Sarah Bradford, the Queen’s acclaimed biographer, hails her 80th birthday, reflects on an astonishing life — and looks forward to Her Majesty’s ninth decade
The Queen will be 80 on 21 April, an appropriate time to reflect on the changes which have taken place during her 54-year reign. She was born in the difficult aftermath of the first world war, 12 days before the General Strike of 1926, when the more nervous spirits predicted revolution, and memories of the fall of the Romanovs less than ten years before were still fresh. Her grandfather, George V, conscious of the importance of popular consent in the maintenance of his throne, had abandoned the Tsar to his fate and sent his own sons to the factories and frontiers of empire to maintain and be seen to maintain the connection between King and people. Aged nine, Princess Elizabeth experienced the popularity of the British monarchy at his Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1935. She was ten in 1936 when the scandal of her Uncle David’s abdication to marry Wallis Simpson put her father on the throne as George VI and herself — to her horror — in line to accede to the throne. She was, therefore, not born to reign but in character eminently suited to do so.
As we learn from the notorious and much-maligned Crawfie’s account of Princess Elizabeth’s early years, she was a conscientious, tidy, responsible little girl with a love of horses and dogs — her ambition was to marry a farmer and live in the country. She had a sharp temper which sometimes broke out in fights with her younger sister Margaret, amid snapping of bonnet strings and cries of ‘You beast!’ But generally she was reserved, self-controlled and rarely seen to cry. She was shy and emotionally inhibited, characteristics inherited from her grandmother, Queen Mary, yet with a sense of humour, a biting, sometimes sarcastic wit and a gift for mimicry inherited from her mother.