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Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

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Golden Jubilee photograph of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor) (born April 21, 1926) is the Queen regnant and head of state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and 16 Commonwealth Realms. She has reigned since February 6, 1952. Her coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.

In the UK, her majesty's official title is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. In Canada, her majesty's official title is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Likewise, her other titles in other commonwealth realms makes some references to "...and Her other Realms and Territories" as a symbol of unity. In common practice Queen Elizabeth II is referred to simply as "The Queen".

Born in London, England, by Caesarean section she is the elder daughter of King George VI (then Duke of York) and his Queen consort, Elizabeth, her younger sister being the late Princess Margaret. Elizabeth succeeded to the throne following the death of her father in 1952.

She married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark1 in November 1947. They have four children. Though the Royal House is named Windsor, it was decreed that the descendants of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip should have the personal surname Mountbatten-Windsor.2

Despite a succession of controversies about the rest of the royal family, particularly throughout the 1980s and 1990s (including wide reportage of Prince Philip's propensity for verbal gaffes, and the marital difficulties of her children), Queen Elizabeth remains a remarkably uncontroversial and widely respected figure. She has managed to reflect the expectations of the British public for the role near-perfectly, with one notable exception when she and the other royals were perceived to be unmoved by the public outpouring of grief following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales on August 31, 1997.

Coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

She is both a public figure, and, by all accounts, an exceedingly private person. She has never given press interviews, and her views on political issues are largely unknown except for those few heads of government who have private conversations with her. She reportedly has few close friends, instead preferring the company of horses and corgis, areas in which she, like many of the other royals, is regarded as an expert. She is also regarded as a excellent mimic, whose impressions of people are regarded as first rate. One British impressionist once said if the British monarchy was abolished, he would hire her for his show the next day, so good are her impressions.

Her former prime ministers speak highly of her. Since becoming queen, she spends an average of three hours every day 'doing the boxes', i.e. reading state papers sent to her from her various departments, embassies, etc. Having done so since 1952, she has probably seen as much of world affairs in that period as anyone, and is thus able to offer observations to Tony Blair based on things said to her by Harold Wilson, Harold Macmillan, Ted Heath, Winston Churchill and many other senior leaders she had spoken to. She takes her responsibilities in this regard seriously, once mentioning an "interesting telegram" from the Foreign Office to then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, only to find that her notoriously lazy prime minister hadn't bothered to read it when it came in his box. Prime Ministers take their weekly meetings with her very seriously. One said it he took it more seriously than Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, because she would be better briefed and more constructive than anything he would face at the despatch box. She also has regular meetings with her individual ministers. Even ministers known to have republican views speak highly of her and value those meetings. She receives daily reports also on what is on in Parliament, as well as frequent meetings with the Scottish First Minister[?], whom she (nominally) appoints. (The royal palace in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, once home to Scottish kings and queens like Mary, Queen of Scots, is now regularly used again, with at least one member of the Royal Family, often the Prince of Wales or Princess Royal frequently in residence). She also receives reports on the Welsh Assembly.

Though bound by convention not to intervene directly in politics, her length of service, the fact that she has been a confidante of every prime minister since Sir Winston Churchill, and her knowledge of world leaders, means that when she does express an opinion, however cautiously, her words are taken seriously. In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher offers this description of her weekly meetings with the Queen:

"Anyone who imagines that they are a mere formality or confined to social niceties is quite wrong; they are quietly businesslike and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience."

The Rhodesia controversy of the late 1970's is a prominant example of the Queen subtlely influencing policy. In 1973, a report by Lord Grenville on his visit to Rhodesia initially depressed the then Labour government, as it reported only slight movement from the Ian Smith regime. However, after a conversation with James Callaghan at a state dinner in Buckingham Palace, the Queen through her Private Secretary noted that though the scale of the movement was slight, any movement was a change from what had happened before, and might indicate the beginning of change. Her observation, based on many years reading foreign office reports (including years when those Labour ministers were not in office), was influential in convincing the Labour government not to abandon contact with Smith's Rhodesia. That contact was the genesis of what ultimately became the Lancaster House[?] Agreement that produced Zimbabwe. When Margaret Thatcher, who was known to hold pro-Ian Smith views, became prime minister, it was feared that those contacts might be scaled back, but according to one Thatcher cabinet minister, an "intoxicating mix" of the Queen and Thatcher's Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington[?] kept her attached to the process developed by the previous Labour government.

Though her political views are never expressed publicly, she is believed to hold centre, even slightly left of centre views. She was seen as closer to Harold Wilson than Edward Heath and certainly closer to Tony Blair than Margaret Thatcher. During Thatcher's period in government, an unnamed source in Buckingham Palace reported that the Queen was worried that the right wing policies of the Thatcher government were dividing Britain and hurting the Commonwealth. Her statement of praise for the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement raised some complaints in Northern Ireland among some unionists in the Democratic Unionist Party who opposed the Agreement, including the role given to the Irish government, the downgrading of British symbols in the North and the presence of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Executive[?].

Her personal friendship with leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, Bill Clinton and others have made her exceptionally well informed on world affairs. On occasion such contacts have proved highly beneficial for Britain. John Major as prime minister once had difficulty at a Commonwealth Conference[?] working with a particular Commonwealth leader. The Queen, knowing that leader, guessed that there might be problems and informed her British Prime Minister that he and the leader shared a mutual interest in sport. Major used that information to establish a personal relationship between both men, which ultimately benefited both countries. Similarly she took the initiative when Irish President Mary Robinson began visiting Britain, by suggesting to Her Government that she invite her Irish counterpart to pay courtesy call on her in the Palace. The Irish Government enthusiastically supported the idea. The result was a groundbreaking first ever visit by an Irish president to meet the British monarch.

In its aftermath, Mary Robinson was invited to pay an official visit to Britain. Since then, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Princess Royal, the Earl of Wessex and the Duke of Edinburgh have all visited Ireland, many travelling to Áras an Uachtaráin to meet the Irish President. Successive Irish presidents and taoisigh (prime ministers) have also visited Buckingham Palace, while President McAleese, in a break with precedent, attended a major royal event, the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (co-incidentially the last Queen of Ireland [1936-1949]) in 2002. Expectations are high that the Queen will pay a state visit to Ireland as the guest of the Irish President in the near future. (Mary McAleese once paid a public compliment to the Queen, whom she had known before she became president, calling her a 'dote' (a term of affection meaning a lovely person) in an Irish newspaper interview.)

On January 2, 2003 the Queen, following advice from her Government, rejected a claim from Jamaican Rastafarians for compensation for slavery following representations made by Rastafarians to the Queen on a visit to Jamaica in 2002. In a letter addressed to the Rastafarian brethren and widely reported in the Jamican media, she wrote "Under the statute of the International Criminal Court, acts of enslavement committed today... do constitute a crime against humanity. But the historic slave trade was not a crime against humanity or contrary to international law at the time when the UK Government condoned it... It is a fundamental principle of international law that events have to be judged against the law as it stood at the time when they occurred. We regret and condemn the inequities of the slave trade, but these shameful activities belong to the past. Governments today cannot accept responsibility for what happened over 150 years ago.... [My Government] is looking at ways to commemorate all victims of the slave trade. The aim is to express the profound regret we feel about slavery while looking positively to the future."

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Children of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip


1Prince Phillip had renounced his claim to the Greek throne and was simply referred to as Phillip Mountbatten, RN prior to being created Duke of Edinburgh the night before the marraige.
2 The personal surname change came via an Order-in-Council in 1960. Source: Buckingham Palace.

Preceded by:
George VI
List of British monarchs Heir apparent:
Charles, Prince of Wales

Queen Elizabeth is a central character in a series of murder mystery novels by the Canadian author Douglas Whiteway (writing under the penname C. C. Benison). In each one, a murder takes place at one of her estates, and Queen Elizabeth asks the Canadian housemaid Jane Bee to solve the crime, which of course she does.

The Cunard cruise liner RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 (note the Arabic numeral) is so named not for Queen Elizabeth II, but rather because it is Cunard's second ship of that name. (The first RMS Queen Elizabeth was named for the late Queen Mother, who was then Queen consort.)

The QE2 bridge that takes southbound traffic over the Thames between Thurrock and Dartford just to the east of London is, however, named in her honour. Most motorists using the route however still refer to the Dartford Crossing a term that includes the two tunnels now used to allow northbound traffic to travel from Kent into Essex (one of which was originally built for southbound vehicles). Low-level aircraft pilots for whom the bridge represents a useful landmark do keep the official name in general usage.

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