Britain's Royal Families (1989)
"A useful and speedy reference book for royal enthusiasts." (Publishing News)
"This staggeringly useful book…combines solid information with tantalising appetisers. All the monarchs and their offspring are here in one volume. An indispensable reference book if ever I saw one." (The Sunday Times)
"Interesting reading in a fact-filled book. More than 22 years of research went into its making… It is a must for anyone interested in royalty." (Yorkshire Gazette and Herald)
"An exhaustive guide to the heritage of today`s royal family, and an invaluable source book for royalty watchers, students and researchers."
(Evening Leader, Wrexham)
"This book is a treat." (The Universe)
"The riveting lowdown on all the royal houses of England, Scotland and Great Britain from 800 A.D.." (Manchester Evening News)
"Handy [and] useful. This is a work of reference that is stuffed with unadorned information. The casual dipper may be surprised by what it reveals..." (The Sunday Times, Vulture Classic Choice)
"It may be an exhaustive guide, but it is not an exhausting read." (North West Evening Mail)
"A gem of a book - also great for finding an unusual name for your child and for settling arguments!" (The Bookfiend's Kingdom)
The only two surviving images from Alison's first author jacket photo shoot; taken by Koo Stark at the Lichfield Studios, 1989. The photo on tne right was taken on the day Alison's first book was published, in September 1989.
REST WELL, OUR DEAR QUEEN MOTHER by ALISON WEIR
British Heritage, September 2002
The full text of this article follows:
In all Britain's long history of monarchy, few members of the ruling caste have inspired such love and popular devotion as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Longer-lived than any previous king or queen, she has now passed to her last rest, and with her goes yet another link with a vanished age. For the Queen Mother's lifetime spanned three centuries: born in the last year of the 19th century, on 4 August 1900, she lived through the whole of the 20th century, and died in the second year of the 21st. In her lifetime she witnessed some of the greatest social and technological changes in history and some of the worst wars, as well as dramatic changes within the royal family itself.
The Queen Mother was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the second youngest of the ten children of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, and spent much of her happy and carefree childhood at their Scottish castle of Glamis, an ancient fortress steeped in mysterious and chilling legends. This was the long-vanished Edwardian era, the last flowering of a social order that would be extinguished with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Elizabeth was just fourteen, and when Glamis was converted into a hospital for wounded servicemen, she performed many kindnesses for them, running errands and writing letters home. On one occasion, her quick thinking saved the castle from being destroyed by fire and its treasures burned. Like many people, she faced personal tragedy when her brother Fergus was killed in action.
After the war. Lady Elizabeth emerged into Society with grace and poise, and turned the heads of many young men. She was not fast in her morals, nor did she achieve her exquisite English-rose looks by artifice; instead, she was natural and unaffected. There were, of course, suitors aplenty. Among them was Albert, Duke of York, second son of King George V and Queen Mary. Diffident and shy, he had endured an unhappy childhood as the sickly child of undemonstrative parents, and had developed a painful stutter.
At this time, Elizabeth was particularly attracted to another young man, Lord James Stuart, but her mother disapproved of him and made certain that Prince Albert was invited to Glamis instead. Albert's mother, Queen Mary, was also a guest, at a time when Lady Strathmore was ill and Elizabeth was acting as hostess in her place. The Queen was very impressed with her, and certain that she would be the right wife and helpmeet for 'Bertie', as he was known in the family.
Prince Albert proposed twice, but Elizabeth turned him down on the grounds that she had no wish to undertake the public duties that life as a member of the royal family would involve. Yet the couple continued to meet and grow closer, and when he asked her again if she would marry him, the answer was yes. The King and Queen were overjoyed to receive the news in a telegram from their son, which bore the simple message, 'All right. Bertie.' George V was entranced with his future daughter-in-law: a stickler for punctuality, he astonished all present by making excuses for her when she was late for dinner, and even when she gave an ill-advised interview to the press - her first and last - he was indulgent and forgiving.
The young couple were married in 1923 in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth took as naturally to royal life as if she had been born to it, and won hearts everywhere with her charm, her gracious smile and her common touch. All who met her were left with the impression that she had been genuinely interested in them. As for Bertie, he was entranced: Elizabeth, who was warm and loving, had a gift for creating a happy home, and he had never been so happy in his life.
In 1926, the couple's joy was complete when their first child was born, the future Queen Elizabeth II, who was known in the family as Lilibet. The baby was born by Caesarian section, as was her sister, Princess Margaret Rose,-who arrived in 1930. The Duchess was thrilled with her first child, yet when Lilibet was nine months old, the Duke and Duchess were sent abroad on a world tour that lasted six months. Elizabeth felt the parting dreadfully, even though Queen Mary kept her up-to-date on her daughter's progress, but in those days it was held that duty should come before personal considerations. Everywhere she went, the Duchess was all smiles, and no one would have guessed how much she was missing her baby.
The Yorks, who soon afterwards moved to a fine mansion at 145 Piccadilly, seemed to be the ideal family. During the early 1930s, the public and the media could not get enough of the little Princesses, who were beautifully dressed and impeccably behaved, and enjoyed a happy home life in which their parents were far more involved than most aristocratic mothers and fathers. Then the outside world once again intervened to interrupt this idyll. In 1936, George V died and his eldest son succeeded as Edward VIII. Few knew at that time that the bachelor King had for some time been involved in a relationship with an American divorcee, Mrs Wallis Simpson, a woman of whom the Duchess of York most certainly did not approve. When it became clear that the King intended to marry Mrs Simpson, the press, which had maintained an unusually restrained silence on the affair, erupted in condemnation, as did the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury: it was unthinkable that the head of a church that did not recognise divorce should marry a woman who had two husbands still living.
In the end, Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother, the Duke of York. The distressed Duke did not want the responsibility of kingship: he was not trained for it and still stuttered badly. Yet he had no choice. It was fortunate that the new King George VI, as he was styled, had as his consort a woman who was determined to make a success of him. Although Elizabeth was as reluctant as he, she made the best of the situation, and settled into the role of Queen-Empress with confidence and grace. She engaged a speech therapist to help her husband, and whenever the King had one of his intermittent outbursts of rage and frustration, she would soothe him and keep him calm. Always she was behind him, kindly and supportive, and the monarchy, which had sunk to a low ebb at the time of the abdication, rapidly recovered its prestige, thanks almost entirely to her efforts.
When, in the late 1930s, the King and Queen paid state visits to France and America, they received an ecstatic welcome and were able to help forge ententes that would stand Britain in good stead in the years to come. For war was looming on the horizon. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany had led to the occupation of the Sudetenland and Austria, and when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Britain declared war. The Princesses were sent to the safety of Windsor Castle, but when it was suggested that the King and Queen take them abroad, the Queen adamantly refused. They would all stay to take their chance with the rest.
When the Blitz began in 1940, King George and Queen Elizabeth began visiting the bombed-out areas, comforting and cheering the people, the Queen always concerned and sympathetic. 'Ain't she bloody lovely!' one Cockney observed. Buckingham Palace was bombed several times, but the Queen merely commented, 'At last, I can look the East End in the face.' Her letters reveal how affected she was by the suffering of the people.
She was tireless in her war efforts. She addressed the women of Britain on radio, held sewing groups at Buckingham Palace, and visited the wounded in hospital. When told that behind one door there lay a man with horrific burns that might upset her, she insisted upon seeing him, her smile as unflinchingly gracious as ever. She and the King forged warm friendships with Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt, and when the war ended, and the royal family emerged onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Mr Churchill, they became a focus for the joy and hopes of the people.
After the war, in 1947, the King and Queen rejoiced in the marriage of their daughter Elizabeth to her distant cousin, Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, who was created Duke of Edinburgh, and the subsequent births of their grandchildren. Prince Charles in 1948 and Princess Anne in 1950. But the King was a sick man. Always a heavy smoker, he had contracted lung cancer. An operation offered a temporary respite, but the Queen knew her beloved husband was dying. In February 1952, as Princess Elizabeth and her husband left on a state visit to Africa, he stood on the tarmac waving goodbye, a gaunt, haggard figure who probably knew he would never see his Lilibet again. Soon afterwards, he died in his sleep at Sandringham, and his daughter became Queen Elizabeth II. .
Queen Elizabeth, now the Queen Mother, was prostrated with grief. After the ordeal of the funeral and her move to Clarence House, she could see no reason to carry on, and was resolved to retire for good from public life when a friend showed her over remote Scottish castle on the coast of Caithness - the Castle of Mey. It was in poor condition, and very spartan, but the Queen Mother could see its potential and bought it. Over the following months, as she carefully restored it as a holiday home for herself, the healing process began, and she came to realise that she could still be of service to her country. After that, she never looked back, but changed the role of a Queen Mother - traditionally very much a low key one - into something very high-profile. She undertook a wide range of public engagements, went on foreign tours, began once more to enjoy a social life, and established herself as a serious art collector. She also took up horse racing, which was a passion to the end of her life.
Within a very short time, she had regained her former status and become the nation's favourite grandmother. Charming and delightful in her trademark pastel clothes and flowery hats, she won golden opinions everywhere. Her great popularity endured to her death in March 2002, surviving and transcending all the tragic scandals that have embroiled the royal family. To the end, the Queen Mother preserved the traditions of monarchy to which she was reared, the traditions of duty, dignity, service and personal obligation, which may seem out of date today but have certainly served both her and the people of Britain well. We will never see her like again, this grand old Victorian who has guided and inspired the monarchy for well over sixty years. Without her, we shall all be the poorer.
Alison's unpublished English Aristocratic Pedigrees is a vast work still in progress, which she has been researching since before 1970, although there is little prospect of it ever being published, simply because Alison may never get time to finish it and draw up all those family trees to a standard acceptable for publication.
Britain`s Royal Families has been updated twice, for the 1996 and 2002 editions. However, it`s the kind of book that is never finished. Alison keeps a working copy, which is covered in blue ink revisions, but sadly, when Vintage reissued the book in 2008, they didn`t give her the opportunity of updating the text again. Alison hopes to work on a comprehensively updated edition soon.
There was a relatively small print run of the hardback of Britain`s Royal Families, and it is now very rare indeed. It appears from time to time in online bookstores, but at very high prices - up to about £450. Back in the Nineties, Alison received many letters asking for help with tracking down the hardback, and it got to the stage where the publishers sold their own publicity copy. The book has been revised and reprinted three times in paperback - the latest edition was published by Vintage in 2008. This is the only one of Alison's books never to have been published in America.
Alison recommends a very good wall chart, Kings and Queens of Great Britain, by Anne Taute. It`s not as exhaustive as Britain's Royal Families, but it is pretty accurate and beautifully produced. You`ll need to do an online search for it, as it came out in 1991 and is out of print, but there are copies out there.