Queen Elizabeth II Biography
Elizabeth II became queen of the United Kingdom upon the death of her father, George VI ( 1895–1952 ), in 1952. A popular queen, she is respected for her knowledge of and participation in state affairs. In addition, Elizabeth II has started new trends toward modernization and openness in the royal family. Her efforts have not been unsuccessful.
Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, in London, England, the oldest child of the Duke of York and his wife, Elizabeth. Her father became King George VI of Great Britain and Ireland in 1936 when his older brother Edward VIII ( 1894–1972 ) gave up the throne. Along with her younger sister, Margaret, Elizabeth was educated at home by private tutors. She particularly liked history, languages, and music. She later took an interest in national affairs. As a teenager Elizabeth began to make her first public appearances. She married Philip Mountbatten in November 1947, and they had four children — Prince Charles ( 1948– ), Princess Anne ( 1950– ), Prince Andrew ( 1960– ), and Prince Edward ( 1964– ).
The new queen
After Elizabeth became queen in 1952, she tried in her own way to make the British monarchy more modern and more sensitive to the public. She began hosting informal luncheons at Buckingham Palace ( the London residence of the queen ) to which a variety of people from fields such as industry, theater, and sports were invited. The attendees of her garden parties became increasingly diverse. She showed interest and skill in use of the broadcast media, notably in her annual Christmas television messages, in royally approved documentaries, and in television broadcasts of events such as Prince Charles’s naming ceremony as Prince of Wales and royal weddings.
Perhaps the most popular of Elizabeth’s attempts was the “walkabout,” in which she met, shook hands, and chatted with ordinary people in the crowds that gathered around her. These strolls revealed her belief that “I have to be seen to be believed.”
A popular traveler
At least part of Elizabeth’s popularity could be attributed to her worldwide travels. Her engaging and gracious attitude during these travels contributed to the warmth and enthusiasm of the receptions that greeted her. Between 1970 and 1985 she had an amazingly full schedule. She visited France in the spring of 1972, attended the Commonwealth Conference in Ottawa in 1973, and took part in the United States celebrations of the two-hundredth anniversary of American independence from England. She then headed north to Montreal to open the 1976 Summer Olympics. She also traveled some fifty – six thousand miles as part of her 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, which marked her twenty – fifth year as queen. In 1979 she traveled to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
In April 1982 Elizabeth made an important visit to Ottawa, Canada, where she proclaimed the New Canadian constitution, which cut the last legal links between the United Kingdom and Canada. In March 1984 she visited Jamaica, Grand Cayman Island, Mexico, California, and British Columbia, Canada. While in California, her first trip to the west coast of North America, she made some twenty public appearances, including a visit with Prince Philip to President Ronald Reagan’s ( 1911– ) Santa Barbara ranch and to Yosemite National Park. She went to North America again in 1984, visiting Canada for the fourteenth time and afterward the United States.
Amid all the travels, Elizabeth celebrated many joyous personal events. On November 20, 1972, the queen and Prince Philip celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. One hundred couples from all over Britain who had the same anniversary date were invited to share in the occasion. On November 14, 1973, Princess Anne married Mark Philips and later had two children: Peter and Zara. Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981, and had two sons, Prince William and Prince Henry. Prince Andrew ( made Duke of York ) married Sarah Ferguson on July 23, 1986, and they had two daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie.
Perhaps the happiest event was Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Countless sports events, festivals, carnivals, races, concerts, commemorative stamps, and other activities marked an outpouring of devotion to the queen and to the royal family as an institution. On May 4, 1977, both Houses of Parliament presented loyal addresses to Elizabeth II in Westminster Hall. At St. Paul’s Cathedral in June the queen and her family celebrated a Thanksgiving service. The queen indicated her concern for her subjects by voicing her desire that the Silver Jubilee year be a special time “for people who find themselves the victims of human conflict.” She traveled widely to meet her subjects during the year, and established the Silver Jubilee Trust Fund, headed by the Prince of Wales, which was designed “to help the young to help others.”
Elizabeth Longford, one of Queen Elizabeth’s biographers, has suggested that it was only after the jubilee, when she was able to see the loyalty and respect her subjects demonstrated, that she realized her possibilities as a monarch. She became more confident, more open, and more ready to reveal her sense of humor, strong common sense, great energy, and personal character.
Troubles on the horizon
However, in the late 1980s, Elizabeth grew concerned over the state and the future of the royal family. The British press increasingly reported the problems in her children’s marriages. It appeared to many that Prince Charles was not interested in succeeding to the throne. There were rumors that Elizabeth II would hand over the throne to her grandson, Prince William.
Her troubles seemed to peak in 1992, and she herself called it a horrible year. The twenty – year marriage of Princess Anne ended in divorce. Prince Charles and Prince Andrew officially separated from their wives. On the night of November 20, fire badly damaged a good section of Windsor Castle ( one of Queen Elizabeth’s official residences ). A public outcry immediately arose when it was announced that the castle’s restoration would be paid for with taxpayers’ money. The British people felt that the queen, who enjoyed a tax-exempt ( not taxed ) income in the millions, should pay for the restoration. Two days later, Buckingham Elizabeth II.
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