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Queen Mum's Words Shed New Light On Royals

A biography out Friday gives a unique glimpse into what is, as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer puts it, "at once Britain's most public, and most private family."

At the core of William Shawcross' "The Queen Mother: The Official Biography" are letters from the "Queen Mum" herself, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

She was, says Palmer, one of the most beloved, visible, yet discrete members of the British Royal Family.

From the darkest days of World War II, when she toured bombed-out London with her husband, King George VI, to her well-publicized visits to Britain's racetracks, she was ever the gracious matriarch, Palmer points out.

Bowes-Lyon, daughter of a Scottish earl, loved country life, Palmer adds, famously enjoyed a drink -- or three -- and was a faithful letter writer, recording her thoughts on more than 70 years of public life.

The letters were, Palmer observes, remarkably frank in places.

For example, on the abdication of King Edward VIII to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, she wrote, "He must have been bemused with love, I suppose. You couldn't reason with him. Nobody could."

But on one of the most contentious, and interesting, chapters of Royal life, Lady Diana's rocky marriage to Prince Charles, there is very little: Revealing letters from Diana to the Queen Mother were destroyed by Princess Margaret.

"As a historian, obviously, it's a pity," Shawcross told CBS News, "because history loses. Bit, as an ordinary person, I can sympathize with anybody wanting to destroy letters that they thought were hurtful or about other members of their family."

Still, says Palmer, the book contains plenty more of the thoughts and deeds of a woman who was as remarkable as she was privileged until her death at 101 in 2002, despite a lack of any stunning revelations.