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Queen Elizabeth II: 50+ surprising facts about her life and reign

February 2022 sees Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years on the throne. How much do you know about the longest-reigning monarch in British history? We bring you the facts about her life and reign...

Elizabeth II poses for a portrait in Buckingham Palace in December 1958
Published: February 4, 2022 at 2:48 pm
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Born on 21 April 1926 in London, Elizabeth became queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 6 February 1952 following the death of her father, King George VI (1895–1952). Known for her efforts to modernise the institution of monarchy – and for her love of corgis – Elizabeth will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

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Here, we bring you 50+ numbers that define the reign of Queen Elizabeth II…


25,569 days | The length of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign on her Platinum Jubilee

On the morning of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years since her accession to the throne on 6 February 1952, Elizabeth II will have reigned for 25,569 days – a constant steward over decades of remarkable social change. This makes her the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

95 years old | The Queen’s age on her Platinum Jubilee

Not only is Elizabeth II the longest-reigning British monarch, she is also the longest-lived sovereign that Britain has ever had.

63 years and 7 months | The time it took to overtake her great-great grandmother

The length of time Elizabeth II reigned before overtaking Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch – a milestone Elizabeth passed on 9 September 2015.

Two years, 3 months, 21 days | The time remaining until Elizabeth II becomes the longest-known reigning monarch in history

Another 841 days after her Platinum Jubilee – so pop 27 May 2024 in your diaries – Elizabeth II will become the longest-reigning monarch of any sovereign state in verifiable history.

The Queen will take that record from the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. The medieval monarch, who turned a modest hunting lodge into the magnificent Palace of Versailles and transformed France into a global power, Louis ruled for 72 years and 110 days.


Facts about Elizabeth II’s early life

2.40am | The moment, on 21 April 1926, that Princess Elizabeth was born

Princess Elizabeth was born to Prince Albert, Duke of York (who would take the regnal name George VI on his accession) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, delivered by caesarean section. She did not enter the world – not in a royal palace, but a townhouse belonging to her maternal grandparents at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair.

“She was called Elizabeth Alexandra Mary after her mother, great-grandmother and grandmother – after consorts, not queens regnant,” writes royal historian Kate Williams. “The princess was destined for a good marriage and little more.”

Third | Elizabeth’s place in the line of succession at birth (and she wasn’t expected to rule)

Elizabeth was born during the reign of her grandfather, George V. Her father, the Duke of York was himself a second son, whose elder brother Edward, Prince of Wales was ahead of them both. It was reasonably expected that Edward would have children of his own, who would supplant them in the succession, so there was little likelihood of Elizabeth ever coming to the throne.

That changed in 1936, when Edward (by then reigning as Edward VIII) abdicated in favour of marrying divorcee Wallis Simpson. His decision thrust the Duke of York to the throne, and made Elizabeth heir presumptive.

8 | The age at which Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Philip

It was 1934, at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (Philip’s cousin) and Prince George, Duke of Kent (Elizabeth’s uncle). It was five years later, though, when they met again at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth they began exchanging letters.

10 | Elizabeth’s age when she learned of her uncle's abdication

“On 10 December 1936, 10-year-old Elizabeth was about to write up her notes from her swimming lesson when she heard chants of ‘God Save the King’ outside,” writes Kate Williams. “She asked a footman what had happened and he told her that her uncle had abdicated and her father was king.”

14 | The age at which Elizabeth delivered her first radio broadcast

It was on 13 October 1940 on the BBC’s Children’s Hour, during which the princess addressed children who had been evacuated from Britain to America, Canada and elsewhere during WW2 owing to the Blitz.

“We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers, and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war,” she told them. “We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well.”

18 | Elizabeth’s age when she insisted upon joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) during the Second World War

During her time with the ATS, Elizabeth took a training course in driving and vehicle maintenance at the major garrison of Aldershot, qualifying just as the war ended.

“Elizabeth’s attendance was somewhat circumscribed – she was driven home to Windsor Castle every night and was taken to the officers’ mess for meals – but it was at least an opportunity to test herself against less privileged contemporaries for the first time in her life,” writes the author Stephen Bates. “More importantly, the pictures of her fiddling with an engine and the newsreel of her driving a truck showed her doing her bit.”


Facts about Elizabeth II’s family and residences

73 years | The length of the Queen’s marriage to Prince Philip

“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.” This was how Elizabeth II described Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921–2021), on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997.

They had met as children, but it wasn’t until that second meeting in 1939 that the 13-year-old Elizabeth and 18-year-old Philip began exchanging letters. Philip would be invited to Windsor for Christmas in 1943, and this was perhaps when their courtship seriously began.

As the longest serving male consort in British history – the length of their marriage surpassed the next closest, that of George III and Queen Charlotte by more than 16 years – Philip witnessed Britain transform beyond recognition during his lifetime. One of those changes was a very personal one: his position as a husband.

At their wedding in 1947, Princess Elizabeth vowed to love, cherish and obey Philip. “The use of the word “obey” by the future monarch raised some eyebrows at the time,” writes Alwyn Turner, “though the respective ranks of the couple were spelled out at the Queen’s coronation in 1953, when Philip knelt before his wife and swore ‘to become your liege man of life and limb’.” The sight sparked a frisson around the country, though it was, notes Turner, one of the many ways Prince Philip’s life “reflected wider changes that were happening in the 20th century”.

But there were other obstacles too, not least that how Philip – born Greece, identifying as Danish, and with German heritage – might be accepted in postwar Britain.

One sibling | Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret Rose Windsor (1930–2002), Countess of Snowdon and the younger sister of Elizabeth II, was arguably one of the most popular royals in modern history. “Margaret was stereotyped as the classic naughty younger sister from the very beginning,” writes historian and presenter Dominic Sandbrook. “The camera always loved her, and visitors often commented on her spiky personality,” leading to allegations that some of her staff nicknamed her ‘Her Rude Highness’.

Her party girl lifestyle saw her become a newspaper darling whose high-profile relationships: from her first notable romance with her father’s equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend (whom she could have married had she given up her royal status and all that came with it), an intense marriage to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (“At first glance… a fairy-tale,” writes the biographer Anne de Courcy) and on to a series of love affairs with younger men.

Four children | Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward

Her eldest child is Prince Charles, born 1948, who is heir apparent to the throne (the longest serving in British history, as of April 2011). He is styled as the Prince of Wales – a tradition, notes the historian and royal commentator Carolyn Harris, that began after Edward I’s conquest of Wales.

Charles was followed by a younger sister, Princess Anne, in 1950, who, Dr Ed Owens writes for HistoryExtra, was “cast in the role of energetic and fun-loving playmate to her quieter and shyer brother”.

Princess Elizabeth watching Prince Charles playing in his toy car while at Balmoral, 28 September 1952. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images)

Two more sons were born in the next decade: Prince Andrew, Duke of York in 1960, and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex in 1964.

Eight grandchildren | Peter, Zara, William, Harry, Beatrice, Eugenie, Louise and James

The Queen has two grandchildren by each of her four children. Her oldest is Peter Philips (b1977), son of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Philips; the couple also had a daughter Zara, in 1981.

Princess Diana, who married Charles in 1981, gave birth to Princes William, Duke of Cambridge in 1982 and Harry, Duke of Sussex in 1984. Princess Beatrice (b1988) and Eugenie (b1990) were born to Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.

The Queen’s youngest grandchildren are the issue of the Earl of Wessex and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones: they are Louise (b2003) and James (b2007).

Twelve great-grandchildren

Of the great-grandchildren, the most familiar to the public are children of Princes William and Harry. Prince William’s children with Kate Middleton – Prince George (b2013), Princess Charlotte (b2015) and Prince Louis (b2018) – are third, fourth and fifth in the line of succession.

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have two children: Archie (b2019) and Lilibet (b2021).

6 royal residences | Where Elizabeth II spends most of her time

  • Buckingham Palace | Elizabeth II's official London residence, as it has been for all British sovereign since 1837. Today it also serves as the administrative headquarters of the monarch.
  • Windsor Castle | The oldest occupied castle in the world, and where the Queen spends many of her private weekends. William the Conqueror chose the site for the castle, in the wake of the Norman Conquest.
  • Balmoral Castle | The Queen’s private Scottish estate, a majestic property located by the river Dee in Aberdeenshire. Elizabeth II spends the summer here each year.
  • Sandringham House | Elizabeth II’s private country home in Norfolk, where the Royal Family spends Christmas.
  • Holyrood Palace | The principal royal residence in Scotland, based in Edinburgh. The Queen normally spends one week here at the end of June or beginning of July.
  • Hillsborough Castle | The Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland, and also the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Facts about Elizabeth II’s wedding

134 days | The length of Elizabeth and Philip’s engagement

Their engagement was announced on 9 July 1947, and they married in Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947.

200 extra ration coupons | Given to Elizabeth by the British Government towards the material for her wedding dress

She was also sent coupons by British women, but Elizabeth had to return them as it was illegal for them to be shared in the first place.

10,000 pearls | On her wedding gown, imported from the US

The designer, Norman Hartnell, described it as “the most beautiful dress I had so far made”.

9ft | The height of the four-tier wedding cake

The ingredients for the 500lb fruit cake were donated by Australia and South Africa, leading to it being nicknamed the ‘10,000-mile cake’. It was large enough for 2,000 guests to have a slice.

£500 | The price fetched at auction by a single slice of the cake in 2015

It was sold by an unnamed woman whose father was at the wedding, was still in its original wrapping, and was deemed to be still edible due to its high alcohol content.

500 crates | Of tinned pineapple sent as a gift

Not just 500 tins, 500 crates of tins. This unusual wedding gift was sent by the government of the Australian state of Queensland, as food rationing was still in effect in Britain at the time.


Facts about Elizabeth II’s accession and coronation

25 | Elizabeth’s age was when she assumed the throne

The princess was on vacation with Prince Philip at Sagana Lodge in Kenya when news of King George VI’s death in 1952 reached the couple. Prince Philip was the person to break the news to her.

8,251 guests | Invited to Elizabeth II’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953

An additional 27 million people in the UK watched the almost-three-hour ceremony on television, with only the anointing and communion not broadcast to the wider world.

Sixth | Queen to have been crowned in Westminster Abbey in her own right

The first was Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was crowned on 1 October 1553.


Facts about Elizabeth II’s reign

14 British prime ministers

There have been 14 incumbents in 10 Downing Street during Elizabeth II's reign, each of whom has met with the Queen weekly at Buckingham Palace, a tradition beginning with Winston Churchill.

“They enjoyed their weekly meetings, laughed a lot, and bonded over a shared interest in horses and racing,” writes the author Francis Beckett. The same can’t be said for all of her prime ministers: the Queen was also "correct but cool" with Edward Heath; was “anxious at the human cost of Thatcherism”; and declined the offer to call Blair 'Tony'.

Those prime ministers, in order, are:

  • Winston Churchill (1951–55)
  • Anthony Eden (1955–57)
  • Harold Macmillan (1957–63)
  • Alec Douglas-Home (1963–64)
  • Harold Wilson (1964–70 and 1974–76)
  • Edward Heath (1970–74)
  • James Callaghan (1976–79)
  • Margaret Thatcher (1979–90
  • John Major (1990–97)
  • Tony Blair (1997–2007)
  • Gordon Brown (2007–10)
  • David Cameron (2010–16)
  • Theresa May (2016–19)
  • Boris Johnson (2019–)

14 US presidents

An equal number of US presidents have occupied the Oval Office during the Queen’s reign.

The first was Harry Truman, whom Elizabeth met her first visit to the US in 1951, while she was still a princess; the most recent is current president Joe Biden, who visited Windsor Castle in 2021, but first met the queen in 1982, while he was a senator.

President Ronald Reagan roars with laughter at a joke delivered by Queen Elizabeth II during a state dinner in San Francisco, March 1983. The 'deadpan'-style joke remarked on the California weather. (Photo by Diana Walker/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

One US president the Queen never met | Lyndon B Johnson

The LBJ Presidential Library created a Twitter thread about this apparent anomaly in 2018.

“President Johnson and Queen Elizabeth corresponded from March 1964 to July 1967,” the post reads. “Nothing serious – congratulations on births, birthday wishes, and a condolence message after the death of [Winston] Churchill.

“Queen Elizabeth never sent an invitation to President Johnson to visit Great Britain. And, President Johnson never sent an invitation to the Queen to visit the United States.”

But another royal did visit Johnson – Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon attended a White House dinner in November 1965, an event heavily dramatised in The Crown.

Seven popes

There have been seven Roman Catholic popes during the Queen’s reign: Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

Two birthdays | One in April and one in June

Elizabeth II’s actual birthday is 21 April, but her official birthday is in June – usually on the second Saturday of the month, coinciding with Trooping the Colour, a ceremonial military parade.

The dual birthday is not unique to Elizabeth. The tradition began in 1748 with George II, whose real birthday was in November, a decidedly unreliable month in terms of fair weather for public celebrations. Likewise, Edward VII, who was also born in November, had an official birthday in the summer.

The Queen’s April birthday does not go unmarked, however. It is acknowledged with gun salutes: one in Hyde Park or Green Park, another in Windsor Great Park, and a third at the Tower of London.

3,500+ | Acts of Parliament to which the Queen has given royal assent

For a bill to become an act of law, it must first be passed by both the Houses of Commons and Lords, and then receive royal assent from the Queen. (Correct as of 2012).

69 | Christmas broadcasts

This is one short of Elizabeth’s reign. The missing year was 1969, which saw the televised investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, and the release of fly-on-the-wall documentary Royal Family. “Half a century on, we are still debating whether or not it was a good idea,” writes journalist and author Sarah Gristwood of the rare glimpse behind royal walls.

The result was that the Queen decided to issue a written Christmas message for that year, promising a return to tradition in 1970 – and that hasn’t been broken since.

Quick numbers about the Queen's reign

  • 600+ | The number of charities that the Queen is patron of across the UK and Commonwealth
  • 45,000+ | Christmas cards sent during her reign (up to 2012)
  • 175,000+ | Telegrams sent to centenarians in the UK and the Commonwealth (up to 2012)

10 minutes | The length of an alleged audience with an intruder

On 9 July 1982, painter and decorator Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace and made his way to the Queen’s bedroom, in what was one of the biggest royal security breaches of the 20th century.

Initial reports that the Queen stalled Fagan in 10 minutes of conversation while waiting for security have been debunked by none other than Fagan himself. “Nah! She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor… Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees,” said Fagan in a 2012 interview with The Independent.

1992 | The year of the Queen’s annus horribilis

The year 1992 spelled disaster for the Queen: a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, and the respective marriages of three of her children – Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne – broke down. The Queen deemed this her annus horribilis (horrible year).

Five | Jubilees already celebrated

Elizabeth II has already passed a number of regnal milestones: her Silver Jubilee (25 years) in 1977, her Ruby Jubilee (40 years) in 1992, her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002, her Diamond Jubilee (60 years) in 2012 and, most recently her Sapphire Jubilee (65 years) in 2017.

The Sapphire Jubilee was a first for any British monarch; Queen Victoria only reached her Golden Jubilee.

Jubilee quick numbers

  • 4,000 | Street parties were held in London alone for Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee
  • 2006 | Beacons that were lit in a chain across the world for Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee – with the last lit by the Queen herself
  • 500 million | The number of people who watched her Silver Jubilee procession down The Mall on television

5,000+ | The estimated number of hats the Queen has worn

Some might say that Elizabeth II’s hats are the crowning glory of her wardrobe, often dazzling colours and almost certainly matching the rest of her outfit. But this may belie a more serious aspect.

“Very few modern women wear a hat as part of their work uniform,” historian and biographer Robert Lacey told journalist Elizabeth Holmes for her book HRH: So Many Thoughts On Royal Style. “It’s a reminder that the Queen is indentured to a service, to a job.”


Facts about Elizabeth II and the Commonwealth

54 | Members of Commonwealth of Nations, of which Elizabeth II is the ceremonial head

Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 54 nations, most of which were ruled by Britain at some point in history. All but two – Rwanda and Mozambique – were formerly part of the British empire.

The roots of the Commonwealth stretch back to the Balfour Declaration of 1926, which recognised the ‘Dominions’ (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa and the Irish Free State) as “autonomous communities within the British Empire”, but it was only the 1949 London Declaration, issued in the wake of Indian independence, that paved the way for the modern Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is inextricably linked with Elizabeth II’s rule. “In the first dozen years of her reign, the empire all but disappeared, to the point that in 1965 the term ‘British empire’ had ceased commonly to be used,” writes British empire historian Ashley Jackson “With the emergence of a multiracial Commonwealth of independent nations sporting divergent interests, the Queen’s role became one of providing continuity during transformation.”

15 | Commonwealth Realms that count Elizabeth II as their head of state

Today, the Queen is head of state of 15 of the 54 Commonwealth nations, known as Commonwealth Realms. In addition to Britain, these are Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; the Bahamas; Belize; Canada; Grenada; Jamaica; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; the Solomon Islands; and Tuvalu.

Of the remainder, 34 of the Commonwealth nations are republics, while the remaining five have their own monarchies.

Zero | The number of times Elizabeth II has had to apply for a passport

This is because all passports are issued “in the name of Her Majesty”, which means she would be issuing one to herself. All other members of the Royal Family require one.

Zero | The number of times Elizabeth II has had to apply for a driving licence

As with her passport, it is for the same reason that the Queen does not need a driving licence.

116 | Countries visited

Despite not having a passport, Elizabeth II is perhaps the most widely travelled head of state in history, having visited at least 116 countries to date, many as part of duties as head of the Commonwealth.

Two | The number of Commonwealth nations the Queen has never been to

They are Rwanda and Cameroon.

265 | Official overseas visits carried out by Elizabeth II

By contrast, Queen Victoria ruled over 70 territories and was Empress of India, but she never left Europe.


Facts about Elizabeth II, her corgis and other animals

30+ | Corgis owned by the Queen during her reign

The Queen has a long-held fondness for corgis, established in her youth. She has owned more than 30 during her reign; her first was Susan, who was given to her as a present on her 18th birthday.

Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle with one of her corgis, 28 September 1952. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images)

1 | Dog breed ‘invented’ by the Queen

The royal household witnessed the birth of a new breed of dog: the ‘dorgi’. It was a hybrid that emerged when one of Elizabeth’s corgis mated with a with a dachshund named Pipkin belonging to Princess Margaret.

100+ | Racing horses owned today

Elizabeth II has a keen interest in horse riding, and breeding racehorses in particular. The hundreds she has owned over the decades are believed to have claimed more than 1,600 racing wins.

£6.75 million | Racing prize money

The Queen’s estimated lifetime winnings from horseracing.

100 | The percentage of unmarked swans in Britain owned by the Queen

Swans were once a prized food at banquets, and it was early as the 12th century that the Crown held a right to all unmarked mute swans that could be found on open water.

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Today, the Queen retains the right to claim ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters, but this right is mainly exercised on certain stretches of the River Thames – and the swans are never eaten.

Authors

Kev LochunDeputy Digital Editor, HistoryExtra

Kev Lochun is Deputy Digital Editor of HistoryExtra.com and previously Deputy Editor of BBC History Revealed. As well as commissioning content from expert historians, he can also be found interviewing them on the award-winning HistoryExtra podcast.

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