Beginnings

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on April 21, 1926, the first child of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (who were the Duke and Duchess of York at the time). Her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary were also involved in her upbringing, as she spent a great deal of time at their summer residences. Her early years were not the subject of much of the world's attention, as her father was not the direct heir to the British throne1.

The focal point of Elizabeth's childhood was her education, which she and her sister received from private tutors at home. Biographers and other sources agree that she enjoyed studying the humanities and language. She also enjoyed several extra-curricular pursuits, including theater and some forms of athletics (specifically swimming and horseback riding)1.

Her uncle, Edward VIII, became King of England in 1936 but abdicated later that year so he could marry his twice-divorced lover, Wallis Simpson. As Edward did not have any children, the Duke of York was the subsequent heir to the throne1.

A Little Princess

After Edward's abdication, the Duke and Duchess and York were crowned King and Queen Consort of England. The ten-year-old Elizabeth became the heir presumptive. Preparations for her future began almost immediately, and she was coached and trained in etiquette, history and law so she would have a solid background when she eventually ascended to the throne2. As she got older, Elizabeth took on more responsibilities in preparation for her future as Queen. She worked with several children's organizations and began to make radio addresses1.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Elizabeth and Margaret were moved to Scotland to protect their safety3. The number and frequency of attacks on London posed a great threat to the safety of the Royal Family. Several of the family's security advisors suggested that Scotland was not a far enough haven for the princesses (and some suggested they be relocated to Canada, but their mother insisted that they not leave the United Kingdom3.

Towards the end of the war (and once the risks of attack had diminished), Elizabeth returned to England and began to take an active role in the war effort. She originally wanted to be trained as a nurse but her father refused to allow it, as he believed the dangers of a warzone posed numerous direct threats his daughter's safety2. The fact that she was heir to the throne was probably not on the 'pro' list, either. Instead, she was trained to transport cargo (as a driver)3.

Once the war was over, Elizabeth began to make her own official trips and visits. At first she merely went along on her parents' state visits3 but began touring without them after her marriage.

Mountbatten

Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip Mountbatten of Greece and Denmark on November 20, 1947. While each of them were members of royal families, Philip had given up his royal ties in Greece and Denmark2 and took British citizenship. George VI had also appointed him Duke of Edinburgh during their engagement3.

Many biographies and profiles of Elizabeth stress the fact that their marriage was not arranged5, despite previous royal traditions of arranging marriages across royal bloodlines in order to create alliances and strengthen bonds. It's also interesting to note that, because of the aforementioned practices, Queen Victoria was Philip’s great-great-grandmother5. This makes Elizabeth and Philip third cousins3.

The marriage brought about a unique dilemma. As the British monarch had been male for generations, there was never a need for the monarch to change his last name because of his marriage. George VI was part of the House of Windsor and, thus, so was Elizabeth5. Her marriage to Philip, however, would have had her change her surname to Mountbatten. Since she would be the head of the House of Windsor once she became Queen, however, she retained 'Windsor' as her surname5. Some sources suggest she has a personal surname of Mountbatten-Windsor2 but others insist that only their children use this3.

The couple's first child, Prince Charles, was born in 1948. Elizabeth and Philip welcomed their second child, Princess Anne, in 19505.

Becoming Queen

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh had been touring the Commonwealth for some time in 1951. In early 1952, they also traveled to Australia, New Zealand and Africa in place of her father who was too ill to travel6. King George VI died while Elizabeth was in Kenya. The trip was immediately cut short and the couple returned to England.

British tradition dictates that the heir to the throne becomes the monarch at the moment of the predecessor's death7. The same set of traditions also dictates that the new monarch must be anointed and crowned in order to commemorate the beginning of his or her rule. Though Elizabeth had, technically, already become Queen of England, her coronation would not take place for more than a year after her father's death (so that a proper period of mourning could be observed)7.

Princess Elizabeth truly became Queen Elizabeth II in the minds of many people on June 2, 1953. The coronation took place at Westminster Abbey after a lengthy and lavish procession through the streets of London. This was also the first coronation to be broadcast on television; the Queen wanted as many people to "see" the ceremony as possible7. A few objected to the idea (people were concerned that "men watching in establishments of questionable moral value would neglect to remove their headwear at the correct moments2") but the Queen insisted.

She received the symbols of her reign (the Sovereign's Orb, the Scepter with the Cross and the Scepter with the Dove) and was crowned with St. Edward's Crown2. The anointing, long considered to be one of the most religious and important parts of the ceremony, was deemed "too sacred2" for television and a tent was placed around the Queen for the duration of the anointing28.

The coronation ceremony was ranked by The Observer as the 14th greatest moment in the United Kingdom's television history.

The Second Elizabethan Age

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh continued to travel frequently after the coronation. When Prince Charles and Princess Anne became of schooling age she opted to send them to boarding school5 rather than have them home schooled. Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, their third and fourth children, were born in 1960 and 1964, respectively5.

Due to the increased importance of parliament, the Queen has remained largely a ceremonial figure. She continues to uphold several ceremonial traditions, including opening parliament. She insists on maintaining good relations with an overwhelming majority of the world's countries, including former Commonwealth nations. She has also conducted more official visits than any other head of state6.

Family Problems

All families may have their share of problems but the current Royal Family has had to deal with their problems becoming common knowledge. While the Queen hasn't been at the center of any major scandals herself, the exploits of her children and other members of the family have been tabloid fodder for several years:

The media had a field day when rumors of marital trouble between Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales broke out. It's widely believed that the Queen had a few issues with Diana and wasn't entirely fond of the media attention she got at all times2. Diana's alleged infidelities were believed to have made the entire Royal Family look bad. The Queen was not amused. She also never so much as acknowledged Camilla Parker-Bowles, Charles' divorced companion, until very recently3. Any alleged tensions between them have been put to rest (at least publicly), as the Queen attended the blessing of their marriage and hosted their wedding reception.

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's marriage troubles brought a smaller amount (but no less unwelcome or unflattering) of media attention to the Queen and her family3. After these problems (and the destruction of a large part of Windsor Castle2, the Queen dubbed 1992 an "annus horribilis8."

Princess Margaret, the Queen's own sister, wanted to marry a divorced man. The Queen used her authority to prevent the marriage.3

After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Queen and most other members of the Royal Family distanced themselves from the massive public display of grief. The Queen's own popularity decreased after this3, however she did deliver a televised address and bowed to Diana's coffin as her funeral procession passed on the way to her funeral.

Recent Years

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 2002 and 2003. While 2002 was the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne, it was also the 50th anniversary of George VI's death4. Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother also died during 2002. Therefore, some events were held in 2003 to mark the 50th anniversary of the coronation. One of the major celebratory events was a large outdoor concert at Buckingham Palace. Paul McCartney, Brian May, Shirley Bassey and Ozzy Osbourne were among the performers. Prince Charles concluded the festivities with a toast to his mother -- he addressed her as "Your Majesty". Once the laughter died down he rolled his eyes and called her "Mummy."

The Queen continues to make state visits (including a recent visit to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day) and is involved with charities and other organizations. She also still enjoys horses. She and Prince Philip have seven grandchildren5.

Titles and Roles

Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis3. She was also formerly Queen of several African nations (who became independent from the monarchy system), Pakistan, Malta and Sri Lanka3. She is also the Head of the Commonwealth3. She has few official political duties, which include the opening and disolution of parliament, reading the Speech from the Throne and granting Royal Assent to bills, which formalizes them as law. She has also met regularly with every British Prime Minister since Winston Churchill2.

The Queen's Royal standard (which is also the British coat of arms) is comprised of two English coat of arms and the Irish and Scottish coat of arms1. See Royal Coat of Arms for more information.


Resources:
1Her Majesty The Queen > Background. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page412.asp. 8 June 2004.
2Queen Elizabeth II. http://www.royalty.nu/Europe/England/Windsor/ElizabethII.html. 8 June 2004.
3Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_II_of_the_United_Kingdom. 8 June 2004.
4Her Majesty The Queen > Anniversaries. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page431.asp. 8 June 2004.
5Her Majesty The Queen > Marriage and Family. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page428.asp. 8 June 2004.
6The Queen at 70. http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/qe70.html. 8 June 2004.
7Her Majesty The Queen > Accession and Coronation. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page429.asp. 8 June 2004.
8mblase. Annus horribilis. http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=727268&lastnode_id=176682. 8 June 2004.