History's Women: 1st Women: Elizabeth II - Britain’s Reassuring QueenElizabeth II
Britain’s Reassuring Queen
1926–Current A.D.

Some years ago in an English teashop in Norfolk customers one of the customers noticed a pair of mature ladies wearing headscarves and quilted jackets who were about to leave. As they passed her table, she leaned forward to address one of the departing customers. “Excuse me, but you do look awfully like the Queen,” she said.

The other lady smiled, “How very reassuring.” And with that Queen Elizabeth II left to drive back to her northern country home at Sandringham.

And reassuring may well be the right word to describe the he lady who has occupied the British throne for nearly 70 years and who has become beloved as a classy, dignified but still very human sovereign.

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on April 21, 1926 in the London home of her maternal grandfather, the first daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York. Princess Margaret Rose joined the family in 1930 and the two princesses were educated by tutors at home with a concentrated curriculum centered on such subjects as history, language, literature and music. Also, despite the four year difference in their ages, the girls were educated together, and often dressed in similar outfits. Elizabeth’s childish pronouncing of her own name as “Lilibet” formed a lifelong family nickname and a cousin called her a “jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well behaved”—traits that she has retained even today.

The princess’ life changed, when in 1936 her father came to the throne as George VI, after her uncle Edward VII abdicated so he could marry a divorcee. This made her heir presumptive, but not heir apparent since if she had a brother and he would take would take precedence.

In September 1939 when Britain entered World War II, and London was in danger of enemy attack, many children were evacuated to the country (and some even to Canada). However, when it was suggested that the princesses be moved her mother, then Queen Elizabeth, traditionally responded:  “The children will never go without me, I won’t leave without the king, and the king will never leave.”

Elizabeth went on her first overseas tour with her parents and sister to South Africa and it was there that she celebrated her 21st birthday. She commemorated the event with a commonwealth wide radio broadcast and said, “I declare before you that all my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family, to which we all belong.”

When the family returned, Elizabeth’s engagement to Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was announced in 1947 when she was 21. They were married 20 November, 1947 in Westminster Abbey and just after Lt. Philip Mountbatten (as he was known) was created Duke of Edinburgh.

Elizabeth and Philip’s first child Prince Charles was born in November, 1948 and their daughter Princess Anne was born in 1950.

In the early 1950s, since the King’s health had been failing, Princess Elizabeth frequently represented him in public appearances. Then in early 1952 she and Philip set out on a tour of Australia and stopped in Kenya on the way. It was there that in February, 1952 they received word that King George had died, and as they began to prepare to return to London the new Queen’s private secretary asked her the name she would reign under. “Why, my own of course, “ she responded.

The coronation was held on June 2, 1953 and was watched on television by people around the world, a broadcast that served to boost television sales in British homes. Her family grew with the births of Prince Andrew in 1959 and Edward in 1963 and at each time she could not fulfill her constitutional duty of attending the State Opening of parliament. Another royal custom came in 1970 when she toured Australia and New Zealand and began doing the “royal walkabout” where she would mingle with the crowds, shaking hands and chatting.

In 1977 the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee (25th anniversary on the throne) with festivities and Commonwealth tours.

However, there were times when she faced physical danger and one of these came in 1981 when during at a military ceremony, as she rode her horse through a crowd, she was suddenly confronted by a man with a handgun. Though he fired blanks she kept her horse steady, displaying a composed courage until the assailant could be secured.

Another incident occurred a year later in July, 1982 when she woke in her bedroom in Buckingham Palace to find Michael Fagan beside her bed after he had entered the Palace unchallenged. He turned out to be harmless and confused, but after she rang a silent alarm, she chatted calmly as she awaited security officials. However, through a series of flukes officers did not immediately respond so she had to slip out into the hall to get help.

The Queen’s children brought her both joy and also concern, over the years, and particularly in the areas of their marriage choices. The 1981fairy-tale marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer deteriorated and they were divorced in 1996. Her daughter Princess Anne had been divorced several years earlier, and then her second son Prince Andrew and his wife Sarah Ferguson also divorced in 1996. .Only her youngest son Prince Edward married successfully.

Then in 1992 a tragic fire broke out in Windsor Castle, destroying several state rooms and many art treasures. A very human side of the Queen was visible when she addressed a luncheon several days later by describing 1992 as her “Annus Horribilis.’”

Another sad event was when the divorced Princess of Wales was killed in an auto crash in 1997 and in response to the outpouring of international grief the Queen spoke on television on the eve of Diana’s funeral. She stated her admiration of Diana, and mentioned her feelings as a grandmother, for Prince Charles’ sons William and Harry.

In 2002 she celebrated her 50th anniversary—her Golden Jubilee—but also at the same time she lost her sister Princess Margaret and her mother—known popularly as “the Queen Mum”—the latter a greatly admired figure.

In 2017 she became the first British monarch to celebrate her Sapphire Jubilee—65 years on the throne. However, 2021 proved to be an extra sad year since her husband of 73 years Prince Philip passed away, just months before his 100th birthday. She said privately that his death “left a huge void” in her life and in her heart.

Today, (in her mid-90s) Queen Elizabeth has become a beloved and popular figure, in both Great Britain and around the world!

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Anne Adams is a retired church staffer. She lives in East Texas and has an historical column for a local newspaper. She has published in Christian and secular publications for more than 40 years.

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