by Scott Mehl
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Destined to become the longest reigning British monarch, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born at 2:40 am on April 21, 1926 at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London, the home of her maternal grandparents. She was the daughter of the future King George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (at the time, the Duke and Duchess of York), and was named in honor of her mother, her great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and her grandmother, Queen Mary. Her paternal grandparents were King George V and Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, and her maternal grandparents were Claude Bowes-Lyon, The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck. At the time of her birth, Elizabeth was third in the line of succession to the British throne, following her father and his elder brother The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor).
For the first few years of her life, Elizabeth was raised at her parents’ home at 145 Piccadilly, in London, and at White Lodge in Richmond Park. In 1930, a younger sister, Princess Margaret, was born and the family moved to Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. Royal Lodge is most associated with her mother, as it was her country home until her death in 2002. It is now the home of Prince Andrew, The Duke of York.
In January 1936, Elizabeth’s grandfather, King George V, died at Sandringham. Her uncle David became King Edward VIII, and her father was now heir-presumptive to the throne. Even then, it was expected that the King would marry and have an heir – but as history shows us, this was not how things would turn out. In December 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne, and Elizabeth’s father became King George VI. The quiet family life the Yorks had enjoyed would be changed forever. The young 10-year-old princess was now the heiress-presumptive to the British throne. However, because there was always the possibility of a younger brother being born and becoming heir-apparent, Elizabeth did not receive any of the titles traditionally held by the heir. She remained, simply, The Princess Elizabeth.
King George VI’s coronation was held in 1937 (on the date originally scheduled for his elder brother, Edward VIII). Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, attended the ceremony, resplendent in ermine robes and small gold coronets.
The two princesses often attended events with their parents. One that would be most notable in Elizabeth’s life was a visit to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in 1939. Here she met and spent time with, her third cousin, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. Philip is the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. (Elizabeth and Philip are second cousins, once removed, through their descent from King Christian IX of Denmark; and third cousins through their descent from Queen Victoria.) Philip was a cadet at the College, and because of his family relationship, was asked to join the official party to entertain the young princesses. The two had already met some years earlier at the wedding of Elizabeth’s uncle, The Duke of Kent, to Philip’s cousin, Princess Marina of Greece. But it was in Dartmouth that the 13-year old Elizabeth truly took notice of her nearly 18-year old cousin. It is said that Elizabeth was instantly smitten with the dashing Philip and the two began a correspondence which quickly blossomed into a romance.
Princess Elizabeth undertook her first official public engagement on her 16th birthday – an inspection of the Grenadier Guards, of whom she had been appointed Colonel-in-Chief. From this point on, her public role increased and she took on more official engagements, both with her parents and on her own. In 1945, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service with the rank of Subaltern, where she trained as a driver and mechanic. She was later promoted to the rank of Junior Commander.
Unbeknownst to the British people, Philip and Elizabeth had become engaged privately in 1946. The King consented, with the condition that the announcement be held off until after Elizabeth’s 21st birthday the following year. The family was on a tour of southern Africa when Elizabeth turned 21. On that day, the Princess gave a radio address from Cape Town, South Africa, in which she dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth:
“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted
to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
(You can hear the entire speech HERE.)
Upon the family’s return home, the engagement of The Princess Elizabeth and Lt Philip Mountbatten was announced on July 10, 1947. The couple married four months later, on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey. Just prior, the King issued Letters Patent granting Philip the style of His Royal Highness, and the titles Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich. In addition, he was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter. You can read more about the wedding of Elizabeth and Philip HERE.
Following their honeymoon, spent at Broadlands (the Mountbatten estate in Hampshire) and Birkhall on the Balmoral Estate, the couple took up residence at Windlesham Moor, a country home in Surrey which was leased for them. They remained at Windlesham Moor until July 1949 when they moved into Clarence House. Two children were born in the first years of their marriage:
In late January 1952, Elizabeth and Philip embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand on behalf of her father, whose doctors would not allow for him to travel. On February 6th, King George VI passed away at Sandringham. The new Queen learned of his death at the Sagana Lodge in Kenya, where the royal party was staying en route to Australia. They immediately returned to London, where she made her Accession Declaration to the Privy Council on February 8th.
In June 1953, the Queen’s coronation was held at Westminster Abbey. To date, this is the first and only British Coronation which has been televised (although some parts were deemed too sacred to be filmed). Later that year, in November, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh embarked on a six-month tour of the Commonwealth, ending in Malta. Here, the couple was joined by their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, and the family returned to London on the newly fitted HMY Britannia.
Several years later, two more children were born, both at Buckingham Palace:
The Queen is perhaps the most recognizable person in the world. She has made over 260 foreign visits, including 93 State Visits, and has hosted 107 incoming State Visits, all in her role as Head of State. She has made over 173 trips to Commonwealth countries, in her role as Head of the Commonwealth.
In 2012, she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. Queen Elizabeth joined her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as the only two British monarchs to reach 60 years on the throne. Several days of celebrations were held, including a grand regatta on the Thames, a concert in front of Buckingham Palace, and a Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey. It was celebrated not only in the United Kingdom, but around the world. Members of the Royal Family traveled to all of the Commonwealth Realms and many of the other Commonwealth countries on her behalf, while The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh traveled throughout the United Kingdom.
A grandmother and great-grandmother, The Queen continues with her heavy schedule. She still serves as Patron of over 600 organizations, many of which she has been involved with since her accession. She continues to, in her own words, “put on the good clothes, and bring out the good things” for foreign guests and State Visits, and represents the UK throughout the world.
On July 27, 2012, she officially opened the Olympic Games in London. Breaking with tradition, Her Majesty appeared in a short film which began the Opening Ceremonies. Seated at her desk in Buckingham Palace, she is joined by James Bond (played by Daniel Craig), and the two leave for the stadium, where they arrive by parachute! Needless to say, the crowd was overjoyed, and The Queen was greeted by the cheers and applause of everyone in attendance. The following year, she was presented with an honorary BAFTA award for her support of the British film industry. The presenter referred to her as “the most memorable Bond girl yet”. I think all of us would agree.
(You can watch the Queen’s Olympic entrance HERE)
Here are some other interesting facts and figures about The Queen:
- She has had 13 Prime Ministers
- She has conferred over 405,000 honours and awards
- She has personally held over 610 Investitures
- She and the Duke of Edinburgh have the longest marriage of a British Sovereign
- She is the oldest British monarch (Queen Victoria is 2nd at 81 years, 243 days)
- She is the longest-serving current Head of State.
- On September 9, 2015, she surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest serving British monarch
And you can read more about the British Royal Family here!