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Britain's Queen Mother Dies

Aired March 30, 2002 - 15:46   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Another major development for today out of Great Britain, as Britons mourn the loss of the queen mother. At 101 years old, she passed away in her sleep earlier today. And Brits have been continuing to go to the Windsor Castle there where they continue to expound on their great loss of what many have called the great grandmother of England. Here's now what many of those citizens have been saying about the loss of the queen mother.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard about it when (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and he told us what happened, and we (UNINTELLIGIBLE). As we were in London, we'd come down here, and we chipped in and brought some flowers, and then we just thought she's like the nation's favorite grandma, so for us, respectful to come down and show our respects to her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was probably the last of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and so -- I know (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of my family I wanted (UNINTELLIGIBLE) really like her, and just, from what I -- as I say, I haven't been around that long, but from what I sort of known of her, it's sort of really good for the country and it's going to be a sort of great loss for the monarchy and for the queen, especially in the year in losing her daughter (ph) as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was just (UNINTELLIGIBLE), wasn't she? I mean, she's been around a lifetime, and I don't know -- she represents all that is good, I think, for this country.


WHITFIELD: Citizens there remembering the remarkable life of the queen mum who died today at 101 years old, affectionately known as the favorite grandmother, the icon of our century, and the richest jewel in the royal family's crown.

Joining us now is Robert Hardman. He's a royal writer with the "Daily Mail," and he joins us now from London on the telephone there. Good afternoon -- or good evening, rather, there.

ROBERT HARDMAN, "DAILY MAIL": It's evening here, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, surely, we heard from some of the Brits there who say they just loved her, she so connected with the common people. She, like Princess Diana, really had their own place in the royal family, don't they?

HARDMAN: Yes, she has had a very special place in the heart of the nation, really, for the best part of a century. I think anyone of any age will have great cause to remember her with great affection and thanks. Probably most of all, obviously, the wartime generation, I think that is when she really did come to symbolize the nation in human form, if you like. She was so -- so much part of that -- that wartime resistance to the blitz and the British war spirit. And after the war, she just became this very remarkable figurehead who supported hundreds if not thousands of different charities and organizations, and kept supporting them right -- right to the end of her life.

WHITFIELD: And given her popularity, how do you expect that people there will be expressing the great loss that they are feeling?

HARDMAN: I think -- I think it will be more of -- more a sense of deep affection, reflection, rather than outright shock. We've known she's been quite ill for sometime. Obviously, there was the terrible news of Princess Margaret's death quite recently.

So, you know, she at the age of 101, I think there was a sense of the passing of a great figure. Is rather like when any great elder statesman, if you like, passes away. I think it's a time for great appreciation of their life and also reflection on all that they did. I think we'll start seeing tomorrow, once the news has sunk in, I am quite sure the crowds are going to start heading down to Windsor where she died, a tribute there, and also in London. Her principal home is Clarence House in London, and I'm quite sure tomorrow there is going to be a great deal of mourning there.

We know that the books (ph) of condolence are going to start opening up there tomorrow morning, and I think a lot of people are going to want to pay their respects.

WHITFIELD: So many people say they felt that they knew her because she so wore her personality on her sleeve. It was just her smile, it was just her candor, it was just the way she was able to connect with the common people. At the same time, there were some mysteries about her, weren't there, particularly about her birthplace.

HARDMAN: Yes, well, that's one of the great unanswered questions, maybe we'll never really know the answer. She was a very private woman, in many respects. She was a very traditional in that regard. She kept her thoughts to herself. Every now and then, there might be a little bit of tittle-tattle, someone's diary might suggest a particular view on a particular issue, but often those bits of gossip would contradict each other.

I mean, she really kept her own counsel. She never gave any interviews after her engagement, and very much believed that, you know, she was there to fulfill a public role, and what happened in private was in private. And many of these things I'm sure we'll never really know.

WHITFIELD: Does that at all -- that type of mystery, does that at all seem to bother people there, as to, you know, wanting to know everything they can about someone they so loved?

HARDMAN: Well, certainly, obviously we in the media always want to know about everything. We don't always get our way. I think -- I'm sure that there are, as with any great figure, there's always certain stories in their lives that may never come out, but I think at the moment no one is really focusing on that. I think it's just a great sense of the passing of a great national figure.

WHITFIELD: If you were to write her obituary, what would some of the remarkable mentions be?

HARDMAN: I think she was someone who married a man who didn't think he'd be king, who became king, and was an extremely successful king. And it was in very large part due to her. And he was a remarkable king who helped a nation through probably the greatest crisis for several centuries, and he did it, and he couldn't have done it without her. And I think that is the thing for which Britain will always be truly grateful.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much. Robert Hardman, a royal writer with the "Daily Mail." The queen mother of England dead now at 101 years old. She was born August 4, 1900, as Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon.

And now Walter Rodgers helps us understand the legacy of the queen mum.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the better part of a century, she waved to the British people, first as the duchess of York, then queen, then later as queen mother. Now it was Britain's turn to wave goodbye. Few alive today recall that it was the queen mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who actually rescued the British monarchy before the second world war. Rescued it during the 1936 abdication crisis. For that, she earned the undying gratitude of the British people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They especially love her because she turned her husband into a king and helped him stand up and helped Britain win the war.

RODGERS: In 1936, Britain's crisis was not a war. It was the decision of King Edward VIII to give up the thrown. He wanted to marry an American divorcee, Wallace Simpson, and chose to abdicate to do it. One journalist called the abdication the greatest news story since the resurrection.

At that time, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the duchess of York, sister-in-law of Edward the abdicator. He stepped down because he said he could not reign without the woman he loved. To marry the woman he loved, Edward had to give up the British thrown.

Elizabeth was married to Edward's brother George, who was next in line. By all accounts, George dreaded the thought of becoming king, dreaded the spotlight. So did his wife Elizabeth. She was angry this absence of choice was thrust upon her and her husband. She knew her husband was ill equipped, feared he would not make it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Faced this appalling prospect for a very shy, very nervous, very stuttering, and not very intellectual young man to suddenly have to take on this astonishing role. And she had to support him, and she felt protective towards him and furious with the man and the woman who had forced this to happen.

RODGERS: There were very real concerns George VI could not cope. His hobby was needlework. At the time, England was headed for war with Hitler. Some feared he would not make it through his own coronation.

It was Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon who then became queen and mother to the current queen, who gave her husband courage, strength and spine. Scots blood coursed through her, steel of Macbeth, some said.

If her husband was not ready, reluctantly, she was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What she saw was the huge unbelievable burden that had been imposed on her husband and her children because of Wallace Simpson. They could have grown up -- the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret -- in a relatively normal fashion. Her husband would probably have lived for many years longer had it not been for Wallace Simpson.

RODGERS: Wallace Simpson simply was not acceptable in Britain or to the commonwealth in 1936. She was divorced, she was American, she was a commoner. Worse, she had made an enemy of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the woman who became queen and later queen mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reality of the situation is that Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, as she became, did not particularly like Wallace Simpson, felt that she had led her brother-in-law astray. Resented her for the fact that she had catapulted her husband onto the thrown, which she did not want.

RODGERS: And there lies one of history's great riddles: Why would the queen mother so dislike the woman who paved the way for her to become queen? One theory: jealousy. Elizabeth was one of the many women that Edward passed over before falling in love with Wallace Simpson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had sad blue eyes, and wherever he went people wanted to be in his presence. She, too, fell under that spell.

RODGERS: In subsequent decades, the royal family came to dismiss that as mere rumor. If truth be told, however, Edward VIII may have been unsuited to be king -- foppish, feckless, privately sympathetic to Adolf Hitler. So Edward abdicated, gave us his thrown. His brother, George VI, didn't want it, but his wife -- herself a commoner -- saved the royal family in this crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the best thing that ever happened to the royal family. It saved the house of Windsor. It took somebody, a commoner, a Scottish aristocrat, but nevertheless a commoner, to really put some tough fiber and sensibility. And she became very royal as she went on.

RODGERS: On that one issue nearly everyone agrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the queen mother provided a great balance of stability. She was a strong woman who strengthened, reinvigorated the dynasty. And in a sense her legacy is to be found in Queen Elizabeth II, who is also a considerable monarch.

RODGERS: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, mother to a queen, wife to a king, sister-in-law to another king. Not considered the intellectual equal of the first Queen Elizabeth, but certainly her equal in force of will. It was that will that rescued the British monarchy in the great abdication crisis. That will which strengthened her husband during the second world war. And it was her willpower which helped hold the British monarchy together through two more generations, through the divorces of Charles and Diana and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Andrew and Fergie.

Now one can only guess how the royal family will manage without her.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, London.





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