Queen Elizabeth II: 1926 – 2022
HM Queen Elizabeth II was one of the most famous women in the world, yet no one truly knew how she felt. She remained outside the fray of celebrity and political strife. She could advise, consult, and warn politicians in her government, but she remained impartial. Her Majesty was seen as a uniting force not just for the United Kingdom, but for her Commonwealth, too.
The Queen never retired from her duties. She, despite being a nonagenarian, continued until her dying day as Sovereign. The Queen was able to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, but as summer came to a close, she missed some events due to mobility issues. Throughout, she steadfastly remained THE Queen.
As Elizabeth herself once said, “The job and the life go on together”. It was a destiny she accepted when her uncle Edward abdicated in 1936, placing her father on the throne as King George VI and making Elizabeth the heiress presumptive.
After her father’s untimely death in February 1952, Elizabeth embraced her new role as queen. In the time since her accession, Elizabeth II had seen presidents and prime ministers come and go, media coverage change and evolve, scandal and divorce among her children, milestone jubilees, and a gaggle of great-grandchildren born.
The Queen was married to the love of her life, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, whom she married in 1947. The Duke died in April 2020 at the age of 99, just two months short of his 100th birthday. He was the longest-serving royal consort in history.
Like her predecessor, Queen Victoria, Elizabeth was never expected to be monarch. Her father was the Duke of York, the second son of King George V. The heir was Prince Edward, known to his family as David, who was Prince of Wales and quite popular with the people.
Edward was deeply unhappy with royal life’s golden cage. It became more apparent when he met Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee who had captured the Prince’s heart. As time passed, his father the king grew more distressed at his casual, outright playboy behavior and stated that, “When I am gone, the boy will ruin himself in 12 months”. How right he was.
Deciding that he no longer wanted to be king, Edward called his brothers together and signed the instrument of abdication. His younger brother Albert, now king, was devastated. Not just in a familial sense but also as a royal. The king had abdicated his throne, an unheard of move that plunged the nation into sorrow, anger, and confusion. Thankfully, that would not last long as Albert’s little family, “Us Four”, would now take center state. At the heart was little Princess Elizabeth,
On Coronation day in 1953, the new queen and her husband inspired the nation as they rode along in a procession straight out of a fairy tale – the golden coach driving through the streets of London, drawn by grand white horses. The young queen, glittering in her jewels, waved to all whom she passed by. Prince Philip, dressed in his naval uniform with gold epaulets, waved and occasionally saluted the crowds with a white-gloved hand.
Once they arrived back at Buckingham Palace, they were heralded by trumpets, and throngs of people cheered. Elizabeth, at only twenty-five years of age, was the first reigning queen since Victoria.
The ceremony was broadcast on the radio around the world. At Elizabeth’s request, it was also broadcast live on the television, the newest media at the time. With the coronation televised, it brought home the splendor and the significance never before seen to hundreds of thousands of people.
The Queen was born in London on April 21, 1926. She was the first child for Prince Albert, the Duke of York, and his wife Elizabeth. Five weeks after her birth, the baby princess was christened with the beautiful name of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in the chapel at Buckingham Palace. She was named for her mother, her grandmother Queen Mary, and great-grandmother Queen Alexandra. As a toddler, too young to pronounce her own name, Elizabeth called herself “Lilibet”. The name stuck, and that’s how she was always known to her family.
When her sister was born – whose full name is Margaret Rose – little Elizabeth declared, “I shall call her Bud.” When asked why she called Margaret this, Elizabeth replied logically, “Well, she’s too young to be a rose. She is only a bud.”
Princess Elizabeth lived at 145 Piccadilly, an elegant London townhouse. At age 4, Elizabeth was joined by a baby sister, Princess Margaret. Though they were four years apart, the Duchess of York dressed her daughters exactly alike. Though the girls did so for many years, they eventually grew to an age where they each had their own style. Elizabeth’s was reserved and elegant; Margaret became more glamorous, with glittering gowns and long, bejeweled cigarette holders.
As children, the princesses were educated privately in the importance of social graces and how to behave as a proper lady. When not practicing royal etiquette, Elizabeth and Margaret would put on plays and pantomimes for their parents.
In 1936, upon the abdication of his elder brother, Prince Albert ceased being the Duke of York and became King George VI. Elizabeth automatically became heiress presumptive. Her education turned sharply away from that of Margaret’s. Since Elizabeth would one day be queen, her studies now focused on geography and constitutional history.
Much of the Queen’s devoted work habits are credited to her father, George VI, who ensured that she received the proper apprenticeship for the throne. When his elder brother abdicated, it put Albert in the spotlight and he had been completely unprepared. As King George, he decided that his daughter would not face the same surprises.
Princess Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Philip, during a tour of Dartmouth Royal Naval College with her parents. Philip was eighteen, she was thirteen, and was completely smitten by the handsome naval cadet. Philip was following in the footsteps of his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who had been the Admiral of the Fleet in the British Navy. Mountbatten was such an effective leader he had been posted to India as Viceroy after the war.
Prince Philip had been born a prince of Greece and Denmark, the youngest child of Prince Andrew and Princess Alice of Greece. As a baby, Philip’s family had been forced to flee when Greece was invaded by Turkey. Philip, his parents, and his four sisters escaped with the help of the British Royal Navy.
Prince Andrew was a cousin of King George V, in whose reign these events transpired. The old king remembered his Russian cousin’s horrible execution and was determined not to make the same mistake again by abandoning family. George V’s forces saved not only the Greek royals but the future husband of a queen.
Philip’s four sisters eventually came of age to marry, and one by one left the family to marry German noblemen. Deciding that they were now secure with husbands, Prince Andrew ran off a few years later to be with his mistress. Princess Alice had a nervous breakdown and was sent for treatment in Switzerland. Young Philip was only ten years old.
The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh
When it was thought that he might marry Elizabeth, Philip had to renounce his title and his Orthodox Greek religion and become a member of the Church of England. After WWII, Philip eventually made his intentions known to the king about Elizabeth, and the Princess was thrilled. George VI was wary, worried that she was too young. The King took his family on a trip to South Africa while Philip stayed behind. He figured it would give his daughter time to think about her impending engagement. After they returned from the 6-month tour, Elizabeth’s mind was still made up – she wanted to marry Philip. He officially proposed, giving her an engagement ring fashioned from a few diamonds from his mother’s old tiara. The engagement was announced publicly July 10, 1947 and the wedding was set for November 20 of that year.
Philip discussed with Elizabeth about the possibility of taking of his new surname, Mountbatten. As a royal prince, he never had a last name, so Lord Mountbatten, his maternal uncle, offered his own name as a solution when Philip was set to marry Elizabeth. The king and many other members of the family were agitated at the thought of Elizabeth changing her name which would change the name of the royal house. Elizabeth put off the name controversy for a few years, but eventually, when she became queen, she instituted that all her descendants would bear the name Mountbatten-Windsor. That way, the official name of the house would not be changed, but her children and their descendants would carry their father’s name.
Their first child was a son, Prince Charles, born in 1948. He was followed by a sister, Princess Anne, born in 1950. Charles and Anne grew up watching their mother navigate her life as a young queen. Several years later, Elizabeth and Philip had two more children: Andrew, born in 1960 and Edward, born in 1964.
Philip and Elizabeth, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, took on more of the king’s official engagements as his health was declining. George had cancer in a lung and arteriosclerosis. He went ahead with an operation to have one of his lungs removed, which proved successful. For a time he was well and back to his old self, but unfortunately it would not last long. Elizabeth and Philip went on an African tour – one of her father’s engagements – and George saw them off at the airport with the Queen and Princess Margaret. It would be the last time Elizabeth would see her beloved father again.
Life Without Father
King George VI died in his sleep February 6, 1952. The healthful effects of the lung operation had lasted only a short time, and the king died during his daughter’s tour in Africa. A courtier from the palace contacted Philip’s servant and friend Michael Parker to tell him to inform the Princess, now Queen Elizabeth II, that her father had passed away. Lilibet, as royal protocol declared, had her funeral clothes on hand, and during the plane ride home changed from her summer cottons to a plain black dress. At Heathrow, the new Queen was greeted by Winston Churchill, among others, with the Royal black Daimlers.
“Oh, they’ve brought the ‘hearses’,” she commented sadly of the large, black royal automobiles.
Her Majesty carried out hundreds of official engagements every year – but it was all in a day’s work for the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. Visits around the country and overseas gave Elizabeth the chance to meet people from many backgrounds.
Elizabeth contended with truckloads of paperwork, consisting of letters from the public, government officials, and the top secret papers in the “red boxes” – Government and Commonwealth policy documents and other State papers – which arrived every day of the year, wherever she was. Even on holiday at Balmoral!
The Queen could not rule arbitrarily. She conducted weekly meetings with the Prime Minister – usually on Tuesdays – to discuss the latest developments in the government. She acted on the advice of the government of the day. Her Majesty was a constitutional monarch, meaning she did not have absolute rule over her country. A constitutional monarch must take Parliament’s views into consideration.
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