The Yorks were a close-knit and affectionate family and the princess had a secure and uncomplicated childhood. Since she was not sent to school, nurses and governesses bulked large— Clara Knight (‘Alla’), Margaret MacDonald (‘Bobo’), and Marion Crawford (‘Crawfie’). The first two spent the rest of their lives in royal service: the third eventually resigned to marry, broke the convention of confidentiality by writing a book about the two princesses, and was cast into outer darkness. Princess Elizabeth grew up pretty, cheerful, and obedient, though less vivacious than her younger sister. Her strong sense of duty called to mind her grandfather George V and Queen Victoria. As she grew up, Crawfie's instruction was strengthened by teachers brought in for constitutional history and languages and by visits to museums and art galleries. Her education remained unstructured and was further disrupted by the war.
Most of the war was spent at Windsor castle, where the princesses learned the art of rolling out of bed and into air raid shelters when the sirens sounded. At the age of 18, and with the war coming to a close, Elizabeth was allowed to join the ATS as a subaltern and went each day to Aldershot to take a driving and vehicle maintenance course. She was already devoted to her cousin Philip Mountbatten, a naval officer and five years her senior. They regarded themselves as engaged from the summer of 1946 and were married in November 1947. Their first child, Prince Charles, was born a year later. In 1952 she succeeded her father on the throne at the age of 25.
The coronation of 1953, the first to be seen on television, was a great success, a splash of colour and ceremony in a still austere post-war Britain. Excitable journalists wrote fatuously of a New Elizabethan Age to come. In fact criticism developed rather quickly. Though not shy, the queen had reserve and, though nobody could accuse her of taking her duties lightly, she did not seem much to enjoy them, having neither the warmth nor easy manner of her mother. In 1957 when Lord Altrincham complained that she sounded like a ‘priggish schoolgirl’, he was predictably threatened with horsewhipping and the borough of Altrincham hastened to dissociate itself from so subversive an opinion. Political clouds also rolled in quickly. Britain found it extremely hard to shake off recurrent financial and economic crises and the Suez fiasco of 1956 was a reminder that the country had neither its former strength, nor perhaps its confidence.
The two themes which dominated the early years of her reign were the painful process of economic recovery and withdrawal from empire. By 1953 the crippled economies of Europe were beginning to recover and Germany, in particular, proved a formidable competitor, especially in car manufacture. This was followed by the rise of the Far Eastern economies, and Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea, which before the war had been synonymous with cheap toys, demonstrated quality and inventiveness in radios, televisions, refrigerators, computers, and shipbuilding. Many of Britain's basic industries—railways, mines, shipyards, cotton mills—were in dire need of re-equipment and investment, yet at the same time there was an urgent demand for houses, schools, and hospitals. Her third prime minister, Harold Macmillan, wrote rather simply in July 1960, ‘the public want them all, but they do not like the idea of paying for them.’ Several of her governments ran onto the rocks of balance of payments difficulties, inflation, unemployment, and runs on the pound: traditional industries declined and their replacements were slow to emerge.
The Suez crisis was only one of the more dramatic episodes in the retreat from empire. The withdrawal from India had taken place in 1948 before Elizabeth came to the throne. It was followed into independence by Malaya (1957), Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Sierra Leone (1961), Tanganyika (1961), Uganda (1962), Jamaica (1962), Trinidad (1962), Zambia (1964), and Aden (1967). The withdrawals were effected with relatively little rancour, though there was fighting in Malaya (1948–60), in Aden (1963–73), a protracted crisis over Southern Rhodesia (1965–80), and an unpleasant and tedious campaign in Kenya against Mau Mau from 1952 to 1955. The queen and the royal family played an active role in efforts to transform the empire into a commonwealth of equal states. But most of the newly independent countries opted to become republics and although the queen remained head of the Commonwealth, her role was largely social. The strength of Commonwealth bonds was weakened by Britain's increasing involvement with Europe. In addition, two of the most influential Commonwealth states seceded for long periods—South Africa between 1961 and 1994, and Pakistan from 1972 until 1989. Royal visits to the former dominions continued but even there difficulties emerged, with severe federal problems in Canada and moves towards republicanism in Australia.
The later years of her reign have seen considerable economic progress, though still subject to sudden mishaps. Macmillan's remark of 1957—‘most of our people have never had it so good’—was premature, but despite a decline in Britain's comparative trading position, the gross national product continued to grow, albeit slowly, and her subjects acquired television sets, cars, telephones, washing machines, and spin-driers on a scale quite unknown in 1952. This was partly because the sharp rise in world oil prices which followed the Arab–Israeli war of 1973 and which threatened acute balance of payments problems was offset by the exploitation of North Sea oil from 1975 onwards.
As the empire shrank and economic performance faltered, Britain's relationship with Europe emerged as a major issue. It had implications for the monarchy since the more advanced schemes for a federal Europe would affect sovereignty. A British/European coinage which did not include the monarch's head would be a breach with tradition dating back to Offa and Alfred. Britain's first two applications to join the European Economic Community were vetoed by de Gaulle in 1963 and 1967, before Edward Heath's government gained acceptance in 1972. In the 1980s, as what was at first envisaged as a trading community moved towards political integration, the question of ‘Europe’ moved steadily to the front of the political agenda.
Of more immediate concern to the queen was probably the role of the monarchy itself and the vicissitudes of the royal family. The latter were a mixture of bad luck, compounded by the rapidly changing values of society, and the emergence of an intrusive and insistent press, which took pride in its lack of respect. The days when an innocent party in a divorce action could not expect an invitation to royal functions were long past, and the restraint that had kept Edward VIII's infatuation with Mrs Simpson out of the news until the very last minute would have been unthinkable 40 years later. The first indications that the royal road might be bumpy came in 1953 when the queen's sister wished to marry a distinguished airman, Group Captain Peter Townsend, who was in the process of divorcing his wife. The issue came to a head at the very start of the new reign and the princess was persuaded not to marry him. When she did marry Anthony Armstrong Jones in 1960, it ended in divorce. These were no more than the drops of rain that preceded the deluge. The queen's cousin Lord Harewood was divorced for adultery in 1967. The marriages of three of the royal children also ended in divorce. The princess royal's marriage to Captain Mark Phillips was dissolved in 1992; the duke of York divorced Sarah Ferguson in 1995, and the protracted and much-publicized rift between the prince and princess of Wales ended in divorce in 1996. In November 1992 at the Guildhall, the queen referred ruefully to a year which had seen one divorce, two marital breakdowns, and a devastating fire at Windsor castle as ‘not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure … an annus horribilis’. Many people must have wondered whether the victory of the ‘modernizers’ in the palace over the ‘traditionalists’ had been of benefit to the monarchy. The incessant publicity which surrounded the royal family as a result of the activities of the ‘royal rat-pack’ suggests that it is easier to start the process of reform than to control it, and that lifting the curtain to let in a little light might encourage people to burn the curtain itself.
It is too soon for any informed assessment of the queen's constitutional role. Though her prime ministers have enthusiastically published their memoirs, they have been bland in their references to the sovereign. There was some criticism of the procedure in 1957 when Eden was forced by ill-health to resign and was succeeded by Macmillan rather than Butler. But the lord chancellor and the lord president of the council ( Kilmuir and Salisbury) were asked to sound the cabinet, and its strong preference for Macmillan was confirmed by the chief whip, the chairman of the 1922 committee, the chairman of the Conservative Party, and Sir Winston Churchill. The queen certainly did not act against advice. Nor did she in 1963 when the choice of Lord Home to succeed Macmillan caused surprise. She acted on the advice of Macmillan himself, whom she visited in hospital. Changed arrangements in the Conservative Party in 1965 for electing its leader make it unlikely that this royal prerogative will cause awkwardness in future. Nor will many others. At every general election there is earnest discussion of the attitude the queen would take should there be a ‘hung Parliament’ but the contingency is remote, and the mechanics of consultation seem well established.
There is no doubt that, from the 1980s onwards, there has been increased criticism of the royal family, though not of Elizabeth herself. The urge by some of its members to seek publicity and unburden themselves to the press proved short-sighted and merely fed the monster. The decline in respect is a general phenomenon and applies to many other institutions—to the church, the law, Parliament, and, not least, to the press itself. It is often said that the royal family has become a soap opera. But this element has always been present, centuries before the term ‘soap opera’ was coined, since spectacle and pageantry, spiced by gossip and anecdote, have always been part of the monarchy's appeal. Not for nothing is the longest running soap opera called Coronation Street. Yet a policy of openness, inaugurated by the film Royal Family (1966), has evident dangers. Satire, which in the 1960s was refreshing and witty, may become coarse and spiteful. Newspapers are not slow to understand that fervent admiration sells fewer papers than indignation and envy. ‘The Palace’ has often had to ponder the balance between over- and under-exposure. That the latter has its risks is demonstrated by the example of Queen Victoria's unpopularity during her seclusion after Albert's death. But the problems caused by under-exposure are more easily remedied.
J. A. Cannon
Bradford, S. , Elizabeth (1996);
Bogdanor, V. , The Monarchy and the Constitution (Oxford, 1995);
Cannon, J. A., and and Griffiths, R. A. , The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy (Oxford, 1988);
Longford, E. , Elizabeth R: A Biography (1983);
Pimlott, B. , The Queen (1996).
Elizabeth II (born 1926) became queen of Great Britain and Ireland upon the death of her father, George VI, in 1952. She was a popular queen who was also respected for her knowledge of and participation in state affairs.
Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, in London, the oldest child of the Duke of York and his wife, Elizabeth. Her father became King George VI, of Great Britain and Ireland in 1936 when his older brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne. Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten in November 1947, and they had four children—Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward.
Since the 1960s criticism of the monarchy and of the queen has been both positive and negative. Indeed, it may be said that is precisely because the monarchy has not "created a truly classless and Commonwealth court" that it has been an institution of inestimable value to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in the second half of the 20th century. Britain is not noticeably less a "deferential society" now than it was in Walter Bagehot's day, and there can be no doubt that considerable spiritual consolation can be derived from symbolic continuity with past glory in rapidly changing and often all too inglorious times.
There have, however, been subtle changes in the monarchy. The work of the monarch and the monarchy has increased, and the queen accordingly shared some of her duties with her children, upon whom more public attention was focussed. She pursued her functions along lines laid out by her father, George VI: diligence, duty, dignity, and compassion. Her involvement of the whole family in her duties also reflected the influence of her father, who used to speak of his family as "The Firm."
In addition, the queen, perhaps in part influenced by her strong-willed and perceptive husband, started some new trends toward modernization and openness in the monarchy. Her efforts were not unsuccessful. The queen and her activities commanded international attention and widespread respect. The prime ministers who served under her, notably Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, were impressed by her knowledge of state affairs—gained by conscientious reading of state papers contained in the Red Boxes, dispatch cases which followed her everywhere. Her popularity at home and abroad was indisputable.
A Popular Traveller
At least part of this popularity could be attributed to her far-flung travels as the embodiment of Commonwealth unity and British nationalism. Her interested and gracious demeanor on these travels contributed to the warmth and enthusiasm of the receptions which greeted her. Between 1970 and 1985 she had a dizzyingly full schedule. She visited France in the spring of 1972, attended the Commonwealth Conference in Ottawa in 1973, took part in the U.S. bicentennial celebrations and then headed north to Montreal to open the 1976 Summer Olympics, and travelled some 56,000 miles throughout the Commonwealth as part of her Silver Jubilee celebrations. In 1979 she travelled to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, where she was showered with gifts of dazzling (and dazzlingly precious) jewelry.
In April 1982 she made a less exotic but constitutionally more important visit to Ottawa, where she proclaimed the New Canadian constitution, which cut the last legal links between the United Kingdom and Canada. In March of 1984 she visited Jamaica, Grand Cayman Island, Mexico, California, and British Columbia. While in California, her first trip to the west coast of North America, she had some 20 public appearances, including a visit to a movie studio and a gala dinner in San Francisco. She also went to President Reagan's Santa Barbara ranch, to former U.S. Ambassador to Britain Walter Annenberg's luxurious estate, and, in a private capacity, to Yosemite National Park with Prince Philip. She went to North America again in 1984, visiting Canada for the 14th time and then, privately, to the United States to inspect horse-breeding farms in Kentucky and to the wild west of Sheridan County, Wyoming.
Changes in the queen's circumstances and events in her private life necessarily had a public impact. In the early 1970s there was considerable controversy over her request for an increase in her civil list funding. Although it was not unreasonable that she would require additional funds to carry out her public duties in the style to which her subjects had become accustomed and in an era of rampant inflation, some critics considered her request tactless because she was one of the world's wealthiest women. Even such supporters of the monarchy as Richard Crossman publicly resented the fact that her income was not taxable. Despite the critics, however (and perhaps also because of them: the public outcry over their disloyal attitude was loud), funding was increased.
In the early 1980s personal security around the queen was increased after two unpleasant incidents. In June of 1981, while the queen was riding to the Trooping of the Color in London's Mall, a bystander in the crowd fired six blanks in her direction. Thirteen months later an unemployed and disturbed man, Michael Fagan, managed to get into Buckingham Palace and, after wandering in the corridors, entered the queen's bedroom. With admirable aplomb she spoke soothingly to the intruder, who sat bleeding on her bed, and managed to summon help.
Happier events also had their public impact. On November 20, 1972, the queen and Prince Philip celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a service in Westminster Abbey. One hundred couples from all over Britain who happened to have the same anniversary were invited to share in the occasion. The queen's two older children married with great ceremony and had children of their own. On November 14, 1973, Princess Anne married commoner Mark Philips and later had two children: Peter, born in 1977, and Zara, born in 1981. Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981; their two sons, Prince William and Prince Henry, were born in 1982 and 1984 respectively. Another son, Prince Andrew (made Duke of York), married Sarah Ferguson, July 23, 1986; their two daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie were born in 1988 and 1990 respectively.
A Highly Respected Monarch
Perhaps the happiest event was the queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, marked by an outpouring of devotion to the queen, her family, and the institution of the British monarchy in the form of innumerable sporting events, festivals, carnivals, races, concerts, commemorative stamps, and other activities in her honor. On May 4, 1977, both Houses of Parliament presented loyal addresses to her in Westminster Hall. At St. Paul's Cathedral in June the queen and her family celebrated a Thanksgiving service. The queen indicated her concern for her subjects by voicing her desire that the Silver Jubilee year be a special time "for people who find themselves the victims of human conflict," by travelling extensively to meet her subjects during the year, and by establishing the Silver Jubilee Trust Fund, headed by the Prince of Wales, which was designed "to help the young to help others." She demonstrated her interest in the jubilee through the television broadcast of two films, Royal Heritage and The Queen's Garden, the publication of a book about her private art collection, the opening of the Holbein Room at Windsor Castle to the public, and the display of some of her works of art in a special Silver Jubilee train which tracked across Australia.
Elizabeth Longford, one of the queen's biographers, has suggested that it was only after the jubilee, when she was able to see the loyalty and esteem of her subjects demonstrated, that she realized her potential as a monarch. Her inhibitions were broken down and she became more confident, more open, and more ready to reveal her keen sense of humor, strong common sense, great energy, and nearly imperturbable serenity of character.
After her accession the queen endeavored in her own way to make the British monarchy more modern, more open, and more accessible. She replaced the noxious presentation of debutantes with informal Buckingham Palace luncheons to which a variety of figures eminent in diverse fields ranging from industry to the stage to sports to Scotland Yard were invited. The guest lists at her garden parties became increasingly eclectic. She showed interest and skill in use of the broadcast media, notably in her annual Christmas television messages, in royally sanctioned documentaries such as The Royal Palaces of Britain (1966) and The Royal Family as well as the two Jubilee presentations, and in television broadcasts of Prince Charles' investiture as Prince of Wales and of the royal weddings. Perhaps the most popular of her attempts was the "walkabout," in which she left her car or entourage to meet, shake hands, and chat with ordinary people in the crowds which gathered around her. These spontaneous strolls, which she started in 1970 while on a trip to New Zealand, revealed her conviction that "I have to be seen to be believed."
Troubles Plague the House of Windsor
However, in the late 1980s, the Queen grew concerned over the state and the future of the monarchy. The British press increasingly chronicled the problems in her children's marriages. It appeared to many that Prince Charles was not interested in suceeding to the throne, preferring instead to hunt, play polo, and spend time with his longtime mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles. There were rumors that the Queen would abdicate the throne to her grandson, Prince William. Her troubles seemed to peak in 1992, and she herself called it a "annus horribilis" a horrible year.
The twenty year marriage of Princess Anne ended in divorce; Prince Charles and Prince Andrew officially separated from their wives. On the night of November 20, a good section of Windsor Castle (one of Queen Elizabeth's official residences), suffered extensive fire damage. Immediately, a public outcry arose when it was announced the castle's restoration would be paid for out of public coffers. Britons felt that the Queen, who enjoyed a tax-exempt income in the millions, should pay for the restoration. Two days later, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen and her family would no longer be exempt from taxation. This announcement was seen as a gesture of savvy and goodwill. The year ended on a happier note, as Princess Anne remarried on December 12.
In 1995, the Queen wrote a letter to Prince Charles and Princess Diana urging them to divorce, prompted by separate television interviews where they discussed their unhappy 14-year marriage. They were divorced in 1996, as were Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Despite these very public family problems, the Queen generally remained popular.
However, her resolve was tested after the August 1997 death of her former daughter-in-law, Princess Diana. Some Britons lashed out at the Queen for "being too bound up by protocol." Surprised by the backlash, she broke tradition and addressed the nation in a live broadcast the day before the funeral, paying tribute to Diana. The significance of this gesture was seen as significant, as the Queen usually addresses the nation only on Christmas Day; this was the second exception to that rule in her 45-year reign.
In spite of turmoil and public stresses, the Queen does not appear to be slowing down. She continues to enjoy time with her family, her beloved Welsh Corgis, country life, and horses, horse-breeding, and horse-racing.
There is a good deal of literature about Queen Elizabeth and the state of the monarchy. Of interest to those intrigued by the private life of royalty are two books by the queen's former governess, Marion Crawford: The Little Princesses (1950) and Elizabeth the Queen (1952). A well-documented, perceptive, and flattering portrait of the queen and her family is contained in Robert Lacey's Jubilee year Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor (1977). An uncritically laudatory biography is Queen Elizabeth (1979) by Judith Campbell, which is useful only because it has a great number of interesting photographs. Of the greatest value is Elizabeth Longford's The Queen: The Life of Elizabeth II (1983), which is insightful, skillfully written, and thoroughly researched. Royal biographer Anne Edwards profiled the Queen and Princess Margaret in Royal Sisters (1990), which provides an honest account of life as a royal. In 1996, S. Badford chronicled the Queen's life in Elizabeth: A Biography of Her Majesty the Queen (1996). Information on the Internet is also available. Unofficial Web sites on the Queen and royal family can be accessed through the search tool Yahoo, by searching for "Queen Elizabeth II." (July 29, 1997). General biographical information on the Internet can be accessed through http://www.mun.ca/library/ref/qeiifaq.html#crowned. □
Born: April 21, 1926
Elizabeth II became queen of the United Kingdom upon the death of her father, George VI (1895–1952), in 1952. A popular queen, she is respected for her knowledge of and participation in state affairs. In addition, Elizabeth II has started new trends toward modernization and openness in the royal family. Her efforts have not been unsuccessful.
Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, in London, England, the oldest child of the Duke of York and his wife, Elizabeth. Her father became King George VI of Great Britain and Ireland in 1936 when his older brother Edward VIII (1894–1972) gave up the throne. Along with her younger sister, Margaret, Elizabeth was educated at home by private tutors. She particularly liked history, languages, and music. She later took an interest in national affairs. As a teenager Elizabeth began to make her first public appearances. She married Philip Mountbatten in November 1947, and they had four children—Prince Charles (1948–), Princess Anne (1950–), Prince Andrew (1960–), and Prince Edward (1964–).
The new queen
After Elizabeth became queen in 1952, she tried in her own way to make the British monarchy more modern and more sensitive to the public. She began hosting informal luncheons at Buckingham Palace (the London residence of the queen) to which a variety of people from fields such as industry, theater, and sports were invited. The attendees of her garden parties became increasingly diverse. She showed interest and skill in use of the broadcast media, notably in her annual Christmas television messages, in royally approved documentaries, and in television broadcasts of events such as Prince Charles's naming ceremony as Prince of Wales and royal weddings.
Perhaps the most popular of Elizabeth's attempts was the "walkabout," in which she met, shook hands, and chatted with ordinary people in the crowds that gathered around her. These strolls revealed her belief that "I have to be seen to be believed."
A popular traveler
At least part of Elizabeth's popularity could be attributed to her worldwide travels. Her engaging and gracious attitude during these travels contributed to the warmth and enthusiasm of the receptions that greeted her. Between 1970 and 1985 she had an amazingly full schedule. She visited France in the spring of 1972, attended the Commonwealth Conference in Ottawa in 1973, and took part in the United States celebrations of the two-hundredth anniversary of American independence from England. She then headed north to Montreal to open the 1976 Summer Olympics. She also traveled some fifty-six thousand miles as part of her 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, which marked her twenty-fifth year as queen. In 1979 she traveled to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
In April 1982 Elizabeth made an important visit to Ottawa, Canada, where she proclaimed the New Canadian constitution, which cut the last legal links between the United Kingdom and Canada. In March 1984 she visited Jamaica, Grand Cayman Island, Mexico, California, and British Columbia, Canada. While in California, her first trip to the west coast of North America, she made some twenty public appearances, including a visit with Prince Philip to President Ronald Reagan's (1911–) Santa Barbara ranch and to Yosemite National Park. She went to North America again in 1984, visiting Canada for the fourteenth time and afterward the United States.
Amid all the travels, Elizabeth celebrated many joyous personal events. On November 20, 1972, the queen and Prince Philip celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. One hundred couples from all over Britain who had the same anniversary date were invited to share in the occasion. On November 14, 1973, Princess Anne married Mark Philips and later had two children: Peter and Zara. Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981, and had two sons, Prince William and Prince Henry. Prince Andrew (made Duke of York) married Sarah Ferguson on July 23, 1986, and they had two daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie.
Perhaps the happiest event was Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee in 1977. Countless sports events, festivals, carnivals, races, concerts, commemorative stamps, and other activities marked an outpouring of devotion to the queen and to the royal family as an institution. On May 4, 1977, both Houses of Parliament presented loyal addresses to Elizabeth II in Westminster Hall. At St. Paul's Cathedral in June the queen and her family celebrated a Thanksgiving service. The queen indicated her concern for her subjects by voicing her desire that the Silver Jubilee year be a special time "for people who find themselves the victims of human conflict." She traveled widely to meet her subjects during the year, and established the Silver Jubilee Trust Fund, headed by the Prince of Wales, which was designed "to help the young to help others."
Elizabeth Longford, one of Queen Elizabeth's biographers, has suggested that it was only after the jubilee, when she was able to see the loyalty and respect her subjects demonstrated, that she realized her possibilities as a monarch. She became more confident, more open, and more ready to reveal her sense of humor, strong common sense, great energy, and personal character.
Troubles on the horizon
However, in the late 1980s, Elizabeth grew concerned over the state and the future of the royal family. The British press increasingly reported the problems in her children's marriages. It appeared to many that Prince Charles was not interested in succeeding to the throne. There were rumors that Elizabeth II would hand over the throne to her grandson, Prince William.
Her troubles seemed to peak in 1992, and she herself called it a horrible year. The twenty-year marriage of Princess Anne ended in divorce. Prince Charles and Prince Andrew officially separated from their wives. On the night of November 20, fire badly damaged a good section of Windsor Castle (one of Queen Elizabeth's official residences). A public outcry immediately arose when it was announced that the castle's restoration would be paid for with taxpayers' money. The British people felt that the queen, who enjoyed a tax-exempt (not taxed) income in the millions, should pay for the restoration. Two days later, Buckingham Palace announced that the queen and her family would no longer be exempt from taxation. This announcement was seen as a gesture of political smarts and goodwill. The year ended on a happier note, as Princess Anne remarried on December 12.
In 1995 Elizabeth wrote a letter to Prince Charles and Princess Diana urging them to divorce, prompted by separate television interviews where they discussed their unhappy fourteen-year marriage. They were divorced in 1996, as were Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Despite these very public family problems, Elizabeth generally remained popular.
Her resolve was tested, however, after the August 1997 death of her former daughter-in-law, Princess Diana. Some Britons lashed out at the queen for "being too bound up by protocol [the expected conduct of a king or queen]." Surprised by the criticism, she broke tradition and addressed the nation in a live broadcast the day before the funeral, paying tribute to Diana. This gesture was seen as significant, as the queen usually addressed the nation only on Christmas Day. This was only the second exception to that rule in her forty-five-year reign.
An energetic queen
In spite of problems and public stresses, Elizabeth refuses to slow down. She continues to enjoy time with her family, country life, horse-breeding, and horse-racing.
Likewise, Elizabeth continues to practice her royal duties. The queen, as head of state, maintains close contact with the prime minister, with whom she meets weekly. She also receives important foreign office telegrams and a daily summary of events in Parliament. She hosts both British and foreign leaders and receives other notable visitors from overseas. Elizabeth also heads the navy, army, and air force of Great Britain. In addition, she succeeded her father as colonel in chief of all the Guards Regiments and the Corps of Royal Engineers, as well as captain-general of the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Honorable Artillery Company. She is president or financial supporter of more than seven hundred organizations. In 1998 some of her many activities included officially opening the new British Library in London, unveiling a statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) in Paris, meeting with former Far East prisoners of war, and conducting state visits to Brunei and Malaysia.
The year 2002 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Elizabeth II's rise to the throne. On February 6 in that year, she delivered her Golden Jubilee message to the United Kingdom. Elizabeth II is only the fifth monarch to celebrate a Golden Jubilee.
For More Information
Campbell, Judith. Queen Elizabeth. New York: Crown Publishers, 1979.
Lacey, Robert. Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II. New York: Free Press, 2002.
Longford, Elizabeth. The Queen: The Life of Elizabeth II. New York: Knopf, 1983.
Shawcross, William. Queen and Country: The Fifty-Year Reign of Elizabeth II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
Elizabeth II (queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
Elizabeth II, 1926–, queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (1952–), elder daughter and successor of George VI. At age 18 she was made a State Counsellor, a confidante of the king. During World War II she trained as a junior subaltern (second lieutenant) in the women's services. On Nov. 20, 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten, duke of Edinburgh (see Edinburgh, Prince Philip Mountbatten, duke of). They were in Kenya (en route for a tour of Australia and New Zealand) when the king died (Feb. 6, 1952) and Elizabeth succeeded to the throne. Her coronation, on June 2, 1953, was the first to be televised. She is also head of state in a number of former British possessions and is head of the Commonwealth of Nations.
An extremely popular queen, Elizabeth has traveled more extensively than any previous British monarch. Throughout her reign, expanded media coverage has brought the monarchy closer to the British people. Although the queen, who in public is formal and unemotional, continues to be greatly admired and respected, since the mid-1980s a barrage of tabloid reports about her children and their spouses has seriously tarnished the royal image. In 1992 she celebrated her 40th year on the throne, but it was also a year in which part of Windsor Castle suffered a devastating fire; her son Prince Andrew (b. 1960) separated from his wife, the former Sarah Ferguson (they were divorced in 1996); her daughter, Princess Anne, divorced; and her son and heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Princess Diana separated (they were divorced in 1996). Elizabeth's youngest son is Prince Edward (b. 1964). In 1992 Elizabeth, the wealthiest woman in England, agreed to pay income tax for the first time. Although she was widely criticized for her seeming insensitivity in the days following Princess Diana's death (1997), she had regained the public's esteem by the time of her golden jubilee, less than five years later.
See biographies by E. Longford (1984), S. Bradford (1996), B. Pimlott (1997), and S. B. Smith (2012).