Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor), styled HM The Queen (born April 21, 1926) is the Queen regnant and head of state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and 15 other Commonwealth countries. She is Head of the Commonwealth and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She has reigned since February 6, 1952. About 125 million people live in countries of which she is head of state. Prior to her ascention, she held the title of Duchess of Edinburgh.
In the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth holds her throne by virtue of the Act of Settlement 1701, being the senior Protestant descendant of Electress Sophia of Hanover who is not married to a Roman Catholic. Although the succession to the throne of the United Kingdom is in normal circumstances hereditary, the Parliament of the United Kingdom has had the right to determine who may inherit the throne since at least the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
As well as being Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth is head of state of fifteen other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, known as the Commonwealth Realms. These countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
In these countries, which are fully independent states, she holds the position of head of state by virtue of being designated as such in the Constitutions or laws of each of these countries. Originally, these nations were all either Dominions of the British Crown or colonies of the United Kingdom. The passage of the Statute of Westminster 1931 had the effect of separating the British Crown from those of the Dominions.
Those former colonies which have chosen to retain the Queen as their head of state have, at the date of their independence, thereby assumed a similar status to the original Dominions in relation to the Crown. The Statute of Westminster suggests that all of these nations should maintain the same common rules of succession. This guideline, however, appears only in the preamble; consequently, it is not legally binding. Each realm may theoretically choose to adopt whichever rules of succession it pleases, but hitherto, no realm has chosen to do so. Furthermore, Elizabeth II is Queen in each such realm by virtue of local laws—not by virtue of British law.
Queen Elizabeth was born at 21 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London, the London home of her maternal grandparents, the 14th Earl of Strathmore and his wife Lady Cecilia, Countess of Strathmore and Glamis. She was named after her mother, the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, while her two middle names are those of her paternal great-grandmother (Queen Alexandra) and grandmother (Queen Mary) respectively. Her father, the Duke of York (known to his family as Bertie), was the second son of King George V, and was not then the heir to the throne.
Elizabeth, then known as HRH Princess Elizabeth of York, was educated at home under the supervision of her mother, the Duchess of York. She studied history with C. H. K. Marten, Provost of Eton, and also learned modern languages. She speaks excellent French, as she showed during her 2004 state visit to France on more than one occasion. She was instructed in religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury and has always been a convinced member of the Church of England.
When her father became King in 1936 upon her uncle Edward VIII's abdication, she became heir presumptive and known as HRH The Princess Elizabeth. She was 13 when World War II broke out. She and her younger sister Princess Margaret were evacuated to Balmoral in Scotland. There was some suggestion that the princesses should be sent to Canada, but their mother the Queen refused to consider this, saying: "The children won't leave without me, I won't leave without the King, and the King won't leave under any circumstances." In 1940 Princess Elizabeth made her first broadcast, addressing children who had been evacuated.
In 1945 Princess Elizabeth convinced her father that she should be allowed to contribute directly to the war effort. She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the ATS) where she was known as No 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor. She was trained as a driver. This training was the first time she had been taught with other students. It is said that she greatly enjoyed this and that this experience lead her to send her own children to school rather than have them educated at home.
Elizabeth made her first official visit overseas in 1947, when she accompanied her parents to South Africa. On her 21st birthday she made a broadcast to the British Commonwealth and Empire, pledging to devote her life to the service of the people of the Commonwealth and Empire.
Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 20 November 1947. Prince Phillip is HM Queen Elizabeth's 3rd cousin; they both share Queen Victoria as a great great grandmother. (Prince Phillip had renounced his claim to the Greek throne and was simply referred to as Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten before being created Duke of Edinburgh before the marriage). This marriage was eminently suitable for a female heir to the throne, since Philip had been trained to royal duties but had no embarrassing foreign connections. It was not, however, an arranged marriage. A genuine love match, it has survived many trials, including Philip's rumoured infidelities.
After their wedding Philip and Elizabeth took up residence at Clarence House, London. They had four children (see below). Though the Royal House is named Windsor, it was decreed that the descendants of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip should have the personal surname Mountbatten-Windsor. (The personal surname change came via an Order-in-Council in 1960.)
King George's health declined during 1951 and Elizabeth frequently stood in for him at public events. She visited Greece, Italy and Malta (where Philip was then stationed) during the year. In October she toured Canada and visited Washington, D.C.. In January 1952 Elizabeth and Philip set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand. They had reached Kenya when word arrived of the death of her father, on February 6, 1952. At the exact moment of succession, she was in a tree-top hotel: a unique circumstance for any such event. The treehouse where she went up a princess and came down a queen is now a very popular tourist retreat in Kenya. Elizabeth's coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.
Life as Queen
After the Coronation Elizabeth and Philip moved to Buckingham Palace in central London. Like many of her predecessors, however, she dislikes the Palace as a residence and considers Windsor Castle, west of London, to be her home. She also spends time at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Queen Elizabeth is the most widely travelled head of state in history. In 1953-54 she and Philip made a six-month round-the-world tour; she became the first reigning monarch to circumnavigate the globe, and the first to visit Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. In October 1957 she made a state visit to the United States, and in 1959 she made a tour of Canada. In 1961 she toured India and Pakistan for the first time. She has made state visits to most European countries and many outside Europe. She regularly attends Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.
At the time of Elizabeth's accession there was much talk of a "new Elizabethan age". Elizabeth's role, however, has been to preside over the steady decline of Britain as a world military and economic power, the dissolution of the British Empire and the gradual fading away of its successor, the Commonwealth. She has worked hard to maintain links with former British possessions, and in some cases, such as South Africa, she has played an important role in retaining or restoring good relations.
Elizabeth is a conservative in matters of religion, moral standards and family matters. She has a strong sense of religious duty and takes seriously her Coronation Oath. This is one reason why it is considered highly unlikely that she will ever abdicate. Like her mother, she never forgave Edward VIII for, as she saw it, abandoning his duty, and forcing her father to become King, which she believed shortened his life by many years. She used the authority of her position to prevent her sister, Princess Margaret, marrying a divorced man, Peter Townsend. For years she refused to acknowledge Prince Charles's relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Politically, her views are less clear-cut — not that she has ever said or done anything in public to reveal what they might be. She preserves cordial relations with politicians of all parties. It is believed that her favourite Prime Ministers have been Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. Her least favourite was undoubtedly Margaret Thatcher, whom she is said to cordially dislike. She has very good relations with her current Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who is her first Prime Minister born after her accession to the throne.
The only public issue on which the Queen makes her views known are those affecting the unity of the United Kingdom. She has spoken in favour of the continued union of England and Scotland, angering some Scottish nationalists. Her statement of praise for the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement raised some complaints among some Unionists in the Democratic Unionist Party who opposed the Agreement.
Despite a succession of controversies about the rest of the royal family, particularly the marital difficulties of her children throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Queen Elizabeth remains a remarkably uncontroversial figure and is generally well-respected by the British people. However, her public persona is still formal, though more relaxed than it once was. Her refusal to display emotion in public prevents the growth of deeper feelings for her among the public.
Queen Elizabeth has never become unpopular, certainly not as unpopular as Queen Victoria was during a long period of her reign. The one exception to this was in 1997, when she and the other members of the Royal Family did not participate in the public outpouring of grief following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This brought sharp criticism from the normally royalist tabloid press and caused many in the public to view the monarchy as cold and unfeeling.
It is widely believed that Elizabeth held negative feelings towards Diana and thought that she had done immense damage to the monarchy. Eventually, however, the tide of public opinion was too great to resist and the country was given the sight of the entire Royal Family bowing to Diana's coffin as it passed Buckingham Palace. The Queen also made a rare live television broadcast to address the grief of the public regarding Diana's death. The Queen's change of attitude is believed to have resulted from strong advice from the Queen Mother and Tony Blair.
Since 1997, the Queen has regained her former status as a highly respected head of state. In 2002, she celebrated her Golden Jubilee, marking the 50th year of her accession to the throne. The year included an extensive tour of the four regions of the United Kingdom, state visits to several commonwealth realms, and numerous parades and official concerts. In June, thousands gathered outside Buckingham Palace for what was called the "Party at the Palace," a massive concert featuring various famous musical performers from across the British Isles. The day after this concert, a national service of Thanksgiving was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, to which the Queen and Prince Philip travelled in the centuries-old Gold State Coach. This was followed by massive carnivals and processions in the Mall outside Buckingham Palace, and the evening finished with a flypast by Concorde and the Red Arrows. The Queen and the entire Royal Family watched this from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, before a crowd of one million people. Sadly, however, the jubilee year coincided with the deaths, within a few months, of the Queen's mother and sister.
Since the death of her mother and sister, her relations with her children, while still somewhat distant, have become much warmer. She is particularly close to her daughter-in-law the Countess of Wessex. But while there has been a warming in her relationship with her children, she and the Prince of Wales still see very little of each other. She is known to disapprove of Charles's long-running relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, but in recent years has made several gestures of recognition of the relationship. On the other hand, she is very close to her grandchildren, particularly Prince William of Wales and Zara Phillips .
In 2003 the Queen, who is often described as robustly healthy, underwent three operations. In January she had torn cartilage removed from her right knee as a result of a fall during the 2002 Christmas holidays. In December 2003 she underwent a similar operation to remove torn cartilage, this time from her left knee. During this operation she also had several lesions removed from her face prompting rumours that she could have a form of skin cancer. The Palace reported, however, that the lesions were benign, and not cancerous.
The recent surgeries have brought concerns that the Queen is overworked for a woman of 78 and should slow down. As the Queen approaches her 80th birthday, she has made it clear that she has no intention of abdicating. Those who know her best have stated that she intends to reign as Queen until the day she dies. She has, however, agreed to begin handing over some of the public duties to her children. She is also reducing the amount of international travel she normally undertakes (she generally goes on two state visits a year, her first in 2004 being her state vist to France, and her second will be one to Germany in November, and up to two Commonwealth visits a year). But like her mother, she intends to keep working until she is physically unable to.
In recent years, particularly since the death of the Queen Mother, many have noticed the softening of the Queen's public image. Although she is still reserved in public, she has been seen laughing and smiling much more than in years past and to the shock of many she has seen to have shed a few tears during emotional state services such as the memorial service at Westminster Abbey for those killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In the United Kingdom, the Queen is an essential part of the legislative process. The Queen-in-Parliament (the Queen, acting with the advice and consent of Parliament) constitutes the British legislature; the other two parts of this legislature are the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In practice, however, the Queen's role in the legislative process is entirely ceremonial. The Queen may legally grant or withhold Royal Assent to bills, but no British monarch has refused his or her assent to a bill since 1708. Furthermore, the Queen makes an annual speech at the State Opening of Parliament, outlining the legislative agenda for the year, but the speech is written for her by ministers.
The Queen also has a ceremonial role in executive government. The British government is known as "Her Majesty's Government," and the Queen technically appoints the ministers who serve in it. In practice, however, the Queen does not choose and remove ministers. Normally, the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons is appointed Prime Minister; the Prime Minister then "advises" the Queen as to further ministerial appointments. The Government, moreover, is not in practice accountable to the Queen; rather, it is responsible to the House of Commons, and through it to the people. The Queen is also involved in the nation's judicial affairs. The courts act in her name; prosecutions are brought on her behalf.
The Queen, therefore, may not be brought to trial in the courts in her capacity as head of state. Nor can she be personally sued for any official act carried out by her or in her name (although the Crown as a legal entity can be sued). The Queen is, however a natural person under British common law, subject to the law like any other person. The question of whether the Queen could be tried for an offence committed in her personal capacity has, however, never been tested. During the English Revolution of the 17th century the Parliament itself tried Charles I for treason, but after the Restoration of Charles II these proceedings were deemed to have been unlawful.
Prime Ministers take their weekly meetings with the Queen very seriously. One said he took it more seriously than Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, because she would be better briefed and more constructive than anything he would face at the dispatch box. She also has regular meetings with her individual ministers. Even ministers known to have republican views speak highly of her and value these meetings.
The Queen also meets frequently with the Scottish First Minister. The royal palace in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, once home to Scottish kings and queens like Mary, Queen of Scots, is now regularly used again, with at least one member of the Royal Family, often the Prince of Wales or Princess Royal frequently in residence. She also receives reports on the Welsh Assembly.
Though bound by convention not to intervene directly in politics, her length of service, the fact that she has been a confidante of every prime minister since Churchill, and her knowledge of world leaders, means that when she does express an opinion, however cautiously, her words are taken seriously. In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher offered this description of her weekly meetings with the Queen:
"Anyone who imagines that they are a mere formality or confined to social niceties is quite wrong; they are quietly businesslike and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience."
The Queen has developed friendships with many foreign leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson and Bill Clinton. On occasion such contacts have proved highly beneficial for Britain. John Major as prime minister once had difficulty working with a particular Commonwealth leader. The Queen informed Major that he and the leader shared a mutual interest in sport. Major used that information to establish a personal relationship, which ultimately benefited both countries. Similarly she took the initiative when Irish President Mary Robinson began visiting Britain, by suggesting that she invite Robinson to visit her at the Palace. The Irish Government enthusiastically supported the idea. The result was the first ever visit by an Irish President to meet the British monarch.
Queen Elizabeth is descended from English kings extending back to the House of Wessex in the 7th century. She is also descended from the Scottish royal house, which can be traced back to the 9th century. Through her great-grandmother Queen Alexandra, she is descended from the Danish royal house, one of the oldest in Europe. As a result of being a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth is related to the heads of most of the other European royal houses. She is a cousin of Albert II of Belgium, Harald V of Norway, Juan Carlos I of Spain and Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, as well as ex-kings Constantine II of Greece and Michael of Romania. She is more distantly related to the Dutch royal house and to the former royal houses of Germany and Russia. (See Descent of Elizabeth II.)
In the United Kingdom, her official title is Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
The choice of the title of Elizabeth II caused some controversy in Scotland where there has never been an Elizabeth I (although there had been no similar controversy at the times of William IV and Edward VII, whose numbering was also inappropriate to Scotland). In a rare act of sabotage in Scotland new Royal Mail post boxes bearing the initials E.R.II were blown up. As a result post boxes in Scotland now bear only a crown and no royal initials. As a result of the controversy, it was announced that British monarchs are to be numbered according to either that of their English or Scottish predecessors, whichever number is higher. Applying this policy retroactively to all post-1707 monarchs results in no change of numbering.
Following a decision by Commonwealth Prime Ministers at the Commonwealth conference of 1953, Her Majesty uses different styles and titles in each of her realms. In each state she acts as the monarch of that state regardless of her other roles.
In common practice Queen Elizabeth II is referred to simply as "The Queen".
Properly styled as "Her Majesty The Queen" (and when the distinction is necessary "Her Britannic Majesty"), her previous styles were:
Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York (1926-1936)
Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth (1936-1947)
Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh (1947-1952)
For the Queen's titles in the Commonwealth Realms, see Queen Elizabeth II and the Commonwealth of Nations
Personality and Image
The Queen has never given press interviews, and her views on political issues are largely unknown except to those few heads of government who have private conversations with her. She is also regarded as an excellent mimic, whose impressions of people are regarded as first rate. Rather conservative in dress, the Queen is well-known for her solid-colour overcoats and decorative hats. Although she attends many cultural events as part of her public role, in her private life the Queen is said to have little interest in culture or the arts.
In diplomatic situations the Queen is extremely formal, and protocol in dealing with her is very strict. Though some of the strict traditional rules for dealing with the British Monarch have been relaxed during her reign (bowing is no longer required, for example) other forms of close personal interaction, such as touching, are still discouraged. In 1992, the Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was dubbed the "Lizard of Oz" by the British press for touching the Queen on the back, and in 2000 the next Prime Minister, John Howard, had to quickly deny that he had also touched the Queen.
Her former prime ministers speak highly of her. Since becoming Queen, she spends an average of three hours every day "doing the boxes" — reading state papers sent to her from her various departments, embassies, etc. Having done so since 1952, she has seen more of public affairs from the inside than any other person, and is thus able to offer advice to Tony Blair based on things said to her by Harold Wilson, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Winston Churchill and many other senior leaders she has spoken to. She takes her responsibilities in this regard seriously, once mentioning an "interesting telegram" from the Foreign Office to then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, only to find that her prime minister had not bothered to read it when it came in his box.
Coat of Arms
The Queen bears quarterly, I and IV England, II Scotland, III Ireland (now Northern Ireland), which serves as the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. This coat of arms has been unchanged since Queen Victoria.
The Queen's children and grandchildren
HRH Charles Philip Arthur George (born November 14, 1948), Prince of Wales, married (July 29, 1981) and divorced (August 28, 1996) Lady Diana Frances Spencer (1961-1997)
HRH Prince William of Wales (born June 21, 1982)
HRH Prince Henry of Wales (born September 15, 1984)
HRH Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise (born August 15, 1950), Princess Royal, married (November 14, 1973) and divorced (April 28, 1992) Captain Mark Anthony Peter Phillips (born 1948); married (December 12, 1992) Commander Timothy Laurence
Peter Phillips (born 1977)
Zara Phillips (born May 15, 1981)
HRH Andrew Albert Christian Edward (born February 19, 1960), Duke of York, married (July 23, 1986) and divorced (May 30, 1996) Sarah Margaret Ferguson (born 1959)
HRH Princess Beatrice of York (born August 8, 1988)
HRH Princess Eugenie of York (born March 23, 1990)
HRH Edward Anthony Richard Louis (born March 10, 1964), Earl of Wessex, married (June 19, 1999) Sophie Rhys-Jones (born 1965)
HRH Princess Louise of Wessex (born November 8, 2003)
Two of the Queen's grandchildren, Peter and Zara Phillips, have no titles — probably a unique circumstance in British history. This is because British titles are, with rare exceptions, inherited through the male line only. Since Mark Phillips has never accepted a peerage, his children are not entitled to any courtesy titles.