Elizabeth II (1926—)

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Elizabeth II (1926—)

Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Name variations: Elizabeth Windsor. Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on April 21, 1926, at the home of her maternal grandparents, in London's West End; elder daughter of Albert Frederick

Arthur George, 13th duke of York, also known as George VI, king of England (r. 1936–1952), and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (b. 1900); sister of Princess Margaret Rose (b. 1930); educated privately by governesses and at a small school at Windsor Castle; married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, R.N., duke of Edinburgh (son of the late Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg ), on November 20, 1947; children: Charles, prince of Wales (b. November 14, 1948); Princess Anne (b. August 15, 1950); Prince Andrew, duke of York (b. February 19, 1960); Prince Edward (b. March 10, 1964).

Named Heir Presumptive in 1936, after the abdication of Edward VIII brought her father to the throne as George VI, Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in 1952 following the death of the king. She is the 42nd sovereign of England since William I the Conqueror, yet only the sixth woman to occupy the English throne in her own right. Her predecessors were Mary I, Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne , and Victoria .

Elizabeth, nicknamed "Lilibet," enjoyed an idyllic childhood spent at the family town house in London and at the Royal Lodge at Windsor Castle. Winston Churchill, who first encountered Elizabeth at Balmoral when she was two, dubbed her a "character." In a letter to his wife, he wrote, "She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant." Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret Rose had a series of governesses and tutors, including Marion Crawford ("Crawfie"), who was hired in 1933. When Elizabeth became Heir Presumptive (the title Heir Apparent being withheld in favor of a possible male heir), her education became more specialized, but her doting parents insisted that school continue to be a place of enjoyment for her. From age 12, she was tutored by Sir Henry Marten, a famous history teacher and later provost of Eton, while her grandmother, Queen Mary of Teck , schooled her in the mysteries of royal behavior. Country life was a family tradition, and Elizabeth is reported to have said that had she not been heir to the throne she would have wanted "to be a lady living in the country, with lots of horses and dogs."

Following the outbreak of World War II, the princesses lived at Windsor during the blitz while their parents, King George and Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon , spent most of their time in London. During this time, Elizabeth began to take on some official duties and to enter fully into public life. On October 13, 1940, she made her first radio broadcast, assuring the children of the empire in a clear and precise voice, "We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well." At age 16, after months of lobbying her father to let her undertake National Service, she was allowed to join the Auxiliary Transport Service, where she was trained in motor transport and maintenance. A short time later, on May 8, 1945, Elizabeth, dressed in her ATS uniform, joined her family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to celebrate V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. That afternoon, she was allowed to leave the palace and join the celebration on The Mall; it was the last occasion that she would enjoy as "one of the people."

On the occasion of her 21st birthday, while on a goodwill tour of South Africa with the royal family, Elizabeth made a radio broadcast to the Commonwealth that would come to symbolize the spirit of her reign. "I declare before you all," she said, "that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of the great imperial family to which we all belong." Upon Elizabeth's return from South Africa, the king and queen announced her engagement to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, described by Crawfie as "a fair-haired boy, rather like a Viking, with a sharp face and piercing blue eyes." Elizabeth first met Philip on a family visit to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth when she was 13. Although she rarely saw him for the next six years, there was never another man in her life.

The wedding, which was the first great State occasion after the war, was celebrated at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. The couple spent their first five years of marriage at Clarence House, where Elizabeth gave birth to her first two children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne . (They were followed later by Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.) Philip resumed his naval career, and Elizabeth often left the children with their nurses and grandparents to join her husband in Malta, where he was posted. Although she occasionally returned to Britain to represent her ailing father in official duties, Elizabeth's early years of marriage were the most carefree and happy of her life.

On February 6, 1952, while in Kenya on an extended Commonwealth Tour, Elizabeth received the news of her father's death and immediately returned to England where she was proclaimed queen two days later. The coronation took place of June 2, 1953, at Westminster Abbey. Despite the rain, thousands lined the route from Buckingham Palace to the Abbey, and an estimated 20 million British viewers watched the ceremony on television. The coronation caused as much sensation in the United States, where film of the ceremony was airlifted across the ocean for prompt telecasting. The broadcast, the first of its kind, ushered in the age of mass media and significantly changed the way the British monarchy was presented to the public.

Once settled, the new queen embarked on a half-year of nonstop travel, making visits to as many countries of the Commonwealth as possible. Her round-the-world itinerary ranks as the longest royal tour ever, encompassing 14 countries and covering 50,000 miles. Elizabeth has become by far the most traveled monarch in Britain's history, even touring extensively in Canada during her third pregnancy. In her 1977 Silver Jubilee year, she visited 36 countries in the United Kingdom over a period of three months. In addition to her widespread tours and her ceremonial functions, the queen dedicates a good deal of time to her constitutional role as Head of State. Her daily "boxes" (leather-covered despatch boxes from the prime minister's office, the Foreign Office, and other government departments) follow her when she is traveling or on vacation. All nine of her prime ministers, whether Conservative or Labour, have praised her for her professionalism and dedication.

Hoping to modernize the monarchy, Elizabeth made herself more accessible to the public as early as 1956. That year, she began holding informal lunches at Buckingham Palace so that she could meet those who had achieved distinction in a wide range of fields. Throughout the years, she has invited 40,000 a year to attend garden parties, and her informal "walkabouts," reminiscent of those initiated by her mother and father, have put her in touch with common citizens whom she might not otherwise encounter. Although intensely private about her family life, during the 1960s Elizabeth agreed to several television documentaries designed to further humanize the monarchy. The first production, Royal Palaces, was followed in 1969 by Royal Family, which provided a sanitized view of the royals at work and play and attracted an audience of 40 million in the United Kingdom alone.

With her life increasingly lived in the glare of the public spotlight, Elizabeth remains a private and self-contained person. Her biographer Sarah Bradford explains: "She does not give of herself easily, in public or in private, performing her role with dignity and an economy of emotion which has made it possible for her to carry the burden that she does." Many who are close to the queen find her more at ease with her horses and Corgi dogs than with people. Her passion for breeding and racing thoroughbred horses seems to provide therapy for the stresses of her daily life. Elizabeth's central relationship is with her husband Philip, whom she adores and defers to, despite the fact that he has been described as a brusque, short-tempered, and self-willed man. In the few years immediately following the queen's accession to the throne, the marriage suffered what Graham and Heather Fisher term "a succession of marital hiccups," while Philip adjusted to his lack of involvement in the monarchy. Eventually establishing his own career, Philip assumed the position as head of the family and has had a dominant role in raising the children.

Elizabeth has had her detractors from the beginning. As early as 1955, there was a public outcry when she did not sanction the marriage of Princess Margaret Rose to Peter Townsend, a hero of the Battle of Britain, who had been recently divorced. (Margaret later married Anthony Armstrong-Jones with disastrous results.) In 1956, the press was harsh over Elizabeth's treatment of the Suez crisis and the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister Anthony Eden. The following year, Lord Altrincham, writing in the National Review, criticized her public speaking, calling her voice that of a "priggish schoolgirl." He also accused her of being out of touch, surrounded by "a tweedy entourage who know nothing of life outside the restricted circle of the Establishment." Beginning in 1969, the royal finances came under fire, and, bowing to pressure, the queen began paying taxes in the 1990s. Most damaging to the monarchy, however, has been the conduct of the young royals and the breakdown of three of their marriages. In 1992, Andrew's separation from Sarah Ferguson , duchess of York, the ongoing troubles between Charles and Diana , princess of Wales, and a fire that destroyed part of Windsor Castle so demoralized Elizabeth that she declared the year, "an annus horribilis." With an equally heavy heart, she wrote to Charles and Diana in 1995 advising divorce.

Ferguson, Sarah (1959—)

Duchess of York. Name variations: Fergie. Born Sarah Margaret Ferguson on October 15, 1959, in London, England; daughter of Ronald Ferguson (polo manager for the queen) and Susan Wright Ferguson Barrantes (died in an auto accident in September 1998); married Andrew, duke of York, on July 23, 1986 (divorced 1996); children: Beatrice (b. August 8, 1988); Eugenie (b. March 23, 1990).

As the millennium approached, the survival of the monarchy after Elizabeth was in question. Diana's sudden death in 1997 and the halfhearted response from the monarchy as the world mourned exacerbated the issue. However, the queen still held the heart of most Britishers. In 1998, as the anniversary of Diana's death approached, Buckingham Palace announced that the royal family would be marking the day quietly and privately at Balmoral, where no specific mention of Diana was made during chapel services. The Palace also avoided mentioning the results of a Gallup poll it had commissioned just two months after Diana's death, which showed that 71% of the British public thought the monarchy should "definitely continue." It had been the most positive response ever recorded.

Standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the World War II anniversary celebration in 1995, Elizabeth, along with her sister Margaret and the Queen Mother, had evoked a sense of continuity and tradition that is at the core of the monarchy. As Bradford points out, the queen also represents "values which most people still recognize even if they don't either practice them or aspire to them themselves—courage, decency, and a sense of duty."


Allison, Ronald, and Sarah Riddell, eds. The Royal Encyclopedia. NY: Macmillan, 1991.

Bradford, Sarah. Elizabeth: A Biography of Britain's Queen. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.

Fisher, Graham, and Heather Fisher. Monarch: A Biography of Elizabeth II. Salem, NH: Salem House, 1985.

Fraser, Antonia, ed. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975.

Harris, Kenneth. The Queen. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Elizabeth II (1926—)

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Elizabeth II (1926—)