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Queen Elizabeth II

4 Conversations

HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Updated 25 May 2010

Through the inventions of science I can do what was not possible for any of them [my ancestors]. I can make my solemn act of dedication with a whole Empire listening. I should like to make that dedication now. It is very simple. 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.
- Princess Elizabeth of York in 1947.

Princess Elizabeth

HRH Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born at 2.40am on 21 April, 1926, the first child of the Duke and Duchess Of York, and great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Britain's longest-reigning monarch. The Windsor family tree can be traced as far back as the House of Wessex in the 7th Century, and from the Scottish royal house, the House of Alpin, to the 9th Century.

When Princess Elizabeth was six years old, her parents took over Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park as their own country home. Princess Elizabeth (her childhood nickname, coined by her grandfather, was 'Lilibet') was educated at home with her younger sister Princess Margaret Rose (1930-2002). They studied art and music, learned how to swim and were taught how to ride horses. Both girls became fluent French-speakers like their mother. When she was 11 years old, Princess Elizabeth enrolled as a Girl Guide.

After the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, Princess Elizabeth's parents were crowned King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Queen Consort) on 12 May, 1937, making the princess heir presumptive1. Showing an early dedication to duty, the young princess started to study constitutional history and law.

In 1940, soon after the start of World War II, the princess, at the age of 14, made her first public broadcast, a radio message during the BBC's children's programme to all the children of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth (especially those being evacuated for safety reasons). In April 1941, the cast of It's That Man Again - a popular radio comedy broadcast weekly - were invited to Windsor Castle to perform a special show in honour of Princess Elizabeth's 16th birthday.

In April 1943, Princess Elizabeth carried out her first solo public engagement, which was a day with a Grenadier Guards tank battalion in Southern Command. Princess Elizabeth learned to drive while serving as a Junior Commander in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which she had joined in 1945, and she is still the only female member of the Royal Family to have served in the Forces.

When the war ended and hundreds of thousands of people gathered in The Mall outside Buckingham Palace to celebrate, the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, slipped unnoticed into the crowd to join in the celebrations. Their mother had steadfastly refused to move (the King and herself) out of London during the Blitz, stating she could 'never look the East End in the face again' if they had evacuated.

Princess Elizabeth's first official overseas visit took place in 1947, when she accompanied her parents and sister on a tour of South Africa. It was during this tour, on her 21st birthday, that she dedicated herself to the service of the Commonwealth.

Princess Elizabeth received the Freedom of the City of London in June 1947 and, the following month, Freedom of the City of Edinburgh.

Prince Philip

When Princess Elizabeth was just 13 she met handsome naval officer Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, who was her distant cousin on both sides of his family. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was a first cousin of George V, while his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

After a suitably long courtship (during which the couple were never without a chaperon), Prince Philip asked the King for Elizabeth's hand in marriage. He was deemed a suitable husband for the future Queen due to his royal bloodline and the fact that he was already schooled in royal duties. Just before the wedding, Prince Philip was given the title of Duke of Edinburgh (and also Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich) by the King. He renounced his Greek titles and citizenship, and converted from Greek Orthodoxy to the Church of England.

They married in Westminster Abbey on 20 November, 1947, after which the 21-year-old princess (upon her marriage she became known as the Duchess of Edinburgh) sent her wedding dress on a tour of the British Isles. Rationing of clothing was still in force despite the end of the Second World War, and it was an enormous thrill for many people to be able to queue up and eventually gaze upon the fairytale dress.

I queued all day, my legs hurt and my feet ached, but I forgot all that when I saw the dress. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Lots of the women were crying, but I was just thrilled. Everyone paid their 6d (a charity donation), nobody complained. It was worth every penny.
- Violet Wolstencroft - the Researcher's mother.

While he has never really won the affection of the British people, (possibly due to his outspoken gaffes), Prince Philip has undoubtedly earned their respect after a lifetime of supporting the Queen.

The King Is Dead, Long Live The Queen

On 6 February, 1952, while in Kenya on the first stage of a tour of Africa which she had undertaken in place of her ailing father, Princess Elizabeth received the news2 of King George VI's death3 and her own accession to the throne. In 1983 the Queen returned to plant a fig tree on the spot at the Treetops Hotel where she and Prince Philip had been staying when they heard the news.

The Queen's Coronation

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on 2 June, 1953. The coronation gown was made by Norman Hartnell, who initially turned down the honour because of the challenges that he'd have to overcome. The dress was covered with amethysts and diamonds that Hartnell felt would take advantage of the lights that would be used for the benefit of the TV cameras.

The ceremony was broadcast on radio around the world and, for the first time, nationally on television. The broadcast was a major moment in TV history because it was the first time TV audiences had achieved ratings higher than radio. Initially, there had been some reluctance to allow the cameras into Westminster Abbey, with some officials fearing that the people 'at home' would end up with a better view than the invited guests. The Earl Marshal4 of England, in charge of the rehearsals, threatened the cameramen with imprisonment, saying 'there's still room in the Tower', if they stepped out of line.

Thanks to the BBC recording their broadcast, they were able to prepare film canisters and fly them out to Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth so that people could view the coronation at the same time 'their time' as we saw it our time. Over 20 million people in the UK and 500 million worldwide watched the BBC coverage of the coronation. It was one of the biggest and most extraordinary ceremonial occasions of all time. Television brought the splendour of the event to people in a way never thought possible before. It was a relatively new invention and television sets were a luxury few could afford.

My husband's boss told him I could go and watch the Coronation on the television set at his home. It was packed, standing room only. His wife was so kind, she made tea for everybody. Some had walked miles in the rain, and everyone was sorry when it was over, we had such a fine time.
- Another reminiscence from Violet Wolstencroft.

Once the coronation had taken place, Queen Elizabeth II's procession snaked around central London from Westminster Abbey up to Hyde Park and then back to Buckingham Palace. The crowds were a little disheartened by the rain, but their spirits were lifted by the joyous sight of the (frankly enormous) Queen Salote of Tonga, who made the decision not to have her carriage covered, so she could wave to all the people. Queen Salote became a beloved figure for the British people, although her size did inspire a few jokes.

Duties and Responsibilities

The Queen's full title in the United Kingdom is Elizabeth the Second5, by the Grace of God, Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. She is Lord of Mann, and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England6 but although taking a personal interest in the church, and attending church services regularly, she delegates authority to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Each session of Parliament begins with a royal address, written by the government, delivered by the current monarch and covering the political year ahead. The Queen's Speech, as it became known during Elizabeth II's reign, also occurs in the weeks after a new government has been formed, as happened in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010.

British Prime Ministers inherit a duty to advise and protect the monarch; to protect the dignity of the British Crown and Constitution; and to arrange the succession of the next monarch. Queen Elizabeth, who is politically impartial, has enjoyed warm relationships with some of her Prime Ministers and cordial ones with others, whereas some relationships have been downright chilly. There had always been a basis of trust though, which unfortunately no longer exists, since royal confidences have been leaked to friendly newspapers. The Downing Street website announced that the Queen enjoyed weekly audiences with Tony Blair, instead of the other way round. Mr Blair (the Queen's tenth Prime Minister since her ascension) cancelled audiences with the Queen and the refusal of his wife Cherie Booth to curtsy to the Queen shows the extent of the breakdown of the relationship.

The Queen celebrates two 'birthdays': The anniversary of her birth, and, in the United Kingdom, the Sovereign's 'Official' Birthday, which, since 1805, has been celebrated on the second Saturday in June. In terms of ceremony, it is marked in London by Trooping the Colour. On this very special day The Household Division7 pay a personal tribute to their Sovereign and Colonel-in-Chief. Honours for members of the public are announced in the Birthday Honours List. Each member country of the commonwealth celebrates the Queen's 'Official' Birthday on different dates.

Contrary to popular belief, the Queen does carry money. Each Sunday when she attends church service, she places a banknote of undisclosed denomination into the collection plate. There is an old superstition that to give a gift of a knife will cut the tie of friendship - therefore the Queen always offers a coin in exchange of such a gift. The Queen carries a handbag which contains a handkerchief, a gold mirrored compact, a comb and a lipstick. She never keeps the posies and flowers she is presented with, instead they are distributed to local hospitals.

In 1966, the Queen presented the England football team captain Bobby Moore (1941 - 93) with the World Cup trophy after he led the England team to victory over West Germany.

During a visit to Australia in 1973, the spectacular Sydney Opera House was officially opened by the Queen. There is a large republican movement Down Under, but following royal visits their efforts seem to get set back again due to the popularity of the Queen.

Her Majesty is an enthusiastic horse-breeder and owns a number of racehorses. She used to ride horses herself, especially enjoying taking part in Trooping The Colour. It was during this event on 13 June, 1981, that she demonstrated her skill as an experienced rider when she successfully retained control of her mount when she came under attack. A 17-year-old former air cadet from Kent fired six blanks from a gun at her frightened horse, Burmese. The culprit, Marcus Serjeant, was jailed for five years under the 1842 Treason Act, a law not used since 1966. Serjeant, who gave his reason for wanting to kill8 the Queen was because he 'wanted to be famous' was released from jail in October 1984.

The Queen keeps her emotions in check even under the most trying circumstances. Only twice has it been recorded that she has wept in public: when meeting survivors of the great flood of 1953, and talking to bereaved mothers in Aberfan.

The effigy of the Queen on coins of the realm (legal tender) has undergone three changes since her coronation. The only exception to this is Maundy Money, which retains the original version which was produced from a portrait by Mary Gillick. The Maundy Thursday tradition started during the reign of Charles II, and is based on the story of Jesus Christ washing his disciples' feet the day before he was crucified (now known as Good Friday). In a ceremony now known as Royal Maundy, the Queen distributes two bags of the specially-minted coins to elderly volunteer workers.

The Queen's personal flag is a crowned capital letter 'E' inside a circle of stemmed and leafed yellow roses on a blue background. It is used in Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty is not Head of State. For those of which Her Majesty is Head of State, she uses a banner of that country's arms defaced with her personal cipher within a circle of yellow roses on blue.

The Queen never gives interviews, but every year she makes a speech which is broadcast on television on Christmas Day, continuing a tradition started by her grandfather King George V in 1932. The Christmas Day broadcast is the Queen's one opportunity each year to express her own thoughts rather than those of the government. Although not the first to use the phrase annus horribilis (a pun on the phrase annus mirabilis, meaning an auspicious year), after the Queen used it to describe the year 1992 - the year that the marriages of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew broke down, Princess Anne got divorced, the publication of Andrew Morton's book on Princess Diana and Windsor Castle caught fire - the term has become synonymous with her.

Every British citizen who reaches the age of 100 years is entitled to receive a congratulations card from the sovereign, and every legally-married couple who celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary (60 years) get a greeting as well. Queen Elizabeth's cards are normally signed 'Elizabeth R' but the hundredth birthday card the Queen Mother was given in 2000 was signed 'Lilibet'.

In the course of her reign, Queen Elizabeth has visited every country in the Commonwealth except Cameroon, which joined the Commonwealth in 1995. She's visited former enemies like Germany and Japan, and former colonies like India, but the legacy of the split between Northern Ireland and the present Republic of Ireland prevented any possibility of a state visit until recently. She spends roughly three hours a day reading state papers; has a weekly9 audience with the Prime Minister, and acts as host to visiting heads of state. When George W Bush visited the UK he was the first President of the US to stay in Buckingham Palace in 80 years.

Only just recently, at almost 80 years of age, has she given up regularly touring abroad, and attending the funerals of heads of state is delegated to other members of the Royal Family. Prince Charles represented the Queen at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 2005, after he had rearranged his own plans to marry Camilla Parker Bowles.

Queen Elizabeth has stated that she has no plans to abdicate, because, when she took her oath, it was for life. Should she become unable to carry out her duty, for example because of serious illness or incapacity, the Prince of Wales would take over authority, acting as Regent, as was the case with King George III (see below).

The Armed Forces

The Queen is the head of the Armed Forces. Every member of the military swears allegiance to her and her successors when joining. The form of the salute (raising the hand to the side of the head) dates back to showing no weapon and raising the visor, a form of courtesy since medieval times. When two knights met on horseback they would raise the visor of their faceplate to show their face to their opponent. This was a mark of respect and recognition of your opponent. The hand being raised to the eyeline comes from this origin. You raise your hand to show it is empty and that you are carrying no weapon; that you come to meet peacefully with no ill intent. When a non-commissioned serviceman (sailor, soldier or airman) salutes an officer, what s/he is actually saluting is the Queen's Commission held by that officer - hence essentially saluting HM The Queen. A good salute should be (longest way up), hand coming up with middle finger to the eyebrow level, bending the arm at the elbow and keeping the wrist straight. The hand should not touch the head and fingers should be straight, as should the thumb. The salute should then be snapped down (shortest way down) parallel to the body. Then the officer returns the salute in acknowledgement of the respect which has been paid to the Queen's Commission - so effectively returning the salute on behalf of HM The Queen.

The Crown Jewels

Jewels are the currency of royalty - they bring a sense of opulence and grandeur to formal occasions and bestow majestic confidence upon the wearer.

The Crown Jewels are part of the National Heritage and belong to the State. The English Crown Jewels have been kept in the Tower of London since 1303; previously, they were housed in Westminster Abbey, but were moved to the Tower after a theft. The Honours of Scotland (the official name of the Scottish Crown Jewels), which are older than the English ones, are kept in Edinburgh Castle.

King John lost his Crown Jewels in The Wash, Lincolnshire, in 1216, when the caravan leader mistimed the tide. It is forbidden to pawn the Crown Jewels since Edward III's reign: he had to pay his soldiers' wages and he was overdrawn at the bank. In 1649 Oliver Cromwell ordered the destruction of the Crown Jewels, as he thought them 'symbolic of the detestable rule of kings'.

The value of today's Crown Jewels collection (most of them were made from scratch for Charles II's coronation in 1661) is incalculable and they are brought out only on state occasions. The private royal jewellery collection was boosted by the downfall of the Russian royal family; those who escaped the revolution packed their jewels, the exchange of which ensured them grace and favour homes in friendlier countries. During a visit to Russia, the Queen chose her jewellery very carefully as she couldn't risk upsetting anyone by wearing something she'd inherited following the misfortune which befell the Czar and his family. She eventually decided upon pieces of her own - such as the gift from her father on her wedding day - a far less controversial choice.

For the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981, the Queen wore a magnificent flower brooch, made from the world's largest pink diamond, which has an estimated value today of £3million. Off duty, the Queen wears a Duchess of Cambridge brooch.

The Queen's Protection

The Queen, like many members of the Royal Family, is provided with a 24-hour guard by officers from the elite Royal Protection Squad. The squad is a part of Metropolitan Police's Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department, which employs both police officers and civilians. About 50 are personal bodyguards to the Royal Family. The protection squad receive specialist training in unarmed combat and marksmanship, and they can be uniformed or in plain clothes. Officers from local police forces check sewers, drains and rooftops for bombs or potential assassins whenever the Queen is due to visit.

The men who protect the Queen's person (these are known as 'bullet-catchers') are always on the lookout for known royal stalkers and protesters who may seek to harm or embarrass the Queen for their own publicity or political gain, or the mentally ill (more than 6,000 mentally unstable people have persistently visited royal palaces or written to the Royal Family). The Queen receives hate mail. The senders might write to the Queen with grievances against the government, something they consider unfair or unjust, or even just moaning about their neighbours. If their claim is rejected, or isn't answered, they sometimes project their anger onto the Queen herself.

There have been many security scares during the Queen's reign, one of the most memorable being when Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace in 1982 and sat on the Queen's bed. She was able to engage him in conversation and offered him cigarettes once he got talking about his problems. As soon as she rang for cigarettes, the alarm was raised (her Majesty has never smoked) and Fagan was arrested. He had in his possession a broken ashtray but it has never been established that he intended to harm the Queen. Fagan was sent to a top security mental health hospital in Liverpool where he spent three months as a patient. He could not be charged with trespass (which was then a civil offence) because proceedings would have compromised the Queen's position as Head of State.

Children and Grandchildren

  • Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester (Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland in the Scottish peerage) and heir apparent to the throne10, was born in 1948. He will succeed the Queen upon her death according to rules laid down in the Act of Settlement of 1701, becoming King Charles III (although he is entitled to take any name he chooses at his coronation. His current desire is George VII).

    The Queen never travels anywhere with her heir, so that in case of an accident, the country would not lose both their sovereign and the heir to the throne in one go. Once Prince William had been born, the Prince and Princess of Wales adopted the same idea and Princess Diana and Prince William travelled to Australia separately from Prince Charles.

  • Princess Anne (now The Princess Royal) was born in 1950.

  • Prince Andrew, now known as the Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killyleagh (born 1960). Prince Andrew was the first child to be born to a reigning monarch since Queen Victoria's youngest daughter was born in 1857.

  • Prince Edward, now known as the Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn (born 1964). The Earl of Wessex will eventually inherit the title of Duke of Edinburgh.

The Queen has seven grandchildren:

1977 - Silver Jubilee Year

The Queen celebrated the arrival of her first grandchild and 25 years on the throne in 1977.

In her Silver Jubilee year she presided at a London banquet attended by the leaders of the 36 members of the Commonwealth, and during a tour of 36 counties in the UK visited numerous schools, giving thousands of children the chance of seeing the Queen. She also visited Northern Ireland, toured overseas in the South Pacific and Australia, in Canada, and in the Caribbean.

With Virginia Wade, a British tennis player, winning the Ladies' Championship in Wimbledon's centenary year, in the presence of the Queen in her Jubilee year, it couldn't have been scripted better.

The London Underground's 'Fleet Line' which was under construction at the time, although it was not completed until 1979, was renamed the Jubilee Line in honour of the occasion.

One of the reasons that the 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations took place in June rather than at the actual date of the accession (6 February) was to spare the Queen Mother's feelings. She had been widowed in 1952 and therefore must have had mixed feelings about the upcoming anniversary.

On 6 June, at Windsor Castle, the Queen lit the first bonfire in a chain of beacons which linked around the country. The following day many streets were closed to traffic to allow residents, who had decorated their homes in Union Jack bunting, to throw street parties in honour of their beloved monarch. It was the largest public display of affection for the Royal Family since the Coronation.

When I was twenty-one I pledged my life to the service of our people and I asked for God's help to make good that vow. Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgement, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.

2002 - Golden Jubilee Year

In the run-up to the Jubilee year, there had been worries that it would be a 'non-event' and 2002 couldn't have started off worse for the Royal Family, with the death in early February of the Queen's sister Princess Margaret, followed six weeks later by the passing of their mother, the much-loved 'nation's grandmother' Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

HM The Queen is the fifth longest-reigning monarch in British history, reaching her Golden Jubilee in 2002. Only 5 others have reached 50 years (or more) on the throne:

  • Edward III of England (1312 - 1377) - King of England from 1327 to 1377.

  • Henry III of England (1207 - 1272) - King of England from 1216 to 1272.

  • James VI of Scotland (then later of Great Britain) (1566 - 1625) ruled 58 years from 1567 to 1625.

  • George III (1738 - 1820) - he ruled for 60 years from 1760 to 1820, but for the last ten years he was judged insane and his elder son the Prince of Wales (the future George IV) acted as Prince Regent until his father's death.

  • Victoria (1819 - 1901) - her 64-year reign from 1837 to 1901 is the record-breaker.

From May to the beginning of August, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh11 carried out a programme of visits in every part of the UK.

Geordie Brynn Reed, a civil servant, streaked in front of the Queen's Rolls Royce on her Jubilee visit to Newcastle in May 2002.

I just wondered what it felt like really. It's also something to tell the grandchildren, and that appealed to me. I was planning to run alongside the Queen's car for the entire journey until I got arrested, but unfortunately I misjudged the timing. I knew I was going to get caught but it's just a practical joke at the end of the day. I was pretty sure that was the way it would be taken. I certainly wasn't out to upset the Queen. I thought I might have got a smirk or reaction out of her, but she was very professional and kept a straight face.

A special two-day Bank Holiday was announced for Monday 3 June and Tuesday 4 June, making it a unique 'four-day weekend'.

The Queen's Concerts, a double event, took place in her honour over two evenings. With the pop concert kicked off by Brian May of the rock group Queen playing a solo rendition of God Save The Queen on the palace roof, it was an unforgettable party. Beacons were lit across the country and a spectacular fireworks display, with Buckingham Palace bathed in an ever-changing display of projections, rounded off the night's celebrations.

On the Tuesday there was a ceremonial procession by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in the Gold Coach from Buckingham Palace to St Paul's Cathedral, where there was a Service of Thanksgiving. Following a luncheon at The Guildhall given by the Lord Mayor of London, there was a National Festival with parades and floats on The Mall. A steel band played a unique version of the tune Unchained Melody as three children unveiled the Jubilee Tapestry on Buckingham Palace. A balcony appearance by the Queen and members of the Royal Family, waving to the crowds and watching a fly-past of British aircraft, (ending with Concorde escorted by the Red Arrows trailing clouds of red, white and blue smoke), topped a memorable day of magnificent pageantry.

The Queen positively glowed, showing herself in a new light. With up to a million flag-waving and cheering people crammed into central London, it was a bad time to be a republican.

Prince Philip and I have been deeply touched by the many kind messages about the Golden Jubilee. This anniversary is for us an occasion to acknowledge with gratitude the loyalty and support which we have received from so many people since I came to the Throne in 1952. It is especially an opportunity to thank all those of you who help others in your own local communities through public or voluntary service. I would like to think that your work will be particularly recognised during this Jubilee year. I hope also that this time of celebration in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth will not simply be an occasion to be nostalgic about the past. I believe that, young or old, we have as much to look forward to with confidence and hope as we have to look back on with pride. I send my warmest good wishes to you all.
- Elizabeth R

What They Say About Queen Elizabeth

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.
- Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
Anyone who imagines that they [weekly meetings between the Queen and the PM] 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.
- Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
The Queen is the most powerful woman in the world. If she were to say something was not being done when it should have been...the world would sit up and listen.
- BBC News contributor James O'Shea, New Ross, Ireland
I know the Queen very well, she is a funny lady with a dry sense of humour. Just occasionally that seeps through.
- Former BBC Royal Correspondent Jennie Bond.
My friend, Elizabeth.
- Nelson Mandela

Changes During Her Reign

The Royal Family are slowly modernising themselves. When Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne, the Royal Family did not have to pay income tax, but since 1993 they have. There has also been a large cut in the amount of money they receive from the State (the Privy Purse), with many 'lesser' royals losing their allowances. They are now subsidised by the Queen. Some live in grace-and-favour homes for a nominal rent, but this is also being investigated by the Government. The Royal Family are also becoming more enterprising; for example, merchandise is sold in Buckingham Palace - it and other royal properties are now open to the public.

After the dinner to celebrate her and Prince Philip's golden wedding anniversary, The Queen made a speech commenting on the changes to the world over the last 50 years, in particular, the evolution of the home computer. A reference to 'surfing the 'Net' - or rather, talking to someone who had surfed the 'net - elicited much laughter from the guests, as the Queen is a computer virgin. At a private audience later she awarded Bill Gates an honorary knighthood in 2005. They had a discussion about computers and the Queen confessed she had still not used one.

One American tourist was astonished when she called at the tea rooms at Windsor Castle and the next customer after her was Her Majesty the Queen requesting a cup of tea. Apparently the Queen said hello to the visitor and asked if she was enjoying her visit. Completely flummoxed, the lady didn't realise that this was an unusual event, and happily recounts her tale of 'the day I met the Queen of England', even though she can't recall her own side of the conversation!

Why Does The UK Have A Monarch?

In the 21st Century we live in an age of equal opportunity and equal rights. The UK has a democratically-elected Government, led by a Prime Minister who has in turn been elected by his own political party. Despite this, the UK has a non-elected hereditary monarch, who got the top job by simply being born into the right family at the right time. The status this individual is given is the highest in the land, an apparent anachronism to all the equality. Why does it continue? Why isn't the elected leader (the British Prime Minister) in charge - in other words, President?

For a start, the UK has no written constitution. The Crown is the central authority which gives the final seal of approval to new legislation, be it civil service, judiciary, church, military, executive and other institutions. All court cases are brought in the name of the Queen - meaning if you break the law of the land (and you're caught) - it's technically the Queen you're answerable to, although in reality it's the appointed Judge and jury selected from members of the public.

Without the Monarch, all this power would belong to the politicians, and while there's someone in higher authority than the Prime Minister, it keeps him (or her) in his place; he's always answerable to the Queen, just like the rest of us. While the Royal Family continue to represent the people, and be seen to do a 'good job', the Monarchy will continue. People like to feel connected, and the Royal Family are a living connection to the past. They are familiar in the way that they have always been there - they don't change every four or five years like governments can, with different politicians coming and going. The Royal Family are born into a role in public life which they are raised to be prepared for, and, with a few exceptions, they fulfil that role. Queen Elizabeth II has been exceptional in what she considers her duty, devoting her life to being what is in effect a figurehead, and it has earned her the loyalty, respect and love of her subjects.

80th Birthday

For the Queen's 80th birthday celebrations in 2006, celebrations were held the length and breadth of the country, and souvenir commemorative china was available for purchase at the Royal Collection website and shop. Members of the public who shared the Queen's birthdate were invited to join the Queen at a special joint birthday party at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen had her birthday portrait painted by Rolf Harris, which was filmed by the BBC and shown on BBC One on New Year's Day, 2006. The Queen appeared relaxed and comfortable, completely ignoring the TV cameras while she chatted with Rolf about the weather, grandchildren and their shared love of art (Rolf informed the Queen that his grandfather had painted her grandfather). The Queen confessed that she didn't much like wearing jewellery, and only wore it if she 'had to'. The brooch she was wearing for the portrait was one she had commissioned for the Queen Mother's 100th birthday in 2000. The programme stated that the Queen's face is the most reproduced face in the world.

More Interesting Facts About Queen Elizabeth

  • The Queen is the only person in the UK who doesn't need a passport to travel abroad, since passports are issued in her name.

  • For breakfast, Her Majesty prefers soft-boiled eggs rather than scrambled.

  • The Queen wears blocks of one colour and distinctive hats so she can be easily spotted by crowds of well-wishers who gather to see her.

  • The Queen loves dogs, especially Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

  • One of her main leisure interests is photography.

  • The Queen likes to entertain her family and close friends by mimicking people she has met. She has a good sense of humour and enjoys exchanging 'silly' presents at Christmas.

  • The Queen is 5'4" (160cm) tall.

  • The Queen's official limousines are the only cars in Britain to have no number plates.

  • Her Majesty is confirmed as a Doctor Who fan, having requisitioned DVDs from the BBC for her summer holiday viewing pleasure.

1If her parents had produced a son younger than Elizabeth he would have taken precedence.2It was Prince Philip who broke the news. His private secretary Colonel Michael Parker said that day Philip 'looked as though half the world had dropped on him'.3He was a heavy smoker and suffered from lung cancer. He had a successful operation to remove his lung, but when he was recuperating, a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in his heart) killed him.4The Most Noble Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk (1908 – 1975)5In Scotland Her Majesty is the first Queen of Scotland by the name of Elizabeth.6The Queen is an ordinary member of the Church of Scotland.7The Scots Guards, Coldstream Guards, Grenadier Guards, Irish Guards and Welsh Guards - and two cavalry regiments - the Lifeguards and the Blues & Royals, take turns to display their colour (flag).8Although he fired blanks, he had wanted to kill the Queen at first, but could not find a suitable weapon. He was found guilty of 'wilfully discharging at the person of Her Majesty the Queen a blank cartridge pistol, with intent to alarm her.'9When she is in London.10The line of Royal Succession.11When questioned about what he was most looking forward to in 2002, he replied: 'September!'

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