86 Surprising Facts About Queen Elizabeth
1. She speaks fluent French and often uses the language for audiences and state visits. She does not require an interpreter.
2. The Queen has received over 3.5 million items of correspondence during her reign.
3. Since 1952, she has conferred over 404,500 honors and awards.
4. Elizabeth has personally held 610 investitures. An investiture is the ceremony in which an honor is bestowed on someone for their good services; the recognitions are published twice a year, in the Queen’s Birthday Honors and New Year’s Honors lists.
5. Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s 40th monarch since William the Conqueror was crowned.
6. In 2002, at 76, Elizabeth became the oldest monarch to celebrate a Golden Jubilee. The youngest was James I (James VI of Scotland), at age 51.
7. About 1.5 million people have attended garden parties at Buckingham Palace or the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland since Elizabeth has been on the throne.
8. Over the course of her reign, she has given regular Tuesday-evening audiences to 12 British Prime Ministers: Winston Churchill, 1951–55; Sir Anthony Eden, 1955–57; Harold Macmillan, 1957–63; Sir Alec Douglas-Home, 1963–64; Harold Wilson, 1964–70 and 1974–76; Edward Heath, 1970–74; James Callaghan, 1976–79; Margaret Thatcher, 1979–90; John Major, 1990–97; Tony Blair, 1997–2007; Gordon Brown, 2007–2010; and David Cameron, 2010-present.
9. There have been 12 U.S. Presidents during her reign.
10. Tony Blair is the first Prime Minister to have been born during her reign. He was born in early May 1953, a month before her coronation.
11. The Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, introduced small, informal luncheon parties at Buckingham Palace to meet distinguished people from all professions, trades and vocations. The first was held on May 11, 1956, and the tradition continues to this day. There are usually six to eight guests and two members of the royal household in attendance.
12. Elizabeth is patron of more than 600 charities and organizations.
13. In the past 60 years, the Queen has undertaken 261 official overseas visits, including 96 state visits, to 116 different countries.
14. In 2005, she claimed ownership of 88 cygnets (young swans) on the River Thames. They are looked after by a swan marker. The first royal swan keeper was appointed around the 12th century.
15. Technically, the Queen still owns the sturgeons, whales and dolphins in the waters around the U.K. A statute from 1324, during the reign of King Edward II, states, “Also the King shall have … whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm.” This statute is still valid today, and sturgeons, porpoises, whales and dolphins are recognized as “fishes royal”: when they are captured within 3 miles (about 5 km) of U.K. shores or wash ashore, they may be claimed on behalf of the Crown. Generally, when brought into port, a sturgeon is sold in the usual way, and the purchaser, as a gesture of loyalty, requests the honor of its being accepted by Elizabeth.
16. In the summer of 2005, she opened the first children’s trail in the Buckingham Palace garden for its seasonal opening.
17. The Queen joined Facebook in November 2010, with a page called the British Monarchy, which features royal news, photos, videos and speeches. However, it is not possible to poke the royal family. She joined Twitter in July 2009, with teams at Buckingham Palace tweeting daily updates. None of the royals themselves tweet. The page follows only one other Twitter account: Clarence House, the royal home of the Prince of Wales.
18. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s first televised festive address, a YouTube channel for the royal family, called the Royal Channel, was launched in December 2007. At the time, the palace hoped it would make her annual speech “more accessible to younger people and those in other countries.”
19. Elizabeth was the first British monarch to celebrate her diamond wedding anniversary.
20. The Queen is the only person in Britain who can drive without a license or number plate on her state car.
21. Many of Elizabeth’s official tours were undertaken on the royal yacht Britannia. It was launched by the Queen on April 16, 1953, and was commissioned for service on Jan. 7, 1954. It was decommissioned in December 1997. During that time, Britannia traveled more than 1 million miles (1.6 million km) on royal and official duties.
22. Britannia was first used by Elizabeth when she embarked from Tobruk, Libya, with the Duke of Edinburgh on May 1, 1954, for the final stage of their Commonwealth tour returning to the Pool of London. The last time Elizabeth was onboard for an official visit was on Aug. 9, 1997, for a visit to Arran, Scotland.
23. Elizabeth has visited Australia 16 times, Canada 22 times, Jamaica six times and New Zealand 10 times.
24. Since her accession to the throne in 1952, she has visited Edinburgh nearly every year, taking up residence in the Palace of Holyroodhouse during Holyrood Week, when the Queen and her husband undertake a variety of engagements in Scotland to celebrate the country’s heritage.
25. During her reign, the Queen has received many unusual gifts, including a variety of live animals. The more unusual ones have been placed in the care of the London Zoo — among them jaguars and sloths from Brazil and two black beavers from Canada. There have also been gifts of pineapples, eggs, a box of snail shells, a grove of maple trees and 15 lb. (7 kg) of prawns.
26. Elizabeth has sent more than 175,000 telegrams to centenarians in the U.K. and the Commonwealth.
27. She has sent more than 540,000 telegrams to couples in the U.K. and the Commonwealth celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary.
28. Her real birthday is April 21, but it is celebrated officially in June.
29. She has attended 35 Royal Variety Performances.
30. In an average year, the Queen hosts more than 50,000 people at banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and garden parties at Buckingham Palace.
31. There have been six Roman Catholic Popes during the Queen’s reign (Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI).
32. She has launched 23 ships in her lifetime. The first was the H.M.S. Vanguard, which she launched as Princess Elizabeth on Nov. 30, 1944, in Clydebank, Scotland. Her first launch as Queen was of the Britannia, also from Clydebank.
33. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have sent over 37,500 Christmas cards during her reign.
34. She has given out approximately 90,000 Christmas puddings to staff, continuing the custom of King George V and King George VI. In addition, the Queen gives her entire staff gifts at Christmastime.
35. Every year she sends Christmas trees to Westminster Abbey, Wellington Barracks, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh, Crathie Kirk and local schools and churches in the Sandringham area of England.
36. Elizabeth learned to drive in 1945, when she joined the women’s branch of the British army. Both she and Winston Churchill’s daughter were members of the group, which was called the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
37. She was a Girl Guide (1937), a Scouting movement for girls and a Sea Ranger (1943), a section of the Girl Guides focused on sailing.
38. As Princess Elizabeth, she traveled in the London Underground subway system for the first time in May 1939, accompanied by her governess Marion Crawford and her sister Princess Margaret.
39. The Queen is a keen photographer and enjoys taking pictures of her family. The Duke of York is also a photography buff and has taken a number of photographs of Elizabeth, including an official photograph for Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.
40. The Queen was born in a private home at 17 Bruton St., London, on April 21, 1926. (The house was owned by the Queen’s first cousins.) She was baptized on May 29, 1926, in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace and was confirmed on March 28, 1942, in the private chapel at Windsor Castle.
41. With the birth of Prince Andrew in 1960, Elizabeth became the first reigning sovereign to have a child since Queen Victoria, who had her youngest child, Princess Beatrice, in 1857.
42. Elizabeth has 30 godchildren.
43. The first soccer match the Queen attended was the 1953 FA Cup final.
44. She has taken the royal salute from her Household Cavalry — mounted troops known as horse guards — in every Trooping the Color ceremony since the start of her reign, with the exception of 1955, when a national rail strike forced the cancellation of the parade. Trooping the Color is a ceremony performed by British and Commonwealth regiments to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday.
45. The Queen has sat for 129 official portraits during her reign, two of which were with the Duke of Edinburgh. The most recent portrait was by Isobel Peachey and was unveiled in September 2010. Elizabeth was just 7 years old when she sat for her first portrait in 1933, which was commissioned by her mother and painted by the Hungarian artist Philip Alexius de Laszlo.
46. In 2003, she sat for her first and only hologram portrait, which is made up of more than 10,000 images of the Queen layered over one another, giving it a 3-D effect.
47. The first royal walkabout took place during the Queen’s visit with Prince Philip to Australia and New Zealand in 1970. The practice was introduced to allow them to meet a greater number of people, not just officials and dignitaries.
48. In 1969, the first television film about the family life of the royals was made; it was shown on the eve of the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales.
49. An important innovation during her reign was the opening in 1962 of a new gallery at Buckingham Palace to display items from the royal collection. The brainchild of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s Gallery occupied the palace’s bomb-damaged private chapel. It was the first time that parts of the palace had been opened to the general public.
50. The only time the Queen has had to interrupt an overseas tour was in 1974, during a tour of Australia and Indonesia. She was called back from Australia when a general election was announced suddenly. The Duke of Edinburgh continued the program in Australia, and Elizabeth rejoined the tour in Indonesia.
51. She has opened Parliament every year except 1959 and 1963, when she was expecting her children Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, respectively.
52. She went on her first state visit as Princess Elizabeth to South Africa with her mother and father, then King and Queen, from February to May 1947. The tour included Zimbabwe, Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basutoland (now Lesotho). The Princess celebrated her 21st birthday in Cape Town. Her first state visit as Queen was to Kenya: her father King George VI died, and she acceded the throne during the tour, which had to be abandoned.
53. Her first Commonwealth tour began on Nov. 24, 1953, and included visits to Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, the Cocos Islands, Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, Libya, Malta and Gibraltar. The total distance covered was 43,618 miles (70,196 km).
54. In 1986, the Queen became the first British monarch to visit China.
55. She has made a Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth every year of her reign except 1969, when a repeat of the film Royal Family was shown and a written message from the Queen issued. In 1953, she made her first Christmas broadcast from overseas, broadcasting live from New Zealand. Her first televised broadcast was in 1957, made live. Her first prerecorded broadcast took place in 1960, allowing transmission around the world.
56. She sent a message of congratulations to Apollo 11 astronauts for the first moon landing on July 21, 1969. The message was microfilmed and deposited on the moon in a metal container.
57. The Queen has met at Buckingham Palace the first man in space, Russian major Yuri Gagarin; the first woman in space, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova; and the first men on the moon, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, as well as their Apollo 11 colleague Michael Collins.
58. She sent her first e-mail in 1976, from a British army base.
59. There have been six Archbishops of Canterbury during her reign: Geoffrey Fisher, Michael Ramsey, Donald Coggan, Robert Runcie, George Carey and Rowan Williams.
60. History was made in 1982 when Pope John Paul II visited Britain; he was the first Pope to do so in 450 years. Elizabeth, titular head of the Church of England, received him at Buckingham Palace.
61. She visited a mosque in the U.K. for the first time in July 2002, in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.
62. The Queen has attended 56 royal Maundy services (religious services on the day preceding Good Friday to honor the service of elderly people in their communities and the church) in 43 cathedrals during her reign. A total of 6,710 people have received Maundy money, coins minted especially for the occasion, in recognition of their service. Elizabeth has missed only four services — two for official tours and two for the births of Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
63. Elizabeth has owned more than 30 corgis during her reign, starting with Susan, who was a present for her 18th birthday in 1944. A good proportion of these have been direct descendants from Susan. Elizabeth currently has five corgis: Emma, Linnet, Monty, Holly and Willow.
64. Elizabeth introduced a new breed of dog known as the dorgi when one of her corgis was mated with a dachshund named Pipkin that belonged to Princess Margaret. Elizabeth currently has four dorgis: Cider, Berry, Candy and Vulcan. As well as corgis and dorgis, the Queen also breeds and trains Labradors and cocker spaniels at Sandringham House. A special Sandringham strain of black Labrador was founded in 1911.
65. She takes a keen interest in horses and racing. Her first pony, a Shetland called Peggy, was given to her by her grandfather King George V when she was 4 years old. Elizabeth continues to ride at Sandringham, Balmoral and Windsor. The Queen also takes interest in horse breeding. Horses bred at the royal studs over the past 200 years have won virtually every major race in Britain. Elizabeth has about 25 horses in training each season.
66. Her racing colors consist of a purple body with gold braiding, scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap with gold fringe.
67. She continues the royals’ long association with racing pigeons, which began in 1886 when King Leopold II of Belgium made a gift of racing pigeons to the British royal family. In 1990, one of Elizabeth’s birds took part in the Pau race, coming first in the Section 5th Open of the important international pigeon race, and was subsequently named Sandringham Lightning. In recognition of her interest in the sport, the Queen was named a patron of a number of racing societies, including the Royal Pigeon Racing Association.
68. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were married on Nov. 20, 1947, in Westminster Abbey. Her wedding dress was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell and was woven at Winterthur Silks Limited, Dunfermline, in the Canmore factory, with silk that had come from Chinese silkworms at Lullingstone Castle.
69. Her dressmakers over the years have included Sir Hardy Amies, Sir Norman Hartnell, Karl-Ludwig Couture and Maureen Rose. Her milliners have been Frederick Fox, Philip Somerville and Marie O’Regan.
70. Her wedding ring was made from a nugget of Welsh gold that came from the Clogau St. David’s mine near Dolgellau. Her official wedding cake was made by McVitie and Price Ltd., using ingredients given as a wedding gift by Australian Girl Guides.
71. The Queen has an extensive collection of jewelry, most of which are crown jewels, some inherited and some gifts, including the largest pink diamond in the world. Some of her well-known pieces include a brooch of diamonds forming a spray of wattle that was presented by the Australian government in 1954 and a necklace of large square-cut aquamarines and diamonds with earrings, given as a gift in her coronation year by the ambassador of Brazil, which Elizabeth wore on her French state visit in 2004.
72. Elizabeth has laid a wreath at the Cenotaph — Britain’s iconic war memorial that commemorates the dead in both world wars — on Remembrance Sunday every year of her reign, except in 1959, 1961, 1963, 1968, 1983 and 1999, when she was either pregnant or overseas on an official visit.
73. She has visited the sets of a number of popular British soap operas, including Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale.
74. In 1997, Buckingham Palace’s first official website was launched.
75. In 1998, Elizabeth introduced theme days to promote and celebrate aspects of British culture. The first theme day was City Day, focusing on financial institutions. Other themes have included Publishing, Broadcasting, Tourism, Emergency Services, Maritime, Music, Young Achievers, British Design and Pioneers.
76. In June 2002, to celebrate her Golden Jubilee, the Queen hosted the first public concerts in the garden of Buckingham Palace. She attended both the classical and pop concerts. The Party at the Palace show was one of the most-watched pop concerts in history, attracting about 200 million viewers from all over the world.
77. She is the first member of the royal family to be awarded a gold disc from the recording industry: 100,000 copies of the Party at the Palace CD, produced by EMI, were sold within its first week of release.
78. She hosted Buckingham Palace’s first women-only event, “Women of Achievement,” in March 2004.
79. In November 2004, Elizabeth invited the cast of Les Misérables in the West End to perform for then French President Jacques Chirac at Windsor Castle. It was the first time the cast of a West End musical had performed at a royal residence.
80. As a young girl, Elizabeth acted in a number of pantomimes during World War II, including playing Prince Florizel in Cinderella in 1941. The productions took place every year in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.
81. She once demoted a footman for giving her corgis whiskey.
82. She is supposedly the only British monarch in history properly trained to change a spark plug, as she undertook a car-maintenance course during World War II.
83. She collected clothing coupons for her wedding dress, true to the spirit of postwar austerity.
84. The Queen issued a writ against the Sun newspaper after it published the full text of her 1992 broadcast two days before its transmission. She later accepted an apology and a £200,000 donation to charity.
85. Only three other world heads of state have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee during Elizabeth’s reign: King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand celebrated 60 years on the throne in 2006; the former Sultan of Johor (now part of Malaysia) celebrated his in 1955; and Emperor Hirohito of Japan celebrated his in 1986.
86. The last and only other British monarch to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee was Queen Victoria in 1897, at the age of 77. At 86, Queen Elizabeth will be the oldest monarch to celebrate this occasion.
– Times Special