The Strathmore Cousins

by The Laird o’Thistle
October 22, 2006

Revised November 27, 2016

The genesis of this column is actually the result of my running across a booklet on Glamis Castle while doing the autumnal housecleaning, and it spurred me to look a bit further into the question of the Queen’s maternal relations. And I must admit to having been pleased to get a clearer picture of this part of H.M.’s extended family.

As is well known, the late Queen Mother was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on August 4, 1900. She was the daughter of Claude, 14th Earl of Strathmore, and his wife Nina Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck. They were a couple in whom old Scots’ bloodlines joined old English bloodlines, with a significant dollop of noble – even royal – Irish and Welsh DNA to add spice and flavor. The Queen Mum even managed to be a many-times-removed grandniece (by marriage) of the Scots’ Reformer John Knox, whose first wife was a Bowes. More importantly, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a 19th-generation descendant of King Robert II, the first Stewart King of Scots who was a grandson of Robert the Bruce. (That makes H.M. the Queen Bruce’s 20xg-granddaughter.) This occurred via the marriage of Robert II’s daughter Joanna to Sir John Lyon in the 14th century of the Common Era, and the royal hunting lodge at Glamis came into the family with the bride. The family connection did not, however, prevent James V (the father of Mary Queen of Scots) from burning the widow of the 6th Lord Glamis – a member of the Douglas family, which the King despised – at the stake as a witch. He also confiscated the castle, though it was returned to the young 7th Lord after the King’s death. In the 18th century, the Lyon family preferred the Stuarts to the Hanoverians, and the Old Pretender (James VIII) actually performed the traditional healing rite of “touching for the King’s evil” in the chapel at Glamis. “Auld lang syne,” to be sure.

But, I digress….

The Queen Mother was the ninth of ten children born to the 14th Earl and Countess. The Bowes-Lyon brood of that generation consisted of the following:

  • Lady Violet Hyacinth B-L, 1882-1893
  • Lady Mary B-L, Lady Elphinstone, 1883-1961
  • Patrick B-L, 15th Earl of Strathmore, 1884-1949
  • Hon. John B-L, 1886-1930
  • Hon. Alexander B-L, 1887-1911
  • Hon. Fergus B-L, 1880-1915, killed in action in WWI
  • Lady Rose B-L, Countess of Granville, 1890-1967
  • Hon. Michael B-L, 1893-1953
  • Lady Elizabeth B-L, the Queen Mother, 1900-2002
  • Hon. David B-L, 1902-1961

The Bowes-Lyon brothers demonstrated an affinity for joining the Black Watch in WWI, including Fergus… the one who was killed. The Queen Mother later viewed the regiment as a family connection and retained a deep affection and connection for it to her death. She would undoubtedly have been dismayed at the recent reorganization of the Scottish regiments. The Earldom itself passed in 1972 from the line of Patrick Bowes-Lyon, the eldest brother, to that of the fifth son, Michael. Glamis Castle has descended in the principal male line with the earldom, while the other family estate of St. Paul’s Waldenbury in northern England passed to the youngest son, David, and on to his son Simon. David Bowes-Lyon actually died unexpectedly at Birkhall while visiting his sister there in 1961. The elder of the Queen Mother’s two sisters who survived to adulthood, Lady Elphinstone, was the mother of Margaret Elphinstone Rhodes who was at Royal Lodge when the Queen Mother died in 2002.

And so I pass to the first cousins of the current Queen, the children of her H.M.’s Bowes-Lyon uncles and aunts. Violet and Alexander both died young and left no children. Of the remaining siblings of the late Queen Mother, the following children were born:

Family of Lady Mary Bowes-Lyon & Sidney, 16th Lord Elphinstone

  • Mary Elphinstone, 1911-1980
  • John Alexander, 17th Lord Elphinstone, 1914-1975
  • Jean Elphinstone Wills, 1915-1999 (Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret)
  • Rev. Andrew Elphinstone, 1918-1975
  • Margaret Elphinstone Rhodes, 1925-2016 (Lady in Waiting to H.M. the Queen Mother)

Family of Patrick, 15th Earl of Strathmore, & Dorothy Osborne

  • John, Master of Glamis, 1910-1941 killed in action (“Master” is the old Scots term for the heir to a title)
  • Lady Cecilia Bowes-Lyon Harington, 1912-1947
  • Timothy Patrick, 16th Earl of Strathmore, 1918-1972 (twin)
  • Lady Nancy Moira Bowes-Lyon Robinson Blair, 1918-1959 (twin)

Family of the Hon. John Bowes-Lyon & Fenella Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis

  • Patricia Bowes-Lyon, 1916-1917
  • Anne Ferelith Bowes-Lyon, Viscountess Anson, Princess George of Denmark, 1917-1980 (Anne Bowes-Lyon’s second husband, Prince George, was a grandson of Prince Waldemar of Denmark, mentioned my column last month.)
  • Nerissa Bowes-Lyon*, 1919-1986
  • Diana Cinderella Bowes-Lyon Somervel, 1923-1986
  • Katherine Bowes-Lyon*, 1926-2014

* Nerissa and Katherine were developmentally disabled and institutionalized for most of their lives. They had been listed as deceased in various publications, so it was something of a scandal when they were discovered living and somewhat neglected in a nursing home some years back.

Family of the Hon. Fergus Bowes-Lyon & Christian Dawson-Damer

  • Rosemary Louisa Bowes-Lyon Joicey-Cecil, 1915-1989

Family of Lady Rose Bowes-Lyon & William, 4th Earl of Granville

  • Lady Mary Cecilia Leveson-Gower Clayton, 1917-2014
  • Granville James, 5th Earl of Granville, 1918-1996

Family of the Hon. Michael Bowes-Lyon & Elizabeth Cator

  • Fergus, 17th Earl of Strathmore, 1928-1987
  • Mary Cecilia Bowes-Lyon Colman, b. 1932 (twin)
  • Patricia Maud Bowes-Lyon Tetley, 1932-1997 (twin)
  • Michael Albemarle Bowes-Lyon, b. 1940

Family of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon & King George VI

  • Queen Elizabeth II, b. 1926 (the numeration being disputed by many Scots, since Elizabeth I was never their queen)
  • Princess Margaret Rose, Countess of Snowdon, 1930 – 2002 (born at Glamis)

Family of the Hon. David Bowes-Lyon & Rachel Spender-Clay

  • Davina Bowes-Lyon, Countess of Stair, b. 1930
  • Simon Bowes-Lyon, b. 1931

Upon review, the list of H.M. the Queen’s Strathmore cousins includes – not surprisingly – several peers and/or spouses of a peer, a clergyman, one casualty of WWII, a Princess of Denmark, and two developmentally disabled women who lived their lives in institutions. The Elphinstone cousins seem to have been the closest in association with their royal relations. Besides the service of Jean Wills and Margaret Rhodes in the households of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother, the Queen herself served at godmother to Rev. Andrew Elphinstone’s daughter Rosemary. The children of Princess George of Denmark also remained in the royal orbit, as did the various Bowes-Lyons relatives at Glamis and St. Paul’s Waldenbury who at least received occasional visits from their old royal auntie.

Among the children of the Queen’s cousins, I will note just a few. These are some of the second cousins of Prince Charles and his siblings:

  • James, 18th Lord Elphinstone, 1953-1994 (succeeded by his son, Alexander, b. 1980)
  • Patrick Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield, 1939-2005 (noted photographer, succeeded as Earl by his son Thomas, b. 1978)
  • Lady Elizabeth Anson Shakerley, b. 1941
  • Granville George, 6th Earl of Granville, b. 1959
  • Michael Fergus, 18th Earl of Strathmore, 1957-2016
  • Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, b. 1959
  • John Dalrymple, 14th Earl of Stair, b. 1961

The head of this particular clan, the 18th Earl of Strathmore, has appeared in the papers somewhat too frequently in recent years after charges of alcoholism, and property disputes over Glamis Castle itself that occurred in connection with his divorce. He has three sons with his former wife, Isobel Weatherall. The eldest, Lord Glamis, was born in 1986. The current Earl’s sister, Elizabeth, received much notice in earlier years through sharing her great-aunt’s name.

(November 27, 2016 Note: The 18th Earl of Strathmore, Michael Bowes-Lyon, died on February 27, 2016 and was succeeded by his son Simon Bowes-Lyon as the19th Earl of Strathmore.)

As inevitably happens in families, the ties between the Bowes-Lyons and the Windsors are weakening as the generations move on. The memorializing of the Queen Mother at Glamis will help to preserve the historical association, but not necessarily the personal ties. Perhaps the most significant piece of the family heritage passed from the Queen Mother’s family to the Royal Family has been the renewal and deepening of the Scottish connection that persists in the Queen, her eldest son, her daughter, and her eldest grandson in particular. In these days when the Scottish nation is continuing to discern its future in relation to the neighbors down to the south, at the very least no one can doubt the real affection of the principal royals for the northern realm.

Yours Aye,

– Ken Cuthbertson