In the U.K., the weekend of 2-5 June 2022 will be given over to celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee: the monarch has reigned for a record seventy years.
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21 April 1926, the daughter of the Duke of York, who was second in line to the throne. He, as a second son, normally wasn’t destined to become king, and so Elizabeth wasn’t destined to become queen. But in 1936, George’s brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. So his shy brother, who had a bad stammer and struggled to speak in public, was pushed into the role of king. And, since he had no sons, his eldest daughter later became queen.
Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, as was typical for royalty at the time, were educated at home by tutors. Once her father became king, Elizabeth received extra lessons in law and religion to prepare her for her future role.
When World War II broke out in 1939, the King and Queen chose to stay in London, even after Buckingham Palace was bombed, to share the danger of German air raids with the population during the Blitz. Elizabeth and Margaret, like so many other children, were sent away for their safety, spending much of the war at Windsor Castle or Balmoral in Scotland. Once Elizabeth turned 18 in 1944, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the Army, and trained to become a driver and mechanic.
In 1947, Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, a distant cousin with royal lineage from Greece and Denmark. He was a Naval officer and for the first years of their marriage were spent where his postings took them. They had the first of their four children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
The King’s health had been fragile for some time, and Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were replacing him on a royal visit to Kenya when they received news of his death on 6 February 1952. Elizabeth immediately became Queen, although her coronation only took place on 2 June 1953.
Celebrating 70 Years
The Platinum one will be the Queen’s fourth Jubilee after the Silver (25 years), Golden (50) and Diamond (60), and it will involve many familiar and traditional elements. It will, though, be the first Jubilee the Queen has celebrated without her late husband. At 96, and having suffered several health problems recently, she will only attend some of the events, with other Royals hosting the remainder.
It will start on Thursday 2 June with the annual Trooping the Colour parade that marks the monarch’s official birthday with over 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians. That evening, 1,500 beacons will be lit around the country and in the capital cities of the 54 countries of the Commonwealth. The fires were traditionally used to signal news.
Until 1987, the Queen rode a horse at Trooping the Colour.On Friday 3 June there will be a Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral and on the Saturday the Queen will be able to indulge in one of her favourite activities, watching horse racing, at the Epsom Derby. The Queen was a keen rider and owns several racehorses. That will be followed by a Platinum Party at Buckingham Palace, a concert with a plethora of stars.
The Jubilee will wind up on Sunday with another national tradition: street parties. Dubbed the Big Jubilee Lunch, people around the country are being encouraged to enjoy an outdoor meal with neighbours and friends (weather permitting!) In London, a Platinum Pageant and parade will feature lots of puppets, floats and performers, including participation by many schoolchildren. Children have sent in pictures of their hopes for the planet over the next 70 years, some of which have been reproduced on 200 silk flags which will be paraded down the Mall as a “River of Hope”.
The Royal Family has been encouraging individuals and groups to “plant a tree for the jubilee”, contributing to the Queen’s Green Canopy. More than a million trees have been planted since October. The sculpture above, “Tree of Trees” by Thomas Heatherwick, will be placed in front of Buckingham Palace for the Jubilee weekend. It is made of recycled steel and 350 native British tree saplings, which will be distributed for planting after the weekend.
As the Queen looks back on the last 70 years, she will see a vastly changed society. Her coronation took place in the aftermath of World War II, when London was still full of bombed out buildings and food was still rationed. At her request, her coronation was televised, giving a boost to the young television industry, and beginning an era when the media would have much greater access to the life of the Royal family than ever before.
Ironically, since she became Queen because her uncle was not allowed to reign if he married a divorcee, three of the Queen’s four children have themselves divorced, although she herself had a long and apparently happy marriage. She and Prince Philip celebrated their 73rd anniversary before his death in 2021. In 2013, the law was changed to allow the eldest daughters of monarchs to accede to the throne even if they have younger brothers. (At the same time, ban on the monarch marrying a Catholic was removed.)
Queen Elizabeth II has survived thirteen governments – Boris Johnson is the fourteenth Prime Minister of her reign – and many tragedies and scandals. The death of Princess Diana, the fire that ravaged Windsor Castle, the popular opposition to the cost of the monarchy that led her to become the first monarch to pay income tax, the recent Prince Andrew legal case and the feud between Prince Harry that saw him resign from royal duties and leave the country.
For many in the U.K., she has provided a fixed, familiar figurehead through their own and the country’s ups and downs. Millions will be out on the streets celebrating this very British institution over Jubilee weekend.
> Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Resources
> Queen Elizabeth II Teaching Tools
> The People’s Portrait
> Visiting Buckingham Palace
> Queen Elizabeth II Comic Strip
> Seventy Years a Queen