William Shawcross’s official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, published in September 2009, was a huge critical and commercial success.
One of the great revelations of the book was Queen Elizabeth’s insightful, witty private correspondence. Indeed, The Sunday Times described her letters as “wonderful . . . brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness.”
Now, Shawcross has put together a selection of her letters, drawing on the vast wealth of material in the Royal Archives and at Glamis Castle. Queen Elizabeth was a prolific correspondent from her earliest childhood before the First World War to the very end of her long life at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and her letters offer readers a vivid insight into the real person behind the public face.
“[The Queen Mother’s letters] do offer a fascinating, provocative first-hand glimpse into another world . . . Perhaps the most endearing side of the collection is the sheer number of earnest thank-you notes, written for everything from gifts to visits, and a great many written to Elizabeth's mother-in-law, Queen Mary, with whom Elizabeth carries on a warm and intimate correspondence. Elizabeth clearly delights in her friends, and is charmingly quick to offer assistance, take an interest in others' lives, and have a laugh at her own expense . . . Read [Counting One’s Blessings] for the sheer entertainment value.” —Heather Horn, The Atlantic
“William Shawcross, a renowned writer and broadcaster who has been given access to nine decades of remarkable correspondence from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, has traced the stories the letters tell . . . From childhood onwards, her words danced on the page, teeming with vitality, ebullience and optimism . . . Her letters showed a relish for language and sparkled with the joy of living.” —The Times of India
“The intriguing new book of letters shows the unlikely evolution of the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a charming, vivacious young woman who was one of the most sought-after debutantes of her day, into a gifted queen who became an enduring symbol of the British monarchy . . . she evolved into a curious, vital young woman who was an avid reader.” —Lorna Koski, Women’s Wear Daily
“With correspondents ranging from Kenneth Clark to Osbert Sitwell, as well as her parents-in-law, daughters and eldest grandson, the Queen Mother’s selected letters—collated by her official biographer, William Shawcross—are seldom dull . . . [Counting One’s Blessings] provides a study of maturing character against the background of great events . . . However fluffy the Queen may have seemed when young, she proved her mettle in 1939–45. Her wartime letters, showing her abnegation, selfless duty and distress, make impressive reading. They reach, at moments, an eloquent intensity . . . These letters exemplify the truth of a remark of Auden’s. ‘Be good and you will be happy is a dangerous inversion,’ the poet wrote. ‘Be happy and you will be good is the truth. Men often speak of their right to happiness. In fact, it is their only duty.’ The Queen saw happiness as a duty—not an entitlement—because it was her route to good works.” —Richard Davenport-Hines, The Times Literary Supplement
“One of the most appealing aspects of the Queen Mother was her zest for life to the end—her passion for the arts, horse racing, foreign travel and whizzing round the country in helicopters. She cared nothing about money; even the Queen complained wryly about her extravagance. ‘There’s something about her that's kept very young,’ Ted Hughes wrote . . . [Counting One’s Blessings is] expertly edited and introduced by William Shawcross.” —Sarah Bradford, The Literary Review