Elizabeth_II_greets_NASA_GSFC_employees,_May_8,_2007_editNo one predicted Princess Elizabeth of York would eventually become Queen, as her life dramatically changed when her uncle Edward VIII abdicated in 1936.

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born on 21 April 1926 at 2.40 am by caesarian at 17 Bruton Street, London—the eldest daughter of Albert Duke of York and his Duchess Elizabeth (later George VI and Queen Elizabeth). Crowds had gathered outside the house, despite the rain, waiting for news. Newspapers eagerly reported the baby’s birth.

A Royal Granddaughter

Her paternal grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary, drove from Windsor to see the baby and to congratulate the proud parents.

“Saw the baby who is a little darling with a lovely complexion & pretty fair hair,” Queen Mary later wrote in her diary.

The little Princess was christened in Buckingham Palace’s private chapel with water from the River Jordan.

Princess Elizabeth aged 7, painted by Philip de László, 1933
Princess Elizabeth aged 7, painted by Philip de László, 1933

She was third in line of succession to the throne after her uncle David (Edward VIII), and her father.

Many had expected the handsome, debonair and extremely popular Prince of Wales to marry and produce an heir.

The Yorks moved to a large, spacious but not a particularly grand London house at 145 Piccadilly (now the Four Seasons Hotel) as the Duke and Duchess were keen to lead normal lives.

The little Princess and her Nanny Clara Knight, known as Allah, lived on the top floor, with her Nanny Mrs Clara Knight.

Her parents were often busy with royal duties, including an official visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1927, but they wanted to spend as much time with their daughter whenever they were home.

Elizabeth spent her first birthday at Windsor Castle with George V and Queen Mary, as she made her first public appearance on the balcony at Buckingham Palace when her parents returned from overseas, as crowds also wanted to see the baby.

Her childhood was divided between 145 Piccadilly and White Lodge in Richmond Park—a privileged life without great responsibility within a closely-knit family. They had horses and dogs and it was a time of intense happiness and security. The Duke of York was a doting father who was not yet over-burdened by his workload.

She regularly visited George V and Queen Mary, along with her maternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, at their country homes.

We Four

Her sister, Margaret Rose, was born on 21 August 1930 at Glamis Castle.

The little princesses’ personalities were very different. Elizabeth was painfully shy, serious, responsible, with an air of dignity, and the soul of discretion. Margaret, on the other hand was extrovert, naught and wanting to be the centre of attention.

Princess Margaret (front) with her sister Elizabeth (right) and grandmother Queen Mary (left)
Princess Margaret (front) with her sister Elizabeth (right) and grandmother Queen Mary (left)

Queen Mary did not believe the princesses needed an education apart from learning history and geography, so they knew their family history, and point out the countries they reigned over in an atlas. No other children shared their lessons so they were isolated from the world beyond royal circles.

Both Princesses were educated at home where she studied art, music and French as it was still the language of the Court. She also learnt to ride and become a strong swimmer.

Governess Marion Crawford, known as Crawfie, was employed for a trial period in 1932 as she was highly recommended by the Duchess of York’s elder sister Lady Rose Leveson-Gower.

Crawfie took the princesses on excursions outside the Palace, travelling by tube on some occasions.

Princess Elizabeth became a member of the Buckingham Palace Girl Guides when she was eleven. The pack consisted of girls from well-connected families, but it was aimed to give the princesses a taste of “ordinary life” although the other girls had grown up surrounded by nannies and housemaids!

Contented family life as the Duke of York was a doting father not over-burdened by his workload.

Edward and Mrs Simpson

George V doted on his eldest granddaughter, known as Lilibet, but he disapproved of David’s affair with an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, which began in 1931.

The Prince of Wales and Wallis in Kitzbühel, Austria, February 1935
Edward and Wallis Simpson in Kitzbühel, Austria, February 1935

David spent less time visiting his nieces and he often appeared bored or irritated in public. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the Prince’s Private Secretaries expressed serious concern when he cancelled appointments to see Mrs Simpson.

George V said in 1935, “I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will become between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne.” His prayers were answered sooner than he expected.

Princess Elizabeth’s life dramatically changed when George V passed away in 1936, and her uncle abdicated less than a year later when forced to make a difficult choice between duty and personal happiness.

Her father reluctantly took on the task of restoring the public’s faith in the monarchy. He was crowned in Westminster Abbey as George VI on 12 May 1937.

Elizabeth became the subject of increasingly public interest as the Heir-Presumptive.


Bond, Jennie, Elizabeth 80 Glorious Years, Carlton Books, London, 2006
Clay, Catrine, Princess to Queen, BBC Books, London, 1996
Hoey, Brian, Life with the Queen, Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, 2006
Shawcross, William, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, Macmillan, London, 2009

Princess to Queen (Documentary), BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1996

The Official Website of The British Monarchy, Her Majesty The Queen

Further Reading

The Queen’s life as Heir-Presumptive

© 2010 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 12 June 2010.

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