Believe it or not, Queen Elizabeth II is 93 years old as of April 21. She’s been the monarch of Britain since 1953 and has overseen many great historical events. In fact, she’s now the world’s longest-living monarch. And despite her impressive age, she’s still active and usually present at important events. For her birthday celebrations, she attended church alongside many members of her beloved family.
When young Elizabeth was born, no one imagined that one day she’d be queen. At the time, her grandfather, King George V, was on the throne. But after George V died, a crisis arose in the royal family. Elizabeth’s uncle Edward VIII was made king, but in that same year he abdicated, wishing to marry a woman of whom his family disapproved.
That made Elizabeth’s father king, and he ruled under the name George VI. If a younger son had been born to George VI, that son would have been first in line under the old rules of succession, which saw males take precedence over females. But this didn’t happen, and Elizabeth remained heir.
On her 21st birthday, the then Princess Elizabeth gave a radio speech while touring South Africa. She thanked “the thousands of kind people” who had sent her birthday messages, and she made a declaration. She said, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
And of course, that life was and still is a long one. In 1952 George VI passed away, and Elizabeth became queen. Her official coronation took place in June 1953, and Elizabeth spoke to the nation via the wireless that day. “Although my experience is so short and my task so new, I have in my parents and grandparents an example which I can follow with certainty and with confidence,” she said.
She continued, “There is also this. I have behind me not only the splendid traditions and the annals of more than a thousand years but the living strength and majesty of the Commonwealth and Empire; of societies old and new; of lands and races different in history and origins but all, by God’s Will, united in spirit and in aim.”
“Therefore I am sure that this, my Coronation, is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen,” she announced. And then the hard work of ruling a country began.
As a monarch, Elizabeth is granted two birthdays: her real one in April and her public one on the second Saturday of every June. This is a British royal tradition that goes back hundreds of years. In 1748 King George II was on the throne, and he arranged the “two birthdays” concept so that a monarch could have their celebrations when the weather was nice.
For the birthday in April, the Queen usually has a private celebration with her family members. Gun salutes take place across London to mark the day as well. They take place at the Tower of London, Hyde Park and Windsor Great Park. However, this year the Queen’s birthday took place on Sunday, when guns are not fired, so this happened the following day instead.
The June celebration is marked by a ceremony called Trooping the Color. This is a massive parade that starts at Buckingham Palace and loops around Downing Street, and ends with the royal family presenting themselves on the palace balcony. There, the assembled crowds who came to watch can get a glimpse of the royals.
Trooping the Color – never Trooping of the Color – has its origins in the olden days of battle. Back in the 17th century, the flags of a country were paraded in front of the military every day so that they’d be certain to identify them properly in a battle and presumably not end up fighting for the wrong side.
During Trooping the Color, the Queen inspects her troops at Whitehall. These are the soldiers who wear the ceremonial red uniform and black bearskin hat and are usually seen guarding Buckingham Palace. The Queen used to do this ceremony on horseback, but these days she uses a carriage for the event.
And after that, when the family take their places on their balcony, a flyover display by the RAF takes place over London for everyone to see. Usually several different kinds of aircraft take part in this event, to demonstrate the range of machines the RAF uses for military purposes. The display team streak red, white and blue smoke over Buckingham Palace and the balcony.
Queen Elizabeth has never missed a Trooping the Color. Every year she’s been there, even though her husband Prince Philip has had to skip some as of late. There’s only one time that she hasn’t been to a Trooping the Color ceremony, and that’s because it was canceled entirely: in 1955 the event was temporarily abandoned due to a rail strike.
Security is tight at Trooping the Color, and for good reason. In 1981 a teenage boy called Marcus Sarjeant fired a gun at the Queen as she underwent her official birthday celebrations. He let off several shots, startling the Queen’s horse, but she herself was unharmed. She was later praised by the media for her composure.
Sarjeant stated while he was being arrested that he did it because he had wanted to be famous. Shooting a monarch on her official birthday would have certainly done that, but ultimately Sarjeant caused no harm. The shots were blanks. Sarjeant was sent to a psychiatric prison and was released after three years.
However no major incidents have happened at Trooping the Color for a long time now, and it often serves as an opportunity for the public to see how the younger members of the royal family are getting along. Prince George and Princess Charlotte are regularly the main highlights of the ceremony.
What sort of presents does the Queen usually get for her birthday? Well, the exact gifts will probably never be known, as that’s not the sort of detail the Queen would reveal to the public. However, some of the things she has been given have been noted down in history. Her first corgi, a dog called Susan, was an 18th birthday present.
Members of the public are allowed to send Queen Elizabeth gifts if they so want to. She’s been given plenty of things over the years, everything from horse ornaments to bits of cake to a tooth from a boring machine named after her. However, the royal family aren’t allowed to keep such things. They go into the Royal Collection.
For the Queen’s milestone 90th birthday, her grandson Prince Harry reportedly gifted her a performance from award-winning British ventriloquist Nina Conti. At the birthday party he reportedly acted as Conti’s “dummy” and the Queen loved it. In fact, she seems to enjoy humorous presents most of all.
According to reports, the Queen has picked up quite the collection of silly novelty items as presents over the years. One Christmas, Prince Harry even apparently got her a shower cap reading “Ain’t life a b****.” Her reaction to that gift is sadly unrecorded, but it must have been something to see.
Around the time of the Queen’s 91st birthday in 2017, Prince William and Kate Middleton were asked by BBC Radio 1 what they gave her for presents. Prince William said it was “quite hard to know” what to get her. Not just because she was the queen, but because she was old enough to have received most of the things she would ever want.
However, homemade presents were a good option. “We’ve tried making a few things,” Prince William said. “Now with the great grandchildren around, you see they can make stuff. And of course, that goes down really well.” His oldest child Prince George, he said, was “very good at arts and crafts.”
The Queen doesn’t just receive presents for her birthday, she dispenses them as well. When it comes to the point of her official birthday in June, she gives out the Queen’s Birthday Honors. These, according to the official royal website, “help shine a light on many achievements which might otherwise go unnoticed, as well as fostering pride in the work of a wealth of diverse industries and communities.”
Many famous names have been honored for the Queen’s birthday. These include Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, J.K Rowling and many more. However, you don’t have to be a celebrity to make it onto the list. Ordinary people are also recognized for the Queen’s birthday if they’ve made outstanding contributions to society.
In 2019 the Queen’s birthday happened to coincide with Easter Sunday. She and several members of her family headed to St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, where the royal family worship and where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married. The Queen is a devoted Christian so celebrates all the Christian holidays.
Prince William and Kate Middleton were both there, as were Princess Anne and Prince Edward. Prince Harry was expected to stay behind, as his wife Meghan Markle was heavily pregnant, but in the end he came on his own. Absent from proceedings were Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.
Prince William and Prince Harry arrived separately, which raised eyebrows. According to the media rumors abounded about an argument between them. “The Duke of Sussex walked into church today separately from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Most likely a coincidence. But also a missed opportunity to put reports of their rift to bed,” tweeted journalist Rebecca English.
The Queen arrived last for the church service. It’s a matter of royal protocol that the monarch always arrives last. She and Prince Philip, as the most senior members of the royal family, make their appearances only after the other royals have gathered for an event. However, as Prince Philip didn’t come, it was just her.
All the other members of the family bowed or curtsied to the Queen when she got there. Curiously, Princess Beatrice was an exception. Although the women both in front of and behind her in rank – Kate Middleton and Zara Tindall respectively – curtsied, Beatrice only smiled at her royal grandmother.
However, most likely nothing of note has happened between Princess Beatrice and the Queen, and Beatrice isn’t about to be thrown into the Tower of London. Royals actually only have to curtsy to the Queen the first time they meet on that day, so the Queen and her granddaughter had probably met up beforehand, when the cameras weren’t there.
For her birthday, the Queen chose to wear a bright blue coat and a hat that matched. In fact, the Queen almost always chooses to wear bright colors. This is so that people can easily spot her in a crowd. After all, things can get pretty chaotic when the Queen makes a visit, so she needs to be visible at all times.
“She needs to stand out for people to be able to say, ‘I saw the Queen,’” said Sophie, Countess of Wessex, in the 2016 documentary Our Queen at 90. “Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, ten, 15 deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the queen’s hat as she went past.”
The whole family appeared to have coordinated their outfits to match Queen Elizabeth’s. Kate also wore blue, just in a different shade. She arrived in a coat and dress combo made by Alexander McQueen, and a hat by Jane Taylor. She also had on the same earrings she wore on her wedding day, perhaps because the anniversary takes place on April 29.
Princess Beatrice wore blue too. Her dress was from Claire Mischevani, who spoke about the Easter event on Instagram, “HRH Princess Beatrice looking so beautiful, arriving at the Easter Sunday service, in Windsor Wearing our soft blue a-line pleat dress, embossed in rose gold.” She also had a matching Juliette Botterill hat.
After the service was over, the Queen and her family were treated to some pleasant birthday gifts. First, musicians of the Army put on a show for them. “The Band of the Coldstream Guards wishing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II a very Happy Birthday by playing Happy Birthday at Windsor Castle on a glorious Easter Sunday morning,” tweeted the official Army in London account.
There was more to come after that. When the Queen exited the chapel two little boys presented her with flowers, one yellow posy and one white one. Then the assembled crowds sang “Happy Birthday” to Queen Elizabeth and finished it off by giving three cheers to her. But that wasn’t quite the end of the celebrations either: the gun salute was given the next day.
The Queen’s birthday is over now, and she’s 93 years old. But she’s still not slowing down. Next on the agenda is welcoming Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s new baby. As soon as he or she arrives, the Queen is supposed to be the first person to know – after the parents, of course. Most likely, Prince Harry will call her up.
Luckily, thanks to good timing and geography, the Queen might get to see the new baby on the same day that it’s born. Every Easter the Queen stays at Windsor Castle, and that’s almost next door to where Prince Harry and Meghan are now living: Frogmore House. Even the Queen’s current engagements shouldn’t deter her as they’re all happening at Windsor.
When the new baby arrives, it’ll be the eighth great-grandchild for the Queen. Now that’s impressive. And she may get a fair amount of time with them all, too. Not only is Queen Elizabeth still active for her age, but her own mother lived to be 101. So she may be celebrating birthdays well into the coming decade.