Queen Mother letter in Staffordshire sale

Memories of royal romance a century ago have been sparked by the discovery of a letter from The Queen Mother – which was being used as a bookmark in a second-hand book.

The thank-you letter, estimated at £400-£600 in Hansons Auctioneers’ Bishton Library Auction in Staffordshire on February 26, is dated January 27, 1923 and followed news of the then Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s plans to marry Prince Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI. Buckingham Palace announced their engagement on January 15, 1923  – after his third marriage proposal was finally accepted. She famously rejected him twice due to fears about the impact of royal life. 

Thank-you letter written by The Queen Mother after her royal engagement in 1923
Credit: Hansons

The 101-year-old letter, sent to a Mrs Carmicheal of Downfield, Dundee, Scotland, was discovered by chance by the seller’s grandmother in a second-hand book decades ago. It has been passed down through the generations ever since. 

The seller, a 59-year-od teacher from Brighton, said: “It belonged to my grandmother who found it in a second-hand book she had purchased. It was being used as a bookmark. It was passed on to my mum, who sadly died in 2019 whereupon it became mine. It would have been purchased in Aberdeen in the late 1920s I believe. My family originate from there. Having said that, my great grandma was from Dundee where she worked in the jute mills, so that’s also a possible link.” 

Jim Spencer, works on paper specialist at Hansons, said: “What an extraordinary discovery to make. I have no doubt it would have been a treasured possession. Aside from its importance as a royal memento, an informal photo was pinned to it, possibly showing Mrs Carmichael with Elizabeth. The original envelope was retained, too, which suggests it was treasured by Mrs Carmichael. Perhaps she placed it inside a book to keep it flat and, overtime, mislaid it. 

This fascinating letter shows how the power of love circulates through all of our lives, even in royal circles. It’s not dissimilar to a classic fairy tale or modern rom-com, this idea of a future king proposing three times before he finally wins the heart of his one true love.”  

When Elizabeth finally agreed to marry Prince Albert, congratulations letters flooded including one from Mrs Carmichael.  Elizabeth busied herself replying to them all, so much so it wore out her hand. 

She shared this information in the  letter – signed Elizabeth Lyon – which hints at the huge excitement sparked by the royal wedding news. The letter, on  ‘17 Bruton Street, WI’  letterhead, was part typewritten and part handwritten. Elizabeth explains why in the note which reads: 

Dear Mrs Carmichael, 

Thank you so much for your kind letter of congratulations which I much appreciate. 

Of course I remember the Garden Fete at Downfield. 

You will forgive only a short note I know, but I have more letters to answer than I can manage. (Handwritten) And also this typewritten letter, but my hand has almost given out! 

Thank-you letter with envelope sent by The Queen Mother after her royal engagement in 1923
Credit: Hansons

The letter has sparked memories of a ground-breaking royal romance a century ago. Though Elizabeth was the daughter of a peer, at that time princes were expected to marry princesses from other royal families.  

However, Prince Albert, Duke of York ‘Bertie’  vowed he would marry no other woman. He first proposed to Elizabeth in 1921 but she turned him down, “afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to”. 

Aware of Albert’s lovelorn situation, his mother, Queen Mary, visited the girl who had stolen her son’s heart. She became convinced  Elizabeth was “the one girl who could make Bertie happy”, but  refused to interfere. At the same time, Elizabeth was courted by James Stuart, Albert’s equerry, until he left the prince’s service. 

In February 1922, Elizabeth was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Albert’s sister, Princess Mary, to Viscount Lascelles. The following month, Albert proposed again – and she refused again. Eventually in January 1923 Elizabeth agreed to marry Albert, despite her misgivings about royal life. Albert’s freedom in choosing Elizabeth, not a member of a royal family, was considered a gesture in favour of political modernisation. They selected a platinum engagement ring featuring a Kashmir sapphire with two diamonds. 

The couple married on April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abbey. Following a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace they honeymooned at Polesden Lacey, a Surrey manor house owned by wealthy socialite. They then went to Scotland, where Elizabeth caught “unromantic” whooping cough. 

Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002) was Queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from  December 11, 1936 to February 6, 1952 as the wife of King George VI. She was widowed at 51. She was viewed as the matriarch of the British royal family and was active in public life until a few months before her death at the age of 101.