Queen Elizabeth II, 2007
Queen Elizabeth II, 2007

Princess Elizabeth was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as Heir-Presumptive when her father was crowned George VI.

However, Elizabeth’s life changed after her beloved grandfather died in 1936, as her uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne less than a year later.

Many people, including Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin visited 145 Piccadilly to discuss the Constitutional crisis with her parents, the Duke and Duchess of York. Elizabeth and her sister Margaret witnessed these mysterious comings and goings and wondered what it all meant.

George VI

HM King George VI of the United Kingdom
HM King George VI of the United Kingdom

Her father became George VI and he was crowned in a splendid ceremony in Westminster Abbey the following year. His Queen and daughters, wearing their coronets, accompanied him.

George VI took on the task of restoring the public’s faith in the monarchy, despite his shyness and speech impediment, with his wife’s support. The royal family, “we four”, were often portrayed as normal despite the dramatic changes in their lives.

The King also prepared his eldest daughter for her future role as Queen. Elizabeth had lessons in constitutional history with Henry Marten, the Vice-Provost of Eton and the Archbishop of Canterbury provided religious instruction.

World War II

George VI and Queen Elizabeth chose to remain in London during World War II, but they refused to send the princesses to Canada. The princesses were moved to Windsor Castle for safety. Elizabeth made her first broadcast on 13 October 1940 on the BBC’s Children’s Hour addressing all children of the Empire both at home and overseas.

Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) where she learnt how to strip an engine, change a wheel and drive an army truck. However, George VI refused to allow his daughter to live in army quarters so she returned to Windsor Castle every night. It lasted only a few weeks.

The whole nation rejoiced when Adolf Hitler was dead and World War II ended. Elizabeth proudly wore her uniform on VE Day as her parents acknowledged the cheers from the crowds below. Elizabeth and Margaret slipped out to join in the celebrations.

Princess Elizabeth (left, in uniform) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with (left to right) her mother Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, King George VI, and Princess Margaret, 8 May 1945
Princess Elizabeth (left, in uniform) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with (left to right) her mother Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, King George VI, and Princess Margaret, 8 May 1945

Marriage to Prince Philip

Lieutenant Prince Philip of Greece had already won the Princess’ heart with his tall, blue-eyed and blonde looks during an official visit to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth on 22 July 1939. They corresponded occasionally during the war, as Philip was on active duty in the navy. Philip also spent several of his rare leaves at Windsor, regaling King George with an account of his Mediterranean adventures.

Elizabeth and Philip’s paths had crossed at family functions, as they are both descended from Queen Victoria. His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, married Prince Andrew of Greece but they were forced to flee into exile so a British ship was sent to rescue the family. The family name was changed to Mountbatten during World War I.

Philip faced severe opposition from the King’s senior courtiers who, according to Brian Hoey, thought Philip was “too rough and ready” for the delicate protocol of life at Court. They were proved right as Philip made drastic changes including outmoded practices which had existed unchallenged for generations. Philip’s clashes with the Establishment were revealed in a recent documentary, The Queen’s Coronation: Behind Closed Doors (2008).

However, George VI dreaded his eldest daughter leaving the family nest so the royal family embarked on a tour of South Africa in 1947. Elizabeth knew what she wanted, as the enforced separation did nothing to cool the young couple’s romance. They announced their engagement shortly after her return.

George VI wrote a letter to Elizabeth after her wedding on 20 November 1947 as he was so proud of her.

Their eldest son, Charles was born less than a year later on 14 November 1948 at Buckingham Palace, before moving into Clarence House.

Philip was promoted to First Lieutenant and Second-in-Command of HMS Chequers, based at Malta. Elizabeth spent long periods of time with her husband, and enjoyed life as a navy wife and her freedom, whilst nannies and grandparents looked after Charles during their absence.

Elizabeth was pregnant again so she returned to Clarence House. Philip returned home in July and a daughter, Anne, was born on 15 August 1950.

George VI’s health declined as Philip realised he could no longer combine his naval career with his royal duties so he returned home to support his wife. They were in Kenya at the start of an official tour to Australia and New Zealand when they received news of George VI’s passing at Sandringham. The trip was postponed as they returned to England.

Elizabeth was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Coronation portrait, by Cecil Beaton, June 1953, London, England.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Coronation portrait, by Cecil Beaton, June 1953, London, England.

She is now the longest-reigning monarch, and the first female sovereign to bear the name of Windsor (adopted by George V in 1917 amidst anti-German sentiment during the First World War.)

Sources

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 Queen’s Coronation: Behind Palace Doors (Documentary), Channel 4 UK, 2008

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

Further Reading

Elizabeth II: Early Life

© 2010 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 27 September 2010.

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