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Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee, wearing her Canadian orders)Enlarge

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee, wearing her Canadian orders)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (born April 21, 1926) is the Queen regnant and head of state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and 15 other Commonwealth countries. She is Head of the Commonwealth and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She has reigned since February 6, 1952, and is the world's second-longest-serving head of state.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Ancestry
3 Titles
4 Personality and Image
5 Political Role
6 Commonwealth titles
7 Coat of Arms
8 The Queen's children and grandchildren
9 The Queen's Prime Ministers
10 External link


Queen Elizabeth was born in London, at the home of her maternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. She was named for her mother, the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, while her two middle names are those of her paternal great-grandmother (Queen Alexandra) and grandmother (Queen Mary) respectively. Her father, the Duke of York (known to his family as Bertie), was the second son of King George V, and was not then the heir to the throne. Had Elizabeth's uncle, Edward VIII, not abdicated in 1936 she would not have become Queen and would today be HRH the Duchess of Edinburgh.

Elizabeth, then known as HRH The Princess Elizabeth of York, was educated at home under the supervision of her mother, the Duchess of York. She studied history with C. H. K. Marten, Provost of Eton, and also learned modern languages. She speaks excellent French, as she showed during her 2004 state visit to France on more than one occassion. She was instructed in religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury and has always been a convinced member of the Church of England.

When her father became King in 1936, she became heir presumptive and known as HRH The Princess Elizabeth. She was 13 when World War II broke out. She and her younger sister Princess Margaret were evacuated to Balmoral in Scotland. There was some suggestion that the princesses should be sent to Canada, but their mother the Queen refused to consider this, saying: "The children won't leave without me, I won't leave without the King, and the King won't leave under any circumstances." In 1940 Princess Elizabeth made her first broadcast, addressing children who had been evacuated.

In 1945 Princess Elizabeth convinced her father that she should be allowed to contribute directly to the war effort. She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the ATS) where she was known as No 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor. She was trained as a driver. This training was the first time she had been taught with other students. It is said that she greatly enjoyed this and that this experience lead her to send her own children to school rather than have them educated at home.

Elizabeth made her first official visit overseas in 1947, when she accompanied her parents to South Africa. 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 Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 20 November 1947 (Prince Phillip had renounced his claim to the Greek throne and was simply referred to as Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten before being created Duke of Edinburgh before the marriage). This marriage was eminently suitable for a female heir to the throne, since Philip had been trained to royal duties but had no embarrassing foreign connections. It was not, however, an arranged marriage. A genuine love match, it has survived many trials, including Philip's rumoured infidelities.

After their wedding Philip and Elizabeth took up residence at Clarence House, London. They had four children (see below). Though the Royal House is named Windsor, it was decreed that the descendants of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip should have the personal surname Mountbatten-Windsor. (The personal surname change came via an Order-in-Council in 1960.)

Queen Elizabeth wearing the Imperial State Crown and holding the Sceptre with the Cross and the Orb

King George's health declined during 1951 and Elizabeth frequently stood in for him at public events. She visited Greece, Italy and Malta (where Philip was then stationed) during the year. In October she toured Canada and visited 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 February 6, 1952. At the exact moment of succession, she was in a tree-top hotel in Africa: a unique circumstance for any such event. Elizabeth's coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.

After the Coronation Elizabeth and Philip moved to Buckingham Palace in central London. Like all her predecessors, however, 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.

Queen Elizabeth is the most widely travelled head of state in history. In 1953-54 she and Philip made a six-month round-the-world tour, and she become the first reigning monarch circumnavigate the globe or to visit Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. In October 1957 she made a state visit to the United States, and in 1959 she made a tour of Canada. In 1961 she toured India and Pakistan for the first time. She has made state visits to most European countries and many outside Europe. She regularly attends Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.

At the time of Elizabeth's accession there was much talk of a "new Elizabethan age." Elizabeth's role, however, has been to preside over the steady decline of Britain as a world military and economic power, the dissolution of the British Empire and the gradual fading away of its successor, the Commonwealth. She has worked hard to maintain links with former British possessions, and in some case, such as South Africa, she has played an important role in retaining or restoring good relations.

Elizabeth is a conservative in matters of religion, moral standards and family matters. She has a strong sense of religious duty and takes seriously her Coronation Oath. This is one reason why it is considered highly unlikely that she will ever abdicate. Like her mother, she never forgave Edward VIII for, as she saw it, abandoning his duty, and forcing her father to become King, which she believed shortened his life by many years. She used the authority of her position to prevent her sister, Princess Margaret, marrying a divorced man, Peter Townsend. For years she refused to acknowledge Prince Charles's relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Politically, her views are less clear-cut - not that she has ever said or done anything in public to reveal what they might be. She preserves cordial relations with politicians of all parties. It is believed that her favourate Prime Ministers have been Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. Her least favourite was undoubtedly Margaret Thatcher, whom she is said to cordially dislike. She has very good relations with her current Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who was not born when she became Queen. Her private political views are probably "moderate Tory."

The only public issue on which the Queen makes her views known are those affecting the unity of the United Kingdom. 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 Good Friday Agreement raised some complaints among some Unionists in the Democratic Unionist Party who opposed the Agreement.

At the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, 2002: from left: HM the Queen, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince William of Wales, HRH the Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Henry of Wales, HRH the Duke of YorkEnlarge

At the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, 2002: from left: HM the Queen, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince William of Wales, HRH the Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Henry of Wales, HRH the Duke of York

Despite a succession of controversies about the rest of the royal family, particularly throughout the 1980s and 1990s, particularly the marital difficulties of her children, Queen Elizabeth remains a remarkably uncontroversial and widely respected figure. It would be an exaggeration, however, to say as some in the media do, that she is "loved." Her public persona is still formal, though more relaxed than it once was. Her refusal to display any emotion in public prevents the growth of deeper feelings for her among the public.

On the other hand Elizabeth has never become unpopular, certainly not as unpopular as Queen Victoria was during a long period of her reign. The one exception to this was in 1997, when she and the other members of the Royal Family did not participate in the public outpouring of grief following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This brought sharp criticism from the normally grovellingly royalist tabloid press.

There is no doubt that Elizabeth considered Diana to be vain, foolish, selfish and - after her divorce - dissolute and a bad mother. She also believed that Diana had done immense damage to the monarchy. Eventually, however, the tide of public opinion was too great to resist and the country was treated to the sight of the entire Royal Family bowing to Diana's coffin as it passed Buckingham Palace. The Queen's change of attitude is believed to have resulted from strong advice from the Queen Mother and Tony Blair.

Since 1997 the Queen has regained her former status as the highly respected head of state. In 2002 the Queen celebrated her Golden Jubilee, marking the 50th year of her accession to the throne. The year was marred, however, by the deaths within a few months of her mother and sister. Her relations with her children remain cordial but distant. She is known to disapprove of Charles's long-running relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, but in recent years has made several gestures of recognition of the relationship.


Queen Elizabeth holds her throne by virtue of her descent from a line of British, English and Scottish kings extending back to the House of Wessex in the 7th century. Through her Scottish mother, Queen Elizabeth has significant American ancestry from Virginia. Elizabeth's paternal ancestry (and almost all of Phillip's ancestry) is among the medieval and modern European royalty and aristocracy. The most important ancestry, though, through which she has gained her titles, is her status as a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria (herself only one-sixteenth English). Given her unique and interesting breeding, it is no wonder that Queen Elizabeth is a thoughtful genealogist. (See Descent of Elizabeth II).

The Queen's Coat of ArmsEnlarge

The Queen's Coat of Arms


(Main article: List of Titles and Honours of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom)

Following a decision by Commonwealth Prime Ministers at the Commonwealth conference of 1953, Her Majesty uses different styles and titles in each of her realms. In each state she acts as the monarch of that state regardless of her other roles.

In the United Kingdom, her official title is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

In Canada, her official title is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

In Australia, her official title is '''Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth," omitting the line "Defender of the Faith."

All other Commonwealth realms follow the Australian form, and give her the title Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of ____________ and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.

The only exception is Papua New Guinea, which gives her her shortest title, simply Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Papua New Guinea and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, omitting both the "Defender of the Faith" as well as "By the Grace of God."

In common practice Queen Elizabeth II is referred to simply as "The Queen".

Properly styled as "Her Majesty The Queen" (and when the distinction is necessary "Her Britannic Majesty"), her previous styles were:

Personality and Image

Queen Elizabeth in domestic setting, with Welsh corgi (about 1970)

The Queen has never given press interviews, and her views on political issues are largely unknown except to those few heads of government who have private conversations with her. She reportedly has few close friends, instead preferring the company of horses and Welsh Corgis, areas in which she is regarded as an expert. She is also regarded as an excellent mimic, whose impressions of people are regarded as first rate. Rather conservative in dress, the Queen is paticularly well-known for her solid-color overcoats and decorative hats. Her personal image is very distinct, and is often parodied by cartoonists and impersonators.

Although she attends many cultural events as part of her public role, in her private life the Queen is said to have little interest in culture or the arts, preferring to spend her evenings on activities such as jigsaw puzzles. Her apparent indifference to music and fine art have earned her strong criticism from cultural commentators, who have decried her as "a monarch with no aesthetic sense" (Waldemar Januszczak) and "someone who collects glass animals" (Germaine Greer).

In diplomatic situations the Queen is extremely formal, and protocol in dealing with her is very strict. Though some of the strict traditional rules for dealing with the British Monarch have been relaxed during her reign (bowing is no longer required, for example) other forms of close personal interaction, such as touching, are still discouraged.

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, etc. Having done so since 1952, she has seen more of public affairs from the inside than any other person, and is thus able to offer advice to Tony Blair based on things said to her by Harold Wilson, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Winston Churchill and many other senior leaders she has spoken to. 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.

Political Role

The Queen with President Tito of Yugoslavia

Prime Ministers take their weekly meetings with the Queen very seriously. One said he took it 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. She also has regular meetings with her individual ministers. Even ministers known to have republican views speak highly of her and value these meetings.

The Queen also meets frequently with the Scottish First Minister. The royal palace in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, once home to Scottish kings and queens like 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 frequently in residence. She also receives reports on the Welsh Assembly.

Though bound by convention not to intervene directly in politics, her length of service, the fact that she has been a confidante of every prime minister since Churchill, and 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 this description of her weekly meetings with the Queen:

"Anyone who imagines that they are a mere formality or confined to social niceties is quite wrong; they are quietly businesslike and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience."

The Rhodesia controversy of the late 1970s is a prominent example of the Queen's influence on policy. In 1973, a report by Lord Grenville on his visit to Rhodesia initially depressed the then Labour government, as it reported only slight movement from Ian Smith's government. However, after a conversation with James Callaghan at a state dinner in Buckingham Palace, the Queen through her Private Secretary noted that though the scale of the movement was slight, any movement was a change from what had happened before, and might indicate the beginning of change. Her observation, based on many years reading Foreign Office reports (including years when those Labour ministers were not in office), was influential in convincing the Labour government not to abandon contact with Smith's Rhodesia.

That contact was the genesis of what ultimately became the Lancaster House Agreement that produced Zimbabwe. When Thatcher, who was known to hold pro-Ian Smith views, became prime minister, it was feared that those contacts might be scaled back, but according to one Thatcher cabinet minister, an "intoxicating mix" of the Queen and Thatcher's Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington kept her attached to the process developed by the previous Labour government.

The Queen has developed friendships with many foreign leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson and Bill Clinton. On occasion such contacts have proved highly beneficial for Britain. John Major as prime minister once had difficulty working with a particular Commonwealth leader. The Queen informed Major that he and the leader shared a mutual interest in sport. Major used that information to establish a personal relationship, which ultimately benefited both countries. Similarly she took the initiative when Irish President Mary Robinson began visiting 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.

Commonwealth titles

Besides being Queen of the United Kingdom, at her accession she was also proclaimed Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa (ended 1961), Pakistan (ended 1956), and Ceylon (ended 1972).

During the Queen's reign many of the former British colonies in Africa became independent countries. When independence was granted to these nations, as is the British colonial pratice, they became constitutional monarchies by default, with Queen Elizabeth as Head of State. The new African leaders usually proceeded to quickly abolish the monarchy (and usually the parliamentary system, as well) and establish executive presidencies in its place.

Queen Elizabeth was briefly:

From 1965 to 1970 she was also proclaimed Queen of Rhodesia by the White minority government there, although she never accepted this office.

When independence was granted to the British Caribbean colonies, Queen Elizabeth became Queen of the West Indies Federation. When the Federation broke up in 1962, she eventually became Queen of each former member state.

Of the former British colonies in the West Indies, the only Caribbean nations that have ceased to be monarchies are Trinidad and Tobago 1976) and the Commonwealth of Dominica (1978). Unlike Trinidad and Tobago, which was a constitutional monarchy for 14 years after independence, Dominica became a republic at independence in 1978 with its own elected president as Head of State. Queen Elizabeth's other titles in the Caribbean include:

When Papua New Guinea became independent of Australia in 1975, Queen Elizabeth was styled "Queen of Papua New Guinea," the first time she became Queen of a nation that was never a direct British colony. Her other Pacific titles include:

Her role as Queen of Fiji (1970-1987) was ended by a military coup. Although Fiji has been readmitted to the Commonwealth, it has not restored its ties to the monarchy. However, the Council of Chiefs continues to recognise the Queen as its "Great Chief," though she no longer has any formal constitutional power.

The Queen was also previously

Coat of Arms

The Queen bears quarterly, I and IV England, II Scotland, III Northern Ireland, which serves as the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. This coat of arms has been unchanged since Queen Victoria.

The Queen's children and grandchildren

Two of the Queen's grandchildren, Peter and Zara Phillips, have no titles - probably a unique circumstance in British history. This is because British titles are, with rare exceptions, inherited through the male line. Since Mark Phillips is a commoner and has never accepted a peerage, his children are commoners also.

HM the Queen with Commonwealth Prime Ministers, 1950s. To her right Sir Winston Churchill, to her left Robert Menzies of AustraliaEnlarge

HM the Queen with Commonwealth Prime Ministers, 1950s. To her right Sir Winston Churchill, to her left Robert Menzies of Australia

The Queen's Prime Ministers

Queen Elizabeth has had ten British Prime Ministers, second only to George III, who had 13 (but who was insane and represented by a Regent for the latter part of his reign), and equal to the number had by Queen Victoria. In a strange coincidence, she has also had ten Canadian Prime Ministers and ten Australian Prime Ministers.

British Prime Ministers

Winston Churchill (1951-55), Anthony Eden (1955-57), Harold Macmillan (1957-63), Alec Douglas-Home (1963-64), Harold Wilson (1964-70 and 1974-76), Edward Heath (1970-74), James Callaghan (1976-79), Margaret Thatcher (1979-90), John Major (1990-97), Tony Blair (since 1997).

Commonwealth Prime Ministers (in alphabetical order)

Australian Prime Ministers

Robert Menzies (1939-41 and 1949-66), Harold Holt (1966-67), John McEwen (1967-68), John Gorton (1968-71), William McMahon (1971-72), Gough Whitlam (1972-75), Malcolm Fraser (1975-83), Bob Hawke (1983-91), Paul Keating (1991-96), John Howard (since 1996)

Canadian Prime Ministers

Louis St. Laurent (1948-57), John Diefenbaker (1957-63), Lester Pearson (1963-68), Pierre Trudeau (1968-79 and 1980-84), Joe Clark(1979-80), John Turner (1984), Brian Mulroney (1984-93), Kim Campbell (1993), Jean Chrétien (1993-2003), Paul Martin (since 2003)

Jamaican Prime Ministers

Norman Manley (1959-62), Alexander Bustamante (1962-67), Donald Sangster (1967), Hugh Shearer (1967-72), Michael Manley (1972-80 and 1989-92), Edward Seaga (1980-89), Percival Patterson (since 1992)

New Zealand Prime Ministers

Sidney Holland (1949-57), Keith Holyoake (1957 and 1960-72), Walter Nash (1957-60), Jack Marshall (1972), Norman Kirk (1972-74), Bill Rowling (1974-75), Robert Muldoon (1975-84), David Lange (1984-89), Geoffrey Palmer (1989-90), Mike Moore (1990), Jim Bolger (1990-97), Jenny Shipley (1997-99), Helen Clark (since 1999)

External link

Preceded by:
George VI
List of British monarchs Heir apparent:
The Prince of Wales