As many of you may know, today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces launched the largest combined land, air, and naval operation in history to liberate German-occupied France. The epicenter of today’s commemorations went on in Normandy itself, but additional services and ceremonies were held throughout the United States, Canada, and of course, the United Kingdom.
Happy 92nd Birthday to Queen Elizabeth! Later today the Royal Family will all descend on Royal Albert Hall for a concert to mark the occasion and conclude the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), but in the meantime let’s take a look back at April 21, 1926 when HRH Princess Elizabeth was born to the then-Duke and Duchess of York.
The relationship between Edward VIII and his mother, Mary of Teck, is perfectly illustrative of not only the significance of a generational gap, but of how differing views on duty and happiness can be enough to drive a wedge between parent and child. In the case of Edward VIII, or “David” as he was known to his family, and Mary, their relationship was complicated by how each viewed the function of the monarchy itself. Theirs is hardly the first unhappy parent-child relationship in the Royal Family’s history, but it is one that feels more poignant thanks to how recently it unfolded, how much more we know about it and the fact that it was not devoid of natural affection.
We’ve discussed before the strange tradition of strife between sovereign and heir that George I brought with him to Britain when the House of Hanover was established in 1714. It’s a pattern that has carried through subsequent generations in some form or another, though mercifully today it looks quite different than it did in centuries past. As of when the future George V began his family with Mary of Teck in the 1890s, family dynamics were certainly not as political or dire as they were when George II was waging war against his father as Prince of Wales or his son as king, but they also weren’t particularly warm and fuzzy. Indeed, George and Mary were tough parents and the patterns set out in the formative years of their children, two of whom would become kings, dictated how the monarchy unfolded through the 20th century.
Eighty-one years ago today King Edward VIII signed an instrument of abdication to step down from the throne, an act witnessed by his three younger brothers. On December 10, 1936, Edward had been on the throne for less than 11 months following the death of his father, George V, and his time in the top job had been a series of actions that lost him the trust of much of his government, horrified his family and broken any number of traditions that had once been taken for granted. His last task would come the next day when he issued royal assent for the declaration of abdication.
Today marks 70 years of marriage for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Together they have evolved from a young couple supporting Elizabeth’s father, George VI, in post-war Britain to the heads of the British Royal Family as it rolls into the 21st century. From four children, born between 1948 and 1964, they’ve amassed eight grandchildren, five (soon to be six) great-grandchildren and lived through three of their children’s divorces (and two of their remarriages.) It’s hard sometimes to reconcile the images of the two of them as 20-somethings in the 1940s with the grandparent figures they’ve become – just as it’s hard to reconcile the RF of the mid-20th century with how it looks and behaves today – but they are the common denominators.
Once upon a time, Queen Elizabeth II was known as Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh. As bizarre as it sounds, it only recently occurred to me that the Queen would have been known by the feminine version of her husband’s title in the years between their marriage and her accession. You hear about her as Princess Elizabeth and you hear about her as queen, but you rarely, if ever, hear her referred to as the Duchess of Edinburgh, even in past tense to reflect the years 1947-1952.
And yet, those years are illuminating. They represent a five-year span in which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were living as adults, but before they were weighed down by the responsibilities of the crown. If ever there was a time that provided some insight into who Elizabeth and Philip are as people, it is likely this one – when they could choose to live as they wished.
Group Captain Peter Townsend once wrote of Princess Margaret:
“Behind the dazzling facade, the apparent self-assurance, you would find, if you looked for it, a rare softness and sincerity. She could make you bend double with laughing; she could also touch you deeply. [She was] a girl of unusual, intense beauty, confined as it was in her short, slender figure and centred about large purple-blue eyes, generous, sensitive lips and a complexion as smooth as a peach. She was capable, in her face and her whole being, of an astonishing power of expression. It could change in an instant from saintly, almost melancholic, composure to hilarious, uncontrollable joy. She was, by nature, generous, volatile […]”
Fun fact: It took George VI three tries to get the Queen Mother to accept his marriage proposal. Decades before the Queen Mother became synonymous with royal duty and the House of Windsor’s matriarch, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a 20-something and unsure about a life in the spotlight.
Elizabeth first met the future king when he was still Prince Albert, Duke of York in June 1920. They met at a dinner party in London also attended by Queen Mary, Princess Mary and Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester on Derby Night, while George V hosted a lavish celebratory supper at Buckingham Palace. Later that evening, a ball was held with the same party and Albert went up to fellow attendee James Stuart and asked, “Who was that lovely girl you were talking to? Introduce me to her.”
Next month marks the 70th wedding anniversary of Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh and, as such, we’ll cover all that brought about the original 1947 pairing. But ahead of that I thought it was fitting that there was a post on Prince Philip’s parents, particularly since his origin story isn’t particularly well-known. His lineage is unique in the context of the British Royal Family and his entry into the House of Windsor was perhaps the most dramatic in its history, quite a bit of which had to do with his parents and siblings.
So, who were they? His father was Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and his mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg. A couple years ago a guest at Buckingham Palace remarked that, like Philip, they were also Greek, to which he responded that he actually didn’t have a drop of Greek blood. That started a question in the papers as to whether that was true and the answer is, well yes, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that given the styling of his father’s name.