Behind every man, there’s a great woman—but this went double for "The Queen Mother". Not only did Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon rule through her husband King George VI, she also oversaw the reign of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Yet before that, she’d already experienced a lifetime’s worth of royal scandal. From bedroom gossip that rocked the monarchy to Elizabeth’s high-class feuds, this seemingly stately Queen hid some very dirty laundry.
1. She Was A Spoiled Baby
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s birth was about as aristocratic as they come. Born into a wealthy noble family on August 4, 1900, she was the ninth of a whopping 10 children, and her family spoiled their baby rotten. Elizabeth's father even thought his darling girl looked so much like a cherub that he demanded her middle name be “Angela". But this angelic quality didn’t stick around for long.
2. She Was A Greedy Girl
As it turns out, spoiling a child doesn’t have the best results—and Elizabeth turned very naughty very quickly. Her family nicknamed her “Merry Mischief” for her impish plots, including the time the young girl telegrammed her father a message that translates to, “Send money now". Elizabeth's trickster side would serve her well in the future—just not always in the best of ways.
3. She Was Whip-Smart
In case you haven’t noticed by now, Elizabeth was one smart cookie. Although her family prized good breeding over academic achievements, Elizabeth had both in spades. Her literature essays deeply impressed her teachers and governesses, and she passed her standard exams with distinction. Yet sadly, her glittering world soon turned dark.
4. Her World Changed Overnight
When Elizabeth was just 14 years old, WWI rocked England and threw her carefully manicured upbringing into total chaos. Indeed, Britain officially declared itself against Germany on the very day of Elizabeth’s 14th birthday, baptizing “Merry Mischief” into a grim new world order. Then suddenly, her gravest tragedy yet hit.
5. She Suffered Two Tragic Losses
Although Elizabeth was too young to do much when WWI first began, eventually, the conflict dragged its bloody carcass right to her front doorstep. Four of her brothers served in the fight, with her eldest brother Fergus perishing in combat. Two years later, another one of her brothers was taken as a captive during a conflict. Unable to sit around twiddling her thumbs any longer, Elizabeth sprung into action.
6. She Had A Steely Side
As WWI wore on, the family turned their home at Glamis Castle into a sick bay for wounded men, with Elizabeth showing her steely side. She threw herself into the work and became a great favorite with the boys. One teasingly wrote in her autograph book that she should be "Hung, drawn, & quartered...Hung in diamonds, drawn in a coach and four, and quartered in the best house in the land".
And you can bet that wasn’t the only male attention that Elizabeth was getting…
7. She Was Wildly Attractive
As a young woman, Elizabeth drove men wild, and she did it in an extremely curious way. Although people didn’t consider her conventionally beautiful, she was still irresistibly attractive, with what one commenter called an “innocent sensuality”. She was an English rose with creamy skin, dark hair, and curves in all the right places. And those curves took her right to the British throne.
8. She Got An Impassioned Proposal
In the 1920s, WWI was over at last, and Britain’s monarchs were looking for love. So when Prince Albert, the younger son of King George V, locked eyes with Elizabeth for the first time since they were children, he was blindly determined to have her. He proposed marriage to Elizabeth in 1921—but the fair lady had other ideas.
9. She Rejected A Prince
In a move that must have been shocking to some of her acquaintances, our Elizabeth turned down her “Bertie” flat. Why? Well, for one, Albert was quite shy. So shy, in fact, that he didn’t even propose to Elizabeth himself. Instead he had a proxy do it. Yeah, that’s not a slam-dunk. Then again, Elizabeth's refusal also stemmed from more heartbreaking reasons.
10. She Had A Deep Fear
Besides her paramour’s total lack of matrimonial game, Elizabeth wasn’t at all attracted to the idea of becoming a royal. She was terrified of the burden of the monarchy and the loss of her freedom, saying that she was "afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to”. Given how things turned out…she was right to worry.
11. Her Lover Was Insistent
When Prince Albert received Elizabeth’s refusal, he wasn't deterred. Despite the fact that everyone at court thought he was stooping in marrying a “mere” noble and not a princess, Albert dogged Elizabeth for months. The lovelorn prince even told his own mother that he refused to marry anyone else. Determined on getting Liz, he popped the question again in 1922.
Guess what? Elizabeth rejected her beau again. Oh, but it gets more embarrassing.
12. She Had An Interfering Mother In Law
Prince Albert’s mother, Queen Mary, was so desperate to find out what all the fuss was about, she traveled to meet Elizabeth herself. Well, Elizabeth charmed the crinoline off the interfering Queen, with Mary declaring that she was "the one girl who could make Bertie happy". Yet during this dramatic courtship, Elizabeth wasn’t being completely honest…
13. She Had Other Men In Her Life
Throughout Prince Albert’s wooing, Elizabeth may have been hiding a dark secret. There is evidence that at the same time as she was rejecting Bertie’s proposals, she was flirting heavily with the Prince’s own aide, the dashing James Stuart. Even when Stuart left for a business opportunity in America, though, Elizabeth didn't fall into Albert's arms. Instead, she found herself yet another suitor…
14. She Almost Started A Family Feud
With her good looks and easy charm, Elizabeth was a very eligible bachelorette, and it wasn’t just the likes of James Stuart sniffing at her petticoats. According to the rumor mill at the time, one of Elizabeth’s other potential beaux was none other than Prince Albert’s older brother, the Prince of Wales, Edward. Talk about awkward family dinners.
15. She Changed Her Mind
In January 1923, after nearly two years of courting her, Prince Albert took another shot and proposed to Elizabeth for the third time. Well, the third time must be the charm, because she finally said yes to him. The minute they announced their engagement, all the men in England felt the loss of Elizabeth’s single status. As one diarist put it, “The clubs are in gloom".
16. She Made A Heartbreaking Tribute
After such a rough wooing, the new couple went in for a quick engagement, marrying just months later in April 1923 at Westminster Abbey. While there, the bride nearly brought the crowd to tears. As she passed by the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, she unexpectedly left her bridal bouquet on top of the memorial that honored her fallen brother Fergus.
17. She Had An Heir And A Spare
Elizabeth, now the Duchess of York, swiftly became a popular royal bride without any delay. This lady pushed out her first child, the Princess Elizabeth, just three years into her marriage. Then, four years later, Elizabeth gave birth to another girl, the Princess Margaret. Yet just as her personal life was settling in nicely, the rest of her life started to fall apart.
18. Her Family Was In Danger
On January 20, 1936, Elizabeth’s father-in-law King George V passed, leaving the throne to her brother-in-law Edward. Under the surface, this was a total disaster. Edward was an infamous partier and seducer, and no one in the royal family, Elizabeth included, trusted his ability to rule responsibly. It didn’t take long for Edward to prove these suspicions right.
19. She Was A Surprise Queen
Mere months after Edward took the crown, it all royally fell apart. He infamously abdicated to marry his divorced lover Wallis Simpson, leaving the throne instead to Elizabeth’s husband Prince Albert, now called King George VI. Practically overnight, cheery little Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon became the Queen Consort of all England. Her reaction, uh, wasn’t good.
20. She Hated One Woman
Although some people dream of becoming Queen, Elizabeth was furious at this turn of events. For one, she detested Wallis Simpson as an upstart—and she let her know it in an utterly cruel way. During Edward’s brief reign, Elizabeth visited him at Balmoral castle. When Wallis greeted her for dinner, Elizabeth blew right past her, sniffing, “I came to dine with the King”. And the feud didn’t end there.
21. She Gave A Legendary Snub
Elizabeth also made rude comments about Wallis Simpson behind her back. According to reports, she used to refer Simpson only as “that woman” scornfully. She also refused to grant Simpson the right to use the title “Her Royal Highness” even after she married Edward. Don’t worry, though, Wallis ending up getting Liz back.
22. She Earned A Cruel Nickname
As it turns out, Simpson could give it as good as she got. It didn't take long for her to come up with her own nickname for Elizabeth—one that was, if I’m honest, way better and way meaner than Liz's catty name for her. The notorious divorcee used to call Elizabeth “Cookie” because, after two children, Elizabeth had become a little plump and apparently reminded Simpson of their Scotch cook. Shots fired.
23. She Had An “Intolerable Honor”
Elizabeth’s hatred of Wallis Simpson and her disappointment in Edward didn’t end with her coronation, either. After the lavish ceremony took place, Elizabeth and the newly-minted King George VI called becoming King and Queen “an intolerable honor” that nearly ruined their lives. But before long, Elizabeth had much bigger problems.
24. A Tragedy Hit Her
In the summer of 1938, Elizabeth suffered a tragedy amid her chaos. Her mother, Lady Strathmore, passed. And then it got even more complicated. She and King George were due to make a state visit to France, and now all Elizabeth’s custom clothing needed to be in mourning colors. Never one to fuss, Elizabeth came up with a genius solution.
25. She Had A Signature Look
In order to overcome her haute-couture crisis, Elizabeth’s royal designer Norman Hartnell re-did her travel closet all in white, which was just as much a mourning color as black. His traditional, even old-fashioned tulle, lace, and chiffon confections soon became Elizabeth’s enduring classic style. Yet dark clouds were on the horizon.
26. She Had A Steely Interior
In the late 30s, WWII began, and Queen Elizabeth more than rose to the occasion. She became a symbol for stalwart British resolve along with her husband. She even refused to send her children to Canada for safety, famously saying, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave".
Although Elizabeth became iconic during these years, she also caused huge controversy.
27. She Insisted On Perfection
At the height of the danger, the German Luftwaffe destroyed huge swaths of East End London, and the Queen responded by visiting many of those affected by the bombings. However, in her traditional royal way, Elizabeth made these appearances while dressed to the nines in cheery, pastel colors and her finest jackets. To say this went poorly would be a huge understatement.
28. Crowds Jeered Her
The bereft crowds of the East End saw the Queen as out of touch and began to look at her visits with scorn. The people grew so angry with her that they even started jeering at Elizabeth and pelting their monarch with garbage. The Queen, somewhat tragically, never quite understood why—she felt that since the public would wear their best clothes to see her, it was only right she wore her best clothes to see them.
29. She desired to become heavily intoxicated.
Eventually, the Luftwaffe grew so powerful, they even dropped hits onto Buckingham Palace itself, the center of royal life. Elizabeth’s response was heartbreaking. Instead of focusing on herself, her mind was drawn to the devastated gatherings elsewhere in London. As she expressed, "I'm relieved we've experienced this hardship". It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face".
30. She Was A Sharp Shooter
If you think Queen Elizabeth sounds like one brassy broad now, just wait. Throughout the severe years of WW2, she enforced rationing within her entire royal household in solidarity with the nation—even a guesting Eleanor Roosevelt faced limited bathwater. Additionally, she acquired the skill to operate a firearm for her own protection. It didn't take long for a great enemy to notice her resolve…
31. She Was A Dangerous Woman
You know you’ve done something right when Adolf H hates you and has your face on a target. The Fuhrer was so threatened by Queen Elizabeth’s popularity throughout England, he actually called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe” at one point. I mean, do compliments get any better than that? I really don’t think so.
32. She Hosted Shameless Parties
For all that Queen Elizabeth was one heck of a dame during WWII, she really let it all hang out after peace came. She hosted legendarily riotous parties at Windsor Castle with courtiers and cabinet ministers alike, with the dignitaries playing very undignified games of “Sardines” all over the ancestral home. But that wasn’t all…
33. She Had A Secret Side
Elizabeth looked prim and proper on the outside, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our Liz was actually quite the little lush, and enjoyed a beverage routine that would knock some grown men off their feet. According to sources, the Queen's day included a Dubonnet at noon, a red beverage at lunch, port and a martini for supper, and two glasses of champagne for dinner. Yow.
34. She Was Unflappable
Elizabeth learned a thing or two about public relations during WW2, and she put these lessons to good use. One day, students protesting the monarchy threw toilet paper rolls at her. Elizabeth’s response? She picked up a roll, walked coolly over to the students, and said, “Was this yours? Oh, could you take it?' They were so flabbergasted they had no choice but to comply.
35. She Lost Her Temper One Infamous Day
Although Elizabeth’s fame was at its peak, everything up must come down. In 1947, while she was on a tour of South Africa, the Queen’s placid exterior broke—and revealed some unsavory tendencies. After a fan approached her car too quickly, she hit him violently on the head with her umbrella. It was a small moment, but it turned out to be an omen of dark things to come.
36. She Became A Young Widow
By the early 1950s, King George VI’s health took a turn for the worse. He had been suffering from bad circulation for years, but in 1951, doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer. Although the King had an operation to remove part of his lung and appeared to recover, it was all for naught. In February 1952, he passed. Elizabeth’s reaction was gut-wrenching.
37. She Tried To Be A Hermit
In one fell swoop, Elizabeth lost her title of Queen Consort and her beloved husband. Unable to bear the devastation, she became a recluse in Scotland and swore she would never take up public duties again. It took no one less than Prime Minister Winston Churchill to convince the former Queen that her country still needed her and to come out of retirement. Yet she still held grudges…
38. She Never Forgave Or Forgot
Elizabeth blamed two people for King George’s early end: the ex-King Edward and her old enemy Wallis Simpson. The former Queen Consort swore that if her “Bertie” had never borne the burden of the crown, he could have lived a long and healthy life. By abandoning their post as royals, Ed and Wallis had doomed her husband. Elizabeth was furious with the couple, and her revenge was brutal.
39. She Banned People From Her Husband’s Funeral
Elizabeth was now Queen Dowager to her daughter Elizabeth II, and she wasn’t here to play little parlor games anymore. Although Edward and Wallis Simpson made sounds about wanting to go to George’s funeral, Elizabeth staunchly refused to let them in. Yep, she denied Albert's own brother entry to his burial. And that’s far from all.
40. She Wasn’t What She Seemed
Elizabeth had grown up in the ravages of WWI, and survived horrors of another worldwide conflict as an adult. So it didn't surprised anyone that she didn’t shed a single tear at King George’s funeral—after all, she had to keep up appearances as the Rock of England. But behind closed doors was another story. When someone praised her for her stoicism, she replied, “Not in private".
Thing is, Elizabeth’s glory—and infamy—was just hitting its stride.
41. She Demanded A Title
During these widowed years, the 51-year-old Elizabeth never lost sight of her worth, and she demanded her daughter Elizabeth give her the unprecedented title “Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother". This wasn’t just to avoid confusion, oh no. It was mostly because our Elizabeth wanted everyone to know she was still a Queen, dangit. And the next phase of her life certainly echoed that…
42. She Had Witty One-Liners
Elizabeth also had a razor sharp wit well into her old age. When she attended a gala with the gay playwright Noel Coward, they passed a line of guards on their way up the stairs. After slyly watching Coward check out the men, she whispered pertly, "I wouldn't if I were you, Noël; they count them before they put them out".
43. She Had Extravagant Tastes
Elizabeth didn’t fade away in her twilight years, let me tell you, and in 1998, the newspapers broke a scandalous story. The aging Queen Mum somehow had an incredible 4 million pound overdraft at her bank, indicating the extravagance of her spending. In a truly boss move, the day the article came out, the Queen Mother went to the races. But then again, as we'll see, she had other secrets...
44. She Was “Impossible”
If nothing else, Elizabeth had stacks of self-awareness. When Margaret Thatcher stepped down, the Queen Mum asked a Tory minister why they sacked her. He answered, “Well, frankly Ma'am, towards the end she became completely impossible”. Quick as a flash, Elizabeth quipped back, “Oh, then I think I should be thankful you're not responsible for me”.
45. She Had A Naughty Birthday Surprise
In the end, the Queen Mother became one of the longest-lived royals in history, and her 100th birthday in 2000 was cause for celebration all over the Commonwealth. It was also a time for personal celebration for the centenarian herself; Elizabeth insisted on including a hint of her preferred spirit (or two) in the icing on her momentous birthday cake. Priorities: straight.
46. She Had A Wicked Sense Of Humor
Sadly, Elizabeth’s waning years were marked by accidents and tragedies. She suffered several broken bones in her old age, and underwent a slew of procedures in the hospital. Somehow, though, she managed to retain her sense of humor. When a fish bone got stuck in her throat and she rushed to hospital, the keen fisherwoman managed to joke, “The salmon got their own back".
But in private, Elizabeth wasn't so full of bravado.
47. She Was On The Cutting Edge
Some of Elizabeth’s biggest accomplishments had to do with the care she provided for others. In order to help her husband Bertie get over his pronounced stammer, Elizabeth supported him through his speech therapy work with the pioneering Lionel Logue. As you might know, the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech dramatized this period of their lives.
48. She Was Charming
The Queen Mother could charm crowds wherever she went, but one instance in particular is worthy of the history books. One time while on public duty, Elizabeth was in a long receiving line, shaking hands, when a stray dog wandered into the ceremony. Without skipping a beat, Elizabeth delightfully picked up the dog’s paw and shook it as well.
49. She Never Spoke
One of Elizabeth’s greatest legacies was a bizarre one: She hardly ever spoke in public. As a young newlywed, people called her “The Smiling Duchess” for her cheery, wordless demeanor, and she kept up the image throughout her husband’s reign. To Elizabeth, to be silent was to be an eternal figurehead; she called the strategy being “utterly oyster".
50. She Had A Sad Downfall
Although she lived an incredibly long life, Elizabeth’s end was tragic. As she grew weaker, she started shielding her aging body from the public. When she eventually had to travel by wheelchair, she demanded to fly in and out of Windsor castle via helicopter, just so the public would never see a photograph of her in a vulnerable state.
51. She Feuded With Princess Diana
In the 1980s, the royal family went through one of their most legendary crises when Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married, got dysfunctional, and then got divorced. But few know the Queen Mother’s unsettling role in the tragedy. She herself learned to utterly despise Diana and her scandals, once commenting, “I know she's very young, she ought to have known better”. Yet Elizabeth might have had other reasons to dislike her new in-law…
52. She Thought Princess Diana Was “Foul”
As the base of it, the Queen Mum was against everything Diana stood for as “the People’s Princess”. A traditionalist until the bitter end, Elizabeth thought that Diana and her controversies were “fouling up” the monarchy. Even in Diana's worst moments, she made no secret of her dislike of the young woman. Note: You do not want Elizabeth as your enemy.
53. She Went Through One Final Controversy
At the very end of her time, one last scandal threatened to ruin Elizabeth’s immaculate legacy, and this one was a doozy. In 1987, one of her biggest family secrets was exposed. Two of her nieces, Katherine and Nerissa Bowles-Lyon, were believed to have been gone for years—until the press discovered that they had, in fact, been concealed in psychiatric hospitals all along. The plot only thickened from there.
54. She May Have Hid A Secret “Shame”
As it turned out, Katherine and Nerissa weren’t mentally ill; they were mentally handicapped. People immediately (and rightly) criticized Elizabeth and her family for concealing them in disgrace, and then disguising their actions with certificates of demise. The family asserted that the notification of demise was merely a paperwork error, and Elizabeth completely disclaimed any awareness of the entire events. Many are skeptical of both claims.
55. She Went Out With A Bang
On March 30, 2002, Elizabeth passed at her apartments near Windsor Castle. Ever mindful of her image, the Queen Mum’s last wishes were ingenious and touching. Her funeral contained a wreath of camellias from her own garden, and she instructed her aides to place the decoration at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior once more, just as she had done on her wedding day nearly 80 years before. A class act, even from beyond the grave.