Even though she has been the Queen of England for decades, Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t supposed to inherit the throne. Her father George VI wasn’t born to be king either but his elder brother decided to marry a divorced woman. In those days, an English monarch couldn’t marry someone who was divorced without creating a scandal, so he decided to quit his duties as king and left the job to his brother. In 1952, the eldest daughter of George VI inherited the throne.
As a young girl, Elizabeth, nicknamed Lilibet, didn’t receive the formal education of most previous monarchs since she wasn’t expected to rule. Her parents wanted Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret to enjoy childhood and they hired a governess that agreed to carry out their wishes. The governess later wrote that the girls’ parents “were not over concerned with the higher education of their daughters. They wanted most for them a really happy childhood, with lots of pleasant memories…and, later, happy marriages.” Elizabeth’s lessons started when she turned six years old. Her governess taught arithmetic, literature, writing, composition, and geography. In all, the lessons only lasted an hour and a half each day. Even when she became heir to the throne Elizabeth’s parents didn’t want her education to be too rigid, though courses on constitutional history and the monarchy were added.
Elizabeth preferred the outdoors to the schoolroom, especially once she learned to ride horses. She received her first pony at age three and was devoted to riding and caring for the animals. When someone asked her what she would like to do when she grew up, she said, “Live the life of a country lady, with lots of horses and dogs.” As queen she couldn’t always be in the country, but she did get her wish for plenty of horses and dogs.
Since she was a member of the royal family, taking her out to meet “normal” girls and boys was almost impossible without being recognized by the public. Eventually her mother invited some neighborhood girls over so that Elizabeth could have her own group of Girl Guides (known in the U.S. as the Girl Scouts).Though her parents had duties that would sometimes take them away from the children, they made family time a priority. The girls spent as much time as possible with their parents, who read them stories, ate dinner with them, and engaged in pillow fights. Although the relationship between the princesses and their parents does not seem unusual today, most royal children, including Elizabeth’s father, were not close to their parents. George VI’s father, George V, thought that his own children needed to fear him; however, Elizabeth brought out another side of her grandfather. She never learned to fear adults, so she simply announced when she wanted to play and her grandfather got down on the floor and let her lead him around by his beard.
Still, her role models and primary companions were adults. She especially admired her father’s courage and sense of duty when he became king. She knew he didn’t want the job and he struggled with public speaking, but he put his duty to his country first. His example taught her more about what it meant to be a good leader than any of her history books.