Jun 12 2011

Long Live the Queen’s Birthday Weekend

Millie recently asked “Why is the Queen’s Birthday on a Monday every year?”

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was actually born on Wednesday, 21 April 1926 at 2.40 AM to Albert and Elizabeth, the Duke and the Duchess of York, at 17 Bruton Street, London – the home of the Duchess of York’s parents. She was named Elizabeth after her mother, but known to all as ‘Lilibet’.


At the time of her birth, it was not expected she would ever be monarch of the realm, being third in line. Her father Albert was the second son of the then King, George V. Her uncle Edward (known to the family as David) was the Prince of Wales, heir to the throne. Her place in the royal family was somewhat analogous to that of  Princess Beatrice (daughter of Prince Andrew and ‘Fergie’, also the Duke and Duchess of York) at her birth in 1988 (if we disregard her cousins William and Harry)

Lilibet’s sister Margaret was born in 1930. If her parents had ever had a son, he would have had precedence over his older sister as heir.

Her uncle became King Edward VIII on the death of his father George V on January 20, 1936, aged 41. 

The legal ascension to the throne happens instantly at the death of the previous monarch, hence “The King is Dead, Long Live the King”. However, it is customary to have a delay of more than a year for the official coronation ceremony. The coronation is a joyous occasion – time is needed to complete the mourning of the previous monarch, and time is also needed for the elaborate preparations.

Edward VIII abdicated the crown on 11th December, before his coronation, to marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. 

At the time of his abdication, Edward VIII’s coronation date had been set for May 12th 1937. Planning continued for the same day – just a different monarch. His young brother was called up instead.

Albert had therefore never expected or wished to succeed to the throne. He was naturally shy and anxious, and had a (now famous) stutter. He had fought as a young naval officer at the battle of Jutland in WWI, and was the first royal to learn to fly. 

At the time of his coronation, the monarchy had lost popularity. He assumed the ‘regnal name’  of ‘King George VI’ to emphasise continuity with his father. Fortified by the influence of his wife, the Queen, his sense of duty restored confidence in the royal family. “The Highest of Distinction is service to others”.He is particularly remembered for sharing the danger of the blitz with fellow Londoners. 

His daughter, young Lilibet, met Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark when she was 13, was apparently much taken by him, and they began to exchange letters. (They are third cousins through Queen Victoria) They were married 7 years later in November 1947 at Westminster Abbey – the first televised Royal Wedding.

The King had been a heavy smoker, and had a lung removed for cancer in 1951. He became increasingly unwell, and died from a heart attack in his sleep on 6th February 1952, aged 56, one week after he had farewelled Elizabeth on a tour of Australia (via Kenya). She and Phillip quickly flew from Kenya back to London.

The coronation of Elizabeth II, Queen of the Commonwealth Realms, took place on 2nd June, 1953.

The Monarch’s birthday has been an official day of celebration since 1748. In Australia. Governor Arthur Phillip declared a holiday on June 4th, 1788, for George III’s birthday, and released four convicts from jail on Pinchgut Island (now Fort Denison) so that “there would not be one heavy heart in this part of His Majesty’s dominions”.

Until 1936, the holiday was celebrated on the actual birthday of the monarch. George VI’s birthday is a rather inconvenient 14th December, so it was decided to keep the holiday mid year, near the June 3rd birthday of his father, when the weather in England is better less miserable. It is now celebrated on the second Saturday in June in the UK with ‘The Trooping of the Colours’, but is held on many different days throughout the Commonwealth of Nations.

In the Eastern states of Australia, the land of the long weekend, it occurs on the second Monday in June, marking the start of the snow season, among other things. It is a traditional time for bonfires and fireworks – although since the banning of the use of fireworks by the general public in the 1980s, New Years Eve has taken over as ‘cracker night’.

In New Zealand, the holiday is celebrated on the first weekend in June (they have a longer snow season). In Western Australia, there is no fixed date, but it is determined each year by the governor, usually at the end of September or beginning of October. (Foundation Day is celebrated in WA on June 1st).

So this weekend, as you watch the traditional Magpies vs Demons game at the MCG, risk life and limb with some bootleg fireworks, or freeze somewhere by a wet campfire, spare a thought for our 85 year old monarch.

To Her Majesty, the Queen. Belated happy birthday



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