Royal Biographies: Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
by David Johnson
Although her popularity had apparently declined in recent years, Queen Elizabeth II was generally seen as a conscientious monarch.
She had been criticized for being cold, for her chilly attitude toward Princess Diana in general, and in particular for her apparent reluctance to interrupt her Scottish vacation and return to London following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
However, by deliberately disdaining glamour, Her Majesty The Queen had sought to present a dignified, dutiful image, especially in the aftermath of the negative publicity over the divorce of Prince Charles and Diana, and Prince Andrew and the former Sarah Ferguson. Queen Elizabeth reminded other royals that they are not film stars, and that their position rests on constitutional principles. By agreeing to pay income taxes, giving up the royal yacht, changing some royal rules, and limiting the number of royals receiving government money, the Queen sought to placate growing public criticism of the monarchy. She was also notoriously frugal, wearing out-of-date clothes, sensible shoes, and keeping the heat down at Buckingham Palace.
Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, the first child of the then Duke and Duchess of York. She and her younger sister, Margaret, were educated at home. Like the rest of her family, Princess Elizabeth was athletic, loved the outdoors, and became a skilled horseback rider. After her father became king in 1936, Princess Elizabeth immediately became second in line, what is known as "the heir presumptive," and began studying constitutional history and law.
Assuming the throne in 1952 after her father died, she was a tireless and popular monarch. The Queen, making some 350 official engagements each year, entertained nearly 50,000 people at Buckingham Palace, and served as patron or president of 700 organizations.
She also traveled extensively, taking a particular interest in former colonies, which are now members of the British Commonwealth. As Great Britain's head of state, the Queen had weekly audiences with the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers. She received copies of all cabinet papers, the records of all cabinet committee meetings, a daily summary of events in Parliament, and important Foreign Office telegrams. She was also the official head of the Church of England.
In 1947, Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, officially known as His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He was the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria. They had four children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward, as well as six grandchildren, Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Eugenie, Princess Beatrice, Peter Phillips, and Zara Phillips.
The Queen was also the first British monarch to make consistent use of television. The decision to allow a documentary on the royal family, which was broadcast in 1969, opened up the monarchy to millions of viewers around the world. While at the time the documentary was justified as a way of humanizing the royals, some observers have said it opened the door for the more intrusive coverage in the 1990s that nearly destroyed the monarchy.
Did You Know?
According to Buckingham Palace officials, during her reign, Queen Elizabeth II:
- made 251 official overseas visits to 129 different countries
- met with 10 prime ministers
- hosted 91 state banquets
- received 3 million pieces of correspondence
- conferred 387,700 awards and honors
- mailed 37,500 Christmas cards
- sent 100,000 telegrams to centenarians
- sent 280,000 telegrams to couples celebrating wedding anniversaries
- entertained over 1.1 million guests at garden parties
- launched 23 ships
- posed for 139 portraits
- delivered 52 Christmas broadcasts
- attended 34 Royal Variety Performances
- owned more than 30 Welsh corgis