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The African Queen
It has become a cliche to say that a monarchy needs magic. A republic needs no enchantment and rarely possesses it. Monarchy requires sentiment, belief and imagination.
There was something magical about this Queen's accession to the throne. She is the only woman known to have gone up a tree a Princess and come down a Queen.
By the middle of 1951 her father, King George VI, was seriously ill with cancer, though thanks to his doctors' reticence, he and his family thought he merely had bronchial troubles. In September 1951 surgeons removed his left lung, and he was forced to cancel a visit to Australia and New Zealand in early 1952. He and the government decided that his heir, Princess Elizabeth, and her young husband, Prince Philip, should make the voyage instead. They had just completed a successful trip to Canada, which Prince Philip remembered long afterwards as one of the most interesting they took together.
The 25-year-old Princess and her husband left on the morning of 31 January 1952. Her parents came with the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and other officials to see them off at London airport. Photographs show the King without a hat, the winter wind blowing through his hair, his face gaunt, even pained. He waved his daughter goodbye as the Argonaut Atalanta sped along the runway and into the air.
The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) had taken several rows of seats out of the back of the plane to make a small cabin for the royal couple. Amongst the party on this tour were courtiers and servants who had played an important part in the Princess's life. There was Bobo MacDonald, who had been with her since childhood. Bobo was a Scotswoman who was able to combine loyalty and discretion with frankness sometimes bordering on fierceness. She had arrived as a nursemaid when Princess Elizabeth was a small child she shared a room with the young Princess for many years and remained her dresser and unofficial adviser until her death in 1993.
There was Martin Charteris who had been appointed her Assistant Private Secretary in 1950. A lighthearted soul who loved to laugh uproariously, he had served in the King's Royal Rifle Corps during the war. In 1946 he became the Head of Military Intelligence in Palestine and greatly impressed Chaim Weizman, the Zionist leader and first President of Israel. Charteris said to me once that he fell in love with the Queen the first time he met her and that it lasted for ever. He remained with the Queen for most of the next three decades, becoming her Private Secretary from 1972 until his retirement in 1977. Witty and wise, he was always amongst the most delightful members of the household.
Lieutenant Michael Parker was equerry-in-waiting to the Prince and Princess, and was the Prince's Private Secretary. Mike Parker had been a good friend of Prince Philip since their time together in the navy. He was a funny and out-spoken Australian whose open character chimed with that of the Prince the Princess also found it easy to relax with him. Lady Pamela Mountbatten, the outgoing daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, a cousin of both the Prince and Princess, was also on the tour. Lady Pamela had been bridesmaid to Princess Elizabeth in 1947. Continuing the Mountbatten tradition, set by her grandfather and father, of accompanying the heir to the throne on a royal tour, she was lady-in-waiting to the Princess for this long trip.
There was a holiday atmosphere on board the plane -- they were all happy to escape the British winter for the sun and exotic travel, even if much of the tour was due to be formal and arduous. First stop was Kenya, where the colonial government had built the Prince and Princess a house in the Aberdare Mountains called Sagana Lodge, as a present to mark their wedding. After a few days' work and holiday in Kenya they would embark in SS Gothic at Mombasa to sail to Ceylon and then Australia and New Zealand.
Late in the day, the Argonaut had to touch down at the RAF base of El-Adem in Libya to refuel. The crew changed and the new pilot was Captain Ronald Ballantine, a tall man with the elegant moustache favoured in those days by airmen. He remembers above all the fun of the flight south. They flew across north-east Africa, and the royal couple asked Ballantine to circle Kilimanjaro so that they could take photographs. The captain obliged, though he was nervous that it would prevent him from touching down on schedule. As they descended towards Nairobi, the Princess asked if they could come into the cockpit and stand behind the pilot to watch the approach and landing. It was against all the rules, even in that era of few rules, but he agreed and all went well. They landed precisely on time Ballantine was happy.
The Princess and her husband went straight to Nairobi for official engagements. Then they drove to take possession of their gift, Sagana Lodge, where they had time to fish and walk and shoot cine-film, one of their enthusiasms. On the afternoon of 5 February, the royal couple were taken from there to Treetops, which was, as its name suggests, a treehouse. It was an enticingly simple shack in a large fig tree, overlooking a salt lick and pool to which elephants, rhinos, deer and other animals came at night.
However, there were dangers. This area was controlled by the Mau Mau rebels whose insurgency would soon tear colonial Kenya apart. Later, they burned down Treetops. There were animal threats as well. As the Prince and Princess and their party walked through the trees towards the fig tree in the afternoon sun, they saw under it a cow elephant and two calves. They debated whether they should be sensible and quietly withdraw or whether they should walk towards the elephant and risk frightening her. The Prince and Princess wanted to carry on, and they did so, across the grass, up the ladder and into the treehouse.
The evening was perfection. Monkeys had got into the rooms and festooned the branches with rolls of lavatory paper. The Princess spent the evening filming as much as she could. Pamela Mountbatten recollects, 'There were a lot of antics in the salt lick, the elephants blowing salt all over themselves and all over the monkeys and pigeons. It was a real sort of clown turn and great fun.'
After a brief sleep, Mike Parker persuaded the Princess to climb up a ladder from the main cabin to another platform 30 feet above. There, right on top of the tree, they watched the sunrise over the mountains. Parker remembered ever after that as they sat there a large white eagle circled and swooped low above their heads. He was concerned it might even dive on them. Later he realized that the appearance of the eagle had almost exactly coincided with the moment when the King died.
The previous day at Sandringham, his Norfolk country house, the 56-year-old King was feeling better and had spent many happy hours shooting rabbits. He went to bed as normal, but he died in the night when a blood clot reached his heart. His valet found his body when he came to draw the curtains at 7.30 a.m. on 6 February.
Edward Ford, Assistant Private Secretary to the King, was in London and remembers, 'At about a quarter to nine I suddenly got a telephone call from Sandringham, from Sir Alan Lascelles, the King's Private Secretary, who just said, "Edward, Hyde Park Corner. Go and tell the Prime Minister and Queen Mary" and he rang off.' Hyde Park Corner was Palace code for 'The King has died'.
Ford drove himself straight to 10 Downing Street to inform the Prime Minister. He was sent up to Winston Churchill's bedroom and found him still in bed writing, the covers strewn with papers. By the bed flickered a green candle for relighting his cigar.
'Prime Minister, I have bad news for you,' said Ford. 'The King has died. I know no details.' 'Bad news?.' said Churchill. 'The worst.' Britain's war and peacetime leader pushed aside the papers. 'How unimportant these matters seem now.' He telephoned his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, but because they could not scramble the line they talked in code. 'Our big chief has gone -- we must have a Cabinet.'
Contact with Kenya in those days was not easy the coded message -- Hyde Park Corner -- was delayed. The young Queen had returned to Sagana Lodge, tired but exhilarated, and was looking forward to another day in the African bush.
Martin Charteris heard the news first. He was staying a few miles away from the lodge, at the Outspan Hotel, with the journalists who were covering the royal tour. Just after 2 p.m. Granville Roberts, a journalist for the East African Standard, rushed to tell Charteris that Reuters had sent a flash from London saying that the King had died. Charteris immediately called Mike Parker at the lodge and said, 'I have a rumour from the press corps that our employer's father has died.' Parker says he replied, 'I cannot react to a rumour. Please confirm or deny when sure.' Parker was in a little office next to the Queen's sitting room where she was writing letters. The joining door was open. He closed it, switched on a short wave radio on the desk, and turned on the BBC very low. 'I heard bells and then a repeated announcement by John Snagge that the King had died.' He switched off the radio and walked round the outside of the lodge to Prince Philip's bedroom. The Prince was asleep Parker woke him and told him the news. 'This will be the most appalling shock,' said the Prince. Parker later commented, 'He looked as if I'd dropped half the world on him. I never felt so sorry for anyone in my life.' The Prince then went to his wife and asked her to come with him into the garden.
From the window Parker and Pamela Mountbatten could see the couple walking up and down the lawn, with Philip talking and talking while they both tried to come to terms with the enormity of what had happened. The Princess had lost her beloved father and become monarch in one second.
A very shocked new Queen came back into the lodge. Pamela Mountbatten forgot that she should curtsy, rushed to hug her and said, 'I'm so sorry.' The Queen replied, 'Oh, thank you. But I'm so sorry, it means we all have to go back to England and it's upsetting everyone's plans.' Only at that moment, said Pamela, did she fully realize the enormity of it all -- that it was the King, not just this young woman's father, who had died.
By now Martin Charteris had arrived from the Outspan Hotel to assist 'the lady we must now call Queen'. 'I'm a romantic,' he said, 'and I think she seized her destiny with both hands. I asked her what she wanted to be called and she replied, "Elizabeth, of course".' Charteris had been carrying a file of accession papers with him ever since the trip to Canada, in case the King died while they were away. Accession is immediate -- 'The King is dead. Long live the King' is an ancient cry.
With Charteris, the new Queen drafted telegrams to Churchill, and to Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand, cancelling the rest of the tour. She was totally composed, keeping her feelings tight inside. All those present were astounded by her calmness. Pamela Mountbatten and Bobo Macdonald, both far less calm, flung things into suitcases. They were helped by Kathini Graham, an official at Government House, who had come up from Nairobi. Most of the luggage had been sent straight to the Gothic. 'By dint of opening quite a few suitcases, we found black shoes and a black coat. The only thing we didn't find was a hat,' said Graham. One of the first official telegrams of the new reign was to order a black hat to be delivered on their return to London airport.
Mike Parker organized the journey. He learned that the Argonaut and crew that had flown them out were still in Mombasa. Captain Ballantine was called from a swim in the sea to hear the news, and was told to get straight back to his plane. Rather than bring the Queen south to Mombasa, Ballantine was told to pick her up in Entebbe, several hundred miles closer to London. A Dakota DC-3, the redoubtable workhorse of World War II, was found in Nairobi. Parker commandeered the plane, and it was flown up to the airstrip at Nanyuki, a few miles from Sagana Lodge, which the Queen's party left at around 5 p.m. The Queen said goodbye to all those working at the lodge the Kenyan chauffeur knelt to kiss her shoes. Since she was not in proper mourning attire, Martin Charteris asked the press to take no photographs. They agreed as the official party drove out of the lodge, they were treated to what would now be the extraordinary sight of newsmen with their large box cameras lying at their feet.
It was still only a couple of hours after the Queen had heard the news, but it had already spread across what might well be called the bush telegraph. Groups of villagers came out and stood silently by the road, their heads bowed, as the royal entourage passed by. They were murmuring 'Shauri mbya kabisa' -- 'The very worst has happened.'
At Nanyuki, the pilot was anxious to take off because he had to fly over the Aberdares, where a violent storm was clearly gathering. But the new Queen stood for a long moment looking out of the door of the plane at the African bush she was leaving, before turning and taking her seat. The plane bucked over the mountains just as the storm closed in. When they landed in Entebbe the weather was so bad that Captain Ballantine, who had already arrived from Mombasa, felt he had to delay. London was constantly trying to contact him through the control tower, urging him to leave, but 'I wasn't taking any chances. I had a Queen now, not a Princess...I couldn't possibly take off down the runway into the gloom and turbulence over the lake.' The Queen and Prince Philip had to spend two hours in the departure lounge, making small talk with the Governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen, and his wife. 'The Queen,' said Pamela Mountbatten, 'was absolute perfection, you know, not a tremor -- icy self-control but agony inside obviously.'
Finally, Ballantine thought that the storm had lifted enough for him to take off, and the plane rushed down the runway and into the stormy sky over the darkness of Lake Victoria. The Queen and Prince Philip went straight to the cabin at the back of the plane and, says Pamela Mountbatten, 'one hopes that at that point she had her howl'.
The British monarchy is the oldest in Europe indeed, it is the oldest European institution of any kind save the Papacy. Queen Elizabeth II can trace her descent directly from Egbert, King of England from 827 to 839. The great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria, she had now become the fortieth monarch since William the Conqueror seized the crown of England in 1066.
The basis for succession was defined in the constitutional struggles of the seventeenth century, fought between those who believed in the divine right of kings -- that the sovereign was responsible to God alone -- and Parliament, which believed that the sovereign's title rested upon the willingness to rule within the law and through Parliament. Parliament prevailed: the Act of Settlement of 1701 established that the sovereign rules under law. Indeed, its full title was 'An Act for the further limitation of the Crown and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject'. It was one of the changes vital to the creation of a modern constitutional monarchy.
Elizabeth was born not to be Queen, but to be the niece of the future King. Her father, Prince Albert, Duke of York, the second son of King George V, was a shy man with a crippling stammer who had hoped to live his life in the shadow of the throne rather than upon it. His elder brother David was due to inherit. In 1923 Albert married a young Scottish aristocrat, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became one of the most popular members of the royal family in the twentieth century. Their children, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, were born in 1926 and 1930.
For the first 10 years of her life, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary had an undemanding and happy childhood, spent at 145 Piccadilly in the West End of London, and then later at the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. She and her sister Margaret used to play hopscotch and hide-and-seek, but their main game was playing horses. For treats they used to go for walks in Hyde Park, and one of the staff in the household remarked that they would come back rather puzzled as to why so many strangers waved at them. He had to remind them that it was because they were Princesses. Much of the time the girls were under the watchful eye of their nanny, Allah (Mrs. Clara Knight), Bobo MacDonald and her sister Ruby. People have attributed the Queen's thrifty nature to Bobo, who encouraged her to fold up and keep used Christmas paper as a child and to go around turning off unnecessary lights, especially later, during the war.
Princess Elizabeth was taught how to read by her mother at the age of five, and later on a governess, 'Crawfie' (Miss Marion Crawford), was brought in to teach the Princesses the basics of English, maths, music, drawing and other skills deemed appropriate. The girls also took French and dancing lessons.
Their grandmother, Queen Mary, was concerned that they also be well versed in the history of the monarchy and the Empire, and were fully aware of what was expected of them as members of the royal family. Queen Mary was stern and thought that smiling in public was not something that royalty should do too often. But their grandfather, King George V, was a surprisingly playful figure. He is said to have taken quite a shine to his first female grandchild, playing games with her and giving her the nickname Lilibet, which is still her family name.
Elizabeth was determined from an early age. In 1928, when she was two, Winston Churchill described her as being 'a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.' She was described as 'charming and unselfish', whereas Margaret, her younger sister, was thought by adults to be 'naughty but amusing'.
'Crawfie', who later started the habit of writing the royal kiss-and-tell stories that plagued the family throughout the second half of the twentieth century, described Elizabeth's passion for order and procedure. 'The two little girls had their own way of dealing with their barley sugar. Margaret kept the whole lot in her small, hot hand and pushed it into her mouth. Lilibet, however, carefully sorted hers out on the table, large and small pieces together, and then ate them daintily and methodically.' This fetish for tidiness used to lead her to jump out of bed several times a night to check that her clothes and shoes were still neatly arranged. The historian Kenneth Rose noted, 'That early regard for order and routine has proved useful to the constitutional monarch.'
In 1936 Elizabeth suddenly became heir to the throne because her Uncle David decided, after his accession as Edward VIII, that he could not bear to live without the woman he loved, the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Until the last moment, the British press censored word of the affair, news of which which was rife in the USA and Europe. This crisis, when it became public, divided the nation. There were those who sympathized with the King. The government, the Church of England and all the Commonwealth prime ministers were certain: he must choose between throne and love. He chose love, was given the title Duke of Windsor and went into exile.
On 10 December 1936 Edward VIII's abdication became law. Cheering crowds gathered outside 145 Piccadilly, the house of his younger brother Bertie, who suddenly, and to his dismay, was King. Like many others, he was frightened that he would not be up to the task. Inside the house, his eldest child, Elizabeth, learned why the crowds were there. She rushed to tell her sister, Margaret, who asked, 'Does that mean that you will have to be the next Queen?'
'Yes, some day,' Elizabeth replied.
'Poor you,' said Margaret. The next day, Crawfie claimed, Elizabeth and Margaret curtsied to their father for the first time. 'He stood for a moment, touched and taken aback. Then he stooped and kissed them both warmly.'
Their mother, who now became Queen, never forgave the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for thrusting her husband into this unexpected role, and for forcing the monarchy into a crisis that many thought would destroy it. No British sovereign had ever before voluntarily abdicated the deed was an assault on every principle of hereditary monarchy.
In the event the royal switch was carried out with remarkably few problems. When finally presented with the crisis, the people of Britain were shocked, but they seemed more eager to have a monarch than anything else, and were delighted that the new one already had a Queen and two charming children. It seemed correct that the arrangements for the coronation planned for Edward VIII were not changed -- 'Same date, new King'. To underline the sense of continuity, Prince Albert deliberately chose the name of his father and was crowned George VI. At the coronation, Winston Churchill (who had supported Edward VIII against the government) turned to his wife Clementine with tears in his eyes and said, 'You were right I see now the "other one" wouldn't have done.'
The new King was determined to show that duty was the quality in which he set most store. And duty was what his eldest daughter imbibed from him. 'If you see someone with a funny hat, Margaret, you must not point at it and laugh,' Elizabeth told her more wayward sister. Duty was thrust upon her by the abdication and it has remained her mantra ever since. One of her teachers, Vicomtesse de Bellaigue, said later that 'Elizabeth had an instinct for the right thing. She was her simple self, très naturelle. And there was always a strong sense of duty mixed with joie de vivre in the pattern of her character.' (Vicomtesse de Bellaigue became the Princess's friend as she grew up, and remained a hugely important influence on her until her death in 1995.)
Princess Elizabeth wrote an account of her father's coronation on 12 May 1937 which she dedicated to her parents. 'At 5 o'clock in the morning I was woken up by the band of the Royal Marines striking up just outside my window. I leapt out of bed and so did Bobo...There were already some people in the stands and all the time people were coming to them in a stream with occasional pauses in between. Every now and then we were hopping in and out of bed looking at the bands and the soldiers...'
She was old enough to appreciate something of the majesty and the mysticism of her father's coronation, a ritual that stretches back in English life to the early days of the Anglo-Saxon kings. One close childhood friend said that Elizabeth did change after the coronation -- although she was still able to have and be fun, she became more responsible.
The royal family moved to Buckingham Palace, where efforts were made to keep life much the same as before. Nothing was to happen to 'us four', the strong family unit of King, Queen and the two Princesses. They had a guide troop at the Palace, and girls of suitable ages and background were invited to join. They included Patricia Mountbatten, who was slightly older and remembers that Princess Elizabeth was her second in command: 'I was patrol leader and she was my patrol second, and she was an extremely efficient and capable patrol second, I well remember.'
It is in times of national crisis, particularly war, that the monarchy comes into its own. Of course a president or a prime minister can lead a country well in time of war, and many do. But a monarchy provides a neutral focal point above and beyond politics with which people can identify their fears and their beliefs more easily. Fighting and, if necessary, dying for King and Country seemed, certainly in those days, almost part of the natural order.
Mindful of this symbolism, the King and Queen vigorously rejected the idea that any of the family should go into exile during World War II. Harold Nicolson, the politician and diarist, met them over lunch in July 1940. The Queen said to him that 'personal patriotism is what keeps us going. I should die if I had to leave.' He was surprised when she told him that she was being instructed every morning on how to fire a revolver. 'Yes,' she said, 'I shall not go down like the others.'
'I cannot tell you how superb she was,' Nicolson wrote to his wife, Vita Sackville-West. 'I anticipated her charm. What astonished me is how the King is changed. He is now like his brother. He was so gay and she so calm. They did me all the good in the world. How I wish you had been there. We shall win. I know that. I have no doubts at all.'
Elizabeth and Margaret spent the war first in Scotland, which they loved, then at Windsor Castle. The Castle was blacked out and its paintings and treasures removed. Elizabeth was put through a more rigorous education than hitherto, with the Vice-Provost of Eton, Henry Marten, teaching her the basics of constitutional history. Marten was an exciting and enthusiastic teacher who inspired in her a great admiration for Queen Victoria.
Early in the war a German plane crashed in Windsor Great Park, and Buckingham Palace was bombed, leading to the Queen's celebrated comment: 'I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.' (The East End of London suffered particularly heavy bombardments.) Princess Margaret later recalled wartime at Windsor Castle: 'After tea we would play games, something like that, and then we'd have supper because we were quite young and then we'd go to bed. Then the siren would go and we'd be woken up and dressed -- probably in a siren suit and we'd set off on the long trot down the corridor, down the stairs, along another passage underneath, and then down the cold stone steps to this shelter which is at the bottom of the tower.'
It was during the war that Princess Elizabeth fell in love with Prince Philip of Greece, a young naval officer five years older than her. He was a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece, and his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, sister of Lord Louis Mountbatten, were exiled from Greece when he was 18 months old and thereafter he had no real home. His parents did not stay together and his childhood, at school in Britain, was unsettled, though he spent time with the English branch of his family.
One childhood friend, Georgina Wernher, now Lady Kennard, with whose family he often stayed at Luton Hoo, said, 'He was very rumbustious, full of fun...But he did have a terribly sad background. He had no home to go to, nobody to kiss him good night...He never whinged, but it must have been awful not to have love. In those days, he had only the coat he stood up in, and certainly no suit because my parents bought him one...' Many of his friends have said that this childhood made him build a protective shield around himself. Bishop Michael Mann, the former Dean of Windsor, told the Daily Telegraph, 'His childhood experience taught him to be cautious, to swallow his feelings. And what he did was build a picket line around himself, with machine guns on it. You are not admitted through that line unless you are totally trusted.'
At Cheam Preparatory School he was good at sports. At the Scottish public school, Gordonstoun, founded by the educationalist Kurt Hahn, he became head boy and showed that he was both well liked and a natural leader. He developed a love for sailing, and first met Princess Elizabeth in 1939 at Dartmouth Naval College where he was a cadet. During the early part of the war, he served in the navy and she wrote to him frequently. In 1941, Philip earned a mention in dispatches after the Battle of Matapan in the southern Peloponnese. He came to see her in the Christmas pantomime, Aladdin, that was put on in Windsor Castle in 1943. 'I have never known Lilibet more animated,' wrote Crawfie. 'There was a sparkle about her none of us had seen before.'
By the time of Elizabeth's eighteenth birthday, in 1944, Philip was serving as second-in-command in the destroyer Whelp. He visited her at Balmoral that summer. The same year Queen Mary, Elizabeth's grandmother, told a friend that Elizabeth and Philip 'had been in love for the past 18 months' but the King and Queen felt that she was too young to be engaged. They felt that she should be meeting other eligible young men at parties, especially when the war was over. However, Elizabeth, unlike her mother and her sister, was not really a party person. Her biographer Sarah Bradford quotes a friend as saying, 'She was a shy girl who didn't find social life easy...She quite enjoyed it once she could get going but it didn't come absolutely naturally to her, she hadn't the temperament and needed confidence.' She gained that confidence towards the end of the war when she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and learned how to dismantle and service heavy vehicles, a task she performed with obvious pleasure. This was her first opportunity to mix with and judge herself against other people.
VE Day was celebrated with wild abandon in London on 8 May 1945. The two Princesses stood with their father and mother on the balcony at the front of Buckingham Palace, and they waved and waved to the exultant crowds, who called them back onto the balcony eight times. Then Elizabeth and Margaret insisted that they be allowed to celebrate in the streets and not just in the Palace. Reluctantly and nervously the King agreed, and they slipped out of a side door of Buckingham Palace with a small group of friends and ran up and down St James's Street with thousands of others. one of the party was Lord Porchester, later Lord Carnavon, who recalled, 'We went off and walked into Parliament Square and up Whitehall, down Piccadilly. There were people jostling and sailors with drinks in their hands, it was quite an astonishing atmosphere. And then I remember we went into the Ritz Hotel through one door and out the other...We were arm in arm like everyone else -- seven or eight people walking down the street together.'
When they got back to Buckingham Palace, the Princess spotted one of her staff in the crowd and asked if he would go inside and tell the King and Queen that they were outside in the crowd. Lord Carnavon remembered that, 'In a few minutes they all began to shout "We want the King, we want the King". Finally the King and Queen came out on the balcony and the roar that went up was really a very exciting moment and I think Princess Elizabeth enjoyed the hustle and bustle of what was going on in the streets and will always remember it.' Indeed she later said, 'It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.'
Philip continued courting Elizabeth after the war and she fell ever more deeply in love with him. Some in the Palace did not take an immediate shine to this confident young man, even though he now had a good war record. Edward Ford, then Assistant Private Secretary to the King, first met Philip in 1946 when everyone became aware that he was Princess Elizabeth's intended. 'He never showed the respect that an English boy of his age would have had for the older people around. He had no retiring graces...Everyone thought, "This rough diamond, will he treat the Princess with the sensitivity she deserves?"' But Ford also noted that although Philip was poor, he was not greedy. Other courtiers and some young men who saw themselves as potential suitors to the Princess made their hostility plain to the interloper. One said, 'He is not an English gent.' But the King liked him and saw him for what he was -- rather opinionated and brash: an independent man.
His friend and aide, Michael Parker, later told the writer Graham Turner that 'The thing he was most looking for when he came to Britain was a home...So when he told me that he'd become engaged to Elizabeth, he was extremely content, though not way over the top.' An unnamed close friend told Turner that the Princess was 'mad about him, though she never showed her feelings in public. She needed someone like him, someone who was his own man, and she realized it.'
In 1946, her parents allowed her to become privately engaged to Philip. But they thought that she was still too young and, to her dismay, insisted that the news should not be announced until after the family had completed a tour of South Africa in early 1947. The Princess was not pleased at being parted for so long from her fiance;. She was and remained deeply in love Philip was to be a vital part of her life through all the decades to come.
While they were in South Africa, she marked her twenty-first birthday with a speech to the Commonwealth, in which she made what she called 'a solemn act of dedication' that came to seem fundamental to her entire life. In a filmed radio broadcast she stated: 'It is very simple. 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 Commonwealth to which we all belong.' Just as important as these often-quoted remarks was the following request: 'But I shall not have the strength to carry out this resolution unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God bless you all who are willing to share it.' In 1947 the Princess could, with confidence state that she knew that people's support would be given unfailingly but that became less axiomatic as the country changed over the coming decades.
On 8 July 1947, soon after the family's return to London, her betrothal to Philip was announced. It was, for the most part, welcomed as a love match, although some newspapers muttered about the times being very austere. They were -- though standards of living were rising. Clement Attlee's Labour government, which had ousted Churchill at the end of the war, had embarked on a radical programme, but there were still serious postwar shortages and rationing of basic foods, quite apart from Britain's underlying structural problems.
Winston Churchill sent his congratulations and the Princess thanked him, writing, 'We are both extremely happy, and Philip and I are quite overwhelmed by the kindness of people who have written sending us their good wishes.' Churchill wrote to the King that the news had certainly given 'the keenest pleasure to all classes'. 'The marriage will be an occasion of national rejoicing, standing out all the more against the sombre background of our lives.'
They wer 8 July 1947, soon after the family's return to London, her betrothal to Philip was announced. It was, for the most part, welcomed as a love match, although some newspapers muttered about the times being very austere. They were -- though standards of living were rising. Clement Attlee's Labour government, which had ousted Churchill at the end of the war, had embarked on a radical programme, but there were still serious postwar shortages and rationing of basic foods, quite apart from Britain's underlying structural problems.
Winston Churchill sent his congratulations and the Princess thanked him, writing, 'We are both extremely happy, and Philip and I are quite overwhelmed by the kindness of people who have written sending us their good wishes.' Churchill wrote to the King that the news had certainly given 'the keenest pleasure to all classes'. 'The marriage will be an occasion of national rejoicing, standing out all the more against the sombre background of our lives.'
They were married on 20 November and many people remarked that the celebration, muted though it was in deference to the times, was bright enough to briefly lift the postwar gloom. After the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, the couple set off (with one of the Princess's favourite corgis) by train to Broadlands, the home of the Mountbattens. But they were not left in privacy, and to escape photographers and gawpers they moved on from Hampshire to Scotland.
The Princess's father wrote to her of the pride he had felt in giving her away. He was thrilled to walk up the aisle with her, 'but when I handed your hand to the Archbishop I felt I had lost something very precious. You were so calm and composed during the Service and said your words with such conviction that I knew it was all right. I can see that you are sublimely happy with Philip which is right, but don't forget us is the wish of Your ever loving and devoted PAPA.'
For Philip (who was created Duke of Edinburgh just before the marriage) life became very different, and rather difficult. In the navy his life had been simple and independent rather than lavish and formal. He did not find the new constraints of Court life easy, but both he and his wife thought that he would be able for many years to develop his career, assume command of his own ship, and keep protocol at bay. Elizabeth believed that as a mere Princess she could be a wife and then a mother.
She quickly became pregnant and Prince Charles was born just a year after their wedding, on 14 November 1948. Crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace to read the notice posted on the railings. A friend of mine remembers the headmaster of his boarding school bursting into the dormitory at midnight, shouting, 'Princess Elizabeth has been safely delivered of a baby son. God Save the King!' Queen Mary gave to her great-grandson a silver cup that had belonged to her great-grandfather George III.
The year after Prince Charles's birth, Prince Philip was posted by the navy to Malta, where his wife joined him. For a few months they lived happily as naval officer and wife. Elizabeth's cousin Margaret Rhodes said, 'I personally think the happiest times for her must have been her very early married years, when she was just a naval officer's wife in Malta. It was her first sort of contact with leading an absolutely ordinary life, and I don't think she did very much in the way of royal duties.' She went shopping, to the hairdressers, and enjoyed the company of other naval wives. She and Philip were utterly relaxed. In August 1950 their second child, Anne, was born in London.
By now the Princess was helping her increasingly sick father more and more. She found the constant meeting and greeting of strangers a strain it came more naturally to Philip. In October 1951 the young royal couple undertook a tour of Canada, and included a visit to the United States. At first the Princess looked tired and distracted, but soon the excitement built up. America was a huge success, with President Truman in Washington announcing that 'Never before have we had such a wonderful couple, that so completely captured the hearts of all of us.' Years later, Martin Charteris told the Queen's biographer Ben Pimlott that Truman 'fell in love with her'. This became something of a pattern.
In October 1951 the Labour government was defeated and Winston Churchill returned to office. The King admired the simple rectitude and determination of Clement Attlee, but each was so shy that communication between them was hesitant. Churchill's return was easy for the King -- the old wartime partnership was happily re-established. Only a few months later, Churchill's grief on hearing of the death of the King was very real.
After Edward Ford had broken the news that the King had died, Churchill's aide Jock Colville (who had worked for Princess Elizabeth) went into the Prime Minister's bedroom. 'He was sitting alone with tears in his eyes, looking straight in front of him and reading neither his official papers nor the newspapers. I had not realized how much the King meant to him. I tried to cheer him up by saying how well he would get on with the new Queen, but all he could say was that he did not know her and that she was only a child.'
The long, bumpy flight that brought the new Queen back from Africa was the mirror image of the journey out, with sadness and trepidation replacing joy. Captain Ballantine recalled that she had flown out as 'a beautiful, fun-loving young woman, and going back she had grown up completely and was now worried about the responsibility of being Queen'.
She changed into her mourning clothes on board the plane at the last moment, as if to defer reality as long as possible. She called Martin Charteris to sit with her and asked him, 'What happens when I get there?' As the plane taxied to a halt at London airport, she saw that the big black Palace cars had been sent to fetch her. 'Oh, they've sent the hearses,' she said, using the term that she and her sister had always used for the big royal limousines. One of her most sympathetic biographers, Elizabeth Longford, suggested that 'the words were a lament not only for her father's death but for the death of her own youth...at twenty-five her personal carefree life was over'. Pamela Mountbatten thought that this was the moment at which the Queen finally realized the enormity of what had happened, and how her life had changed.
A number of officials boarded the plane when it landed. One of them was carrying a box containing a small, black feathered hat. All in black, the new Queen walked alone down the steps of the plane, her hand resting lightly on the handrail. The image of the frail, beautiful young figure descending to her destiny is extraordinarily poignant. At the bottom of the steps stood the political leaders of her land: Churchill and Attlee, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and others who had come to greet her, including her father's brother, the Duke of Gloucester.
The Queen and Prince Philip managed a few smiles -- perhaps more than one would have expected -- and then they climbed into one of the 'hearses'. A photographer caught an image of the Queen sitting in the corner, her head cast down, looking sad and contemplative. In his own car Churchill was dictating a radio broadcast on the King to be made that night. He was in floods of tears and remained so for much of the day. In his broadcast he was at his most eloquent, describing the man he saw as 'a devoted and tireless servant of his country'. The announcement of the King's death, Churchill said, 'struck a deep and solemn note in our lives which, as it resounded far and wide, stilled the clatter and traffic of twentieth-century life in many lands and made countless millions of human beings pause and look around them.'
There was great truth in this. I remember being in the garden at home with my mother weeping as she told me that the King had died. Like millions of Britons, she wore a black armband for a month after the King's death.
Churchill's sentiments, on this as on many occasions, epitomized the monarchist feelings that prevailed in a country where at least a third of the people thought the Queen had been chosen by God. 'The King,' Churchill said, had 'walked with death, as if death were a companion...In the end death came as a friend and after a happy day of sunshine and sport, and after "good night" to those who loved him best, he fell asleep as every man or woman who strives to fear God and nothing else in the world may hope to do.'
Now the 'Second Queen Elizabeth' was ascending the throne, at the same age as the first, nearly 400 years earlier. The Prime Minister said he was looking forward to his new Queen. 'I, whose youth was passed in the august, unchallenged and tranquil glories of the Victorian era, may well feel a thrill in invoking, once more, the prayer and the anthem: "God Save the Queen".'
That evening, Elizabeth's grandmother, Queen Mary, came to pay her respects the 84-year-old woman, who had lived through five reigns, curtsied to her young granddaughter. The next day, 8 February 1952, the public proclamation of the new sovereign was read by the Garter King of Arms at St. James's Palace and the Queen had to appear before the Accession Council, where she read her Declaration of Sovereignty, impressing her elders with her calm demeanour. She and Prince Philip then drove to Sandringham to join her mother and Margaret, and to pay respects to the body of her father. A few days later her mother, announcing that she now wished to be called Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, said, 'I commend to you our dear daughter give her your loyalty and devotion in the great and lonely station to which she has been called she will need your protection and your love.'
Protection and love. She had both. In his speech to Parliament on the death of the King, Churchill said of the new Queen's reign 'we must all feel our contact with the future'. And he added, referring to the gathering clouds of the Cold War, 'She comes to the throne at a time when a tormented mankind stands uncertainly poised between world catastrophe and a golden age...If a true and lasting peace can be achieved and if the nations will only let each other alone, an immense and undreamed of prosperity with culture and leisure ever more widely spread can come, perhaps even easily and swiftly to the masses of the people in every land. Let us hope and pray that the accession to our ancient throne of Queen Elizabeth the Second may be the signal for such a brightening salvation of the human scene.' The Commons was electrified by such oratory.
The King's funeral took place on 16 February at St George's Chapel, Windsor. The card on the Government's wreath read 'For Valour' (as for the Victoria Cross). It was in Churchill's hand. The image that remains is of the three queens -- Mary, Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Elizabeth II -- all three faces covered with black veils, standing near the coffin, together in their loss but each alone in her reveries of the past, and hopes and fears for the future.
Later that year the new Queen talked about her forthcoming coronation day and said, 'I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day -- to pray that Christ may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him, and you, all the days of my life.'
She had consecrated her life to her people. Churchill thanked her, saying, 'We are resolved to prove on the pages of history that this sacrifice shall not be made in vain.'
2002 by William Shawcross
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain, 1926-Great Britain History Elizabeth II, 1952-Queens Great Britain Biography