Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II
Reign 6 February 1952 – Present
Coronation 2 June 1953
Predecessor George VI
Heir Apparent Charles, Prince of Wales
Spouse Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Issue Charles, Prince of Wales
Anne, Princess Royal
Andrew, Duke of York
Edward, Earl of Wessex
Royal House Windsor
Father George VI
Mother Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Born April 21, 1926
London, United Kingdom

Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor) (born 21 April 1926) is Queen of sixteen independent nations known as the Commonwealth Realms. These are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 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. By the Statute of Westminster 1931 she holds these positions equally; no one nation takes precedence over any other. She is the world's only monarch who is simultaneously Head of State of more than one independent nation, with realms in Europe, North and Central America, the Caribbean, and Oceania. In legal theory she is one of the most powerful heads of state in the world, although in practice she exercises little executive power personally - and none at all in any country outside the United Kingdom.

She became Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon upon the death of her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952. As other colonies of the British Commonwealth (now 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. Elizabeth II has seen a number of her former territories and realms leave this shared relationship and become republics.

Today about 128 million people live in the 16 countries of which she is head of state.

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 in each of her Realms.

Elizabeth is currently the second-longest-serving head of state in the world, after King Bhumibol of Thailand and the third-longest serving British monarch (after Queen Victoria and King George III). Her reign of over half a century has seen ten different Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and numerous Prime Ministers in the other Commonwealth Realms of which she is or was Head of State.

Early life

British Royal Family

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

She was baptised in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace by Cosmo Lang, the then Archbishop of York and her godparents were King George and Queen Mary, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Connaught, the Earl of Strathmore and Lady Elphinstone.

"Princess Lilibet" (here spelled "Lilybet") made the cover of Time in 1929, at age three.
"Princess Lilibet" (here spelled "Lilybet") made the cover of Time in 1929, at age three.

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’.

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 (later King Edward VIII). Although her birth generated public interest, no one could have predicted that she would become Queen. It was widely assumed that her uncle, the Prince of Wales, would marry and have children in due course. Had Edward stayed on the throne and produced no heirs (which would have been likely due to his wife Wallis Simpson's reproductive issues), Elizabeth would still have become Queen.


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 currently speaks fluent French. She was instructed in religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury and has always been a strong believer in the Church of England.

Heiress presumptive

When her father became King in 1936 upon her uncle King Edward VIII's abdication, she became Heiress Presumptive and was henceforth 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 and 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 daughter Lady Mary, Princess of Wales in her own right.

Elizabeth was thirteen years old when World War II broke out. 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 service

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

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 (the ATS) 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 V-E Day celebrations in London, she and her sister dressed in ordinary clothing and slipped into the crowd secretly in order to celebrate with everyone without being recognised.

Elizabeth made her first official visit overseas 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.

Marriage and motherhood

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh on their wedding day.
The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh on their wedding day.

Elizabeth married The Duke of Edinburgh 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 is 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 before their marriage. This marriage was controversial. Greece's royals were seen as minor on the international stage and had received a bad press in preceding decades. Furthermore he 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.

After their wedding Philip and Elizabeth took up residence at Clarence House, London. But at various times between 1946 and 1953, the Duke of Edinburgh was stationed in Malta as a serving Royal Navy officer. Lord Louis 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, and it is here that Princess Elizabeth stayed when visiting Philip in Malta. Philip and Elizabeth lived in Malta for a period between 1949 and 1951 (Malta being the only foreign country in which The Queen has ever lived).

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 prince status they would not otherwise have been entitled to. Otherwise they would have been styled merely as children of a duke. They had four children (see below) in all. Though the Royal House is named Windsor, it was decreed via a 1960 Order-in-Council that the descendants of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip who are 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.[1]

Children and grandchildren

Name Birth Marriage Children
The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales 14 November 1948 married (29 July 1981) and divorced (28 August 1996) Lady Diana Spencer (1961–1997)
married (9 April 2005) Camilla Parker-Bowles (born 1947)
Prince William of Wales (born 1982)
Prince Harry of Wales (born 1984)
The Princess Anne, Princess Royal 15 August 1950 married (14 November 1973) and divorced (28 April 1992) Captain Mark Phillips (born 1948)
married (12 December 1992) Commander (now Rear Admiral) Timothy Laurence
Peter Phillips (born 1977)
Zara Phillips (born 1981)
The Prince Andrew, Duke of York 19 February 1960 married (23 July 1986) and divorced (30 May 1996) Sarah Ferguson (born 1959) Princess Beatrice of York (born 1988)
Princess Eugenie of York (born 1990)
The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex 10 March 1964 married (19 June 1999) Sophie Rhys-Jones (born 1965) The Lady Louise Windsor (born 2003)


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

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 President Harry S. Truman in Washington, DC. 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.

At the moment she became aware she was now queen, she was in a treetop hotel; a unique circumstance for any such event. She was the first British monarch since the Act of Union in 1801 to be out of the country at the moment of succession, and also the first in modern times not to know the exact time of her accession (because George VI had died in his sleep at an unknown time). The Treetops Hotel, where she "went up a princess and came down a queen", is now a very popular tourist retreat in Kenya. The following year, the Queen's grandmother, Queen Mary, died of lung cancer on March 24, 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

Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State Crown and fur cape and holding the Sceptre with the Cross and the Orb at her Coronation (2 June 1953).
Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State Crown and fur cape and holding the Sceptre with the Cross and the Orb at her Coronation (2 June 1953).

After the Coronation, Elizabeth and Philip moved to Buckingham Palace in central London. It is believed, however, that like 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 head of state in history. In 1953–54 she and Philip made a six-month round-the-world tour, becoming the first reigning monarch to circumnavigate the globe, and also the first to visit Australia, New Zealand and Fiji (which she visited again during the 1977 jubilee). In October 1957 she made a state visit to the United States and toured Canada, opening the first session of the 23rd parliament. In 1959 she made a tour of Canada, as well as undertaking a state visit to the United States as Queen of Canada, hosting the return dinner for then US 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 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 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 in literacy, 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.

Despite a series of controversies about the rest of the royal family, particularly the marital difficulties of her children throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Queen Elizabeth remains a remarkably uncontroversial figure and is generally well respected by the people of her Realms. However, her public persona remains formal, though more relaxed than it once was.

Elizabeth remains a highly respected head of state. However, she and her family have come under increasing pressure from UK based newspapers. 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.

The Jubilee year coincided with the deaths, within a few months, of Elizabeth's mother and sister. Elizabeth's relations with her children, while still somewhat distant, 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 and Zara Phillips.

The Queen, in her capacity as Queen of the United Kingdom, during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in honour of President Lula da Silva of Brazil(Foto: Ricardo Stuckert/PR, 2006)
The Queen, in her capacity as Queen of the United Kingdom, during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in honour of President Lula da Silva of Brazil
(Foto: Ricardo Stuckert/PR, 2006)

In late February 2003, Queen Elizabeth II's reign, then just over 51 years, surpassed the reigns of all four of her immediate predecessors combined (King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI).

In 2003 Elizabeth, who is often described as robustly healthy, underwent three operations. She had two operations by the end of the year concerning each of her knees, and also had several lesions removed from her face. This had prompted some debate in the media about whether the evolving monarchy should have monarchs abdicating as in some other nations, or even enforce a retirement age for reigning monarchs. 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.

On Friday April 21, 2006 the Queen turned 80, making her the third oldest reigning monarch in British and Commonwealth history. While she has begun to hand over some public duties to her children, as well as to other members of the royal family, the Palace has made it clear that she intends to do as much as she can until she is physically unable.

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 (but will fall short of abdication). 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.

Despite her good health and intention to stay on the throne, there are signs that it may be near the final years of the Queen's reign. Many saw the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Camilla as a message from the Queen to that effect – 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 were 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 September 9, 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, passing 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. But some are not keen on the idea as they feel the Queen has become an institution within 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 seriously her Coronation Oath. 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 never said or done anything in public to reveal what they might be. However there is some evidence to suggest that in economic terms she leans toward the centre-left point of view. During Margaret Thatcher's years as Prime Minister it was rumoured that Elizabeth was 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.[2] Mrs. Thatcher once said to Brian Walden: "The problem is, the Queen is the kind of woman who could vote SDP." [3] 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. She reportedly feels that he does not keep her informed well enough on affairs of state.

The only public issues on which Elizabeth makes her views known are those affecting the unity of each of her Realms. 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 in the Democratic Unionist Party who opposed the agreement, Ian Paisley calling her a parrot of Tony Blair.

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).

With Adrienne Clarkson, then Canadian Governor General, during her tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2005.
With Adrienne Clarkson, then Canadian Governor General, 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 billion, recently Forbes magazine conservatively estimated her fortune at around US$500 million (280 million pounds sterling).[4] 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 she was shown teasing a 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.

Queen Elizabeth has never suffered from severe public disapproval. However, in 1997 she and other members of the Royal Family were perceived as cold and unfeeling when they were seen not to participate in the public outpouring of grief at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This brought sharp criticism from the normally royalist tabloid press.

It is widely believed that Elizabeth held negative feelings towards Diana and thought that she had done immense damage to the monarchy. However, the sight of the Queen bowing to Diana's coffin as it passed Buckingham Palace, (something which hadn't been pre-arranged and was unexpected) together with a rare live television broadcast by the Queen, redressed public disapproval. Elizabeth's change of attitude 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; however, the Queen did not always understand Diana's motivations.

Elizabeth's public image has noticeably softened 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 has been seen to 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.

Constitutional role

Role in government

The Queen, in her capacity as Queen of Canada, pictured with her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The Queen, in her capacity as Queen of Canada, 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 participation is usually limited to the appointment of representatives within the Realm in question, usually a Governor-General, who exercises 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 grant or withhold Royal Assent to 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 practiced 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., a requirement to form 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 a 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 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 stills holds a large proportion of power in international affairs. The Queen, as Head of State, has the power to declare war and 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.

UK Orders-in-Council are issued only when approved by her at Privy Council meetings, Canadian Orders 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 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 respectively it fell on the Queen to decide whom to commission to form a government. In both these cases Rab Butler was passed over, in controversial circumstances. 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 Earl of Home.

On the third occasion, in February 1974, an inconclusive general election result meant that in theory outgoing Prime Minister Edward Heath, who had won more of 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.

Relations with ministers

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. Even ministers known to have republican views speak highly of her and value these meetings.

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)

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

The Queen also meets the First Minister of Scotland. The royal palace in Edinburgh, the Holyrood Palace, 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) 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.

Though bound by convention not to intervene directly in politics, her length of service, 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 this 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."

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

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.

Constitutional controversies

The Queen has been involved in some political controversies during her reign, in some of which her actions appear to have stated her political views.

Canadian national unity

In a speech to the Quebec Legislature, at the height of the Quiet Revolution in 1964, she ignored the national controversy (including riots during her appearance in Quebec City - see Debate on the Canadian monarchy) in favour of praising Canada's two "complimentary 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." [5] [6]


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 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.

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.

Canadian national unity revisited

In 1995, during a separatist referendum campaign, she was tricked into speaking, in both French and English, for fourteen minutes with 29-year-old Pierre Brassard, a DJ for Radio CKOI-FM Montreal, pretending to be then 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 who made it.) [7]

Relations with world leaders

Elizabeth has developed friendships with many foreign leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson 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 informed Major that he and the leader shared a mutual sporting interest (Howard is, like Major, a cricket fan). Major then 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 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.

Elizabeth's reign has also seen an increase in republican movements in Commonwealth realms. The percentage support for republicanism in the United Kingdom, however, has remained relatively static, with an average of between 15% and 20% according to long-term tracker polls.

Religious role

The Queen is the Sovereign "by Grace of God" and 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. The Queen retains the ancient title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) — a title first granted in 1521 by Pope Leo X to King Henry VIII prior to the Reformation. 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 have royal patronage and are outside the normal diocesan administrative structures; the best-known example is Westminster Abbey and churches of this type are known as Royal Peculiars.

The role of the Sovereign differs considerably in the other three countries 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. The Royal Family regularly attend services at Crathie Kirk when holidaying at Balmoral Castle and attend at the Kirk of the Canongate when in residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. 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 have both been disestablished.

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 United Kingdom has become an increasingly multiethnic society with considerable diversity in religious practice. The Queen often meets with leaders from a wide range of religions. She is Patron of the Council of Christians & Jews (CCJ) in the UK.

In Canada, though Canadian coins are minted with the inscription D.G. Regina (Queen by the Grace of God) around her effigy, and her Canadian title contains the phrase "Defender of the Faith," Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada, plays no religious role in Canada. (See Monarchy in Canada: Cultural Role)


Queen Elizabeth is the male-line great-granddaughter of Edward VII, who inherited the crown from his mother, 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 Albert II of Belgium and 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. As a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she is related to the heads of most other ruling European royal houses and the former Hohenzollern royal houses of Germany and Romania. Through her great-grandmother Queen Alexandra she is descended from the Danish royal house Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a line of the North German house of Oldenburg, 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, and Constantine II of Greece, who are also all descended from Queen Victoria. She is also a cousin of Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. She is further related to all ruling hereditary monarchs of Europe as a descendant of Johan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange (1687–1711), ancestor to all reigning European royal houses.


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 common practice Queen Elizabeth II is referred to simply as "The Queen", "Her Majesty". When in conversation with The Queen, one initially uses "Your Majesty", and thereafter "Ma'am".

At the moment of her succession, Elizabeth II also became the Queen of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan, Ceylon and the Union of South Africa, in addition to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In the years that followed, many British colonies and territories gained independence; some opted to join the symmetrical relationship of nations under the Crown, known as the Commonwealth Realms, and recognise Elizabeth II distinctly as Sovereign of the newly independent nation. Traditionally, Elizabeth II's titles as Queen Regnant are listed by the order of accession as follows: 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 (all of which listed after the existing four Realms).

However in Scotland, the title Elizabeth II caused some controversy, where there has never been an Elizabeth I. In a rare act of sabotage in Scotland, new Royal Mail post boxes bearing the initials E.II.R were blown up. As a result, post boxes in Scotland now bear only a crown and no royal initials. 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 (1707). 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, which are much less publicised. Firstly, the argument that the monarch was addressed as Your Grace, rather than Majesty, in pre-Union Scotland and secondly, that the preferred title had been King/Queen of Scots rather than of Scotland (although this 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.

Following a decision by Commonwealth Prime Ministers at the Commonwealth conference of 1953, Queen Elizabeth 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.

Properly styled as "Her Majesty The Queen" (and when the distinction is necessary e.g. "Her Britannic Majesty", "Her Australian Majesty", or "Her Canadian Majesty"), her previous styles were:

Though Ladies of the Garter now use the post nominal letters “LG”, a Lady of the Garter was not a full member of the Order back then. Thus, the post nominal letters "LG" were not used, so Princess Elizabeth used “KG”.

Personality and image

Elizabeth 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 is also regarded privately as an excellent mimic. Rather 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. Although she attends many cultural events as part of her public role, in her private life Elizabeth is said to have little interest in culture or the arts. Her main leisure interests include horse racing, photography, and dogs, especially her Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

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

Elizabeth has given an annual Christmas Message to the Commonwealth every year apart from 1969 since she became Queen.

In diplomatic situations Elizabeth is extremely 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 still discouraged by officials. At least three people are known to have broken this rule, the first being 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 tabloids). The second was Louis Garneau, who did the same ten years later. However the Queen took no offence at their actions, and Keating stayed as the Queen's guest in her private Balmoral home. The third was John Howard, the conservative Australian Prime Minister who succeeded Keating. It is noteworthy that on this occasion the tabloid press did not protest.

Elizabeth is famous for her royal walkabouts, here she is with entertainer Ronnie Corbett and musician Enya.
Elizabeth is famous for her royal walkabouts, here she is with entertainer Ronnie Corbett and musician Enya.

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.[8] 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 things said to her by John Major, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Winston Churchill and many 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.

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, often higher than that of her elected Prime Ministers.

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.

Her coronation is also mentioned in Billy Joel's history themed song "We Didn't Start the Fire" ("England's got a new Queen").

Coat of arms

The Queen's Coat of Arms in the United Kingdom
The Queen's Coat of Arms in the United Kingdom
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 also sometimes being 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. The shield is quartered, depicting in the first and fourth quarters the three lions passant guardant of England; in the second, the rampant lion and double tressure fleury-counter-fleury of Scotland; and in the third, a harp for Ireland. The crest is a lion statant guardant wearing the imperial crown, itself on another representation of that crown. The sinister supporter is a likewise crowned lion, symbolizing England; the dexter, a unicorn, symbolizing Scotland. The coat features both the motto of British monarchs Dieu et mon droit (God and my right) and the motto of the Order of the Garter, Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame whomever thinks it evil) on a representation of the Garter behind the shield.

A separate Royal Arms exists for use in Scotland, which gives priority to the Scottish elements. The Scottish arms feature the Order of the Thistle and its motto Nemo me impune lacessit (No one provokes me with impunity).

The Queen's Coat of Arms in Canada
The Queen's Coat of Arms in Canada

In Canada the Queen's arms are known as the Arms of Her Majesty in Right of Canada. The shield is similar to that used in her arms for the UK, but with the difference of the retention of the fleur-de-lis in the fouth quarter, to represent the sovereign's relations to the French royalty under which New France was founded, and three red maple leaves on a white background as a fifth element below. On these arms the same crowned lion as on the British arms here represents the vice-regal governor general, surmounted by a St. Edward's Crown, representing the Sovereign. The coat features the motto a mari usque ad mare ("from sea to sea"), as well as the motto of the Order of Canada, desiderantes meliorem patriam ("they desire a better country") on the ribbon surrounding the shield. The helm is also draped in red and white maple leaves, and the floral emblems are roses, thistles, shamrocks, and fleurs-de-lis representing England, Scotland, Ireland and France.

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 which is a defaced banner of the country's coat of arms, including the Queen's personal badge of 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.


  1. ^ Prince of Wales's press office.
  2. ^ John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher: The Iron Lady (Jonathan Cape, 2003), p. 465.
  3. ^ Ibid, p. 467.
  4. ^ http://www.forbes.com/business/2006/04/17/queen-elizabeth-birthday-cx_cz0418queen.html?partner=msnbc
  5. ^ The Canadian Royal Heritage Trust
  6. ^ CBC: 1964 Quebec visit speech
  7. ^ A Queen Canada Should be Proud Of
  8. ^ Information supplied by the Royal Household to a parliamentary inquiry into the workings of the monarchy in the early 1970s.

Preceded by:
George VI
Queen of the United Kingdom
6 February 1952–present
Preceded by:
George VI,
as King of the United Kingdom
Queen of Australia
6 February 1952–present
Succeeded by:
Queen of Canada
6 February 1952–present
Queen of New Zealand
6 February 1952–present
Preceded by:
as Queen of the United Kingdom
Queen of Jamaica
6 August 1962–present
Queen of Barbados
30 November 1966–present
Queen of The Bahamas
10 July 1973–present
Queen of Grenada
7 February 1974–present
Queen of the Solomon Islands
7 July 1978–present
Queen of Tuvalu
1 October 1978–present
Queen of Saint Lucia
22 February 1979–present
Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
27 October 1979–present
Queen of Belize
21 September 1981–present
Queen of Antigua and Barbuda
1 November 1981–present
Queen of Saint Christopher and Nevis
19 September 1983–present
Preceded by:
as Queen of Australia
Queen of Papua New Guinea
16 September 1975–present
Preceded by:
George VI,
as King of the United Kingdom
Queen of Ceylon
6 February 1952–1972
Succeeded by:
End of Title
Queen of Pakistan
6 February 1952–1956
Queen of South Africa
6 February 1952–1961
Preceded by:
as Queen of the United Kingdom
Queen of Ghana
Queen of Nigeria
Queen of Sierra Leone
Queen of Tanganyika
Queen of Trinidad and Tobago
Queen of Uganda
Queen of Kenya
Queen of Malawi
Queen of Malta
Queen of The Gambia
Queen of Guyana
Queen of Mauritius
Queen of Fiji

Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Ancestry: Descent | Ancestors
Commonwealth: Prime Ministers | Queen of Canada | Queen of Australia | Queen of New Zealand
Overseas Visits: State visits | Commonwealth visits
Titles: British titles and honours | Commonwealth titles and honours
Public Celebrations: Silver Jubilee | Golden Jubilee | Queen's Birthday

Monarchs of the United Kingdom
 Kingdom of Great Britain Anne | George I† | George II† | George III
 United Kingdom  George III†/‡ | George IV‡ | William IV‡ | Victoria | Edward VII | George V** | Edward VIII** | George VI** | Elizabeth II**
* Also Monarchs of Ireland | ** Also Monarch of the Commonwealth Realms|† Also Elector of Hanover |‡ Also King of Hanover

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