20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Queen Elizabeth II
Dubbed by a historian as ‘Elizabeth The Silent,’ the life of Britain’s longest reigning monarch is far from quiet.
She celebrates her birthday twice a year
The Queen celebrates her birthday on April 21—and then does it again in June. It’s actually been a tradition since 1784 that the British monarch’s birthday celebrations are held on a day that is not their actual birthday. That’s because London weather could literally put a damper on the military celebratory parade if not held in more climate-friendly months. Check out these other bizarre perks of being in the royal family.
She was only a tween when she fell in love with her distant cousin
According to a 1957 article in TIME, Prince Philip met Elizabeth, his third cousin, when they were children (they shared the same great-great-grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were first cousins themselves). From the time she was 13, she was besotted. She never fell for another man, though he had other relationships while she grew into adulthood. Their love stood the test of the time and in 2007 Queen Elizabeth became the first British monarch to celebrate her diamond wedding anniversary with 60 years of marriage to Prince Philip.
Her grandmother disapproved of one of her wedding gifts
During her reign, the Queen has received some interesting gifts from jaguars and sloths to a grove of maple trees and 15 pounds of prawns. But it was one of her 1947 wedding gifts that had her grandmother concerned: According to the BBC’s royal correspondent at the time, Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, disapproved of Mahatma Gandhi’s present of hand-spun lace calling it “indelicate.” Turns out she’d mistaken the tray cover for the Indian leader’s loincloth. Here’s how much the royal family is actually worth.
She’s the longest-reigning monarch in British history
On February 6, 2017 the Queen became the first British monarch to reign for 65 years, celebrating her Sapphire Jubilee. To mark the momentous occasion there were new coins, a new stamp, gun salutes, and a re-released portrait taken by British photographer David Bailey, where the Queen is wearing a suite of sapphire jewels she received as a wedding day gift from her father, King George VI, in 1947.
She has a few nicknames
Back when she was still Princess Elizabeth, she was called “Lilibet” by close family, because she couldn’t pronounce her own name, while her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, is known to call her “Cabbage.” Then there are her great-grandchildren. “George is only two-and-a-half and he calls her ‘Gan-Gan,’” the prince’s mother, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, said in an BBC TV special interview a few years ago. Finally, a not so affectionate nickname was bestowed upon the Queen by her Uncle Edward. In letters published in 1988, he referred to his niece as Shirley Temple on account of her “dumpy” frame and curly hair, which looked similar to that of the child star. The queen’s full name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. Dating back to WWII, more traditional names are still favored for middle names and over 10 percent of British babies today are still given two middle names.
Her father ascended to the throne after a scandal
Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, became king after his older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite divorcée. This was scandalous as Simpson was still legally married to her second husband when they first got together and the abdication was the biggest constitutional crisis in modern royal history. Supposedly bad blood existed between “the Duke and Duchess of Windsor” (Edward & Wallis) and the royal family. The King’s Speech is a 2010 biographical movie about King George VI coping with a stammer as he ascends to the throne after his brother. Check out these fascinating facts about the Queen’s coronation.
She has never given an interview in her entire reign
Dubbed “Elizabeth the silent” by historian David Starkey, according to a New York Times article, Queen Elizabeth II has never given a press interview. She is said to keep her politics hidden from the public eye at all times. And the Daily Mail concurs that part of the Queen’s “enduring appeal is that she has never bared her soul to the public, even in this era of the celebrity confessional, she has remained enveloped in mystery.” These are the royal etiquette rules the whole family must follow.
She was rumored to have an affair
The Netflix series, The Crown, a period drama focusing on the private life of Queen Elizabeth II, takes many liberties with real-life royal events. One such liberty is based on rumors of an affair between her and childhood friend Porchie. It’s true that Porchie, aka Lord Porchester, and later Earl of Carnarvon, was extremely close to the Queen, and that in 1969 she took him on as her racing manager, but there’s never been evidence of a romance. However, rumors claiming that he is Prince Andrew’s biological father are still making the rounds today. Still, several key elements of the series are either totally made up or exaggerated for dramatic effect.
She served in World War II
Before she donned her trademark brightly colored dresses, coats, and matching hats, the Queen wore a military uniform. Her father, the king at the time, was hesitant to let her join, but she eventually joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1945. She worked as a mechanic and truck driver, according to history.com. Her service makes her the only current living head of state to have served in World War II, and the only female member of the royal family to have entered the military. This is what the Queen never travels without.
She’s a dog lover
We’ve all seen the classic images: Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by her iconic corgis. But do you know the real extent of her love for corgis? She received her first, Susan, as a birthday present when she turned 18, according to the New York Times. She’s owned at least 30 Pembroke Welsh corgis, all descendants of Susan, the last of which, named Willow, died in April of 2018. She’s owned other breeds as well; most notably, the royal family has bred “dorgis”—a mix between corgis and dachshunds.
She’s exempt from the usual documentation
The Queen can drive without a license, because they’re all actually issued in her name in the United Kingdom, according to Express. On her over 250 international visits to over 100 countries, she’s never needed a passport, for the same reason. Oh, and she’s exempt from taxes, but still voluntarily pays income and capital gains taxes. Here’s a complete list of all the laws she doesn’t have to follow.
She owns exotic animals
The rumors are true—Queen Elizabeth II really does own all the swans in the United Kingdom. Every year, she has a team row through the River Thames in London to count the babies. In 2018, her “swan uppers” counted 108 cygnets. She also can lay claim to any “fishes royal”—dolphins, whales, porpoises, and sturgeons—caught in British waters. You won’t believe these bizarre animals Queen Elizabeth has received as gifts.
Her iconic handbag is holding some secrets
When you’re a queen, you don’t really need to drag a purse with you, considering you have staff waiting on you hand and foot. She reportedly doesn’t carry money (just a lipstick, mirror, and other essentials), so her bag’s main purpose is to send messages to her staff. When her bag goes on the floor, it’s a cry for help for a lady-in-waiting to save her from a dreadful conversation. If she puts her purse on the table during dinner, that’s a hint that she’d like the meal to wrap up pronto. Learn about these other secret messages Queen Elizabeth II sends her staff.
She was a hands-off mother
Queen Elizabeth wasn’t an uncaring mother, but she wasn’t exactly a warm-and-fuzzy mom. She notoriously left five-year-old Prince Charles and three-year-old Princess Anne back in England when she and Prince Philip went on a six-month tour of the Commonwealth in 1954. When she got back, she and Philip greeted kids not with big bear hugs, but with prim and proper handshakes. The parents later sent Charles to boarding school, despite the fact that he was miserable and bullied there, and Princess Anne admitted in a 2002 interview that their mom had time “limitations” when they were growing up, adding that Elizabeth cared for her four kids “in exactly the same way as any other mother did.”
She hates garlic
One thing you’ll never, ever see on the menu (if Queen Elizabeth has anything to say about it): garlic. Her former royal chef Darren McGrady told Recipes Plus that Her Majesty wasn’t picky, but hated garlicky food or anything with too much onion. Camilla Parker Bowles later confirmed on MasterChef Australia that “garlic is a no-no” for the royal family because they don’t want bad breath while meeting and greeting. Find out about these other foods Queen Elizabeth never eats.
She never went to school
Queen Elizabeth never went to prep school, and she doesn’t have a college degree. But she still got quite the education from her tutors at home. She learned constitutional history and law under Henry Marten, who was vice provost of Eton College and had the Archbishop of Canterbury as a religion teacher.
She paid for her wedding dress with coupons
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip tied the knot in 1947 when the United Kingdom was still recovering from World War II. The country had rationing measures in place, and not even the future queen was exempt from using ration coupons to pay for items. Elizabeth saved up her own coupons, plus received an extra 200 from the government, to pay for the satin dress studded with crystals and pearls. Hundreds of British subjects tried sending her their own coupons to pay for her big day, but she sent them back; after all, transferring the vouchers would have been illegal.
She can be surprisingly frugal
Living royally doesn’t have to mean over-the-top extravagance. Queen Elizabeth II is a fan of eating Special K cereal and leftovers, and her waste-not mindset means she’d rather fix and reuse items like sheets and gloves than toss them in the trash. She’s also known for “outfit recycling” (read: re-wearing her clothes), not only for her everyday getups, but for some of her more iconic pieces. Even her Coronation dress has been dug out of the closet—she’s worn it six times. You’ll be able to relate to these other 15 surprisingly frugal habits of the royal family.
She has a poet who she pays in wine
Ever since the 17th century, a poet laureate has been part of the British royal staff. Going along with tradition, Queen Elizabeth’s current poet, Carol Ann Duffy, is paid in a “butt of sack”: 720 bottles of sherry. Duffy re-gifts some of those bottles back to the Queen at Christmas and gives her £5,750 yearly stipend to the Poetry Society. Don’t miss these other 13 bizarre royal jobs that actually exist.
She was one of the first heads of state to send an email
In 1976, ARPANET (the precursor to the Internet) hadn’t been in the United Kingdom for long. So when she pressed a few buttons to send an email at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in England, she was ahead of her time. The username her message was sent from HME2—short for Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, of course. Next, check out these other 50 things you never knew about the British royal family.