The future Queen Elizabeth II was born at 2.40 am on 21 April 1926 as the daughter of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and the future King George VI, then the Duke and Duchess of York, by caesarean. At the time, her uncle, the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VIII, was still young and still expected to marry and produce heirs. Nevertheless, at the time of her birth, she was third in the line of succession. Her father wrote to his mother Queen Mary, “We always wanted a child to make our happiness complete, & now that it has happened, it seems so wonderful and strange. I do hope that you & Papa are as delighted as we are, to have a granddaughter, or would you have sooner had another grandson. I know Elizabeth wanted a daughter.” She was christened on 29 May in the Private Chapel at Buckingham Palace.
She would spend her first Christmas at Sandringham with her grandparents, the King and Queen. Her parents were preparing for a tour, which her mother dreaded. Elizabeth herself would be left behind and spent the six-month separation from her parents with her governess Alah and both sets of grandparents. On 11 April, Alah, her governess, noticed that Elizabeth had started to crawl. She would spend her first birthday without her parents or grandparents. Shortly before her parents’ return, she learned to say “mama.” As she learned to walk and talk, she would call herself “Lilibet”, a name that would stick. On 21 August 1930, her sister Princess Margaret Rose was born, and Elizabeth became a proud big sister.
At the age of five, Elizabeth began dance lessons under Miss Marguerite Vacani and began taking French lessons from a French governess. She also took swimming lessons and learned to ride horses. In 1933, Marion Crawford, another governess came into her life, although Marion would later be ostracized for writing a book about the Princesses. During the week, Elizabeth had lessons of arithmetic, history, grammar, literature, poetry, writing, geography and bible study. She also had music and drawing lessons. The early 1930s were a happy time for the family, but things were soon to change.
On 20 January 1936, Elizabeth’s grandfather King George V died and was succeeded by her uncle, now King Edward VIII. By then, he was already well into his relationship with Wallis Simpson, for whom he would give up the throne by the end of the year. At first, life remained much as it had been before though worries about the future hung over her parents. By November it was clear that her uncle intended to abdicate. On 7 December, Elizabeth’s father and uncle met at Fort Belvedere. Her father later wrote, “The awful & ghastly suspense of waiting was over… [David] told me his decision that he would go.” On 10 December, all the brothers came together for the signing of the abdication document. Elizabeth’s father was now King George VI, and Elizabeth was first in the line of succession. She was now the most famous child in the world.
The following February the family moved into Buckingham Palace, and Elizabeth was perhaps most concerned with the transport of her toy horse Ben. The new King and Queen were busy doing damage control and preparing for the coronation. Both Princesses were supposed to attend the coronation and were often taken out of their lessons for fittings. In a break with tradition, their grandmother Queen Mary also attended the coronation. The following October both Princesses attended their father’s first State Opening.
The new year finally allowed the family to settle into their new routine. Shortly after her 12th birthday, Elizabeth became the President of the Children’s League of the Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children, a move to give her more responsibilities. In June, Elizabeth’s grandmother the Countess of Strathmore died, but a state visit to France had to go on. Despite being in mourning, the visit was a great success. As the year came to an end, the danger of Adolf Hitler had begun to loom. The year of 1939 saw Elizabeth taking her education a different course – she began lessons in constitutional history twice a week with the Vice Provost of Eton College. It was also the year that Elizabeth fell in love with her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece, whom she met during a visit to the Royal Naval College, where the 18-year-old Prince was enrolled. For now, love would have to wait because war was looming.
On 11 May 1940, both Princesses were moved to Windsor Castle after the invasion of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France. Later that year, she delivered her first broadcast in Children’s Hour. In October 1941, Elizabeth finally saw Prince Philip again when he spent a weekend at Windsor during leave. Her father thought him, “a charming boy.” In 1942, Elizabeth had her confirmation in the Private Chapel of Windsor Castle by the Archbishop of Canterbury. That year she also received her first public appointment when her father made her honorary Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. She was anxious to do more war work, but her parents thought she was too young. In August of that year, the Royals lost one of their own in the war when Prince George, Duke of Kent was killed when his military aircraft crashed. Both Princesses had been very fond of their uncle. In 1943, Elizabeth enrolled as a Sea Ranger and became the President of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Her 17th birthday was celebrated with a dance at Windsor Castle. At the end of 1943, Prince Philip once more was invited to Windsor Castle where he saw Elizabeth and Margaret perform a pantomime.
Her 18th birthday in 1944 meant that she could now act as a Counsellor of State, which enabled her to carry out state business if the need were to arise. Her father wrote in his diary, “Lilbet’s 18th birthday. The Changing of the Guard took place in the quadrangle and we it an occasion for her birthday. Col. J. Prescott handed her the Colonel’s Standard, which will be used on her future inspections… We gave a family lunch to which Mama came. It was a lovely hot day. L can now act as a Counsellor of State.” In July, her first lady-in-waiting, Lady Mary Palmer, was appointed. In early 1945, Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) where she learned the theory and practice of mechanics. Then, at last, came Victory in Europe. The family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with the King in his naval uniform and Elizabeth in her ATS uniform. Margaret and Elizabeth were later allowed to join the crowds in the care of some officers. They were not recognised and even joined the people when they shouted for the King and Queen. The war had left the King exhausted, but there was to be no break for him.
Elizabeth no longer had lessons and began her day with correspondence and often did engagements in the afternoon. She moved into a new suite. She also began dating Prince Philip low profile, and he stayed at Balmoral that summer, and by September there were rumours of an engagement. They were indeed engaged but promised to wait with making an announcement until after Elizabeth 21st birthday and after the South African tour. Meanwhile, Philip applied for naturalisation as a British subject, which would mean renouncing his foreign titles. After naturalisation he became known as Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten R.N. On her 21st birthday, she spoke the now-famous words, “I declare before you that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong.” She was now truly a Queen in the making.1
Part two coming soon.