Why Did Queen Elizabeth Have Two Birthdays?
Royals—they’re just like us. Except for the fact that the British monarch is anointed as “God’s chosen ruler.” And he or she owns $25 billion worth of estates throughout the U.K. and a multi-billion-dollar collection of jewels. Another perk? Kings and queens seem to have two birthdays, something you may have noticed during Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign. But what was the deal with Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, and will Charles follow suit with his own birthday celebrations? Here’s what you need to know about this quirky royal tradition.
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When was Queen Elizabeth’s birthday?
Like many British monarchs before her, the queen commemorated her birthday on two separate days—once on the actual anniversary of the day she was born (April 21) and again on a Saturday in June (dubbed the “official celebration”). In case you were wondering, Queen Elizabeth was born in 1926, and at the time of her death in September 2022, she was 96 years old.
Why did the queen have two birthdays?
The official date of the queen’s birthday owes its origins to the age-old dilemma of fickle British weather, and it’s a tradition that started way back in 1748 with King George II, who was born in November 1683. The royals, even back then, loved an over-the-top outdoor celebration, but the frosty chill of a November birthday was rather inconvenient for this sort of fun. Because King George didn’t want to put his subjects at risk of getting ill, his birthday celebration was merged with the annual Trooping the Colour parade, which was traditionally held in June. Before that, Trooping the Colour was strictly a military event in which regiments would display their flags, or “colors,” so that soldiers could familiarize themselves with these colors before a battle.
The idea of a summertime birthday parade caught on, and the tradition continues to this day, with all British sovereigns granted the option of inheriting an “official” birthday. The spring day of April 21 was deemed too chilly for Queen Elizabeth’s opulent bash, so she went with the safer (and warmer) June alternative. Although the date is technically associated with Trooping the Colour in the U.K., commonwealth nations around the world mandate its recognition as a public holiday.
As for the Saturday element, the royals decided to set the date on a weekend so that more members of the public could enjoy the festivities without having to worry about their work schedules.
What happened during Queen Elizabeth’s birthdays?
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The queen usually spent her actual birthday in April privately, but it didn’t pass without some pageantry. It was commemorated with a round of gun salutes at noon: a 41-gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21-gun salute in Windsor Great Park and a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London.
The June celebration, however, featured 1,500 military personnel in full uniform, as well as 200-plus horses, all in choreographed formations. When she was younger, the queen “inspected” the troops, though she rode in a carriage in her later years. The entire parade was set to music and was quite the spectacle. The celebrations also included an appearance by the family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. We spied some memorable moments from the royal grandchildren during these balcony waves.
In June 2022, just months before her death, Queen Elizabeth also got to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee. While that wasn’t technically about her birthday, those celebrations were rolled into the festivities too. So what was the Platinum Jubilee about? It marked the 70th anniversary of her ascension to the throne in 1953.
Does King Charles also have two birthdays?
Yes! Charles’s birthday is in November—like his ancestor, George II, who started this tradition more than three centuries ago. Now that Charles is king, he is following in the previous monarchs’ footsteps, choosing to celebrate his actual birthday quietly and his ceremonial birthday with festivities fit for a king.