Queen of the Century.

All together now, "Dwieście lat, dwieście lat, niech żyje, żyje nam..." One hundred years old on August 4, the Queen Mother is, at the time of writing, still going strong. Here's a look at a woman whose life has spanned the most eventful century in history.

Throughout all the recent trials and tribulations suffered by Britain's Royal family, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother has managed to remain more or less unaffected. For many years she has been just about the most popular royal of them all, even though people have long found it entertaining to make bets on when she will finally pop her clogs.

Unlike almost all the other members of the Royal family, the Queen Mum, as she is affectionately known, does not seem to do anything wrong. However, she is not completely faultless, and it is well known that she likes the occasional drink, enjoys betting on horse-racing and even has a tendency to overspend - much of this money going on her famously colourful wardrobe. But because she's a lovable old lady, people find this behaviour amusing rather than shocking (Prince Charles wouldn't get away with it!). And the older and older she gets the more love and respect she seems to gain - especially as she manages to keep up her public engagements and appearances.

Public life

Patron or President of about 350 organizations, the Queen Mother does have something of a workload, though most of her positions are purely titular. She is Commandant-in-Chief of the Army and Air Force Women's Services and for Women in the Royal Navy, Colonel-in-Chief or Honorary Colonel of many regiments, Commandant-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force Central Flying School and the Nursing Division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. For many years she was President of the British Red Cross Society and was Chancellor of the University of London for twenty-five years up to 1981. In her public role she plays an important part particularly in historical commemorations - as you might expect - and did a great deal during the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1995. That same year, aged ninety-five, she undertook 118 public engagements - that's one every three days! Since fracturing her hip in a fall in January 1998, that number has decreased, but she still makes a significant number of public appearances each year.

Family and marriage

Born the Honourable Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 4 August 1900 to the Scottish Lord Glamis, Fourteenth Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and his wife, the Queen Mother is descended from the old Scottish Royal Family that merged with the English Royal House when James VI of Scotland became king of England in 1603. Elizabeth did not go to school but was educated at home by private tutors. When the First World War started - on her birthday in 1914 - her home Glamis Castle became a hospital and Elizabeth helped with looking after the patients. One of her older brothers was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915.

As her parents were friends of King George V and Queen Mary, the young Elizabeth knew members of the Royal family and was friends with the king and queen's children. In April 1923 she married the King's second son, the Duke of York, in London's Westminster Abbey. They had two children, Princess Elizabeth, the present queen, born 21 April 1926 and Princess Margaret, born 21 August 1930.

As Duchess of York, Elizabeth would not have expected her husband to become king, as his elder brother Edward, the Prince of Wales, was heir to the throne. When George V died in 1936 Edward did become king, but in December of the same year he abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The king's position as head of the Church of England made it impossible for him marry a divorced woman and remain sovereign. In Edward's place the Duke of York acceded to the throne and the Duchess became queen. Their coronation took place on 12 May 1937.

War queen

When the Second World War broke out the king, queen and princesses decided to stay in London rather than leave the country and live in North America, as had been suggested. The queen played a very important role in the war visiting badly bombed areas of the country, as well as hospitals, factories and soldiers. The queen was in Buckingham Palace the night it was bombed in 1940, but was not harmed. Much of her popularity with the people dates from this time, as she and the king made it clear that they were sharing the difficulties and dangers of the war with the nation.

When her husband George VI died in 1952 and the Princess Elizabeth acceded to the throne, the Queen Mother moved out of Buckingham Palace to live in Clarence House nearby. The following year she bought the Castle of Mey in the far north-east of Scotland where she spends the summer months. She has always enjoyed countryside pursuits and she is a keen fisherwoman and loves horse-racing, though no doubt her age is becoming more and more of a limitation to her activities in this field. However, her interests have been passed on to most of the younger members of the Royal family, many of whom share her love for horse-racing, betting and other country sports. The golf buggy she is driven around in on her public engagements is decorated in her racing colours.

Having remained so active to so great an age we can only wonder whether her health and longevity have been passed on to her daughter. Since the collapse of his marriage many people have been asking whether Prince Charles should ever become king, saying that morally he is not fit for it. But if his mother lives as long as his grandmother, then very probably he will not get the chance, regardless of whether anybody thinks he's fit for it. When the present queen is a hundred he'll be seventy-eight - and that's a little bit old for starting a new job!

Barnaby Harward