on the rainy night of April 21, 1926. Winston Churchill, on first meeting the two-year-old princess, extravagantly detected "an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant." Crawfie noted that she was "neat and methodical . . . like her father," obliging, eager to do her best, and happiest when she was busy. She also showed an early ability to compartmentalize-a trait that would later help her cope with the demands of her position. Recalled Lady Mary Clayton, a cousin eight years her senior: "She liked to imagine herself as a pony or a horse. When she was doing that and someone called her and she didn't answer right away, she would then say, 'I couldn't answer you as a pony.' "

The abdication crisis threw the family into turmoil, not only because it was a scandal but because it was antithetical to all the rules of succession. While Elizabeth's father had been known as "Bertie" (for Albert), he chose to be called George VI to send a message of stability and continuity with his father. (His wife, who was crowned by his side, would be known as Queen Elizabeth.) But Bertie had not been groomed for the role. He was in tears when he talked to his mother about his new responsibilities. "I never wanted this to happen," he told his cousin Lord Louis "Dickie" Mountbatten. "I've never even seen a State Paper. I'm only a Naval Officer, it's the only thing I know about." The new King was reserved by nature, somewhat frail physically, and plagued by anxiety. He suffered from a severe stammer that led to frequent frustration, culminating in explosions of temper known as "gnashes."

Yet he was profoundly dutiful, and he doggedly set about his kingly tasks while ensuring that his little Lilibet-her name within the family-would be ready to succeed him in ways he had not been. On his accession she became "heiress presumptive," rather than "heiress apparent," on the off chance that her parents could produce a son. But Elizabeth and Margaret Rose had been born by cesarean section, and in those days a third operation would have been considered too risky for their mother. According to custom, Lilibet would publicly refer to her mother and father as "the King and Queen," but privately they were still Mummy and Papa.

When Helen Mirren was studying for her role in 2006's The Queen, she watched a twenty-second piece of film repeatedly because she found it so revealing. "It was when the Queen was eleven or twelve," Mirren recalled, "and she got out of one of those huge black cars. There were big men waiting for her, and she extended her hand with a look of gravity and duty. She was doing what she thought she had to do, and she was doing it beautifully."

"I have a feeling that in the end probably that training is the answer to a great many things," the Queen said on the eve of her fortieth year as monarch. "You can do a lot if you are properly trained, and I hope I have been." Her formal education was spotty by today's standards. Women of her class and generation were typically schooled at home, with greater emphasis on the practical than the academic. "It was unheard of for girls to go to university unless they were very intellectual," said Lilibet's cousin Patricia Mountbatten. While Crawfie capably taught history, geography, grammar, literature, poetry, and composition, she was "hopeless at math," said Mary Clayton, who had also been taught by Crawfie. Additional governesses were brought in for instruction in music, dancing, and French.

Elizabeth was not expected to excel, much less to be intellectual. She had no classmates against whom to measure her progress, nor batteries of challenging examinations. Her father's only injunction to Crawfie when she joined the household in 1932 had been to teach his daughters, then six and two, "to write a decent hand." Elizabeth developed flowing and clear handwriting similar to that of her mother and sister, although with a bolder flourish. But Crawfie felt a larger need to fill her charge with knowledge "as fast as I can pour it in." She introduced Lilibet to the Children's Newspaper, a current events chronicle that laid the groundwork for following political news in The Times and on BBC radio, prompting one Palace adviser to observe that at seventeen the princess had "a first-rate knowledge of state and current affairs."

Throughout her girlhood, Elizabeth had time blocked out each day for "silent reading" of books by Stevenson, Austen, Kipling, the Brontës, Tennyson, Scott, Dickens, Trollope, and others in the standard canon. Her preference, then and as an adult, was for historical fiction, particularly about "the corners of the Commonwealth and the people who live there," said Mark Collins, director of the Commonwealth Foundation. Decades later, when she conferred an honor on J. K. Rowling for her Harry Potter series, the Queen told the author that her extensive reading in childhood "stood me in good stead because I read quite quickly now. I have to read a lot."

Once she became first in line to the throne, Elizabeth's curriculum intensified and broadened. Her most significant tutor was Sir Henry Marten, the vice provost of Eton College, the venerable boys' boarding school down the hill from Windsor Castle whose graduates were known as Old Etonians. Marten had coauthored The Groundwork of British History, a standard school textbook, but he was hardly a dry academic. A sixty- six-year-old bachelor with a moon face and gleaming pate, he habitually chewed a corner of his handkerchief and kept a pet raven in a study so heaped with books that Crawfie likened them to stalagmites. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who would serve as Queen Elizabeth II's fourth prime minister, remembered Marten as "a dramatic, racy, enthusiastic teacher" who humanized figures of history.

Beginning in 1939, when Elizabeth was thirteen, she and Crawfie went by carriage to Marten's study twice a week so she could be instructed in history and the intricacies of the British constitution. The princess was exceedingly shy at first, often glancing imploringly at Crawfie for reassurance. Marten could scarcely look Elizabeth in the eye, and he lapsed into calling her "Gentlemen," thinking he was with his Eton boys. But before long she felt "entirely at home with him," recalled Crawfie, and they developed "a rather charming friendship."

Marten imposed a rigorous curriculum built around the daunting three- volume The Law and Custom of the Constitution by Sir William Anson. Also on her reading list were English Social History by G. M. Trevelyan, Imperial Commonwealth by Lord Elton, and The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot, the gold standard for constitutional interpretation that both her father and grandfather had studied. Marten even included a course on American history. "Hide nothing," Sir Alan "Tommy" Lascelles, private secretary to King George VI, had told Marten when asked about instructing the princess on the crown's role in the constitution.

Unlike the written American Constitution, which spells everything out, the British version is an accumulation of laws and unwritten traditions and precedents. It is inherently malleable and dependent on people making judgments, and even revising the rules, as events occur. Anson called it a "somewhat rambling structure . . . like a house which many successive owners have altered." The constitutional monarch's duties and prerogatives are vague. Authority rests more in what the king doesn't do than what he does. The sovereign is compelled by the constitution to sign all laws passed by Parliament; the concept of a veto is unthinkable, but the possibility remains.

Elizabeth studied Anson for six years, painstakingly underlining and annotating the dense text in pencil. According to biographer Robert Lacey, who examined the faded volumes in the Eton library, she took note of Anson's assertion that a more complex constitution offers greater guarantees of liberty. In the description of Anglo-Saxon monarchy as "a consultative and tentative absolutism" she underlined "consultative" and "tentative." Marten schooled her in the process of legislation, and the sweeping nature of Parliament's power. Elizabeth's immersion in the "procedural minutiae" was such that, in Lacey's view, "it was as if she were studying to be Speaker [of the House of Commons], not queen." Prime ministers would later be impressed by the mastery of constitutional fine points in her unexpectedly probing questions.

When Elizabeth turned sixteen, her parents hired Marie-Antoinette de Bellaigue, a sophisticated Belgian vicomtesse educated in Paris, to teach French literature and history. Called "Toni" by the two princesses, she set a high standard and compelled them to speak French with her during meals. Elizabeth developed a fluency that impressed even Parisians, who praised her for speaking with "cool clear precision" on her visit to their city in 1948, at age twenty-two.

De Bellaigue worked in tandem with Marten, who suggested essay topics for Elizabeth to write in French. The governess later recounted that Marten had taught the future Queen "to appraise both sides of a question, thus using [her] judgment." In de Bellaigue's view, Lilibet "had from the beginning a positive good judgment. She had an instinct for the right thing. She was her simple self, 'très naturelle.' And there was always a strong sense of duty mixed with joie de vivre in the pattern of her character."

Elizabeth's mother had an enormous influence on the development of her character and personality. Born Elizabeth Bowes Lyon to the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, she had grown up in an aristocratic Scottish- English family of nine children. In 1929, Time magazine had pronounced her a "fresh, buxom altogether 'jolly' little duchess." She read widely and avidly, with a particular fondness for P. G. Wodehouse. Somewhat improbably, she was also a fan of Damon Runyon's stories about New York gangsters and molls, once writing to a friend in the author's vernacular: "The way that Dame Pearl gets a ripple on, there was a baby for you-Oh boy."

Queen Elizabeth taught her daughter to read at age five and devoted considerable time to reading aloud the children's classics. As soon as Lilibet could write, her mother encouraged her to begin the lifelong habit of recording her impressions in a diary each night. During her father's coronation in 1937, the eleven-year-old princess kept a lively journal, "From Lilibet by Herself." "The arches and beams at the top [of Westminster Abbey] were covered with a sort of haze of wonder as Papa was crowned," she wrote. When her mother was crowned and the white-gloved peeresses put on their coronets simultaneously, "it looked wonderful to see arms and coronets hovering in the air and then the arms disappear as if by magic."

At an early age, Elizabeth's parents began arranging for her to sit for portraits. She would repeat this ritual more than 140 times throughout her life, making her the most painted monarch in history. For the royal family, portraits have long been an essential part of image making, helping to shape the way the public sees its regal icons. When asked if she kept her portraits, the Queen replied, "No, none. They're all painted for other people."

Hungarian Alexius de László, a widely admired society portrait artist, was hired to capture Lilibet in oils for the first time. She was just seven. László found her to be "intelligent and full of character," although he conceded she was "very sleepy and restless." Aristocratic matrons enjoyed the company of the smooth-talking sixty-four-year-old artist, but Elizabeth thought he was "horrid," as she recalled years later with a grimace. "He was one of those people who wanted you to sit permanently looking at you." The resulting ethereal image-a favorite of her mother's-shows the young princess in ruffled silk, with blond curls and wide blue eyes, holding a basket of flowers. Yet her unsmiling expression betrays a whiff of exasperation.

The second artist to capture Elizabeth's image was another Hungarian, sculptor Zsigmond Strobl, who had eighteen sessions with her from 1936 to 1938. She was older, by then the heiress presumptive, and eager to chat with the Hungarian journalist who joined the sittings to help her pass the time in conversation. Being painted or sculpted from life reinforced the virtue of patience. As Queen she would also find her sittings to be an oasis of uncluttered time when she could unwind, connect with a stranger in a private and unthreatening way, speak expansively-sometimes quite personally-and even crack jokes. "It's quite nice," she said during a sitting before her eightieth birthday as she flashed an impish smile. "Usually one just sits, and people can't get at you because one's busy doing nothing."

A favorite topic during the Strobl sculpting sessions was the world of horses, which had become Elizabeth's full-blown passion as well as another opportunity for learning. Her father bred and raced thoroughbreds, continuing a royal tradition, and he introduced her to all aspects of the equine world, starting with her first riding lesson at age three. By 1938 she began learning how to ride sidesaddle, a necessary skill for the yearly Trooping the Colour ceremony celebrating the sovereign's birthday when she would be required to ride in a red military tunic, long navy blue riding skirt, and black tricorn cap at the head of a parade of more than 1,400 soldiers.

Her twice weekly riding lessons helped her develop athleticism and strength and taught her how to keep a cool head in moments of danger. She experienced the uninhibited joy of vaulting fences and cantering across fields and through woodlands-sensations that would temporarily liberate her from the restrictions of her official life. Although she tried foxhunting while in her teens-first with the Garth Foxhounds in Berkshire, then with the Beaufort Hunt in Gloucestershire-she was already captivated by breeding and racing.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 A Royal Education 3

2 Love Match 25

3 Destiny Calls 47

4 "Ready, Girls?" 65

5 Affairs of State 91

6 Made for Television 119

7 New Beginnings 149

8 Refuge in Routines 177

9 Daylight on the Magic 207

10 Ring of Silence 225

11 "Not Bloody Likely!" 241

12 Feeling the Love 263

13 Iron Lady and English Rose 287

14 A Very Special Relationship 309

15 Family Fractures 333

16 Annus Horribilis 355

17 Tragedy and Tradition 377

18 Love and Grief 411

19 Moving Pictures 443

20 A Soldier at Heart 469

21 Long Live the Queen 499

Afterword 539

Acknowledgments 557

Source Notes 563

Bibliography 649

Index 659

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Interviews & Essays

A Letter from Sally Bedell Smith

As a five-year-old, I first glimpsed Queen Elizabeth II on the black and white screen in my parents' mahogany television cabinet in 1953: a glamorous ingenue draped in gleaming robes and wearing a glittering crown during her coronation in Westminster Abbey. Two generations later, children watched her as a proud and bespectacled grandmother in the same majestic setting during the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton .

For sixty years, the Queen has been a constant presence as the longest serving head of state—iconic, distant, mysterious, dutiful— the only person about whom it can truly be said that all the world is a stage

I first met her in 2007 at a garden party at the British ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. In a spirited conversation with my husband about the Kentucky Derby, she showed the animated gestures, sparkling blue eyes and flashing smile familiar to her friends but rare in public. I remembered what British artist Howard Morgan had told me after painting her portrait: "Her private side took me totally by surprise. She talks like an Italian! She waves her hands about."

Nine months later I began my three year exploration of the Queen's epic life. I was determined to make her accessible, to bring readers into her world and show that private side in an intimate and humanizing way. I also wanted to explain how she has been so successful in her unique role, and how she became "the sheet anchor in the middle for people to hang on to in times of turbulence," in the words of David Airlie, her lifelong friend and former senior adviser.

As a woman I was intrigued by how she thrived in a man's world, juggling her roles as dedicated professional as well as wife and mother. I also wanted to describe for the first time her close relationship with the United States—her eleven visits, five of them private, and her friendships with an array of fascinating Americans including all the presidents since Harry Truman—except Lyndon Johnson, who desperately tried to meet her.

There seemed to be a surprise around every corner: her physical courage when she was attacked by a wounded pheasant and charged by "dive bombing colts," her compassion while mothering a teenaged cousin who had been nearly killed in a terrorist attack, her earthiness while crawling on her belly stalking deer, her joie de vivre while blowing bubbles at a friend's birthday party, her fierce reaction to one of her top advisers in the days after the death of Diana, her tenderness toward Margaret Thatcher during the former prime minister's 80th birthday party.

After two years of research and interviewing, it took another year to write the Queen's story—to weave together the threads of a life of richness and variety with a great cast of characters both famous and little-known. I hope the result will enable readers to immerse themselves in her life—from the grouse moors of Scotland and kitchen tables of her friends to the state banquets and time-honored pageantry, where even in the middle of the solemn ritual of her coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury could sneak the 27-year-old Queen sips from a hidden flask of brandy for a pick-me-up.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 106 )
Rating Distribution

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(51)

4 Star

(21)

3 Star

(13)

2 Star

(13)

1 Star

(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 106 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 17, 2012

    Currently reading this flattering portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II

    I must say that this is a very informative book on the Queen, a much better portrayal than the author chose to give to Princess Diana.

    I almost did not buy this one out of respect to Princess Diana, due to the hatchett job and armchair psycology the author chose to use to "diagnose" the late Princess. However, this one is not a surprise at all. The Queen seems at face value to be a very dedicated, hard working and genuine lady, taking her duties and responsibilites very seriously.

    If only Ms. Smith had give Princess Diana the respect that she certainly deserved. So many charities, so many good works that she never wanted any recognition for. Being the superb role model for her boys that she was, they have, in turn, become the charming, responsible and altruistic men that I'm sure she would be so proud they turned out to be.

    Great book on the Queen, but shame on you, Ms. Bedell Smith for trashing Princess Diana. Bi-polar? When did you get your medical degree?

    16 out of 44 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2012

    Most approachable Royal bio I've read

    Let me preface all of my remarks with this...I love the Royal Family. I'll read just about anything that comes my way about them, except for the tabloids.

    That being said, I've read many books that were intellectually satisfying. I've read some terribly dry things. I've read tomes that were pedantic. And I've read books that were fluffy in their treatment.

    And then there's Elizabeth the Queen. This is, by far, the most approachable and interesting biography of the Queen I've read. Sally Bedell Smith has written a very REAL and honest story of the Queen and her family. It is interesting and warm, not cold and plodding. I found myself hurrying home and through work and chores to settle in with this book. (I don't say that often at all.)

    It is, in fact, reflective of her changed public image--from a stodgy and stand-offish monarch, to the warm and loving "grandmother" image she has grown into in the last 15 years. Definitely one I will recommend and purchase for my library.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2012

    Average

    I have debated whether to give it two or three stars. I enjoyed it for the most part but I have a few issues:
    1. I felt the beginning and middle was much more interesting than the last part. This one dragged but felt rushed at the same time.
    2. Enough with the horses! I had to skip page after page of raising and racing horses descriptions. I understand it is an essential part of the Queen's life but I don't need to know how a stallion mounts a mare.
    3. This is my biggest one. The portrayal felt extremely sympathetic. Obviously the writing is slanted. Now I am an avid biography reader and I believe authors have to respect their research subject but this was too much. Basically any bad that ever happened during her reign was not her fault. This is evident, for example, when describing her mothering skills with Prince Charles. And it is painfully overwhelming in the chapters concerning Princess Diana who is dismissed as unbalanced and trying to bring down the monarchy. And guess what? The Queen had nothing to do with anything that befell Diana or the couple.Prince Charles was appartently seduced by this troubled girl who acted one way before the wedding and another after. Everyone tried to help but Diana set out to destroy everyone. Then Prince Charles finally married the love of his life. Oh, and he didn't cheat first.
    So in the end, I would have appreciated more objective criticism but in the whole it was informative. The first half of the book is definitely better.

    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2012

    Don't miss it!

    This was a beautifully done portrait of the Queen, one that offers rare insight into a famously private woman--something of who she is as daughter, wife, mother, grandmother. For me, it was wonderful to find even more to admire about her!

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    The Queen Shines

    A wonderful quick read for those who are interested by the British Royal Family. A wonderful look through the eyes of outsiders and insiders into the life of Elizabeth and the daily workings of the Palace for more than 60 years.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2012

    Great book

    Wonderful book. Big fan of the royal family anyway.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2012

    Insightful and Entertaining

    I've read most of the major, modern biographies of Her Majesty and this is one of the best, if only because it does not become a biography-by-proxy of Diana, Princess of Wales 3/4s of the way through. Smith deals with this troubling time in the period of the monarchy, and Her Majesty's life, without having to bow and scrape at the altar of the woman who nearly singlehandedly destroyed the monarchy as British modern biographers seem want to do.

    Nor does Smith's portrayal gloss over Charles' infidelities. But it, rather importantly, deals with Her Majesty's reactions to the crises. The book neither supports nor attacks either of the Waleses, and it similarly does not take sides in some of the other controversies of Elizabeth II's reign: the Margaret/Townsend tragedy, the Margaret/Snowdon/Roddy business, the Andrew/Sarah problems, etc. It discusses them, lays out the facts, explains the Queen's reactions and feelings on the matter according to Smith's sources, and moves on.

    Particularly fascinating was the book's discussion of Her Majesty's relationships to her Prime Ministers. It dispels much of the rumors about her dislike for certain ones and reveals what most of us probably already suspected: Her Majesty is an incredibly smart woman, empathetic but reserved, who can get along with almost anyone. Moreover, Smith pays particular attention to the seriousness with which Her Majesty view's her role in the Commonwealth, which is quite fascinating.

    All-in-all, this is a must-read for those seeking insights into Elizabeth the Queen.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2012

    Good but not Kitty Kelly

    This book is good, but not personal enough. However it is very respectful of the Queen and I liked that, although it has too much history that I already knew and not enough human interest stories..

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2012

    Good read!

    Took this on vacation and it helped with the long hours in the airport. Both the beginning and the end felt rushed. The middle was well written but only a few nuggets of reflection on decades old events. If you are a fan of "The Firm", you should enjoy.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2012

    Oh my...

    I have just began reading this book for my honors english class. I am in ninth grade and i am only on page 16 and i love it to bits already! Great nonfiction novel. Read it! You will love it.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    Elizabeth a definite thumbs up

    Good read for those of us long entranced by the royal family. The Queen is portrayed in a very human light. You really get s feel for just how complex her job is!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2012

    This is a slanted historical biography of Queen Elizabeth II to

    This is a slanted historical biography of Queen Elizabeth II to portray her in the best possible light and sugarcoat her failures. Major events are marginalized as well as the troubles with the monarchy well before Diana sought to ruin the royals (Bedell Smith's interpretation). This is not an academic exercise of historical biography, however if you want a vanilla-coated view of the Queen and protocol...Bedell Smith enjoys mocking those who break protocol. This is the book for you.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2012

    From before she took the throne through the craziness of her chi

    From before she took the throne through the craziness of her children and to the present day, this book takes you behind the scenes of both the political and personal life of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. There are many reasons why I picked up this book, but with the royal wedding this past spring I, among others, has a renewed sense of curiosity towards the royal family and its inner workings.

    Queen Elizabeth II is destined for the throne as an heir to the throne and no male sibling, little did she know that she would be taking her place in history at the young age of 25. Newly married and still trying to find her place in the family, she takes the central role to a very large empire. She has endured many years as the centerpiece and has had to endure a lot of scrutiny and tragedy. The one piece of history that I was unaware of was the horrible year she had in 1992 with three of her children separating and divorcing, she had a year full of turmoil.

    A great book for anyone who has any interest in the life of a royal. But beware this book is a chunkster and is definitely detailed, so for those faint of heart, this one may not be the read for you.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012

    It's a history lesson with a slant

    I wonder how the book would read if the Queen were not alive when it was written? The book was very slanted to a perfect Queen Elizabeth II. It was a tribute that is well deserved, but, as a book to inform the reader, it has no substance. Just one sided praise.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2012

    Aynonymous

    Well written book

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2012

    Great Book

    Well written , good info,loved it

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2012

    Read only for the sake of history...or if you are royalty

    Very extensive and detailed. However, the author ADORES the queen and her family. The queen would be God's daughter if He had one. She nor her family do no wrong. If you presume they do, it just looks that way. They have a reason for everything. But no excuse for how they treated Diana, dead or alive.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    Dreadful

    I ALWAYS finish a book I start, but this was so boring I had to stop less than halfway through.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2012

    Good book, but author belittles some important topics!

    I enjoyed reading this biography. The Queen is an amazing woman. I have issue with some of the topics that I thought the author made light of. A perfect example is the Princess of Wales,
    Diana. The author depicts her as a troubled, self-centered person. She was nineteen when she married the prince! She should have considered this fact when persecuting her in this book.
    There are other issues which the author did not properly address . Read for yourself and you will see. I would recommend this book for fans of the monarchy.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2014

    Long, tedious and very, very BORING!

    Long, tedious and very, very BORING!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 106 Customer Reviews

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