With just a few more days to go before Christmas, we thought it would be fun to look at a few letters written over the Christmas holidays by Elizabeth Bowes Lyon. The letters chosen for this post show her spirit and sense of fun, and give some insight into what it was like growing up as a free spirited aristocratic Lady in the early 19o’s. This post covers the years from 191o (when she was just ten years old!) to 1921 when she had become good friends with Prince Albert.
All of these letters are part of the collection published in The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: Counting One’s Blessings by William Shawcross. We highly recommend this book to any Royal watchers, it is a delightful read. It can be purchased here.
Before we jump in, let’s have a little refresher. The Honourable Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born in August of 1900 (there is some debate around the actual date). In 1904, her father inherited the Earldom of Strathmore and Kinghorne, making her Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. The family split their time between the famous Glamis Castle in Scotland, St. Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire, and a series of rented houses in London.
St. Paul’s Walden Bury has been owned by the family since the 1700’s and it is possibly where Elizabeth was born, though there is a degree of mystery around that. Click here or here for a bit more on that if you’re intrigued!
As you can see below, St. Paul’s Walden Bury is an impressive red brick house and it is surrounded by extensive grounds.
The letter below was written from St. Paul’s Walden Bury to The Honourable Fenella Trefusis when Elizabeth was ten years old. She was known in the Strathmore family as ‘Neva’ and married Elizabeth’s brother Hon. John Bowes-Lyon (known by family and friends as ‘Jock’) on September 29, 1914
16 December, 1910 to Fenella Trefusis from St. Paul’s Walden Bury
My Dear Neva,
Thank you very much for the delicious box of chocolates. You did not put who it was from, but two or three day’s later Rose wrote and told me it was you. Isn’t it awful perhaps we are going to have Xmas in London!!!! Think of it X-mas in London. Yours was the first present I have received. It was most awfully kind of you to think of us. I haven’t the slighted notion of where you are staying so I am going to look in the Red Book. I am afraid you will hardly be able to read my writing as it is nearly tea-time and the lamps have not come on yet. It has been raining and blowing for the last three days.
David sends his love and wishes me to thank you for the chocolates.
Good-bye with much love from
She sounds like a delightful ten year old, right? Oh the horrors of Christmas in London! And I love how the lamps had to be put on.
Jumping ahead five years, the 1915 letter below is to Beryl Poignand, who was hired as Elizabeth’s governess from 1914-17 and became a close confidant. Their relationship continued until Beryl’s death in 1965. As a matter of fact, Beryl helped to organize the exhibition of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding presents and the accompanying catalog in 1947.
Something else to remember while reading this (somewhat cheeky!) letter is that Glamis Castle was being used as a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers and Elizabeth befriended many of them.
Sunday 26 December 1915 to Beryl Poignand
My Dear Silly Ass
Thank you very much for your letter. Always received with grateful thanks. I wonder if you have left London, anyhow I shall send this to Cheltenham.
Well, I hope you had a very happy Christmas, and nice presents. Would you like to know what I had?
Father gave me a wristwatch, Mother a kettle, Rosie some hankies, Aunti Vava a picture, Grannie a bowl, May a pair of shoe buckles etc. In fact rather nice useful presents. I hope you like the book. […]
The men liked the Tree very much. I think, they each got an electric torch, a shirt, & chocolate & crackers & things.
I believe the noise last night at ‘lights out’ was something appalling, trumpets & squeaky things going like mad etc. Abel said, ‘It’s a funny thing, I wanted a bloomin’ cigarette case, and I wanted a blinkin’ electric torch and I got ’em both’! So he ought to be quite pleased. Pegg asked me if you’d gone to Cheltenham. Ernest was simply delighted with his book. Of course we drank ‘To hell with the b—– Kaiser’ last night and good ‘health to Henry and Larry.” […]
Good-bye, farewell, fare ye well, Tarry not, so long, au devoir, good bye, farewell etc etc etc and so on for 2 pages.
Abel, Pegg, and Ernest were all convalescent soldiers at Glamis during WWI. Ernest Pearce developed a life long relationship with Elizabeth, and eventually became garden at her home, Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park until he died in 1969.
Our next Christmas letter was written five years later in 1920. It was on July 8, 1920, that Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon first met Prince Albert at a RAF ball (in a letter dated to just a few days later she wrote to Beryl Poignand “I went to the RAF Ball at the Ritz…I danced with Prince Albert who I hadn’t known before, he is quite a nice youth.” They would have just known each other five months by the time she wrote this note.
23 December 1920 to the Duke of York
St. Paul’s Walden Bury
Dear Prince Albert
Thank you so very much for the lovely little box, which I simply love.
It is so nice of you think of giving it to me, and very many thanks. It is so pretty, and will help to ornament my sitting room in Bruton Street next year. I was so sorry about the dance on Tuesday, but my mother has really been very ill, and I couldn’t leave her.
She is a little better, which is a great relief. Did you enjoy Lady Evelyn’s dance last week? I loved it, tho’ I enjoyed ‘your party’ at Mrs Greville’s even more. I feel I shall not be going to another one for moths, which is dreadfully sad. I lead such a deadly existence here, that there is simply nothing to tell you – oh except that I have just fallen into a pond! The only event which happened for weeks!
I hope you will have a very merry Xmas, & I send you all my best wishes for 1921. I hope it will be a very happy year for you. Thank you again a thousand times for the darling little box – I do love it.
I am Sir,
Things had warmed up a bit by the time Elizabeth wrote a thank you note the next Christmas in 1921. She had moved from calling him ‘Prince Albert’ to ‘Prince Bertie’ after all!
Friday December 21 1921 to the Duke of York
Dear Prince Bertie,
Just a line to wish you a happy Xmas, and a wonderful New Year, full of everything delicious & joyful. I am not quite sure where you are, but will send this to York Cottage. Please forgive pencil, but I am writing in bed with a chill or flu or something.
Your delightful present has just arrived as I write!
I simply cannot thank you enough, it is the most darling little clock, and I simply love it. Thank you a million times – you should not give me such a lovely present. It really is too pretty for words, and besides being pretty useful too. I am enchanted with it. Also that is an excellent photograph of you – I wish I had got something to send you too.
All good wishes, & good luck
Yours v sincerely
Over the next two years, Prince Albert proposed several times until she finally accepted during a visit to St. Paul’s Walden Bury in January of 1923, where we will pick up in the next installment.If you’re in the mood for a bit more, check this post out for another charming letter.
What do you think of these letters? We hope they have helped you get into the festive spirit!