The Childhood of Queen Elizabeth II of England

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.

Katherine (Catherine) Parr: Henry VIII’s Regent

In the summer of 1544, the future Queen Elizabeth I had one of the most important experiences of her life. While her father Henry VIII was on a military campaign in France, he left his wife Queen Katherine Parr in charge of England. Elizabeth watched as her stepmother successfully ruled England. Although Katherine did have male advisors, the queen made final decisions on any important matter.

As regent (meaning someone who took over the king’s duties), Katherine proved that Henry chose his temporary replacement well. Careful of her country’s interests abroad, she kept the king’s troops supplied with food and weapons. If England’s enemies thought they could take advantage of the king’s absence, they were wrong. Under her orders, men captured a ship from England’s rival Scotland and obtained letters that proved the Scots supported the French. In addition, Katherine squashed false rumors that the French were trying to invade England. During her regency, she kept Henry informed. She wrote of the false invasion rumor “We thought good to advertise you of the same, lest any other vain report passing over might have caused the king’s majesty to have conceived other opinion of the state of things here…all things here are in very quiet and good order.”

In addition to sending information and supplies to the king, Katherine had to make decisions about domestic problems. She released Scottish prisoners when England’s jails became too crowded with the exception of those who might do harm. Even these prisoners, however, would have food paid for by the king. She also issued a proclamation for tolerance of French citizens in England who worried that the king’s war might put them in danger.

During her stay with her stepmother, Princess Elizabeth learned to combine the male qualities of a ruler with those of a woman. Katherine wrote Henry, “And even such confidence I have in your majesty’s gentleness, knowing myself to never have done my duty as were requisite and meet to such a noble prince, at whose hands I have received so much love and goodness that with words I cannot express it.” Katherine’s description of her faults to Henry despite the fact that England was doing fine without its king shows her intelligence as a wife and female ruler. Elizabeth would later encounter prejudice against female rulers and she would refer to herself as a “mere woman.” Through Katherine, however, she learned that mere women could handle the pressure of decision-making and could rule a country just as well or better than some men.