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Diana’s letters to Queen Mother were burned

“Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother," a new royal biography to be released Friday, runs past 1,000 pages and divulges the Queen Mother's opinions on a wide range of topics. Key details are missing, though: The book reveals that Princess Margaret burned scores of letters Princess Diana had written to the Queen Mother because she deemed them too private.
/ Source: TODAY staff and wire

She was known for much of her life as the Queen Mother. And according to her official biography, she detested it.

"Horrible name," she wrote in a 1953 letter to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, died in 2002 at the advanced age of 101. The official account of her life by royal biographer William Shawcross runs past 1,000 pages and divulges the Queen Mother's opinions on topics ranging from feminism to homeopathy.

In the preface of the book, which will be released Friday, Shawcross said he quoted extensively from the Queen Mother's private correspondence, "because few of them had been seen before and because I found them remarkable — from childhood to old age she wrote with clarity and verve. Her letters illuminate sides of her character which were not always clear to people beyond her immediate family."

But some key correspondence was not accessible to Shawcross. He writes in his book that Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth's sister, burned scores of "highly personal" letters that Princess Diana had written to Queen Mother on the grounds that they were private and dangerous.

"No doubt Princess Margaret felt that she was protecting her mother and other members of the family," Shawcross writes. "It was understandable, although regrettable from a historical viewpoint."

British newspaper the Daily Mail reported that Shawcross' book contains very little detail about the Queen Mother's reaction to the dissolution of Price Charles' and Princess Diana's marriage, Diana's death in 1997, or Charles' longstanding affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, whose name is mentioned in the book only once.

The Daily Mail also noted that Princess Margaret's destruction of "much of Diana's correspondence in 1993 is likely to infuriate historians."

What Shawcross' book does do, however, is give a highly personal glimpse into the life of the Queen Mother over the course of the 20th century.

Remembering the Blitz
According to publishers MacMillan, it is the first official royal biography to be released in nearly 20 years. The last was the 1990 biography of Edward VIII, by Philip Ziegler, the publisher said.

The correspondence in "Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother" is illuminating for both royal watchers and historians. In a 1940 letter to her mother-in-law, Queen Mary, she describes the German bombing raid on Buckingham Palace, the royal family's London residence. A bomb struck the chapel, sending glass flying and leaving three people injured.

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 1998 file photo. Britain's Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, reacts, during the Royal Smithfield Show in London, England. She was known for much of her life as the queen mother. And according to her official biography, she detested it. Horrible name,\" she wrote in a 1953 letter to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.Kevin Lamarque

"One could not imagine that life could become so terrible," she wrote. "We must win in the end."

The letter ends with a postscript: "Dear old B.P. is still standing, and that is the main thing."

For the Queen Mother the attack brought home some of the realities that Londoners — particularly in the eastern neighborhoods — had struggled with daily while living through the Blitz. It also led to an oft-repeated phrase, that she could "now look the East End in the face."

Along with chronicling the Queen Mother's official life, there are references to her private time. Among the more surprising revelations, the book points out that she waged a secret battle against colon cancer in her 60s, and a separate battle against breast cancer in her 80s.

Other details in the book are more mundane. Her chef recalled that she liked sole and haddock, but wasn't crazy about monkfish. Omelets were a favored dish, and dislikes included smoked salmon, capers, oysters, and coconut.

Her preferred residence in the London area, according to Shawcross, was the Royal Lodge in Windsor. He described the home as "somewhat tired," with unreliable plumbing and central heating. "All this, together with the clutter of Wellington boots and gardening clothes just inside the front door, enhanced the feeling of old-fashioned country house living at Royal Lodge."

Daughter ascends to throneOriginally titled the Duke and Duchess of York, neither the Queen Mother nor her husband — the future King George VI — thought they would one day reign over the country. The abdication of Edward VIII — who stepped down to marry Wallis Simpson in 1937 — came as a "terrible surprise," the book quotes her as saying.

The Queen Mother also rejected a suggestion by Edward VIII that he remain king and marry Simpson.

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Some of her thoughts on Simpson are in the book, including her serious reservations over the appointment of Edward VIII as governor of the Bahamas. According to a copy of notes written in 1940, she says Simpson is held in low opinion by many, can't be counted on to set an example to the Bahamas, and that for Edward VIII, "a very difficult situation will arise over his wife."

King George died in 1952, sending his eldest daughter, Elizabeth — known to her family as Lilibet — to the throne. She was just 25 at the time.

"It is impossible for me to grasp what has happened, last night he was in wonderful form and looking so well," the Queen Mother wrote to Queen Mary. "It is hard to grasp, he was such an angel to the children and me, and I cannot bear to think of Lilibet, so young to bear such a burden."

This story contains reporting from The Associated Press.