Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History Post 1900; Political People

Elizabeth II
Queen of the United Kingdom and
the other Commonwealth Realms
Her Majesty The Queen circa 2003
Her Majesty The Queen circa 2003
Reign 6 February 1952 -
Coronation 2 June 1953
Predecessor George VI
Heir Apparent Charles, Prince of Wales
Consort Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Charles, Prince of Wales
Anne, Princess Royal
Prince Andrew, Duke of York
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
Full name
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor
HM The Queen
HRH The 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
Mayfair, London
Baptised 29 May 1926
Buckingham Palace, London
British Royalty
Royal Family
HM The Queen
  • HRH The Duke of Edinburgh
    • HRH The Prince of Wales
      HRH The Duchess of Cornwall
      • HRH Prince William of Wales
      • HRH Prince Henry of Wales
    • 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
      • 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 II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor; born 21 April 1926) is Queen of 16 sovereign states, holding each crown and title equally. However, she is more directly involved with the United Kingdom, where the Royal Family resides, and the Monarchy is historically indigenous.

Apart from 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, where she is represented by Governors-General. The 16 countries of which she is queen are known as Commonwealth Realms, and their combined population is 128 million.

She is presently the world's only monarch who is simultaneously Head of State of more than one independent nation. In legal theory she is the most powerful head of state in the world, although in practice she personally exercises very little political executive power.

Elizabeth became Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon upon the death of her father, George VI, on 6 February 1952. As other colonies of the British Empire (now the Commonwealth of Nations) 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 54 years on the throne she has been Monarch of 32 nations, half of which either moved to different royal houses, or became republics.

Elizabeth also holds the positions of Head of the Commonwealth, Lord High Admiral, Supreme Governor of the Church of England (styled Defender of the Faith) and Lord of Mann. 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.

Elizabeth is currently the second-longest-reigning head of state in the world and the fifth-longest serving British monarch. Her reign of over half a century has seen ten different Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and numerous Prime Ministers in the Commonwealth Realms of which she is (or was) also Head of State; between them she has had a total of 138 Prime Ministers during her reign.

Early life

Elizabeth was born at 17 Bruton Street, in Mayfair, London, on 21 April 1926. Her father was Prince Albert, Duke of York (the future George VI), the second eldest son of George V and Queen Mary. Her mother was The Duchess of York (née Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth, and, after her daughter's accession to the throne, the Queen Mother), the daughter of Claude George Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and his wife, Nina Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck, the Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

She was baptised in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of York. Her godparents were King George and Queen Mary, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Connaught, 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". Her grandmother Queen Mary doted on her and George V found her very entertaining. At 10 years old, the young Princess 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".

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 was Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York. At the time of her birth, she was third in the line of succession to the crown, behind her father and her uncle, the Prince of Wales. 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 her uncle, the Prince of Wales, would marry and have children in due course.

However, due to his wife Wallis Simpson's reproductive issues, Edward was destined not to have any legitimate heirs. Since Elizabeth's parents had no sons, who would have had precedence over her regardless of when they were born, she would eventually have become queen whether Edward had abdicated or not, assuming she outlived her father.


The young Princess Elizabeth was educated at home, as was her younger sister, Princess Margaret, under the supervision of her mother, then the Duchess of York. Her 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.

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 of proclaiming his eldest daughter, Lady Mary, Princess of Wales in her own right.

Elizabeth was thirteen years old when World War II broke out, and she and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, were evacuated to Windsor Castle, Berkshire. There was some suggestion that the princesses be sent to Canada, but their mother refused to consider this, famously saying, "The children could not possibly go without me, I will never leave the King, and the King will never leave his country." In 1940, Princess Elizabeth made her first broadcast, addressing other children who had been evacuated.

Military career

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, and was trained as a driver. 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, though other royal women have been given honorary ranks. During the VE Day celebrations in London, she and her sister dressed in ordinary clothing and slipped into the crowd secretly to celebrate with everyone.

Princess Elizabeth changing the wheel of a lorry (truck) during the war.
Princess Elizabeth changing the wheel of a lorry (truck) during the war.

Royal duties

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 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 to devote her life to the service of the people of the Commonwealth and Empire.


Elizabeth married The Duke of Edinburgh (born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark) on 20 November 1947. The Duke is Queen Elizabeth's second cousin once removed; they are both descended from Christian IX of Denmark (she being a great-great-granddaughter through Alexandra of Denmark, and the Duke a great-grandson through George I of Greece). The couple are also third cousins; they share Queen Victoria as a great-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. The marriage was controversial. Greece's royal family was considered minor and in any event had received bad press in preceding decades. Furthermore, 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".

After their wedding, Philip and Elizabeth 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, Prince Charles of Edinburgh. Several weeks earlier, letters patent had been issued so that her children would enjoy a royal and princely status they would not otherwise have been entitled to. Otherwise they would have been styled merely as children of a duke. The couple had four children (see below) 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.


Monarchical Styles of
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Reference style: Her Majesty
Spoken style: Your Majesty
Alternative style: Ma'am

As her father's health declined during 1951, 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 the Treetops Hotel in Thika, just two hours away from Nairobi today, when she was told of her own succession to the throne — a unique circumstance for any such event. She was the first British monarch since the accession of George I to be outside the country at the moment of succession, and also the first in modern times not to know the exact time of her accession (because her father had died in his sleep at an unknown time). On the night her father died, the Chief Justice of Kenya Sir Horace Hearne, who would later accompany the Royal Party back to the UK, escorted the Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, to a dinner at the Treetops Hotel, which is now a very popular tourist retreat in Kenya. It was there that she "went up a princess and came down a Queen".

After Prince Philip broke to Elizabeth the news of her father's death, Martin Charteris, then Assistant Private Secretary to the new Queen, asked her what she intended to be called. "Elizabeth, of course," she replied. The royal party returned immediately to England.

Elizabeth II's Proclamation of Accession was read at St James's Palace, on Thursday, 7 February, 1952. In Canada, a separate proclamation was issued by the Queen's Privy Council for Canada on the same day.

The following year, 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's coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, on 2 June 1953.

Life as Queen


After the Coronation, Elizabeth and Philip moved to Buckingham Palace, in central London. It is reported, however, that, as with many of her predecessors, 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, and at Sandringham House, in Norfolk.


Queen Elizabeth is the most widely-travelled British head of state in history. In 1953–1954 she and Philip made a six-month around-the-world tour, becoming the first British monarch to circumnavigate the globe. She also became the first reigning monarch of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to visit those nations (which she visited again numerous times following). In October 1957, she made a state visit to the United States and toured Canada, opening the first session of that nation's 23rd parliament and addressing the United Nations General Assembly. In 1959, she made another tour of Canada, as well as undertaking a 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, as the guest of Turkish President Cemal Gürsel, and later toured India and Pakistan for the first time. She has made state visits to most European countries and to many outside Europe. She toured the United States for the 1976 Bicentennial, attending festivities with President Ford, and again in 1991 at the invitation of President George H.W. Bush, during which she became the first British monarch to address a joint session of the United States Congress. She regularly attends Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.

Empire to Commonwealth

At the time of Elizabeth's accession, there was much talk of a "new Elizabethan age". Elizabeth's role 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, Queen Elizabeth has witnessed, over the past 50 years, a gradual transformation of the British Empire into its modern 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.

Golden Jubilee

In 2002, she 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 numerous parades and official concerts.

Family relations

The Jubilee year coincided with the deaths, within a few months, of Elizabeth's mother and sister. Elizabeth's 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. She is known to have disapproved of Prince Charles's long-standing relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, but with their recent marriage, has come to accept it. On the other hand, she is very close to her grandchildren, noticeably Prince William, Princess Beatrice and Zara Phillips.

Health and longevity

In late February 2003, the Queen's reign, then just over 51 years, surpassed the reigns of all four of her immediate predecessors combined — (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 fifth-longest serving British or English monarch. Her reign of over half a century has seen ten different Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom 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 rarely 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, blood vessel bursts are common for seniors but can also be a sign of high blood pressure. Later that month, on 26 October, she was due to officially open the new Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal F.C., but she was forced to cancel the engagment 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 for the Queen's possible absence. However, she was able to attend.

Reducing duties

On Friday, 21 April 2006, the Queen turned 80, making her the third oldest reigning monarch in British and Commonwealth history. She has begun to hand over some public duties to her children, as well as to other members of the royal family, and in early 2006, reports began to surface that the Queen planned to significantly reduce her official duties, though she has made it clear that she has no intention of abdicating. It is believed by both the press and palace insiders 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, but also that, while the Queen would be increasing the length of her weekends by two days, she would continue with public duties well into the future. Buckingham Palace is also reported to be considering giving the Prince more access to government papers, and is to allow him to preside over more investitures, meet more foreign dignitaries and take the place of the Queen in welcoming ambassadors at the Court of St. James's.

It has been rumoured that her recent trip to Canada and Australia will be amongst her last visits to her Commonwealth Realms, though both the Canadian and Australian governments and the Palace have denied it.

In November, 2006, the Queen announced that she and her husband would be making a state visit to the United States in May of 2007, 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 go as smoothly as possible. In 2004, a copy of the Queen's newly-revised funeral plans was stolen, much to the Queen's anger. 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).

If the Queen lives until 21 December 2007, she will become the oldest reigning monarch in both British and the Commonwealth Realms' history, surpassing King George III and Queen Victoria, both of whom died before the age of 82.

Should she still be reigning on 9 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, and the Prince of Wales does also, he would be the oldest to succeed to the throne, surpassing William IV, who was 64.

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.

Views and perceptions

Elizabeth is a conservative in matters of religion, moral standards and family matters. 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 abdicated uncle) why it is considered highly unlikely that she will ever abdicate. For years, she refused to acknowledge Prince Charles's relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, but since their marriage, an appearance of acceptance has been established.

Elizabeth's political views are supposed to be less clear-cut, as she has done little in public to reveal what they might be. 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 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." It is believed that her favourite Prime Ministers have been Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. She was thought to have very good relations with her current Prime Minister, Tony Blair, during the first years of his term in office; however, there has been mounting evidence in recent years that her relationship with Blair has hardened.

The only public issues on which Elizabeth makes her views known are those affecting the unity of each of her Realms. During an event in Westminster Hall marking her Silver Jubilee, in 1977, her speech was considered by some to be critical of the then Government's devolution proposals. 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 far-right 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 and 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.

Also, 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. (See Constitutional controversies below). Like her mother, Elizabeth 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."

With Adrienne Clarkson, then Governor-General of Canada, during her tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2005.
With Adrienne Clarkson, then Governor-General of Canada, during her tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2005.

The Queen's personal fortune has been the subject of speculation for many years. Sometimes estimated at US$10 short 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 overexaggerated".

Her personal relationships with world leaders are warm and informal. On a BBC documentary broadcast in 2002, Queen & Country, 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. 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". She has a very friendly relationship with Jacques Chirac of France, who is the only Head of State allowed to drink his favoured Corona-brand beer at official dinners at Buckingham Palace instead of the fine French wines of the Palace's cellar.

Recent public image

Elizabeth's public image has softened noticeably in recent years, particularly since the death of the Queen Mother. Although she remains reserved in public, she has been seen laughing and smiling much more than in years past, and, to the shock of many, she shed tears during emotional occasions such as at Remembrance Day services, the memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral for those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and in Normandy, for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, where she addressed the Canadian troops.

Queen Elizabeth has never suffered from severe public disapproval. However, in 1997, she and other members of the Royal Family were perceived in the British tabloid press as cold and unfeeling when they did not participate in the public outpouring of grief at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Some people deny that Elizabeth held negative feelings towards Diana and thought that she had damaged the institution of the monarchy and cite as evidence of this is the Queen bowing to Diana's coffin as it passed Buckingham Palace, something unprecedented and unexpected. She also gave a live television broadcast paying tribute to Diana. These actions redressed tabloid opinion. Elizabeth's behaviour during the funeral is believed to have resulted from strong advice from the Queen Mother and Tony Blair. Many biographers of both the Queen and Diana agree that there indeed was a fondness between the two women.

Constitutional role

Role in government

The Queen (wearing the insignia of the Sovereign of the Order of Canada and of the Order of Military Merit) pictured with her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The Queen (wearing the insignia of the Sovereign of the Order of Canada and of the Order of Military Merit) pictured with her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Constitutionally, the Queen is an essential part of the legislative process of her Realms. The Queen-in-Parliament (the Queen, acting with the advice and consent of Parliament), in each country, is an integral part of Parliament, along with the upper and lower houses. In all of her realms outside of the United Kingdom, she retains her constitutional powers, but her direct participation usually consists only of the appointment of representatives within the Realm in question, usually a Governor-General, who exercises her executive power in a fashion closely resembling her own exercise of power within the United Kingdom - in Canada, this participation stretches to include the appointment of additional Senators to break deadlocks in the Canadian Senate.

In practice, much of the Queen's role in the legislative process is ceremonial, as her reserve powers are rarely exercised. For example, the Queen may legally withhold Royal Assent from Bills, but no monarch has refused his or her assent to a Bill since Queen Anne, in 1708. In Realms outside of the United Kingdom, the power to give Royal Assent is also practised by her designated representative in the Realm. The Queen, or her Governors-General, in the Realms outside the United Kingdom, also gives a speech at the annual State Opening of Parliament, outlining the government's legislative agenda for the year, but the speech is written by government ministers and reflects the view of the elected government.

The Queen also has a functional role in executive government. In the United Kingdom, she chooses her prime minister in accordance with constitutional requirements. In her realms outside the United Kingdom, this power is exercised by her representatives. In reality no actual choice is required, as the issue of whom to ask to form a government is clear from who controls the House of Commons, except in exceptional circumstances. She also decides 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. This necessitated the wartime coalition. The requirement is normally only made in emergencies or in wartime, and happened only three times in the 20th century: with Andrew Bonar Law and David Lloyd George in 1916 (Bonar Law declined and recommended King George V ask Lloyd George to form a government), and Churchill, in 1940. To date, Elizabeth has never set it. All of her prime ministers have had to meet the lower requirement of simply surviving in the House of Commons. The Queen also appoints ministers of the United Kingdom and all government is carried out legally in her name.

Theoretically, she still holds a large proportion of power in international affairs. The Queen, as Head of State, has the power to declare war, to make peace, to recognise foreign states, to conclude treaties, and to take over, or give up, territory, on behalf of the United Kingdom. In her other realms, she leaves the exercise of these powers to her representatives, who likewise exercise it at the behest of elected governments.

United Kingdom Orders-in-Council are issued only when approved by her at Privy Council meetings. Canadian Orders are issued only when approved by her Governor General-in- Council. She has access to all government minutes and documentation from all her Realms, and has a weekly meeting with the British Prime Minister when the British parliament is in session. In the UK, she also signs executive orders, financial papers and treasury papers, with her signature required on all major financial transactions of state (countersigned by the relevant minister). The role of Commander-in-Chief is held, in each realm, either by the Queen, or by her Governor-General, as her representative.

On three occasions during her reign, the Queen 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 on 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 the late 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 8 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

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

British Prime Ministers take their weekly meetings with the Queen very seriously. One Prime Minister said he took them 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. Elizabeth also has regular meetings with her individual British ministers, and occasional meetings with ministers from her other Realms.

As with her British Prime Ministers, some Canadian Prime Ministers have commented on the Queen's knowledge of Canadian and international affairs. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stated, "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." (Memoirs, Pierre E. Trudeau.)

The Queen also meets the First Minister of Scotland. The royal palace in Edinburgh, the Holyrood Palace, once home to Scottish kings and queens such as 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) in residence. She also receives reports from the new National Assembly for Wales, and is continually kept abreast of goings on with her other governments. The Government of Wales Act of 2006 means that from 2007 the Queen will have a role in relation to Wales separate to her role as Queen of the UK. She will appoint Welsh Ministers and enact Welsh Orders in Council.

Queen Elizabeth II with Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur.
Queen Elizabeth II with Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur.

Though bound by convention not to intervene directly in politics, her length of service, and the fact that she has seen a great many prime ministers come and go in all of her realms, combined with 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 the following description of her weekly meetings with Elizabeth: "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."

During an argument within the Commonwealth over sanctions on South Africa, Elizabeth 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 Elizabeth as "marvelous" 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 Elizabeth. In October 2005, the Queen and Prince Philip attended Thatcher's 80th birthday party in London.

Canadian national unity

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."

In 1995, during a separatist referendum campaign, 29-year-old Pierre Brassard, a DJ for Radio CKOI-FM Montreal, tricked her into speaking with him, in both French and English, for 14 minutes, pretending to be Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. When told that the separatists were showing a lead, the Queen did reveal 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.


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.


During the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, when the Governor-General of Australia Sir John Kerr dismissed Gough Whitlam from the office of Prime Minister, the Queen received petitions and letters from Whitlam, the Speaker and private citizens asking the Queen to reverse the action of the Governor-General. The Queen's Private Secretary quite correctly answered these petitions and letters by saying the matter was under the Australian Constitution for the Governor-General of Australia to decide. Whitlam and others many years later declared their support for Australia becoming a republic. Evidence suggests that the Queen did not approve of Governor-General Kerr's removal of the elected government. The Australian people rejected a referendum to move to a republic in November 1999 with a vote favouring the retention of the constitutional monarchy. The Queen was warmly greeted on her recent visit to Australia in March 2006.

The United Kingdom

In her speech to Parliament at the Silver Jubilee in 1977, Elizabeth 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 scheme to Scotland and Wales, and was interpreted as opposition to devolution. However, in the late 1990s, after referendums approved a devolution scheme, Elizabeth sent her best wishes to the new Scottish Parliament, the first session of which she opened in person. Her reference in the Silver Jubilee speech is also believed, by some, to refer to the disturbances in Northern Ireland at that time.

Relations with world leaders

Elizabeth has developed friendships with many foreign leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, whose son, George W. Bush, was the first American president in more than 80 years to stay at Buckingham Palace. On occasion, such contacts have proved highly beneficial for the United Kingdom. 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 the leader 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. Similarly, she displayed initiative when Irish President Mary Robinson began visiting Great 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.

Religious role

In some Realms, the Queen is the Sovereign " by Grace of God," and, in the United Kingdom, is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As with her predecessors, the Coronation itself took place within the context of a church service, at Westminster Abbey, imbued with theological, as well as constitutional, meaning. In some Realms, the Queen retains the ancient title Fidei Defensor, a title first granted in 1521 by Pope Leo X to King Henry VIII, prior to the Reformation. Other Commonwealth nations have removed those words from the Queen's title.

The Church of England remains the established church in England; archbishops and bishops are formally appointed by the Crown and sit in the House of Lords as Lords Spiritual. The Queen takes a keen personal interest in the Church, but, in practice, delegates authority in the Church of England to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Queen regularly worships at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, or at St. Mary Magdalene Church when staying at Sandringham House, Norfolk. Certain churches (known as Royal Peculiars) have royal patronage, and are outside the normal diocesan administrative structures; the best-known example is Westminster Abbey. There are six Royal chapels outside of the UK.

The role of the Sovereign differs considerably in the other three nations of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, the Church of Scotland, with a Presbyterian system of church government, is recognised in law as the "national church" in which the Queen is an ordinary member. Her first act as monarch was to swear to uphold and protect the reformed church in Scotland; a similar oath for England had to wait for the coronation. The Royal Family regularly attends services at Crathie Kirk when holidaying at Balmoral Castle, and when in residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh, the family attends services at the Kirk of the Canongate. 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. Unusually for the Church of Scotland, Glasgow Cathedral and Dunblane Cathedral are both owned by the Crown.

In Wales, Northern Ireland, and the other Realms, there is no official religion established by law. The Church in Wales and the Church of Ireland were both disestablished, in 1920 and 1871 respectively. Though Canadian coins are minted with the inscription D.G. Regina (Queen by the Grace of God) around her portrait, and her Canadian title includes the phrase "Defender of the Faith", Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada, plays no religious role in the country. (See Monarchy in Canada: Cultural Role.)

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 the 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 & Jews (CCJ) in the UK.

Personality and image

The four portraits of Elizabeth on British coinage.
The four portraits of Elizabeth on British coinage.

Elizabeth has never given press interviews, and her views on political issues are largely unknown except to those few heads of government who share her confidence. She is also regarded privately as an excellent mimic. Conservative in dress, she is well known for her solid-colour overcoats and decorative hats which allow her to be seen easily in a crowd. She attends many cultural events as part of her public role. Her main leisure interests include horse racing, photography, and dogs, especially her Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Elizabeth's first appearance on live television was in Prescott, Ontario in 1959 when, as Queen of Canada, she opened the Saint Lawrence Seaway. She has given an annual Christmas Message to the Commonwealth every year apart from 1969 since she became Queen.

In matters of diplomacy, Elizabeth is formal, and royal protocol is generally very strict. Though some of the traditional rules for dealing with the Monarch have been relaxed during her reign ( bowing is no longer required, for example), other forms of close personal interaction, such as touching, are discouraged by officials. At least four people are known to have broken this rule, the first being Alice Frazier in 1991 during the Queen's 13-day United States visit, when Elizabeth, accompanied by Barbara Bush and Jack Kemp, visited a government housing project in Washington. The second was Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia, when he was photographed with his arm around the Queen in 1992 (and was afterwards dubbed the "Lizard of Oz" by the British tabloid press). The third was the cyclist Louis Garneau, who did the same ten years later. However the Queen appeared to take no offence at their actions, and Keating stayed as the Queen's guest in her private Balmoral home. The fourth was John Howard, the conservative Australian Prime Minister who succeeded Keating.

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, and government offices. Having done so since 1952, she has seen more of British public affairs from the inside than any other person, and is thus able to offer advice to Tony Blair based on her experiences with John Major, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Winston Churchill and other senior leaders. 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. To date, Sir Alec Douglas-Home was the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to be chosen personally by Queen Elizabeth, in 1963.

Always a popular figure in the United Kingdom, not to mention other countries, opinion polls have almost always shown that she has an excellent approval rating, currently over 80%; and often significantly higher than that of her elected Prime Ministers. Since she has little political power in the day-to-day running of the country outside of her traditional ceremonial and advisory duties, she is unlikely to be held responsible for unpopular policies followed by elected politicians.

In 2006, the Queen came close to an orthodox interview when she agreed to be portrait-painted by the popular Australian artist and personality Rolf Harris, who engaged in small talk with her, on film, and with Palace permission. It was shown on the BBC. However, their conversation ventured little beyond previous portraits of the Queen and Royal art history in general, and the Queen's responses to Harris's conversational overtures were notably crisp and monosyllabic.

The journalist and BBC Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys has long stated that his career ambition is to get the first full interview with the Queen.

The Queen is the subject of " Her Majesty", written by Paul McCartney and featured on the Beatles' final album Abbey Road ( 1969); McCartney played the song at the Party at the Palace concert during the Golden Jubilee in 2002. In 1977, The Sex Pistols issued " God Save the Queen", which became a controversial hit single, inspiring the punk rock movement with its lyrics suggesting there was "no future" and comparing England to a " fascist regime". The Smiths released the song and album The Queen Is Dead in 1986. The Pet Shop Boys have a track called Dreaming of the Queen. The Queen also plays detective in the Her Majesty Investigates series of mystery novels by C.C. Benison, which includes Death at Buckingham Palace and Death at Windsor Castle.

A 2006 film called The Queen starring Helen Mirren takes an intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the interaction between Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister Tony Blair during their struggle following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, to reach a compromise between treating her death as a private tragedy for the Royal Family and appeasing the public's demand for an overt display of mourning.

Patronage of Charities

The Queen is Patron of more than 620 charities and organisations including:

  • The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
  • Fauna and Flora International
  • The Kennel Club
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children
  • The Royal School of Church Music
  • The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge ( SPCK)
  • The Boys' Brigade
  • Queens' College, Cambridge

Titles, styles, honours and arms


  • 1926-1936: Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York
  • 1936-1947: Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth
  • 1947-1952: Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh
  • 1952-Present: Her Majesty The Queen (The full style and titles of Queen Elizabeth II are various; see List of titles and honours of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom)

Following Elizabeth'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).

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 bearing the initials "E II R" in Scotland 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.

There are also two other matters of controversy, publicised much less. First, 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.


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.)



The Queen's personal flag, used when she is representing the Commonwealth
The Queen's personal flag, used when she is representing the Commonwealth

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 in the Queen's personal flags in former realms, and also forms the flag used by the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth.

From 1936 until her succession, 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.


Queen Elizabeth is the male-line great-granddaughter of Edward VII, who inherited the crown from his mother, Queen Victoria. His father, Victoria's consort, was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; hence Queen Elizabeth is a patrilineal descendant of the German princely house of Wettin. Other notable members of the princely house are King Albert II of Belgium and former King Simeon II of Bulgaria. Through Victoria (as well as several other of her great-great-grandparents), she is descended from many English monarchs extending back to the House of Wessex in the 7th century, and from the Scottish royal house, the House of Stuart, and its predecessors, which can be traced back to the 6th century. There is a direct line of descent from William the Conqueror to Queen Elizabeth. As a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she is related to the heads of most other reigning and non-reigning European royal houses such as the former Hohenzollern royal houses of Germany and Romania. Through her great-grandmother Queen Alexandra, she is descended from the Danish royal house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a line of the North German house of Oldenburg, and one of the oldest in Europe ; other members are the Duke of Edinburgh, Margrethe II of Denmark, Harald V of Norway, Queen Sofia of Spain, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and former King Constantine II of Greece, who are also all descended from Queen Victoria. She is further related to all ruling hereditary monarchs of Europe, as a descendant of Johan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange (1687–1711), common ancestor to all reigning European royal houses.


Name Birth Marriage Issue
The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales 14 November 1948 married (1), 29 July 1981, Lady Diana Spencer; divorced, 28 August 1996
(2), 9 April 2005, Camilla Parker-Bowles
Prince William of Wales

Prince Harry of Wales

The Princess Anne, Princess Royal 15 August 1950 married (1), 14 November 1973, Captain Mark Phillips; divorced, 28 April 1992
(2), 12 December 1992, Commander Timothy Laurence
Peter Phillips

Zara Phillips

The Prince Andrew, Duke of York 19 February 1960 married , 23 July 1986, Sarah Ferguson; divorced, 30 May 1996 Princess Beatrice of York

Princess Eugenie of York

The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex 10 March 1964 married, 19 June 1999, Sophie Rhys-Jones The Lady Louise Windsor

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