Here’s the story. Elizabeth was never expected to become queen. She was born the granddaughter of the monarch George V, and was third in line to the throne behind her uncle, who was Edward Prince of Wales, and her father, Prince Albert, Duke of York.
Prince Edward succeeded George V in January 1936 at the king’s death. But his reign lasted less than a full year, thanks to his wildly romantic decision to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Edward chose to abdicate the throne and hand it over to his brother Albert, becoming one of the shortest-reigning English monarchs in history. Edward — who is a fascinating rebellious sort who deserves his own article one of these days — ended up serving as governor to the Bahamas from August 1940 until the end of World War Two. Then he and his lovely bride moved to France to spend the rest of their days pretty much in retirement, annoying the British royal family with their embarrassing politics (pro-Fascist, and some said pro-Nazi) and life-of-luxury celebrity. But we’ll re-visit them another time.
Back to the subject. Elizabeth became the “heiress presumptive” to her father George VI at age 10. She slowly began to take on royal duties as she got older. In 1945, at age 18, she joined the women’s branch of the British army, and worked as a mechanic and truck driver.
She also met her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, at age 13 (OK, they met once three years earlier, but this is when things got interesting) when he played host to her during a visit to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. They began exchanging letters and married 11 years later, in 1947. The marriage made some people unhappy because he was foreign-born, though a British subject. He had German relatives, which was not attractive in the years right after World War II. A wedding was held, children were had, memories were made.
Skip forward to the early ’50’s. King George’s health is declining, so Elizabeth starts taking on more official duties, such as a visit to the United States where they meet President Harry S Truman. In 1953 she and Prince Philip set off for a visit to Australia and New Zealand, stopping first in Kenya.
They were visiting this interesting little place called Treetops Hotel near Kenya’s Aberdares National Park, built in a 300-year-old fig tree. The owner, a British subject, built the tree house as a gift to his wife, and it is situatied so guests can have an close look at the wildlife from a safe vantage point.Elizabeth and Philip were visiting the Treetops as personal guests of the owners, Major Eric Sherbrooke Walker, and his wife, when news of the death of King George reached them on February 6. They attended a state dinner at Treetops and returned to Britain the next day, foregoing the rest of their trip to carry out official duties at home. While the death took place in February, and Elizabeth was immediately made queen, the coronation ceremony was not held til June of that year.
Hotel resident Jim Corbett, a hunter, wrote in the hotel’s log book: “For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day as a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen — God bless her.”
I hope the “thrilling experience” was the treehouse and not her father’s death. I’m sure it was.
Elizabeth’s father had changed his name from Albert to George VI when he became king, so it seems perfectly logical that Elizabeth’s secretary would have asked her what name she would take as queen. Elizabeth’s answer? “Elizabeth, of course.” Sensible girl.