The Queen’s 90th birthday: Royal Trivia

Today, 21 April 2016, is Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday.

Did you know …

… Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s official residences, is the oldest, continually-inhabited castle in the world?

William the Conqueror built the original castle as a motte and bailey after his defeat of King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  Over the centuries, the early wooden structure gave way to the imposing stone edifice we know today.  Henry II built the famous Round Tower and the surrounding stone wall in the 10th century, while the 13th century king, Henry III, was the first monarch to introduce an element of luxury by building comfortable accommodation within the castle walls.  The imposing St George’s Hall was the brainchild of Edward III, who built it in the 1370s.

Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Charles II restored and improved the castle, while both George III and George IV invested vast sums of money into building and furnishing the lavish State Apartments which are still in existence today.

… The House of Windsor is less than 100 years old?

Although Queen Elizabeth II is currently head of one of the Europe’s oldest monarchies, the dynastic house from which she hails is relatively new.  The House of Windsor was created by Royal Proclamation on 17 July 1917, by the Queens’s grandfather, George V.  Up to this point, the British Royal family, an off-shoot of the German Hanoverian dynasty, were known as the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  The re-branding of the family name was a deliberate attempt by George V to disassociate himself from his troublesome German cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II, during the First World War.  The name ‘Windsor’ was chosen primarily for its connotations of solid and dependable Englishness.

… as a child, the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth of York, was known as Lilibet?

This rather endearing pet-name is believed to have been borne out of the young princess’s inability to pronounce her name correctly and is said to have been often used by her grandfather, George V. Elizabeth herself seemed to like the soubriquet, frequently signing off letters ‘with love, from Lilibet.’   In contrast, her younger sister, Princess Margaret Rose, loathed her name, and unceremoniously dropped the ‘Rose’ as soon as she was old enough, in 1947.

… the Queen and Prince Philip are both great-grand-children of Queen Victoria, and are therefore third cousins?

This is not as surprising as it first seems when we consider that Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, had nine children and thirty-eight surviving grandchildren, many of whom would go on to marry into other European royal families.  Little wonder, then, that Victoria is sometimes referred to as the ‘Grandmother of Europe.’

…Prince Philip was so impoverished that he could not afford to buy Elizabeth an engagement ring?

With his family exiled from their native Greece, Prince Philip spent much of his childhood relying heavily on the goodwill of his English relations to pay for his upkeep and education.  By the time of his engagement to Princess Elizabeth, his main source of income was his Navy salary, which certainly did not stretch to the purchase of a ring befitting a future Queen.  But, as resourceful as ever, Philip used diamonds taken from his mother’s tiara, which were set into a simple platinum band.

… The Royal Family are responsible for introducing the breed of dog known as the ‘Dorgi’

The ‘Dorgi’ was created when one of the Queen’s beloved corgis, Tiny, mated with Princess Margaret’s equally beloved dachsund, Pipkin.  But, whether the introduction of this new breed was an entirely planned undertaking is somewhat debatable…

… the fire that destroyed part of Windsor Castle began on the Queen and Prince Philip’s 45th wedding anniversary?

Queen Elizabeth II 2007The fire broke out around 11:30am on 20 November 1992 (the Queen’s infamous ‘annus horribilis’).  Having been ignited by an overheated spotlight in the north-east side of the Castle, the fire spread quickly, badly damaging over 100 rooms, including the State Apartments and St George’s Hall.  In all, it took 250 fire-fighters and about 15 hours to quench the inferno.  Unsurprisingly, the Queen was devastated by the destruction of her favourite residence.

… throughout her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has seen no less than 11 Prime Ministers come and go?

The first of the Queen’s Prime Ministers was none other than Winston Churchill.  Given the rather large age gap – Churchill was 77, Elizabeth 25 – the Queen relied heavily on her first Prime Minster for help and guidance.  Now, the roles are very much reversed, with Her Majesty occupying the role of elder stateswoman, drawing on her wealth of experience to advise her more youthful Heads of Government.  (David Cameron, the Queen’s 12th Prime Minister, was not even born when she ascended to the throne.)

… the Queen is Britain’s longest reigning monarch?

The previous record-holder was Queen Victoria, who, having ascended to the throne at the tender age of 18, reigned for a remarkable 63 years and 216 days.  Elizabeth overtook Victoria’s record on 9 September 2015.

Sinead Fitzgibbon
Read (or listen to) more in The Queen: History In An Hour published by Harper Press, only 99p.