English and British Queen mothers
A Queen Mother is a person satisfying the following criteria:
- She is the mother of the current monarch.
- She has been queen
- If there is a king, he is married; if he is not, she is referred to as the Queen, not the Queen Mother.
A Queen Mother retains the title of Her Majesty that she enjoyed as Queen, but there is no further coronation ceremony to reflect her changed status.
For centuries, there was no Queen Mother in England. For most of the time in the twentieth Century, there was; three people had that title. As discussed below, it is not clear when there will be one again in England.
- April to June 1483 Elizabeth Woodville
- 1649 or 1660-1669 Henrietta Maria
- 1910-1925 Princess Alexandra of Denmark (though she preferred not to use the title)
- 1936-1952 Mary of Teck
- 1952-2002 Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon; her fifty years is by far the longest ever that anyone has held the title.
House of York
There were no Queen Mothers during Tudor times.
While Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, was alive throughout his reign (and outlived him by two months), she was never Queen hence could not be Queen Mother. Henry VIII's mother, Elizabeth of York, died in 1503 while he did not become king until 1509.
The wives of Henry VIII who were the mothers of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I all predeceased him so there were no Queen Mothers in their reigns. His last wife, Catherine Parr, outlived him by over a year but was not the mother of any of them. She ceased to be a queen on her remarriage after Henry's death.
There was only one Queen Mother in this period.
Charles II's mother, Henrietta Maria, became Queen Mother when Charles became King. Some would argue that this was in 1649, when Charles I was executed; most would say that it was in 1660, at the restoration of the monarchy. She died in 1669, before the accession of Charles's brother James II, so there was no Queen Mother in that reign.
William III's mother, Mary, daughter of Charles I, was never Queen of England, and anyway she died before he became King.
There were no Queen Mothers among the early Hanoverians.
George I's mother died before he succeeded. (Had she not died, she would have been Queen in her own right, since his claim to the British throne was through her.)
George II's mother, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, died before he succeeded. In any case, she was never regarded as Queen, since his father George I had divorced her before he became King of England. His wife, Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach, died in 1737, during his reign. In any case, she was the grandmother of the next king, George III, rather than his mother.
Queen Victoria's mother had not been queen, so was not entitled to be Queen Mother. She expected to have the title, but Victoria (who was not very fond of her) made it clear that she would not. William IV's widow, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, lived until 1849, but as she was not Victoria's mother she could not be Queen Mother either.
Obviously, Edward VII did not become king until his mother Queen Victoria died, so there was no Queen Mother in his reign. On his death in 1910, his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, became Queen Mother to George V until her own death in 1925.
When Edward VIII became king in 1936, he had no wife, so his mother, Mary of Teck, remained Queen. On his abdication, she became Queen Mother to George VI. On his death in 1952 she became an ex-Queen Mother.
Future Queen Mothers?
There is little likelihood that there will be another Queen Mother in the near future. If Queen Elizabeth II decides to abdicate in favour of her son Charles, Prince of Wales, it is likely that she would be given the title of Queen Mother, but there is no precedent for this. Otherwise, assuming that Charles succeeds he will have no living mother. If he is then succeeded by either of his sons, they will have no living mother either. Assuming that whoever succeeds Charles marries and has a child, and that his wife outlives him, she will become Queen Mother when that child succeeds.
It is possible that if someone else succeeds, then an existing member of the Royal family could become Queen Mother. For example, if the Earl of Wessex or Duke of Gloucester succeeds to the throne, and is then outlived by his wife and succeeded by his own child, she would be Queen Mother. However, neither scenario is very likely.