Princess Elizabeth and her sister had a loving childhood. Surrounded by two parents and grandparents whom doted after her, the Princess was clearly the favourite with her grandfather, the august King George V, who, despite all the coldness with his own children, had now rediscovered the happiness that is possible to achieve in children, in his granddaughter. Queen Mary had a very special care with Princess Elizabeth too, however being always very keen in teaching her all the small secrets and niceties of royalty, herself being the very essence of what a royal should be, at least in that time.
One of Princess Elizabeth’s first official public appearances was on the occasion of King George’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, when the King drove in state through his capital in the 1902 State Landau to be cheered by very large crowds and attend a grand Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The King had achieved a large popularity at the end of the First World War and the people definitely loved him. By those days’ standards he was seen as a sovereign who was very close to the people and he saw himself has a very normal person, thus not understanding why he was so adored.
However, within one year of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, the King had fallen very ill and he would die on the 20th January 1936, leaving a country in grief. His eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VIII, succeeded him. But circumstance came into play and after 11 difficult months of negotiations between the King and the Prime Minister, the sovereign, who was determined to marry Wallis Simpson, an American twice-divorcee, abdicated his throne and left the country.
His younger brother, the Duke of York, was the new King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India, and had now to face the most difficult time of his life, fighting against his own unpopularity (especially when compared to the one of his elder brother, the new Duke of Windsor) and against the deepest crisis of the British Monarchy for many, many years. The Duke of York took the name George VII, to try and make a direct link to his late father. His wife became Queen Consort Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth was now the heiress presumptive to the throne.
In May 1937, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were driven with their grandmother, Queen Mary, the Queen Mother, to Westminster Abbey in Queen Alexandra’s State Coach, to attend the coronation of their father. It was a rather magnificent event, perhaps as great as it had never been. Within three years however, Britain was again at war and the King had a prominent role to play. As Princess Elizabeth grew older, she took an increasing part in public life. She made a BBC broadcast for the first time in October of 1940 when she was 14, addressing children to try and comfort them on those difficult war times.
In 1942, on the eve of her 16th birthday, she was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards and on her following day the Princess carried out her first public engagement, when she inspected the Grenadiers. In April 1943, she carried out her first solo engagement, spending a day with the Grenadier Guards tank battalion. Thereafter duties increased: President of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in Hackney and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. And in March 1944, Princess Elizabeth accompanied her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, on tours of Great Britain to view the damage of the tragic war, which was lasting for over five years already.
After the war ended, she carried out engagements and travelled extensively through the British Isles. Her first overseas trip happened in 1947 when she and her sister accompanied their parents to an extensive and historic tour of South Africa, which was meant but failed to save the monarchy in the country. During this tour, the Princess turned 21 and made a broadcast where she dedicated herself to the service of the Commonwealth. On her return she received the freedom of the City of London in June 1947. In July she then received the freedom of the City of Edinburgh.
In July 1947, Princess Elizabeth became engaged to her cousin Lieutenant Philip Mounbatten, born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, son of Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark. They were married in Westminster Abbey on 20th November 1947, in the first grand royal ceremony after the end of the Second World War. On the eve, King George VI gave Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten the titles of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich and appointed him Knight of the Garter. Princess Elizabeth was also appointed Lady of the Order of the Garter in November 1947. The couple are the parents of four children: Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales (b. 1948), Princess Anne, the Princess Royal (b.1950), Prince Andrew, the Duke of York (b. 1960) and Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex (b. 1964). They are also the grandparents of six grandchildren: Prince William and Prince Harry of Wales (Prince Charles’ children), Peter and Zara Philips (Princess Anne’s children) and Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie (Prince Andrew’s children).
In 1951, Princess Elizabeth was appointed Counsellor of the State during the King’s illness and she had the very special task of addressing the King of Norway on behalf of her father during King Haakon’s State Visit to the United Kingdom. In February 1952, on a the beginning of a Commonwealth tour (that was due but could not be undertaken by King George and Queen Elizabeth due to the King’s failing health), while in Kenya, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh received the sad news that her father, His Majesty King George VI, had died in Sandringham. Princess Elizabeth returned to London as Queen Elizabeth II and was proclaimed throughout the Kingdom. Her coronation ceremony, more than one year later, in June 1953, was perhaps the most fantastic royal event to ever happen in the world, broadcast by both radio and television around the world. It was through television, even in infancy, that brought home the splendour and the deep significance of the coronation to many hundreds of thousands of people in a way never before seen.
In the winter of 1953, Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, undertook an extensive Commonwealth tour of Canada, Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, the Cocos Islands, Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, Libya, Malta and Gibraltar, covering a total distance of 43,618 miles. This was the very first of Queen Elizabeth's innumerable tours, undertaken either at the invitation of the governments or at her own initiative as head of state of many of those countries. By the end of 2002, the Queen will have visited Australia 14 times, Canada 20 times, Jamaica 6 times and New Zealand 10 times.
The Queen has opened Parliament every year except 1959 and 1963, when she was expecting Prince Andrew and Prince Edward respectively. Since 1952, Queen Elizabeth has given Royal Assent to 3135 Acts of Parliament. Her Majesty has conferred 380,630 honours and awards and has personally held 459 Investitures. As sovereign, Queen Elizabeth is head of the Navy, Army and Air Force. She succeeded her father as Colonel-in-Chief of all the Guards Regiment and the Corps of Royal Engineers and as Captain-General of the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Honourable Artillery Companies. The Queen is patron of around 620 charities and organisations, 433 of which she has held since 1952.
The Queen usually undertakes two state visits abroad and receives two heads of state either in London or Windsor. During her reign, Her Majesty has given 88 State banquets. In 50 years, the Queen has undertaken 251 official overseas visits to 128 different countries. The visits have ranged from the Cocos Islands, 5.4 square miles with a population of 655, to The Peoples' Republic of China, 3.7 million square miles with a population of 1.25 billion. In 1982 the Queen, Supreme Head of the Church of England, received His Holiness Pope John Paul II at Buckingham Palace, a historic visit (the first of a Pope in 450 years) which has been returned with several state visits to the Vatican. Another historic visitor to London was President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, in 1996.
The Queen has sent almost 100,000 telegrams to centenarians in the UK and the Commonwealth and more than 280,000 telegrams to couples in the UK and the Commonwealth celebrating their diamond wedding (60 years) anniversary. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have sent about 37,500 Christmas cards during Her Majesty's reign and have given out about 75,000 Christmas puddings to staff continuing the custom of King George V and King George VI.
1977 was one of the memorable years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, with the magnificent celebrations of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Millions of people celebrated the Queen’s reign all over the country, and the Queen undertook extensive tours of Britain and the Commonwealth to mark the anniversary. Now Her Majesty and the rest of the United Kingdom get ready to celebrate the Golden Jubilee, a chance to thank people for their support, in the words of the Queen. The Queen is the fifth longest serving British monarch and she becomes the fourth longest serving monarch on 21st June 2002. Only four other kings and queens in British history have reigned for 50 years or more: Queen Victoria (63 years), King George III (59 years), King Henry III (56 years) and King Edward III (50 years).