The Modern Elizabethans: The Life and Times of Queen Elizabeth II, 1926-2001   4 comments

The Princess who would not be Queen

On April 21st, 1926, King George V’s first grandchild was born and was christened

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary’ at Buckingham Palace in May.

Her parents were then the Duke and Duchess of York, and, after her uncle, the Prince of Wales, and her father, Elizabeth was third in line to the throne. She had blue eyes and weighed a little under average. All through the christening she cried loudly, but at six months she was a good-tempered child, always smiling.

People said she took after her father in appearance, but was more like her mother in personality. Two years later, on 21st August 1930, her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, was born in Scotland, at Glamis Castle.
She also had blue eyes, but had darker hair than Elizabeth, and weighed more at birth.

The two princesses appeared in public together on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in November 1934, after the marriage of King George V’s youngest son, Prince George, to the Greek Princess Marina at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth was a bridesmaid to the couple, who were made Duke and Duchess of Kent by the King.

The following May, hundreds of thousands of people came out on the streets of London to celebrate the Silver Jubilee (25th Anniversary) of his reign over nearly five hundred million subjects throughout the world in what was known as ‘the British Empire’.

‘Long live the King’ cried the ‘Heralds’ on 22nd January 1936, following the death of King George. They were proclaiming the ‘accession’ to the throne of King Edward VIII, who had been, as ‘heir’, the Prince of Wales.

He was unmarried, but in August he was seen on holiday with a 39-year-old American woman who already had a husband, Edward Simpson, whom she had married after divorcing her first husband.

The Simpsons had moved to London where they met the Prince of Wales, and by 1934 the Prince and Mrs Simpson had become good friends. At first, this friendship was not reported in the British newspapers, and the photographs of them on the ‘cruise-ship’ were not published. Later that year, however, Wallis Simpson…

Mrs Simpson was granted a divorce from her second husband by the court, so King Edward could now marry her, but he was not just king, but also the ‘Governor’ of the Church of England. Under the Church’s strict rules at the time, she could not become Queen, because she had been divorced.

So, on December 10th, Edward gave up the throne by ‘abdicating’, rather than give up his his proposed marriage. George, Duke of York, and his two other brothers, the Duke of Kent and Duke of Gloucester, signed the ‘Abdication’ paper and Elizabeth’s father therefore became King George VI and she became the next in line to the throne at the age of ten.

As her father was already well into middle-age, it was unlikely that he would have another child, a son to succeed him, so, from this point, Princess Elizabeth must have known that she would one day become Queen. Her relatively ‘normal’ childhood was now, suddenly and unexpectedly, at an end. Everything she did from that day on was a step towards the day of her accession to the throne as a young woman of 26 in 1952. On 12th May, 1937, the Princesses once more appeared together on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, following her father’s coronation. It was the most expensive coronation on record, and the preparations for it took six months. That night he became the first newly crowned king to broadcast to the Empire on the radio, talking to his peoples in their own homes. 

The following month, Elizabeth’s uncle, now the ‘Duke of Windsor’, married Mrs Simpson at Château de Condé near Tours in France, with no member of the royal family among the guests. After the honeymoon they went on holiday to Austria, where they met Adolf Hitler at his mountain villa at Berchtesgaden, near Germany’s border with Hitler’s homeland, which his soldiers occupied a year later.

Hitler wanted more and more land. When he took control of Austria and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), the British did nothing. But it became clear that he was a danger to all Europeans. There were stories that he was sending large numbers of German Jews to prison for no reason. When he invaded Poland in 1939, the Second World War began. George VI once more broadcast to the British people and Empire on the radio. To do so, he had overcome a bad stammer, with the help of his speech therapist. The story of this was recently made into a film, The King’s Speech.

His words helped to inspire his peoples at home and overseas.

 

The Spirit of Dunkerque and Coventry:

At first the war went badly for Britain. British soldiers went to France, but they were soon pushed out again by the powerful German Army. They had to be rescued from the beaches near Dunkerque, with the help of all kinds of small fishing and sailing boats which crossed the English channel. The stories of their bravery, and that of the trapped soldiers, led to ‘the Dunkerque Spirit’ which the British Prime Minister spoke about, saying that the British would ‘never surrender’. By the summer of 1940, most of France, Belgium and the Netherlands were under Hitler’s control.

He now made plans to invade Britain, which was on its own in western Europe as a free country, but first he had to win control of the skies over the Channel and the south coast of England. The Battle of Britain was the first real air battle in history. German and British planes fought for three months, but the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, couldn’t defeat the pilots of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in their Spitfires and Hurricanes. Eventually, he decided to bomb London and the cities where the planes were being made. He began a series of night-time raids which became known as ‘the Blitz’.

On the night of the 14/15th  November, 1940, Coventry, a city in the English Midlands  was the target for a bombing raid by the German Luftwaffe. The city had been bombed 24 times before, between August and November. But this raid gave its name to a new word in both the English and German dictionaries,‘Coventration’, which meant a concentrated bombing of an urban area. For almost eleven hours on that night, 449 bomber aircraft raided the city, killing 568 people and seriously injuring 863. Two thirds of the medieval centre was either completely destroyed or badly damaged, including the cathedral, the market hall and the main theatre.

However, the main targets were the factories, where a large number of the British Armed Forces land vehicles and aircraft were made. Of the 189 factories in the city, 111 were hit, the Daimler factory being the most damaged. Even more damaging was that electricity, gas, telephone, transport and water services were all severely disrupted. Almost 12% of the city’s houses were either destroyed or were so badly damaged that no-one could live in them anymore. The operation was called ‘Moonlight Sonata’ by the Luftwaffe, which meant there would be a raid in three stages by the light of a full moon. However, the new Enigma de-coding system could not get the message that Coventry was to be hit out in time for a warning to be given to the city’s people.

The survivors did not take long to get back on their feet. One of them wrote that, ‘out of the rubble began to grow local pride…no one had ever suffered more. It was a wonder to have endured at all’. Although London had been badly hit in the ‘Blitz’ which followed the Battle of Britain, earlier that autumn, this was not a ‘lightning’ raid, which was what ‘blitzkrieg’ had meant at first, and Coventry was the first town or city outside the capital to suffer such an intense attack. Unlike ‘Greater London’, which was really a collection of villages, Coventry was a relatively small city with a distinct, largely timber-framed medieval centre and a series of modern housing estates growing up around it. This made the destruction of its centre even more impressive.

The destruction of the cathedral became a very important symbol in the fight against fascism, which gripped the imagination of the world. The way in which the people of Coventry stood up to their ordeal made a very deep impression. Telegrams and messages arrived from all over the world, together with donations of money. Many famous people visited the city in the next weeks. The Coventry Standard of the 7th December, out of action for two weeks for the first time since 1741, reported the visit of the King and Queen Elizabeth. Buckingham Palace had also been hit by a bomb at the time of the bombing of ‘the East End’, with the King and Queen, though not the fourteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth, at home. Coventry soon became a name which was known and respected throughout the world, closely linked to the resistance of the British people, which became known as ‘the Spirit of the Blitz’.

Finally, in 1941, Hitler gave up his plans to invade Britain, and chose to invade Russia instead. Like Napoleon before him, he failed to capture Moscow, and was eventually defeated at Stalingrad. The Russians then began pushing the Germans out of the Soviet Union, and the USA joined the British and other ‘Allied’ troops in landing in France and pushing the German Armies back into Germany. This took a year, but by May 1945 the Russians and the other Allied troops met at the River Elbe, Hitler killed himself, and the German Armies surrendered.

The war continued in the Far East, where Japan had joined Germany in 1941, attacked the USA and took control of many lands under the control of the British Empire. A quarter of a million British and American people, not just soldiers, sailors and airmen, were made prisoners by the Japanese. The British pushed them out of India and Burma, while the Americans defeated them in the Pacific Ocean. In August, following the dropping of atom bombs on two Japanese cities, the Japanese Emperor surrendered.

After the Second World War, Britain couldn’t keep control of its empire. India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, and most of the other countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean soon followed. However, many of them joined ‘the Commonwealth’, a group of states from around the world that work together on many important matters. The British monarch still remains the head of the Commonwealth, and is still the Head of State in some countries, like Australia.

‘The Family of Nations’ and ‘The Royal Family’ at Home:

By the time Princess Elizabeth became Queen of the United Kingdom in 1952, while visiting Kenya, the British Empire was coming to an end. However, as a result of its spreading of the English language throughout the world, it has continued to work closely with the USA and other English-speaking countries over the past sixty years, as well as, more recently, within the European Community and Union.

When George VI died on 6th February 1952, his 26 year-old daughter became monarch (‘Accession’). She was crowned (‘Coronation’) the following year in Westminster Abbey. Her official birthday, the second Saturday in June, is marked by the Trooping of the Colour, a ceremony during which regiments of the Guards Division and the Household Cavalry parade (or ‘troop’) the regimental flag (‘the colour’) before her, as ‘sovereign’. She receives an income from the ‘civil list’ (an annual allowance voted by Parliament, which is divided among the members of the Royal Family for the expenses involved in doing their public duties). Among her many duties are the regular visits to foreign countries, especially those in the Commonwealth, whose interests and welfare are very important to her.

Elizabeth had already been married for five years when she became Queen, and her husband, Prince Philip, is known as her ‘Consort’. He is five years older than her, and also has the title, ‘Duke of Edinburgh’, which was given to him after their wedding. He has always taken a great interest in the achievements of young people and in 1956 he founded the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. The ‘awards’ are given to young people between the ages of 14 and 21 for enterprise, initiative and achievement.

Charles is the Queen’s eldest son, born in 1948 and ‘heir-apparent’ (next in line) to the throne. He was given the title, ‘Prince of Wales’ at an ‘investiture’ ceremony in Caernarfon Castle in north Wales, in 1969. This title is traditionally given by the British sovereign to the eldest son, who until now has always inherited the throne before any elder sisters. This is being changed by Parliament so that the eldest child, male or female, can inherit. Although not Welsh, the Prince attended Aberystwyth University in the 1970’s and later became Chancellor of the University of Wales, which includes all the major universities in ‘the Principality’. Not everyone in Wales was happy with him holding these positions, however. One man, an officer in the British Army, John Jenkins, tried to plant a bomb near the castle on the night before the investiture ceremony. He was caught and sent to prison for ten years. The Welsh student leaders refused to meet him for some time, but in 1980 a meeting was held at Lampeter, and the Prince took their demands on Welsh Language education and support for Commonwealth students very seriously. Soon after this meeting, education through the ‘medium’ of Welsh was improved in all the universities, and John Jenkins became a student at one of them. Wales now has its own government in Cardiff, with its own Minister for Education.

The Prince has become well-known as a keen promoter of British causes abroad, especially in the Commonwealth, and of the interests of all the British people at home, whatever their first language, religion, ethnic or economic background. He set up the Prince’s Trust in 1976 to provide work opportunities and recreation facilities for young people from deprived backgrounds. He married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, and she became Princess of Wales. They had two children, William and Harry, two of the Queen’s eight grandchildren.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have responded to the interest of people throughout the world in the life of ‘the Royal Family’, even allowing TV cameras to film them on holiday at Balmoral, the castle in Scotland which is their ‘summer retreat’.

It has sometimes proved difficult for people marrying into the family to deal with the loss of privacy and the public pressures which have resulted from this decision.

Three of the four first marriages of ‘the Royal Children’ ended in separation or divorce, and the tragic death of Princess Diana in a Paris subway car accident in 1997 was partly caused by photo-journalists trying to take pictures of her. The British public was deeply affected by her death, and both the monarchy and the media were forced to change some of their ways of doing things.

Above: Her Majesty at seventy-five, 2001

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4 responses to “The Modern Elizabethans: The Life and Times of Queen Elizabeth II, 1926-2001

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  3. Reblogged this on hungarywolf and commented:

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