On 9 July 1947, the engagement between Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten was announced. Shortly before the wedding, Elizabeth’s father bestowed a number of titles on his future son-in-law. He was to be the Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich and should be addressed as “His Royal Highness.” He was also invested with the Order of the Garter, a week after Elizabeth was also invested with it. On 20 November 1947, Elizabeth and Philip were married at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth wore a dress by Norman Hartnell of pearl-and-crystal-encrusted ivory silk satin with a 15-foot train. After the hour-long service, Elizabeth emerged as Duchess of Edinburgh and the newlyweds were driven to Buckingham Palace in the Glass Coach. After a “wedding breakfast” the couple was driven to Waterloo Station to head to their honeymoon. From her honeymoon, Elizabeth wrote to her parents, “I only hope that I can bring up my children in the happy atmosphere of love and fairness which Margaret and I have grown up in.”
After their honeymoon, they took up residence in Clarence House, though they temporarily lived at Buckingham Palace while Clarence House was being renovated. Elizabeth soon found herself pregnant with her first child. On 14 November 1948 – not even a year after their wedding – Elizabeth gave birth to a son named Charles. She later wrote to her cousin Lady Mary Cambridge, “I still find it hard to believe that I really have a baby of my own!” She breastfed him until she fell ill with the measles and Charles was sent away so that he would not catch the illness. Their new home was finally ready for them in the summer of 1949. Philip was determined to have a career in the navy, and he had been taking courses at the Naval Staff College at Greenwich. He took up active service in October 1949 and became based in Malta and Elizabeth joined him there – leaving Charles behind. Margaret Rhodes – Elizabeth’s first cousin – later said, “I think her happiest time was when she was a sailor’s wife in Malta.” In 1950, she was pregnant once more, and on 9 May, she flew back to London to resume some of her royal duties. On 15 August 1950, Elizabeth gave birth to her second child – a daughter named Anne. She breastfed Anne for several months but left both Anne and Charles behind at the end of the year to rejoin her husband in Malta.
However, as her father’s health deteriorated, Elizabeth was called upon more than ever to stand in for her father when he was too sick to do so. It was soon clear that both Elizabeth and Philip were needed to represent the sovereign. King George VI was seriously ill with cancer. They would need to go on a long-planned state visit to Australia, New Zealand and Ceylon and decided to add a few days in Kenya. On 31 January 1952, the King and Queen went with Elizabeth to the airport to wave them off. In the early morning of 6 February, the King was found dead in his bed – the cause of death was a blood clot in his heart. It took a while to contact Elizabeth and Philip in Kenya, and it was Philip who broke the news to Elizabeth. She apparently did not cry but was “pale and worried.” They then took a long walk along the river. When asked what her name should be, she answered, “My own name, of course. What else?”
After a 19-hour flight back home, Elizabeth emerged as Queen dressed in a simple black coat and hat. At Clarence House, Elizabeth found her grandmother Queen Mary waiting to kiss her hand, though she added, “Lillbet, your skirts are much too short for mourning.” Her Accession Council took place the following day at St. James’s Palace and she declared, “By the sudden death of my dear father, I am called to assume the duties and responsibilities of sovereignty. My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples, spread as they are the world over… I pray that God will help me to discharge worthily this heavy task that has been lain upon me so early in my life.” On 15 February, her father was laid to rest.
By April, the family had moved into Buckingham Palace, and she adopted an office schedule, which she would maintain throughout her reign. Almost every single day, she attended to the red leather dispatch boxes filled with official government papers. Elizabeth’s mother had been only 51 when she had been widowed, and she was urged to continue her public service as she was a much-loved figure. She and Elizabeth spoke nearly every day on the telephone.
Two months before Elizabeth’s coronation, Queen Mary died in her sleep, and upon her request, the coronation was not postponed. The coronation was the first of a British monarch to be televised, though the most sacred parts were left out. Canon John Andrew later said, “The real significance of the coronation for her was the anointing, not the crowning. She was consecrated, and that makes her Queen. It is the most solemn thing that has ever happened in her life. She cannot abdicate. She is there until death.” Elizabeth had made Charles, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 26 July 1958 but he was not invested until 1969.1
Part three coming soon.