Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.” To the English, she was the woman everyone was in love with and who kept up morale during WWII. To Americans, she’s Helena Bonham Carter in that movie with Colin Firth. With 101 years under her belt, there is far too much to talk about, so here’s a quick look at the backbone of the United Kingdom who took down around 8 units of alcohol a day in the most refined way possible.
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born somewhere though no one’s entirely sure where–in 1900 to an ancient Scottish aristocratic family descended from Robert the Bruce (the guy who ((inaccurately)) dicked over Mel Gibson in “Braveheart.”). She was the second youngest of ten, and precocious at that: pouring icy water from the ramparts onto guests arriving at one of her four homes, Glamis Castle, putting footballs under the car wheels to pop and terrify the chauffeur. Kids are the best.
World War I broke out on her 14th birthday (historians remain divided on whether or not it was a direct result of her birthday wish) and Glamis Castle was immediately turned into a convalescent home for soldiers. While too young to be a nurse, Elizabeth was a crowd favorite. In 1916, a fire occurred in the castle, and 16 year-old Elizabeth had the wherewithal to call the fire brigades then organized soldiers into saving the castle’s most precious heirlooms.
Once the war ended, Elizabeth was able to “come out” into society, where all the fine families got together to tacitly auction off their eligible daughters. She immediately broke hearts right and left, perhaps wounding Prince Bertie (or Colin Firth) the most deeply. Bertie was the second son of King George V, a bit of a hardass who held the philosophy that children should be seen and not heard, something that no doubt suited Bertie who struggled with a stammer.
A Reluctant Duchess
He saw Elizabeth in 1919 at a ball and that was it: Elizabeth was the only girl for him. Trouble was, pretty much every dude at the time felt that way: she was charming, witty, smart, beautiful– and quite unwilling to become a blank, waving, royal clotheshorse. Poor stuttering Bertie had to ask Elizabeth three damn times to marry him before she finally said yes. Bertie’s mother, Queen Mary, went to visit this little upstart who kept saying no to a prince and came away convinced she was the only girl who could make her son happy. After his third attempt at proposing, Queen Mary received the joyous news Elizabeth had finally accepted Bertie’s proposal in an evocative telegram that read: “Alright – Bertie.” The nascent BBC was decidedly not allowed to broadcast the 1923 wedding lest men in pubs wearing hats listen.
Elizabeth and Bertie, the Duke and Duchess of York, had a pretty solid decade of marriage and two daughters, Elizabeth (England’s current and longest reigning queen as of the date of publication) and Margaret before more duty unexpectedly called. Honestly, being the spare to the throne of England isn’t a bad life, but Bertie’s older brother, Edward, the Prince of Wales, screwed it all up by falling for a divorced woman (gasp) from Maryland (God forbid)and abdicated his throne.
They were crowned king and queen in the years just before World War II began, which no one can blame on her birthday wish, though suspiciously it began just about a month later… Initially, she was in favor of appeasing the mad German with questionable facial hair. An unwise, but perhaps understandable position given she lost a brother and saw the carnage of World War I firsthand.
Queening Through WWII
Fortunately, Churchill had more of a backbone and England went to war. Whether she agreed or not, Elizabeth got behind it publicly. On a rallying mission to Canada and the US, Elizabeth and Bertie became the first British monarchs to step foot on American soil. She gets credit with some for getting the US to enter the war. She also spoke over the radio, in French, to the people of Occupied France, reminding them that they’d get the Nazis in the end. Hitler did not appreciate this.
During the German blitz of London, where Buckingham Palace was a giant and prized target, Elizabeth stayed, ignoring pleas that she be evacuated with her young princesses. She refused to leave, saying her daughters would only leave when she did, which is only when the King did, which would be never, so fuck off. Hitler might have appreciated that, giving him a chance to kill the royals, but still… on principle he probably hated it.
She made a point of visiting the hardest hit areas of London, especially the East End. In pastels and hats, Queen Consort Elizabeth (consort means she was equal to the king in rank, but lacked his military and political authority) climbed over rubble that she knew often hid unexploded devices, willingly and frequently putting her pretty blue blood at risk. She and the King also narrowly missed being crushed by castle walls from one of the bombs that found Buckingham.
But she wasn’t just sitting pretty. Elizabeth set up a shooting range in Buckingham Palace and practiced daily with a revolver, readying to single-handedly fight off any Nazis who invaded. Hitler was really just not a fan.
Bertie died in his sleep in 1952, making Elizabeth a widow and their daughter, Elizabeth, a queen. The Queen Mother, a name she adopted to avoid confusion with her daughter, is credited with inventing Walkabouts, where the royals go mingle and shake hands among the dirty commoners, and even instituted a policy of smiling at her subjects, which apparently up ‘til then, the royals hadn’t considered doing. Widowed Elizabeth continued slaying at the Queen game until her death in 2002, a few months after the death of her youngest daughter, Princess Margaret.
So, how do you drink like the prime enemy of Hitler?
Elizabeth gave you a fair number of options, but you should really try the Zaza cocktail, which has startlingly French origins. The Zaza is made with gin and Dubonnet, an aperitif created in the 1840s to make the malaria-preventing quinine a bit easier to drink for the French Foreign Legion. As it turns out, Dubonnet is a bit tough to drink on its own, so somewhere in the early 1900s, a genius added gin. Elizabeth reportedly preferred Gordon’s Gin.
Before some royal engagement, the Queen Mother said: “I think that I will take 21 small bottles of Dubonnet and gin with me this morning, in case it is needed,” which is a philosophy we should all ascribe to. Once we also get chauffeurs.
Zaza Cocktail: The Most Dangerous Woman’s Version
2 parts Dubonnet
1 part gin (preferably Gordon’s)
1 slice of lemon
Pour gin and Dubonnet in a glass of ice and stir very well. Strain into a chilled glass, add two ice cubes and the lemon slice, and wave regally to those around you.