Queen Elizabeth II: Things You Didn't Know About Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II waves during a walk in 2016. (Getty Images)
On this day 94 years ago, the longest reigning monarch in British history was born. Although no one could have known it when she slid into the world on April 21, 1926, Queen Elizabeth II of England would become one of the most recognizable faces on planet Earth. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, her image has appeared on the currency of 35 different countries, more than any other person in history. Let's celebrate her royal legacy with fun facts about the Queen you may not know!
Queen Elizabeth II Wasn't Born To Be Queen
It's hard to believe, but the longest reigning monarch wasn't meant to be a monarch at all. For one thing, her father was never supposed to be king. Albert Windsor was the second boy born to King George V, and it was expected that his older brother, Prince Edward, would ascend the throne when their father died. That all changed, however, when Prince Edward fell in love with a glamorous American divorcee named Wallis Simpson. Despite the fact that the Church of England was basically founded for the sake of royal divorce, it was nonetheless a major religious, cultural, and political scandal for him to marry a divorced woman. Edward's heart overcame ambition, and he served as king for less than a year before he abdicated his throne to little brother Albert.
Because Albert never had a son, his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, became heir apparent at the age of 11. Nowadays, the fact that he never had a son wouldn't be an issue at all thanks to Parliament, who changed the law in 2013 to allow the monarch's first-born child to become their heir regardless of gender.
Queen Elizabeth II in 1959. (Wikimedia Commons)
Queen Elizabeth II Is So Rich
Sure, we all know the royal family is rich, but it's mind-boggling to find out just how rich. The Windsor family overall is valued at an estimated $88 billion. To put that into perspective, if you earned $1,000 a day, it would take you 2,738 years just to make $1 billion.
Before you go storming Buckingham Palace, however, you should know that 1) this estimation encompasses the entire royal family, not just Her Royal Purse Strings, and 2) a lot of this so-called value lies more in "the royal brand and other, less tangible contributions" rather than cold hard cash or actual property. Queen Elizabeth's own private wealth is still over half a billion dollars, but the royal brand also contributes over $1.7 billion annually to the British economy by way of merchandise and tourism. Maybe it's okay that the queen has over 5,000 hats and a 3,106-carat diamond broach—in the end, the people of Britain seem happy enough to foot the bill for their beloved Queen.
Buckingham Palace. 2009. Wikimedia Commons
The Queen Is Cool Under Pressure
Like many notable leaders, Elizabeth II has been targeted by deranged or radical individuals. In 1981, a teenagershot at Queen Elizabethwhile she was visiting Dunedin, New Zealand on a diplomatic trip. Luckily, no one was injured, and the teenager was arrested. The Queen was understandably shaken by the attempt on her life, but amazingly, she decided to continue her commitment to the parade and many other events New Zealand officials had planned.
The following year, a man named Michael Fagan decided it would be fun to see if he could break into Buckingham Palace. That's understandable, given all the jewels and hats, but what's surprising is that he succeeded, not once but twice. The first time, he was spotted by a maid, but security didn't take her seriously. He wandered around long enough to drink a half bottle of wine and pee into the royal dog food. Poor puppies.
The second time he broke in, he made his way into the Queen's very bedroom as she slept. Again, the police were notified that the royal security system had been triggered but decided to ignore the call under the bizarre assumption that it was a false alarm. Perhaps the Queen had a sleepwalking habit? Whatever the case, Elizabeth spotted him hiding behind the curtains and asked him, quite calmly, "What are you doing here?"
Details vary about what happened next, but the most consistent narrative is that they spoke civilly to one another for a brief time before Elizabeth left the room and called for help. It took police nearly 10 minutes to respond. To the Queen of England. About an intruder. In her bedroom.
Needless to say, many were fired, and the whole security system was overhauled following the ordeal. Fagan only faced minor charges as he was unarmed and showed no intent to commit a crime other than breaking in, and even decades later, he couldn't explain his motivations beyond the thought that it was "naughty" to sneak into Buckingham Palace.
London during WWII. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs/Wikimedia Commons)
She's Just Plain Cool
As is to be expected, the Queen has privileges no one else is afforded. She can drive without a license, she can fly without a passport, and her birthday is celebrated not once but twice a year.
But there are other, more important parts of her life that earn her the status of a cool queen. During WWII, many pleaded the royal family to leave Buckingham Palace as London was being bombed, but the King and Queen refused. Then-Princess Elizabeth even joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service and learned the skills of a professional truck driver and mechanic. When she got married shortly after the war ended, she had to pay for her wedding dress with fabric rationing coupons, just like the rest of England.
She was only 25 years old when she became queen, and while it is tragic to have lost her father so young and daunting to take on the responsibilities of such a powerful leader at any age, she gained the trust of the people with both her talent for innovation and her appreciation of tradition. By modern standards, she is a very private woman, but for her time, she unusually yielding to the public. She allowed video cameras at her coronation despite backlash from politicians and went on to allow television viewers to watch her meetings with other world leaders. She even allowed the media unprecedented glimpses into her day-to-day life. She is also, by many standards, the most charitable monarch in not just British but world history.
She may be 94 today, but that doesn't mean we need to brace for goodbye anytime soon. If she takes after her mother, who lived to 101 years old, we may have many more birthdays to celebrate ahead. In the meantime, may God save the Queen.