Did You Know – Queen Elizabeth II

Joann Wolwowicz

February 6, 2011 marked the 59th anniversary of the day that Elizabeth II became queen on February 6, 1952. This is not to be confused with June 2, 1953, the actual date of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, in which she was formally crowned monarch of the United Kingdom in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey.  After the death of her father, Elizabeth was immediately proclaimed Britain’s new monarch, but remained in seclusion for the first three months of her reign as she mourned her father. During the summer of 1952, she began to perform routine duties of the sovereign. In November, she carried out her first state opening of the Parliament.

Born on April 21, 1926 in London, England, Elizabeth was the oldest daughter of Albert, duke of York and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. She was the child of the younger son of King George V, and had little prospect of acceding to the throne until her uncle Edward III abdicated in her father’s favor. He did so on December 11, 1936, at which time her father became King George VI, and she became heir presumptive.

Early in 1947, Princess Elizabeth went with the king and queen to South Arica. After her return, there was the announcement of her betrothal to her distant cousin Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten of the Royal Navy, formerly Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. The marriage took place in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947.  Their first child, Prince Charles (Charles Philip Arthur George), was born on November 1, 1948, at Buckingham Palace.

In the summer of 1951, the health of King George VI began to seriously decline, and the Princess Elizabeth represented him at various occasions. In January 1952, the princess and the duke were en route to Sangana, Kenya when the news reached them of the king’s death.  On the accession of Queen Elizabeth, her son Prince Charles became heir apparent. He was named Prince of Wales on July 26, 1958.

The ceremony at Westminster was one of pomp and pageantry, and the characteristically poised Elizabeth delivered in a solemn and clear voice the coronation oath that bound her to the service of the people of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. In the procession through the streets of London that followed, Elizabeth and her husband were joined by representatives from the more than 40 member states of the Commonwealth, including heads of state, sultans, and prime ministers. British troops like the Yeomen of the Guard were joined by a great variety of Commonwealth troops, including police from the Solomon Islands, Malaysians in white uniforms and green sarongs, Pakistanis in puggaree headdresses, Canadian Mounties, and New Zealanders and Australians in wide-brimmed hats. After the parade, Elizabeth stood with her family on the Buckingham Palace balcony and waved to the crowd as jet planes of the Royal Air Force flew across the Mall in tight formation.

The queen’s other children were Princess Anne (Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise), born August 15, 1950; Prince Andrew (Andrew Albert Christian Edward), born February 19, 1960, and created duke of York in 1986; and Prince Edward (Edward Anthony Richard Louis), born March 10, 1964. All these children have the surname “ Windsor,” but in 1960 Elizabeth decided to create the hyphenated name Mountbatten-Windsor for other descendants not styled prince or princess and royal highness. Elizabeth’s first grandchild (Princess Anne’s son) was born on November 15, 1977.

The queen seemed increasingly aware of the modern role of the monarchy, allowing, for example, the televising of the royal family’s domestic life in 1970 and condoning the formal dissolution of her sister’s marriage in 1978. However, after the failed marriage of her son and Diana, princess of Wales, and Diana’s death in 1997, popular feeling in Britain turned against the royal family, which was thought to be out of touch with contemporary British life. In line with her earlier attempts at modernizing the monarchy, the queen, after 1997, sought to present a less-stuffy and less-traditional image of the monarchy. These attempts have met with mixed success.

She is known to favor simplicity in court life and is also known to take a serious and informed interest in government business, aside from the traditional and ceremonial duties. Privately she has become a keen horsewoman; she keeps racehorses, frequently attends races, and periodically visits the Kentucky stud farms in the United States. Her financial and property holdings have made her one of the world’s richest women.

On April 21, 2006, Queen Elizabeth turned 80, making her the third oldest person to hold the British crown. Although she has begun to hand off some official duties to her children, notably Charles, the heir to the throne, she has given no indication that she intends to abdicate.