Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History Post 1900; Monarchs of Great Britain; Political People

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms (more...)
Elizabeth II in 2007
Elizabeth II in 2007
Reign 6 February 1952 to present
(56 years)
Coronation 2 June 1953
Predecessor George VI
Heir Apparent Charles, Prince of Wales
Consort Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Issue
Charles, Prince of Wales
Anne, Princess Royal
Prince Andrew, Duke of York
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
Full name
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary
Titles and styles
HM The Queen
HRH The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh
HRH The Princess Elizabeth
HRH Princess Elizabeth of York
Royal house House of Windsor
Royal anthem " God Save the Queen"
Father George VI
Mother Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Born 21 April 1926 (1926-04-21)
Mayfair, London , UK
Baptised 29 May 1926
Buckingham Palace, London

Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary; born 21 April 1926) is the Queen regnant of sixteen independent states and their overseas territories and dependencies. Though she holds each crown and title separately and equally, she is resident in and most directly involved with the United Kingdom, her oldest realm, over parts of whose territories her ancestors have reigned for more than a thousand years. She ascended the thrones of seven countries in February 1952 (see Context below).

In addition to the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II is also Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, in each of which she is represented by a Governor-General. The 16 countries of which she is Queen are known as Commonwealth Realms, and their combined population, including dependencies is over 129 million. In theory her powers are vast; in practice (and in accordance with convention) she herself never intervenes in political matters. In the United Kingdom at least, however, she is known to take an active behind-the-scenes interest in the affairs of state, meeting regularly to establish a working relationship with her government ministers.

Elizabeth II holds a variety of other positions, among them Head of the Commonwealth, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji. Her long reign has seen sweeping changes in her realms and the world at large, perhaps most notably the final dissolution of the former British Empire (a process that began in the last years of her father's reign) and the consequent evolution of the modern Commonwealth of Nations.

Since 1947, the Queen has been married to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, born a prince of Greece and Denmark but after naturalisation known as Philip Mountbatten and subsequently created Duke of Edinburgh. To date the couple have four children and eight grandchildren; the eighth ( Viscount Severn) was born on 17 December 2007 to Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex.

Context

Elizabeth became Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) upon the death of her father, George VI, on 6 February 1952. As other colonies of the British Empire attained independence from the UK during her reign, she acceded to the newly created thrones as Queen of each respective realm so that throughout her 55 years on the throne she has been the sovereign of 32 nations, half of which subsequently became republics.

Elizabeth II is currently one of the longest-reigning monarchs of the UK or any of its predecessor states, ranking behind Victoria (who reigned over the UK for sixty-three years), George III (who reigned over Great Britain and subsequently the UK for fifty-nine), James VI (who reigned over Scotland for fifty-seven years), and Henry III (who reigned over England for fifty-six).

She is one of only two people who are simultaneously head of state of more than one independent nation. (The other is the President of France, who is ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra.)

Following tradition, she is also styled Duke of Lancaster and Duke of Normandy. She is also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of many of her realms (and Lord Admiral of the United Kingdom), and is styled Defender of the Faith in various realms for differing reasons.

Early life

British Royal Family

HM The Queen
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

  • HRH The Prince of Wales
    HRH The Duchess of Cornwall
  • HRH The Duke of York
    • HRH Princess Beatrice of York
    • HRH Princess Eugenie of York
  • HRH The Earl of Wessex
    HRH The Countess of Wessex
    • Viscount Severn
    • Lady Louise Windsor
  • HRH The Princess Royal

  • HRH The Duke of Gloucester
    HRH The Duchess of Gloucester
  • HRH The Duke of Kent
    HRH The Duchess of Kent
  • HRH Prince Michael of Kent
    HRH Princess Michael of Kent
  • HRH Princess Alexandra

Elizabeth was born at 17 Bruton Street, in Mayfair, London, on 21 April 1926. Her father was Prince Albert, Duke of York (the future King George VI) and her mother was the Duchess of York (born the Hon. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth, and, after her daughter's accession to the throne, the Queen Mother).

She was baptised in the Private Chapel on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (it no longer exists, as it was destroyed during World War II) by Cosmo Gordon Lang, the Archbishop of York. Her godparents were her paternal grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary; the Princess Royal; the Duke of Connaught; her maternal grandfather, the Earl of Strathmore; and Lady Elphinstone.

Elizabeth was named after her mother, while her two middle names are those of her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and grandmother, Queen Mary, respectively. As a child, her close family knew her as "Lilibet". She had a close relationship with her grandfather, George V, and was credited for aiding his recovery from illness in 1929. On 29 April 1929, the young "P'incess Lilybet" appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, in an article that described her third birthday. At 10 years old, she was introduced to a preacher at Glamis Castle. As he left, he promised to send her a book. Elizabeth replied, "Not about God. I already know all about Him."

Princess Elizabeth's only sibling was the late Princess Margaret, who was born in 1930. The two young princesses were educated at home, under the supervision of their mother. Their governess was Marion Crawford, better known as "Crawfie". She studied history with C. H. K. Marten, Provost of Eton, and also learned modern languages; she speaks French fluently. She was instructed in religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury and has remained a devout member of the Church of England.

As a granddaughter of the British sovereign in the male line, she held the title of a British princess, with the style " Her Royal Highness," her full style being "Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York". At the time of her birth, she was third in the line of succession to the throne, behind her uncle, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and her father. Although her birth generated public interest, there was no reason at the time to believe that she would ever become queen, as it was widely assumed that the Prince of Wales would marry and have children in due course. However, Edward did not produce any legitimate heirs, and Elizabeth's parents had no sons (who would have taken precedence over her). Therefore, she would eventually have become queen whether Edward had abdicated or not.

Heiress presumptive

When her father became King in 1936 upon the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, she became heiress presumptive and was thenceforth known as "Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth". There was some demand in Wales for her to be created The Princess of Wales, but the King was advised that this was the title of the wife of the Prince of Wales, not a title in its own right. Some feel the King missed the opportunity to make an innovation in royal practice by re-adopting King Henry VIII's idea; in 1525 Henry had proclaimed his eldest daughter, Lady Mary, Princess of Wales in her own right. But the possibility, however remote, remained that Elizabeth's father could have a son, who would have been heir apparent, supplanting Elizabeth in the line of succession to the throne.

Elizabeth was thirteen years old when the second World War broke out, and she and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, were evacuated to Windsor Castle, Berkshire. There was some suggestion that the two princesses be evacuated to Canada, where they were to live at Hatley Castle in British Columbia. To this proposal their mother made the famous reply: "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave." While at Windsor, Princess Elizabeth and her sister staged pantomimes at Christmas when family and friends were invited with the children of members of staff of the Royal Household. In 1940, Princess Elizabeth made her first radio broadcast during the BBC's Children's Hour, addressing other children who had been evacuated. When she was 13 years old, she first met her future husband Prince Philip. She fell in love with him and began writing to him when he was in the Royal Navy.

Elizabeth made her first official overseas visit in 1947, when she accompanied her parents to South Africa. During her visit to Cape Town, she and her father were accompanied by Prime Minister Jan Smuts when they went to the top of Table Mountain by cable car. On her 21st birthday, she made a broadcast to the British Commonwealth and Empire, pledging:

I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

During the Second World War, plans were developed to counter the growing Welsh Nationalist influence of Plaid Cymru in Wales, which included "rolling out" a member of the British Royal Family to "smooth things over," according to a report by then constitutional expert Edward Iwi. In a report he gave to then Home Secretary Herbert Morrison, Iwi proposed to make the then Princess Elizabeth as Constable of Caernarfon Castle (a post then held by the Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor), and patroness of Urdd Gobaith Cymru and a touring of Wales as Urdd's patroness.

The idea of posting the princess as constable of Caernarfon Castle was rejected by the Home Secretary as it might cause conflict between north and south Wales, and King George VI refused to let the then princess tour Wales as to not add undue pressure on her. Additionally, the plan to make the princess patroness of Urdd Gobaith Cymru was dropped as two of the leading members were conscientious objectors.

Military career

Princess Elizabeth changing a vehicle wheel during WWII
Princess Elizabeth changing a vehicle wheel during WWII

In 1945, Princess Elizabeth convinced her father that she should be allowed to contribute directly to the war effort. She joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she was known as No 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, trained as a driver, and drove a military truck while she served. This training was the first time she had been taught together with other students. It is said that she greatly enjoyed this and that this experience led her to send her own children to school rather than have them educated at home. She was the first, and so far only, female member of the royal family to actually serve in the armed forces, although every monarch is nominally the Commander-in-Chief of both the British and Canadian Armed Forces, and other royal women have been given honorary ranks. During the VE Day celebrations in London, she and her sister, Princess Margaret, mingled with the crowd after midnight to celebrate with everyone.

Marriage

Elizabeth married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark) on 20 November 1947. The couple are second cousins once removed: they are both descended from Christian IX of Denmark – Elizabeth II is a great-great-granddaughter through her paternal great-grandmother Alexandra of Denmark, and the Duke is a great-grandson through his paternal grandfather George I of Greece. As well as second cousins once removed, the couple are third cousins: they share Queen Victoria as a great-great-grandmother. Elizabeth's great-grandfather was Edward VII, while Edward's sister Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine was the Duke's great-grandmother. Prince Philip had renounced his claim to the Greek throne and was simply referred to as Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten before being created Duke of Edinburgh prior to their marriage. As a Greek royal, Philip is a member of the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, the Danish royal house and a line of the House of Oldenburg. "Mountbatten" was an anglicisation of his mother's titular designation, Battenberg. The marriage was controversial; Philip was Greek Orthodox, with no financial resources behind him, and had sisters who had married Nazi supporters. Elizabeth's mother was reported in later biographies to have strongly opposed the marriage, even referring to Philip as "the Hun". Still, the wedding was seen as the first glimmer of hope in a post-war Commonwealth, and, though the royal couple received over 2,500 wedding gifts from around the world, rationing required that the Princess save up her ration coupons to buy the material for her wedding dress.

At the wedding itself, the Princess' bridesmaids were: her sister, The Princess Margaret; her cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent; Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott, a cadet relative via their mutual aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester; her second cousin, Lady Mary Cambridge; Lady Elizabeth Mary Lambart (now Longman), daughter of the 10th Earl of Cavan; The Hon. Pamela Mountbatten (now Hicks), Prince Philip's cousin; and two maternal cousins, The Hon. Margaret Elphinstone (now Rhodes) and The Hon. Diana Bowes-Lyon (now Somervell). The Princess' page boys were her young paternal first cousins, Princes William of Gloucester and Michael of Kent.

After their wedding, the couple leased their first home, Windlesham Moor until 4 July 1949, when they took up residence at Clarence House, London. At various times between 1946 and 1953, the Duke of Edinburgh was stationed in Malta as a serving Royal Navy officer. Lord Mountbatten of Burma had purchased the Villa Gwardamangia (also referred to as the Villa G'Mangia), in the hamlet of Gwardamangia in Malta, in about 1929. Princess Elizabeth stayed there when visiting Philip in Malta. Philip and Elizabeth lived in Malta for a period between 1949 and 1951 (Malta being the only other country in which the Queen has lived, although at that time Malta was a British Protectorate).

On 14 November 1948, Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, Charles. Several weeks earlier, letters patent had been issued so that her children would enjoy a royal and princely status to which they would not otherwise have been entitled, instead being styled merely as children of a duke. The couple had four children in all:

Though the Royal House is named Windsor, it was decreed, via a 1960 Order-in-Council, that those descendants of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip who were not Princes or Princesses of the United Kingdom should have the personal surname Mountbatten-Windsor. In practice all of their children, in honour of their father, have used Mountbatten-Windsor as their surname (or in Anne's case, her maiden surname). Both Charles and Anne used Mountbatten-Windsor as their surname in the published banns for their first marriages.

Succession

Her father's health declined during 1951, and Elizabeth was soon frequently standing in for him at public events. She visited Greece, Italy and Malta (where Philip was then stationed) during that year. In October, she toured Canada and visited President Harry S Truman in 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 6 February 1952, from lung cancer.

Elizabeth was staying at Sagana Lodge in Kenya when she was told of her father's death and of her own succession to the throne. It was Prince Philip who broke the news of her father's death to Elizabeth. After that, Martin Charteris, then Assistant Private Secretary to the new Queen, asked her what she intended to be called. "Why, my own name; what else?" she replied. The royal party returned immediately to the United Kingdom.

Elizabeth was proclaimed Queen in Canada first, by the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, on 6 February 1952. Her British proclamation was read at St. James's Palace the following day.

Image:EIIR-dress.jpg
A detail of Elizabeth II's coronation gown, showing the embroidered national floral emblems of Commonwealth countries.

One year later, the Queen's grandmother, Queen Mary, died of lung cancer on 24 March 1953. Reportedly, the dowager queen's dying wish was that the coronation not be postponed. Elizabeth II's coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, on 2 June 1953. Her coronation gown, commissioned from Norman Hartnell, was embroidered with the floral emblems of the countries of the Commonwealth: the Tudor rose of England, the Scots thistle, the Welsh leek, shamrock of Ireland, wattle of Australia, the maple leaf of Canada, the New Zealand fern, South Africa's protea, two lotus flowers for India and Ceylon, and Pakistan's wheat, cotton and jute.

Life as Queen

After the Coronation, The Queen and Prince Philip moved to Buckingham Palace, in central London, the main official residence of the monarch. It has been reported, however, that, as with many of her predecessors, she dislikes the Palace as a residence and considers Windsor Castle, another official residence, to be her home.

Queen Elizabeth II reads a speech in Sydney, upon her visit in Australia in 1954.
Queen Elizabeth II reads a speech in Sydney, upon her visit in Australia in 1954.

Not long after, the Queen and Prince Philip, from 1953 to 1954, made a six-month, around the world tour, becoming the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe. She also became the first reigning monarch of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to visit those nations. Since then, Elizabeth II has undertaken many overseas voyages. In October, 1957, she made a state visit to the United States, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, and proceeded to tour Canada, wherein she became the first Canadian Monarch to open a session of that nation's parliament. She made another state visit to the United States, as Queen of Canada, hosting the return dinner for President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. In February, 1961, she visited Ankara with Cemal Gursel, and later toured India, Iran, Pakistan and Nepal for the first time. She has made state visits to most European countries and to many outside Europe. In 1969, Elizabeth II sent one of 73 Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages to NASA for the historic first lunar landing. The message is etched onto a tiny silicon disc and still rests on the lunar surface today. She greeted the Apollo 11 crew during their tour of the world. In 1991 she became the first British monarch to address a joint session of the United States Congress during another state visit to that country, and in 2007 became the first British monarch to address the Virginia General Assembly. She has also regularly attended Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings since the practice was established in Canada in 1973. Altogether, Elizabeth II is the most widely-travelled head of state in history.

Continuing evolution of the Commonwealth

The Queen's personal standard, used in her role as Head of the Commonwealth, and for when she visits Commonwealth countries of which she is not head of state.
The Queen's personal standard, used in her role as Head of the Commonwealth, and for when she visits Commonwealth countries of which she is not head of state.

The British Empire began its metamorphosis following the Balfour Declaration at the Imperial Conference of 1926, followed by the formalization of the declaration in the Statute of Westminster, 1931.

By the time of Elizabeth's accession in 1952, there was much talk of a "new Elizabethan age". Since then, one of the Queen's roles has been to preside over the United Kingdom as it has shared world economic and military power with a growing host of independent nations and principalities. As nations have developed economically and culturally, the Queen has witnessed, over the past 50 years, a gradual transformation of the British Empire into its modern successor, the Commonwealth of Nations. 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.

In 2007, papers from 1956 were declassified in which the then French Prime Minister Guy Mollet and British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden discussed the possibility of France joining in a union with the United Kingdom; amongst the ideas put forward was having Elizabeth II as the French head of state. A paper from 28 September 1956 stated that Mollet "had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of Her Majesty." This proposal was never accepted, and the following year France signed the Treaty of Rome.

Views and perceptions

Queen Elizabeth II with the Turkish Generals and the Head of State Cemal Gursel in Ankara
Queen Elizabeth II with the Turkish Generals and the Head of State Cemal Gursel in Ankara

She has a strong sense of religious duty and takes her Coronation Oath seriously. This is one reason (as well as the example set by her uncle who abdicated) why it is considered highly unlikely that she will ever abdicate.

The Queen has shown a strong constitution in the face of turmoil; for example, during a trip to Ghana in 1961 she pointedly refused to keep her distance from the then President, Kwame Nkrumah, despite the fact that he was a target for assassins. Harold Macmillan wrote at the time: "the Queen has been absolutely determined all through. She is impatient of the attitude towards her to treat her as… a film star... She has indeed ' the heart and stomach of a man'... She loves her duty and means to be a Queen." One author describes another incident thus: "a similar situation occurred in 1964, when the Queen was invited to Quebec, according to Robert Speaight in Vanier, Soldier, Diplomat and Governor General: A Biography. There were fears for the Queen’s safety, while the media whipped up a campaign of fear around the risks involved from separatist threats, and there was talk of cancelling the tour. The Queen’s Private Secretary replied that the Queen would have been horrified to have been prevented from going because of the activities of extremists." Further, during the Trooping the Colour in 1981 there was an apparent attempt on the Queen's life: six rounds of blanks were fired at her from close range as she rode down The Mall. Her only reaction was to duck slightly and then continue on. The Canadian House of Commons was so impressed by her display of courage that a motion was passed praising her composure.

Politics

As a monarchy">constitutional monarch, Elizabeth II does not express her personal political opinions publicly. She has maintained this discipline throughout her reign, doing little in public to reveal what they might be, and thus her political views are not clearly known. However, there is some evidence to suggest that, in economic terms, she leans towards a One Nation point of view. During Margaret Thatcher's years as British Prime Minister, it was rumoured that the Queen worried that Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies were fostering social divisions, and she was reportedly alarmed by high unemployment, a series of riots in 1981, and the violence of the miners' strike. Mrs. Thatcher once said to Brian Walden, referring to the Social Democratic Party: "The problem is, the Queen is the kind of woman who could vote SDP."

Canadian national unity

While not speaking directly against Quebec sovereignty in Canada, she has publicly praised Canada's unity and expressed her wish to see the continuation of a unified Canada, sometimes courting controversy over the matter. Like her mother, the Queen has shown an affection for Canada, stating in 1983, when departing California, "I am going home to Canada tomorrow," and at a dinner in Saskatchewan in 2005: "this country and Canadians everywhere have been a constant presence in my life and work." She has also stated that Canada feels like "a home away from home".

In a speech to the Quebec Legislature, at the height of the Quiet Revolution of 1964, she ignored the national controversy (including riots during her appearance in Quebec City — see History of Monarchy in Canada) in favour of praising Canada's two "complementary cultures", speaking, in both French and English, about the strength of Canada's two founding peoples, stating, "I am pleased to think that there exists in our Commonwealth a country where I can express myself officially in French," and, "whenever you sing [the French words of] ' O Canada' you are reminded that you come of a proud race."

After she proclaimed the Constitution Act in 1982, which was the first time in Canadian history that a major constitutional change had been made without the agreement of the government of Quebec, the Queen attempted to demonstrate her position as head of the whole Canadian nation, and her role as conciliator, by privately expressing to journalists her regret that Quebec was not part of the settlement.

In 1995, during a separatist referendum campaign, the Queen was tricked into speaking, in both French and English, for fourteen minutes with 29-year-old Pierre Brassard, a DJ for Radio CKOI-FM Montreal, pretending to be then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. When told that the separatists were showing a lead, the Queen revealed that she felt the "referendum may go the wrong way," adding, "if I can help in any way, I will be very happy to do so". However, she pointedly refused to accept "Chrétien"s advice that she intervene on the issue without first seeing a draft speech sent by him. (Her tactful handling of the call won plaudits from the DJ who made it.) Chrétien later, in his memoirs, recounted the Queen's tongue-in-cheek comments to him regarding this affair: "'I didn't think you sounded quite like yourself,' she told me, 'but I thought, given all the duress you were under, you might have been drunk.'"

Rhodesia

On 18 November 1965, the Governor of Rhodesia, Sir Humphrey Vicary Gibbs, was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, an honour in the personal gift of the Queen, a week after Ian Smith had made his Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Gibbs was intensely loyal to Rhodesia, and, although he had refused to accept the UDI, the award was criticised by some as badly timed. Others praised it as indicating support for her Rhodesian representative in the face of an illegal action by her Rhodesian prime minister.

United Kingdom

During an event in Westminster Hall marking her Silver Jubilee, in 1977, the Queen stated, "I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." This reference came at a time when the Labour government was attempting to introduce a controversial devolution policy to Scotland and Wales, and was interpreted as opposition to devolution. Her reference in the Silver Jubilee speech is also believed, by some, to refer to the disturbances in Northern Ireland at that time.

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 Belfast Agreement raised some complaints among some Unionists (who were traditionally strong monarchists). Ian Paisley, leader of the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party and founder of the evangelical Free Presbyterian church, famously broke with Unionism's traditional deference for the British Crown by calling the Queen "a parrot" of Tony Blair. He suggested that her support for the Belfast Agreement would weaken the monarchy's standing amongst Northern Irish Protestants, a substantial number of whom remained opposed to certain parts of the Agreement. However, Paisley's criticism of the Queen on this matter was rejected by more traditional and moderate unionists.

In the late 1990s, after referendums approved a devolution policy, the Queen sent her best wishes to the new Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly of Wales, the first sessions of which she opened in person. Several MSPs stayed away from the ceremony, attending a republican rally instead. A number of AMs boycotted her opening of the first session of the National Assembly for Wales. Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood AM also boycotted the opening of National Assembly's new building (the Senedd) in 2006 and was thrown out of chamber for calling the Queen 'Mrs Windsor' during an Assembly debate.

Religion

Elizabeth II, as the Monarch of the United Kingdom, is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and sworn protector of the Church of Scotland. She holds no religious role as Sovereign of the other Realms.

The Queen takes a keen personal interest in the Church of England, but, in practice, delegates authority in the Church of England to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She regularly worships at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, or at St. Mary Magdalene Church when staying at Sandringham House, Norfolk.

The Royal Family also regularly attends services at Crathie Kirk when holidaying at Balmoral Castle, and when in residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the family attends services at the Canongate Kirk. The Queen has attended the annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on several occasions, most recently in 1977 and 2002, although, in most years, she appoints a Lord High Commissioner to represent her.

The Queen made particular reference to her Christian convictions in her Christmas Day television broadcast in 2000, in which she spoke about the theological significance of the Millennium as marking the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ:

To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me, the teachings of Christ, and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.

The Queen often meets with leaders from other religions as well. She is Patron of The Council of Christians and Jews in the UK.

Family relations

The Jubilee year coincided with the deaths, within a few months, of the Queen's mother and sister. Her relations with her children have become much warmer since these deaths. She is particularly close to her daughter-in-law, Sophie, The Countess of Wessex and is very close to her grandchildren, noticeably Prince William, Princess Beatrice and Zara Phillips.

Health and longevity

The Queen (left) walks with then American First Lady Pat Nixon upon the Nixons' visit to the United Kingdom, 1972
The Queen (left) walks with then American First Lady Pat Nixon upon the Nixons' visit to the United Kingdom, 1972

In late February 2003, the Queen's reign, then just over 51 years, surpassed the combined reigns of her four immediate predecessors: Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI. She is currently the second-longest-serving head of state in the world, after King Bhumibol of Thailand (fourth if one includes the rulers of the subnational entity Ras Al Khaimah and of the Government of Tibet in Exile), and the fourth-longest serving British or English monarch. Her reign of over half a century has seen eleven different Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom (twelve terms) and numerous Prime Ministers in the Commonwealth Realms.

In June 2005, she was forced to cancel several engagements after contracting what the Palace described as a bad cold. Nonetheless, the Queen has been described as being in excellent health, and is seldom ill.

In October 2006, she suffered a burst blood vessel in her right eye, causing her entire eye to appear deep red in colour. While the palace would not comment on the Queen's condition, medical experts stated that the Queen would be in no pain and that her eye would heal within a week or two with no lasting damage. They also stated that blood vessel bursts are common amongst the elderly, but can also be a sign of high blood pressure. Later that month, on 26 October, she was due officially to open the new Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal F.C., but she was forced to cancel the engagement due to a strained back muscle that had troubled her since the end of her Balmoral holiday. Her back troubles appear to be ongoing. There was serious concern in November 2006 that she wouldn't be well enough to open Parliament, and plans were drawn up to cover her possible absence. However, she was able to attend. The following month, the Queen faced more rumours that she was in declining health when she was seen in public with a plaster on her right hand. The positioning of the plaster seemed to suggest that the Queen may have been fitted with an intravenous drip. Medical experts suggest that given her back troubles and age she may be suffering from osteoporosis. Buckingham Palace refused to comment. However, it was later revealed that the plaster was as a result of one of her corgis biting her hand as she separated her two fighting pets.


On 21 December 2007, the Queen surpassed Queen Victoria as the oldest reigning monarch in both British and the Commonwealth realms' history. Should she still be living on 29 January 2012, she would surpass Richard Cromwell as the longest-lived British ruler, including those who did not hold the office to their death.

Should she still be reigning on 10 September 2015, at the age of 89, her reign will surpass that of Queen Victoria and she will become the longest reigning monarch in British history. If she lives that long but is still survived by the Prince of Wales, he would be the oldest to succeed to the throne, surpassing William IV, who was 64.

Jubilees

Silver Jubilee

In 1977, the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee, marking the 25th anniversary of her accession to the Throne. The occasion was marked by a royal procession in the golden state coach and a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul's Cathedral attended by dignitaries and heads of state. Millions watched events on television and numerous public street parties were held across the UK to mark the occasion, culminating in several "Jubilee Days" held in June. Five commemorative stamps were also printed. This was also the occasion for the punk rock band the Sex Pistols to release their second single " God Save the Queen", which was considered by many to be highly offensive, and was banned from the BBC.

The Jubilee line of the London Underground, which opened in 1979, was also named in honour of the anniversary, and several other locations and public spaces were named to commemorate the Jubilee, including the Jubilee Gardens in London's South Bank.

Golden Jubilee

In 2002, Elizabeth II celebrated her Golden Jubilee, marking the 50th anniversary of her accession to the Throne. The year saw an extensive tour of the Commonwealth realms, including the first ever pop concert in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, and as had been held in 1977, a service of thanksgiving took place at St Paul's Cathedral. Public celebrations in the UK were more muted than they had been 25 years previously, in part because earlier the same year both the Queen's mother and sister had died, and in part due to changing public attitudes towards the monarchy. However, street parties and commemorative events were still organised in many areas.

Diamond Wedding Anniversary

The Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their sixtieth ( Diamond) wedding anniversary on Monday 19 November 2007, with a special service at Westminster Abbey, where they wed sixty years prior. Their actual anniversary came a day later, on 20 November. Distinguished guests included immediate members of the Royal Family, Sir John Major, Baroness Thatcher, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Jack Straw and the surviving bridesmaids and pages from the wedding. The night before, Prince Charles hosted a private dinner at Clarence House for twenty of the most immediate members of the Royal Family in recognition of his parents' enduring marriage.

On the following day, 20 November, The Queen and Prince Philip embarked on a visit to Malta, where they had stayed from 1949 to 1951 after getting married. A Royal Navy ship which had docked in the vicinity arranged for its sailors to assemble on deck in the formation of the number '60' in recognition of the couple's sixtieth wedding anniversary.

Reduced duties

The Queen and Prince Philip join U.S. President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush at the White House on 7 May 2007.
The Queen and Prince Philip join U.S. President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush at the White House on 7 May 2007.

On Saturday, 21 April 2007, the Queen turned 81 years old and has since begun to hand over some public duties to her children and other members of the Royal Family.. In early 2006, reports began to surface that the Queen planned to reduce her official duties significantly, though she has made it clear that she has no intention of abdicating. The 2007 State Visit to the United States tends to show this to be an unfounded rumour. The British press has speculated that Prince Charles will start to perform many of the day-to-day duties of the Monarch, while the Queen will effectively go into "retirement". It was later confirmed by the Palace that Prince Charles will begin to hold the regular audiences with the Prime Minister and other Commonwealth leaders. However, while the Queen would be increasing the length of her weekends by two days, she would continue with public duties well into the future. However, the Queen still meets with the Prime Minister – she has not handed over this duty to the Prince of Wales. Buckingham Palace already gives the Prince access to government papers. For a number of years, Prince Charles and the Princess Royal have each been standing in for the Queen when she has been unavailable for investitures. Whilst the Prince regularly meets foreign dignitaries, he does not, and can not, take the place of the Queen in welcoming ambassadors at the Court of St. James's unless he is acting as a Counsellor of State with another senior member of the royal family in the same role.

Unproven media speculation rumoured that her recent trip to Canada and Australia will be amongst her last visits to her overseas realms. The Canadian and Australian governments and the Palace have denied it.

In May 2007, the Queen and Prince Philip made a state visit to the United States, in honour of the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement.

Despite her good health and intention to stay on the throne, some saw the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Camilla as a message from the Queen that, by allowing Charles to marry, she is attempting to ensure that Charles' succession to the throne will be smooth. In 2004, a copy of the Queen's newly-revised funeral plans was stolen. And for the first time, in September, 2005, a mock version of the Queen's funeral march was held in the middle of the night (this was also done once a year after the late Queen Mother turned 80).

Shortly before her 80th birthday, polls were conducted that showed the majority of the British public wish for the Queen to remain on the throne until her death — many feel that the Queen has become an institution in herself.

Role in government

Constitutionally, the Queen is an essential part of the legislative process of her Realms. In practice, much of the Queen's role in the legislative process is ceremonial, as her reserve powers are rarely exercised.

She does decide the basis on which a person is asked to form a government; that is, whether a government should be formed capable of surviving in the House of Commons — the standard requirement — or capable of commanding majority support in the House of Commons (i.e. forming a coalition if no one party has a majority). This requirement was last set in 1940, when King George VI asked Winston Churchill to form a government capable of commanding a majority in parliament, which necessitated the wartime coalition. The requirement is normally only made in emergencies or in wartime, and, to date, Elizabeth II has never set it.

On three occasions during her reign, Elizabeth II has had to deal with constitutional problems over the formation of UK governments. In 1957 and again in 1963, the absence of a formal open mechanism within the Conservative Party for choosing a leader meant that following the sudden resignations of Sir Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan it fell to the Queen to decide whom to commission to form a government. In 1957, Eden did not proffer advice, and so the Queen consulted Lords Salisbury and Kilmuir for the opinion of the Cabinet, and Winston Churchill, as the only living former Conservative Prime Minister (following the precedent of George V consulting Salisbury's father and Arthur Balfour upon Andrew Bonar Law's resignation in 1923). In October, 1963, the outgoing Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, advised the Queen to appoint Alec Douglas-Home, the Earl of Home.

On the third occasion, in February, 1974, an inconclusive general election result meant that in theory the outgoing Prime Minister Edward Heath, who had won the popular vote, could stay in power if he formed a coalition government with the Liberals. Rather than immediately resign as prime minister he explored the option and only resigned when the discussions foundered. (Had he chosen to, he could have stayed on until defeated in the debate on the Queen's Speech.) Only when he resigned was the Queen able to ask the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party's Harold Wilson, to form a government. His minority government lasted for eight months before a new general election was held.

In all three cases, she appears to have acted in accordance with constitutional tradition, following the advice of her senior ministers and Privy Councillors. Indeed, since constitutional practice in the UK is based on tradition and precedent rather than a written set of rules, it is generally accepted that the Sovereign cannot be acting unconstitutionally when acting on the advice of her or his ministers.

Relations with ministers

1959">Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Ernest Harmon Air Force Base visit, 1959
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Ernest Harmon Air Force Base visit, 1959

Since becoming Queen, Elizabeth spends an average of three hours every day "doing the boxes" — reading state papers sent to her from her various departments, embassies, and government offices. 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.

The Queen also has regular meetings with her individual British ministers, the First Minister of Scotland, and occasional meetings with ministers from her other realms, either when she is in the particular country, or the minister is in London. Though bound by convention not to intervene directly in politics, her having reviewed state documents from all her realms since 1952 means she has seen more of public affairs from the inside than any other person presently in any of her governments. This, coupled with her many interactions with a great many prime ministers in all of her realms, as well as with her knowledge of world leaders, means that when she does express an opinion, however cautiously, her words are taken with gravity. British Prime Ministers take their weekly meetings with the Queen very seriously; one Prime Minister said he took them more so than Prime Minister's Questions, because she would be better briefed and more constructive than anything he would face at the dispatch box. Paul Martin, Sr., who, along with John Roberts and Mark MacGuigan, was sent to the UK in 1980 to discuss the patriation of the Canadian constitution, noted that during this time the Queen had taken a great and deep interest in the constitutional debate, especially following the failure of Bill C-60, which affected her role as head of state. They found the Queen "better informed on both the substance and politics of Canada's constitutional case than any of the British politicians or bureaucrats." In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher offered the following 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 business like and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience."

The Queen was thought to have had strained relations with Thatcher during Thatcher's eleven years as British Prime Minister. Reports throughout the period varied over the extent of this difference and to what degree it was due to concerns over policies of the Thatcher government, or a personality clash between the two women themselves. During the 1980s, the Queen was even reported to "cordially dislike" Mrs Thatcher. During an argument within the Commonwealth over sanctions on South Africa, the Queen made a pointed reference to her role as Head of the Commonwealth, which was interpreted at the time as a disagreement with Thatcher's policy of opposing sanctions. However, whatever the differences between them, Thatcher has clearly conveyed her personal admiration for the Queen and believes that the image of animosity between the two of them has been played up because they are both women. In the aforementioned BBC documentary Queen & Country, Thatcher describes the Queen as "marvellous" and "a perfect lady" who "always knows just what to say," referring in particular to her final meeting with the sovereign as prime minister. Since leaving office, Thatcher has been awarded a life peerage, the Order of Merit, and the Order of the Garter, which would seem to indicate a basic respect for Thatcher on the part of the Queen, as membership of the two Orders is entirely the personal gift of the sovereign. In October, 2005, the Queen and Prince Philip attended Thatcher's 80th birthday party in London.

The Queen's relations with her Canadian Prime Ministers have varied throughout the years. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau seemed to have caused her some concern, perhaps due to his documented antics around the Monarch, such as his sliding down Buckingham Palace banisters, and his famous pirouette behind the Queen, captured on film in 1977, as well as the removal of various royal symbols from Canada during his premiership. The Queen was reported, by Paul Martin, Sr., as worrying that the Crown "had little meaning for [Trudeau]." However, as part of the patriation of Canada's Constitution in 1982, orchestrated by Trudeau, the Monarchy was entrenched within Canada's governing system. Following this, Trudeau stated in his memoirs: "I always said it was thanks to three women that we were eventually able to reform our Constitution.­ The Queen, who was favourable, Margaret Thatcher, who undertook to do everything that our Parliament asked of her, and Jean Wadds, who represented the interests of Canada so well in London... The Queen favoured my attempt to reform the Constitution. I was always impressed not only by the grace she displayed in public at all times, but by the wisdom she showed in private conversation."

Elizabeth II during a state banquet at Buckingham palace wearing the Grand Collar of the Order of the Southern Cross
Elizabeth II during a state banquet at Buckingham palace wearing the Grand Collar of the Order of the Southern Cross

Elizabeth was thought to have had very good relations with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, during the first years of his time in office. However, evidence mounted that their relationship had hardened over the years, until it was revealed in May of 2007 that the Queen was "exasperated and frustrated" by the actions of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, especially by what she saw as detachment from rural issues, as well as a too-casual approach (he requested that the Queen call him "Tony"), and a contempt for British heritage, on his part. She was also rumoured to have shown concern with the over-taxation of the British Armed Forces through overseas engagements, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as "surprise" over Blair's shifting of their weekly meeting from Tuesday to Wednesday afternoons. She was supposed to have raised her concerns with Blair repeatedly at these meetings, though she has never revealed her opinions on the Iraq War itself. The relationship between the Queen and her husband and Blair and his wife was also reported to be distant, as the two couples shared little common interests. The Queen did, however, apparently admire Blair's efforts to achieve peace in Northern Ireland.

On a BBC documentary broadcast in 1992, Elizabeth R., she was shown teasing former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath about how he could travel to world trouble spots like Iraq because politicians saw him as "expendable." He laughed at the comment.

On occasion, her contacts have proved highly beneficial for her realms. For example, John Major, as British Prime Minister, once had difficulty working with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The Queen suggested to Major that he and Howard shared a mutual sporting interest — that Howard was, like Major, a cricket fan. Major then broke the ice to establish a personal relationship which ultimately benefited both countries.

Relations with foreign leaders

Elizabeth II's personal relationships with world leaders are warm and informal, and she has developed friendships with many foreign leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, and George W. Bush, who was the first American President in more than 80 years to stay at Buckingham Palace.

Mary McAleese, now President of Ireland, recounted how, as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Queen's University of Belfast, she was, to her shock, invited to a lunch with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, on the basis that the Queen wished to talk to her, as a leading Northern Ireland nationalist, and hear her views on Anglo-Irish relations. The two women struck up an instant rapport, with McAleese, during the 1997 Irish presidential election, calling the Queen "a dote" (a Hiberno-English term meaning a "really lovely person") in an Irish Independent interview. Nelson Mandela, in the BBC documentary, repeatedly referred to her as "my friend, Elizabeth".

Personality and image

Finances

The Queen's personal fortune has been the subject of speculation for many years. Sometimes estimated at US$10 billion, recently Forbes magazine conservatively estimated her fortune at around US$500 million (£280 million). This figure seems to agree with official Palace statements that called reports of the Queen's supposed multibillion-dollar wealth "grossly over-exaggerated;" however, it conflicts with a total addition of the Queen's personal holdings. Her personal art collection is worth at least £10 billion, but is held in trust for the nation, and cannot be sold.

The Queen also privately owns large amounts of property that have never been valued, including Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle. Press reports, upon the death of the Queen Mother, speculated that the Queen inherited estate worth around £70 million. Furthermore there is control and ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is valued at £310 million and transferred a private income to the Monarch of £9.811 million in 2006.

The Queen also technically owns the Crown Estate with holdings of £6 billion; however, the income of this is transferred to the Treasury in return for the civil list payments.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Monarchical Styles of
Queen Elizabeth II
Reference style Her Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Ma'am

Titles and styles

  • 21 April 1926 - 11 December 1936: Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York
  • 11 December 1936 - 20 November 1947: Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth
  • 20 November 1947 - 6 February 1952: Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh
  • 6 February 1952: Her Majesty The Queen

Following the Queen's accession, a decision was reached by Commonwealth Prime Ministers at the Commonwealth Conference of 1953, whereby the Queen would be accorded different styles and titles in each of her Realms, reflecting that in each state she acts as the Monarch of that state, regardless of her other roles. Traditionally, Elizabeth II's titles as Queen Regnant are listed by the order in which the remaining original Realms first became Dominions of the Crown: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (original dominion), Canada (1867), Australia (1901), and New Zealand (1907); followed by the order in which the former Crown colony became an independent Realm: Jamaica (1962), Barbados (1966), the Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Papua New Guinea (1975), the Solomon Islands (1978), Tuvalu (1978), Saint Lucia (1979), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1979), Antigua and Barbuda (1981), Belize (1981), and Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983).

The Queen has many titles within her various Realms and territories. In common practice, however, Queen Elizabeth II is referred to simply as "The Queen" or "Her Majesty". When in conversation with The Queen, one initially uses "Your Majesty", and thereafter "Ma'am".

In common practice, styled as Her Majesty The Queen (and, when the distinction is necessary, Her Britannic Majesty, Her Australian Majesty, or Her Canadian Majesty, etc.)

Scottish controversy

However, in Scotland, the title Elizabeth II caused some controversy, as there has never been an Elizabeth I in Scotland. In a rare act of sabotage, new Royal Mail post boxes in Scotland, bearing the initials "E II R", were vandalised. (Prior to Queen Elizabeth, Scottish boxes had borne the monarch's initials, but no crown.) To avoid further problems, post boxes and Royal Mail vehicles in Scotland now bear only the Crown of Scotland and no Royal cypher.

A legal case, MacCormick v. Lord Advocate (1953 SC 396), was taken to contest the right of the Queen to style herself Elizabeth II within Scotland, arguing that to do so would be a breach of the Act of Union. The case was lost on the grounds that the pursuers had no title to sue the Crown, and also that the numbering of monarchs was part of the royal prerogative, and not governed by the Act of Union.

Less publicised controversies included the argument that the monarch was addressed as Your Grace, rather than Majesty, in pre-Union Scotland, and, second, that the preferred title had been King/Queen of Scots rather than of Scotland (although the latter was by no means unknown).

At the royal opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the presiding officer David Steel referred to her as, "not only the Queen of the United Kingdom but seated as you are among us in the historic and constitutionally correct manner as Queen of Scots".

Future British monarchs will be numbered according to either English or Scottish predecessors, whichever number is higher. Applying this policy retroactively to monarchs since the Act of Union yields the same numbering. However, equivalent rules have not been established in the Commonwealth Realms.

Honours and military positions

Arms

The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.
The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.

The Queen has coats of arms in each of her Realms; these arms are also sometimes used by government agencies or ministries to symbolise the Crown. In the UK, they are known as the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. Every British monarch has used these arms since the reign of Queen Victoria. A separate Royal Arms exists, for use in Scotland, which gives priority to Scottish elements and features the insignia of the Order of the Thistle. The Royal Coat of Arms of Canada has been used by each monarch of Canada since George V; it is based on the British Royal Arms but contains unique Canadian elements. The Queen also has Arms for use as sovereign of Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. Each of these is different from the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.

The Royal Standard is the Queen's flag, and is a banner of the Royal Arms. In some of the Commonwealth Realms, the Queen has an official standard for use when acting as Queen of that Realm. Australia, Barbados, Canada, Jamaica, and New Zealand each have their own Royal Standard, each one a defaced banner of the relevant coat of arms, including the Queen's personal badge: a crowned letter E inside a circle of roses on a blue disc. This badge was also used as the Queen's personal flag which is used in her role as Head of the Commonwealth and for visiting Commonwealth countries where she is not the head of state.

From 21 April 1944 until her accession, Princess Elizabeth's arms were the Royal Arms, differenced by a label of three points argent (white), the centre bearing a Tudor Rose and the first and third points bearing a red cross.

Ancestry

An analysis of her great-great-great-grandparents shows that Elizabeth is;

  • 57% English
  • 34% German
  • 6% Hungarian
  • 3% Danish

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