Friday, February 3, 2012

The Queen and Her Diamond Jubilee

 Heir to the throne, Princess Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1946
Photo via New York Times

With Julian Fellowes of "Downton Abbey" bringing the Edwardian England of our imagination to life each Sunday night on television,  many of us have been thinking about English history and it's been exciting to read about Queen Elizabeth II who is going to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, a truly historic occasion.

Did anyone see this gorgeous picture of a young Queen Elizabeth in the New York Times on Sunday?  You can read the accompanying article here.  There is a new book on Queen Elizabeth "Elizabeth The Queen" by Sally Bedell Smith and also a new book on her husband "Prince Phillip" by Phillip Eade.  This year is the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Elizabeth's reign, which is only the second Diamond Jubilee in British history.  Queen Victoria's in 1897 was the first.  In the year 2015 Queen Elizabeth will have been Queen longer than Victoria or any other British monarch. With her Diamond Jubilee coming up, there are new books about her and Prince Phillip, upcoming museum exhibitions, as well as some big events in London this summer connected to this historic event.

Maybe it is the pomp and pageantry of the monarchy or the thousand-year history of Great Britain with the many kings and queens that have gone before and the continuity from one generation to another that captures my imagination,  but I get goosebumps when I watch an event such as the recent wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton or anticipate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

The remarkable story of how Elizabeth became Queen involves much fascinating English history.  It is a saga that includes the love story of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.  Elizabeth was not supposed to be the Queen.  Her uncle King Edward VIII was expected to be King, which is what happened.  But when he surprisingly abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved, Elizabeth's father -- Edward's brother --  reluctantly became King. We saw this story last year in the movie "The King's Speech, which starred Colin Firth.

I recently read that on hearing the news of their father's accession to the throne, Princess Margaret asked her older sibling, "Does that mean that you will have to be the next Queen?"  "Yes, someday," Elizabeth answered.  "Poor you," replied Margaret.


I have been spotting some great articles here and here about Queen Elizabeth and have also started reading the book "Elizabeth The Queen" by Sally Bedell Smith and am learning some fascinating details about her life and the life of Prince Phillip.  She fell in love with Prince Phillip of Greece when she was 13.  A distant cousin, he was a dashing and handsome young man with an interesting life.  In 1922 when he was a baby, he was smuggled out of Greece in a fruit crate as his father King Andrew of Greece was escaping execution. His mother was institutionalized when he was 8 and after that his father spent most of his time  in Monte Carlo and Paris, abandoning his son.  The young prince was basically homeless, and would spend boarding school vacations with his mother's relatives.

When he began courting Princess Elizabeth he was a 22-year old naval lieutenant who had spent the previous summer on a British destroyer.  After the war ended the young war hero began courting the princess and would arrive at Buckingham Palace, driving up in his MG.  She was quite smitten with him.  They married on November 20, 1947 during Britain's bleak post-war era.

Five years later her father King George VI died at age 56 and she and Phillip were in Kenya when she got the news. They were in a treetop hotel, filming elephants and unaware of the drama unfolding in London.  They descended to discover the momentous news.  Elizabeth's cousin Lady Pamela Mountbatten said that Elizabeth had "climbed up that ladder as a princess" but "she was going to have to climb down again as a queen."  She was 25 years old.

It is fascinating to think, as Sally Bedell Smith reminds us in "Elizabeth The Queen," that from the mid-nineteenth century to the present time -- for 123 of the past 174 years --  the British monarchy has been dominated by two remarkable women, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.  No one else has had a longer reign.


And so there will be many celebrations in London in her honor.  One of the most exciting is happening at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  The museum is celebrating the event with what looks like a fabulous photography exhibition:  "Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton:  A Diamond Jubilee Celebration."  It opens this month.

Princess Elizabeth by Cecil Beaton, 1945

Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton, on June 2, 1953 at her coronation
via Victoria and Albert Museum

Queen Elizabeth was still a young princess when she first sat for Beaton in 1942.  He was the Queen's official photographer and over the next three decades he would be invited to photograph the Queen on many special occasions, including her Coronation Day. This exhibition will include many of these famous photographs.  Photographs, diaries, personal letters, and press clippings have all been included in the exhibition to tell the story of this collaboration between Elizabeth the  Queen and Cecil Beaton the photographer.  Oh to be in London for this exhibition!


With the new books on Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, the Cecil Beaton art exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, recent films such as "Young Victoria," "The Queen," and "The King's Speech," and of course the hit television show "Downton Abbey," it is obvious that there is an insatiable appetite for the fascinating topic of English history.

If you would like to know what is happening in London to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, read a recent post from one of my favorite bloggers Jeanne Henriques at "Finding my way... in England."  Jeanne lists many official events happening in June of 2012, including additional art exhibitions, concerts and a royal river procession that will include the ringing of church bells, fireworks, and music.  It looks like London will be having quite a summer!    


  1. I'd love to know more about her life!!

  2. The monarch captures my imagination as well, Sunday and i would love to see the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert. 'Tis not to be, but, oh how wonderful to view it from my perch here at my computer and read about it on your blog. This is such a lovely post and what glorious pictures. She was really beautiful - and still is. Thank you.

    OKAY - I'm going to try this again. Blogspot won't take my word verification, a problem that has been creeping up on a few blogs lately. I'm going to try this another way, I don't give up easily.

  3. I have a book of Cecil Beaton's royal portraits that I found at a library booksale. It's large and heavy and fun to get down from the shelf and peruse on dreary Sunday afternoons. I've also got a few coronation commemorative pieces--a plate, a cup and saucer, a ceramic tobacco jar and a candy tin. The tin is the only piece that also has a portrait of Prince Philip. He was quite a looker! I'll have to see if I can get my hands on that pair of biographies.

  4. I used to feel embarrassed that I loved all the "pomp and pageantry" of the English royals, but not anymore, I love it, and wish we had more of it. Somehow, with the world in such a state of chaos, the order of it all, brings a certain comfort to me. Wonderful post, and I'll be getting those biographies for sure.

  5. My daughter and I were talking about how lucky she is to be studying in England during these magnificent times with the Jubilee and the Olympics. Then I got chills when I realized that I will never know another Queen after Elizabeth, it will be Kings on the throne for at least two reigns. Let's hope she has her mother's longevity!

  6. What a beautiful post. I have always loved Queen Elizabeth she has certainly had an interesting life and at times very challenging.

    I am so looking forward to Dowton Abbey! I will watch a few of the commercials until then. I cannot wait to hear what you think of Hugo, I have heard great things about it.

    The weather here in Wisconsin where I am visiting my mother is very strange this year. Where I live in Virginia we are having record highs, yesterday I think it was 65.

    I hope your daughter has a great time while visiting Wisconsin, it really is a beautiful place.

    Enjoy your day!

  7. I am heading to England and Turkey this summer. Between your lovely British posts and Jeanne's posts summer can't come soon enough ! Which being from Arizona is saying a lot...

  8. Amazing to think she is celebrating 60 years on the throne!! And yes, there does seem to be a renewed or perhaps just more public interest in the British upper crust. I have a beautiful book of the Beaton photographs of the royal family. I look forward to seeing all the activities surrounding the Jubilee.