18 Record-Breaking, Controversial, and Weird Facts About the Queen
The death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8 at the age of 96 represents a monumental shift for the British monarchy and the people of England. Royals have died before, of course, but the Queen ruled for more than 70 years, and represented a certain stability and decorum that held the institution of the Royal Family together as it slowly grew more visibly anachronistic and battered by endless scandals. Naturally, her passing has prompted countless efforts to put her reign in the proper historical context. Think of her as the Wilt Chamberlain of monarchs, setting records and altering paradigms that haven’t been touched before and likely will not be after.
1. Elizabeth was Queen for 70 years and 214 days, making her the longest-reigning British monarch and the second-longest-reigning monarch of all time, one of just four to rule for seven or more decades. Just ahead of her is Louis XIV of France at 72 years and 110 days (1643-1715), who benefited from a head start, ascending the throne at just five years old. Just behind the Queen: Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka Rama IX) of Thailand (1946-2016, 70 years and 126 days) and Johann II of Liechtenstein (1858-1929, 70 years and 91 days).
2. At the time of her death, “at least 9 out of every 10 living human beings have never known a British monarch other than Elizabeth.”
3. She was Queen for almost 30% of US history.
4. Her rule spanned 15 British prime ministers, with Liz Truss becoming the latest just two days before the Queen died, and 14 American presidents, all of whom she met with in person besides Lyndon Johnson.
5. The Queen ruled for so long that she made her eldest son, Charles, “the longest-serving heir apparent in British history” at 73. King Charles III took over immediately upon her death, though an official coronation will not take place until after a period of national mourning.
6. During her reign, the Queen traveled over 1 million miles, or the equivalent of 40 journeys around the Earth. That makes her easily the most well-traveled monarch in British history.
7. The Queen’s wealth is tricky to calculate. Forbes recently estimated the value of the Royal Family’s holdings at $28 billion, although as the New York Times points out, not all of that belongs to the Windsors personally–profit generated by the 16.5 billion Crown Estate portfolio of real estate holdings, for instance, goes to the government, with a stipend going back to the Royal Family in return. Fortune puts the Queen’s private wealth at $500 million–that will go to King Charles, and he won’t have to pay an inheritance tax.
8. The Crown Jewels include the largest diamond ever found, the Cullinan, which weighed 3,106 carats before it was cut into 9 separate diamonds. The largest of those gems is set inside the Sovereign’s Scepter With Cross, which is used at coronations and other important events. The Royal Family says the Cullinan was presented as a gift from the British colony of the Transvaal Republic in 1907, but South African township leaders have claimed it was stolen and demanded its return.
9. The Queen’s coronation in June 1953 was the first major royal event to be fully broadcast on TV.
10. At the age of 19, Elizabeth was the first female British royal to serve as an active duty military member. She drove and worked on a range of military vehicles during World War II, including ambulances, as part of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
11. The Queen visited over 100 countries as head of state. She carried out roughly 21,000 engagements. She hosted 113 heads of state from other countries, including emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Japan’s emperor Hirohito and, finally, President Donald Trump. And she gave more than 180 garden parties at Buckingham Palace, attended by more than 1.5 million people.
12. The Queen also secretly vetted over 1,000 pieces of legislation before they came before Parliament, vetoing a few of them. Thanks to these controversial powers, the Queen and the Royal Family were exempted from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination. As late as 1968, “coloured immigrants or foreigners” were banned from working in Buckingham Palace office roles.
13. The Queen famously loved corgi dogs, owning over 30 of them in her lifetime, dating back to the first royal corgi, Dookie, in 1933. But her last corgi died in 2018 (she didn’t want to breed any that would live on after she died), to be replaced by two dorgis, a cross-breed between a dachshund and a corgi that the Queen is credited with inventing.
14. The Queen had a close relationship with the British Jewish community, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which extended as far as hiring a mohel to circumcise Prince Charles, which was considered “unusual at the time” in Britain.
15. The Queen stood scrupulously apart from British governmental affairs, but she wasn’t above making a subtle political point. In 2003, she famously offered the crown prince of Saudi Arabia a tour of Balmoral, her Scottish estate. The Queen took the wheel of a Range Rover herself – women were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia at that time – and the crown prince’s “nervousness only increased as the Queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.”
16. In the fall of 2021, Barbados became the latest country to officially sever ties with the British monarchy and become sovereign, following almost 20 other countries. Elizabeth was still the Queen of 14 other countries in what’s known as the Commonwealth, including Canada and Australia, although the title is basically symbolic. There has been a growing movement both in England and abroad for Britain to pay reparations for the harm it caused through colonization and proliferating the slave trade.
17. Britain has been preparing for the Queen’s death since the 1960s, according to the Guardian, which revealed the details of “Operation London Bridge” in 2017 in an article that was viewed 8,000 times per minute on the day of the Queen’s death. Because the Queen died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the “most elaborate” subset of those plans, named “Operation Unicorn,” will be employed to get her body back to London by train, with mourners throwing flowers at certain stations.
18. The Queen will lie in state in Westminster Hall for about four days, allowing the public to visit and pay respects, before her funeral at Westminster Abbey, where royal coronations take place – it will be the first funeral service in the abbey since the 18th century, and the first “state funeral” in the United Kingdom since the death of Winston Churchill in 1965.
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