Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8 aged 96, will be buried on September 19. To reign over the United Kingdom, she sacrificed her normal life, which she had led before she became heir to the throne.
The things we can remember about the life of Elizabeth II before paying her the last respect were described in an article for Politico by Otto English the pen name used by Andrew Scott, a London-based writer and playwright .
Princess Elizabeth in a palace at the heart of London
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on April 21, 1926, to Elizabeth, the Duchess of York.
As was then the custom, the Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks, was present at delivery — just in case the infant was swapped for someone who was not of royal birth.
After her birth, Princess Elizabeth was third in line to the throne, as her uncle Edward was heir apparent.
Although official biographers like to mention the princess’s ordinary childhood in a normal building at 145 Piccadilly in the very heart of London, the address, in fact, was nothing like common.
Elizabeth grew up in a substantial palace, with 25 bedrooms, a ballroom, a library, and an enormous garden.
Nannie Bobo: Queen Elizabeth’s first word
Although photos of the era depict Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret with their mother and father, in truth, they were brought up by an army of servants and rarely saw their parents.
Childcare was left to two nannies: Clara Knight, a strict disciplinarian who instilled fear and good manners, and Margaret MacDonald.
MacDonald was the only person outside of the royal family who was allowed to call Elizabeth by her family nickname Lilibet, and she shared a bedroom with her charge until she was 11 years old.
Lilibet’s first word, "Bobo," was addressed to MacDonald — and the nickname stuck.
Every morning, MacDonald brought Elizabeth a cup of tea, laid out her clothes, and ran her daily bath. Effectively prohibited from marriage — to have done so would have cost her the job — MacDonald dedicated her life to the queen until her death in 1993.
She never gave an interview, never discussed her relationship with Elizabeth II, and died with her and the queen’s secrets intact.
The governess expelled for writing a book about the princesses
Bobo was not the only "commoner" to play a pivotal role in Elizabeth’s early years. In addition to the nannies, the princesses had a governess, Marion Crawford, whom the girls nicknamed "Crawfie."
Crawfie was the York’s very own Mary Poppins, steering her charges through the change in their circumstances when their uncle abdicated and their father unexpectedly became king.
If Bobo was a surrogate mother for Elizabeth, Crawfie was an older sister, role model, and friend.
But by 1947, neither Elizabeth nor Margaret had need of a governess, and aged just 39, Crawfie was retired and afterward wrote a book called "The Little Princesses," which was published in 1950.
Despite having approved the project, the queen mother declared that Crawfie had "gone off her head," and the woman who had devoted the first part of her life to the monarchy was ostracized and was forced to leave the Nottingham Cottage, a grace-and-favor home given to her for life.
Neither the queen nor any other member of the royal family had ever spoken to Crawfie again.
Elizabeth’s governess had never been granted a pardon
Interestingly, the book by Crawford was a wholly affectionate memoir and showed the royal family in a very good light. Her fate was probably sealed by one or two turns of phrase that hinted at the king’s bad temper during the war.
Deprived of the royal family’s favor, Crawford disappeared from official records and memoirs. thereafter, she attempted suicide twice.
Later in life, she moved close to the Balmoral estate in the hope that she might one day chance upon her old charge and that amends could be made. But the moment never came. When she eventually died in 1988, the royal family sent not so much as a wreath to the funeral.
We don’t know how this affected Elizabeth, but this reprisal speaks volumes about the Windsor family that is sometimes referred to as "The Firm," the writer points out.
Elizabeth meets Philip
In 1939, the 13-year-old princess met Prince Philip for the second time during a visit to Dartmouth naval college. Their first meeting occurred at the wedding of her uncle George, Duke of Kent, and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark in 1934.
Elizabeth and Philip were introduced by Philip’s uncle and guardian, Lord Louis Mountbatten. However, it’s the second meeting that was considered important, because Elizabeth was only 8 when they first met.
Aged 19 in 1939, Philip was a Greek prince in exile, whose three sisters married nazis in Germany. His father was living the life of an aging playboy in Monte Carlo, and his mother had been declared insane.
After that meeting with Philip, Elizabeth declared in a letter to a cousin that she had met a "Viking God," and for the rest of the war the two exchanged letters.
The queen mother distrusted Philip and nicknamed him "the Hun," but Elizabeth got her way with the help of Louis Mountbatten, who aspired to give his name to the house of Windsor, and in 1947 the couple were engaged.
The marriage of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
The wedding between Elizabeth II and Prince Philip became a matter of national celebration. Billed as an "austerity wedding," it was really nothing of the sort.
The union was an excuse for nationwide festivities. Thousands of people descended on London for the event. The couple received 2,500 presents, including a shawl woven by Gandhi and a diamond and platinum Cartier necklace from the Nizam of Hyderabad.
They had two children (Charles and Anne) in quick succession and between 1949 and 1951 lived in Malta, where Philip was serving as a naval officer on HMS Chequers.
Official biographies portray this era as a period of "normality," which is also not entirely true: Elizabeth and Philip lived in a six-bedroom mansion, and in addition to Bobo, had an army of staff.
Any attempt at ordinary life was anyway short-lived. In 1952, Elizabeth’s father, King George VI died, and the 25-year-old woman became queen.
Queen Elizabeth II: a crisis in marriage
The declaration of Elizabeth Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland caused considerable marital strife, the author notes.
According to him, as corroborated by memoirs of that time, the dynamics of the pair’s relationship changed immediately, with Philip turned, in his own words, into "a bloody amoeba" while his wife surrendered herself wholly to her new duties.
The duke of Edinburgh seems to have had an existential crisis and spent ever-longer periods away from home. There were rumors of affairs that went on well into the 1980s.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth found friendship with her old childhood friend Henry Herbert, 7th earl of Carnarvon, aka Porchie.
The two shared a love of racehorses and the great outdoors and while there’s no suggestion they ever had an affair, their very close friendship sent the rumor mill into overdrive.
The family of Elizabeth II: boarding schools and broken mystics
The care of the four children (Andrew was born in 1960 and Edward in 1964) was entrusted to nannies and boarding schools.
Although the Windsors were always portrayed as a perfect and devoted family, the children considered themselves lucky if they saw their parents for half an hour a day.
The swinging 60s weren’t kind to the monarchy, and in 1969 a TV crew was allowed access to make a documentary about the royal family. It was a PR disaster.
The mystique of royalty was shot to pieces as the family was shown awkwardly trying to spend time together.
In one excruciating scene, Philip was shown loudly complaining about his wife’s steaks, and in another, a young Edward was seen crying because Charles had accidentally hit him with a cello string.
The TV show revealed a rather detached mother and a very odd and rather dysfunctional family.
Stalking by the press and a song by Sex Pistols
In the 1970s, the tabloid newspapers steered clear of the queen herself but increasingly stalked her children. The three older children were hounded, their private lives examined and their every swear word turned into populist fodder.
Things improved slightly in 1977 for the queen’s Silver Jubilee — when millions turned out to celebrate Elizabeth’s day.
But the same year saw that Sex Pistols take on "God Save the Queen." The record was banned by the BBC — and quickly rose to the top of the charts.
The Sex Pistols song quickly became a hit [video]
It was the first head-on assault on the institution of the monarchy by popular culture.
The story of Princess Diana: the decline of popular affection for Elizabeth II
Charles’ marriage to Diana turned out to become another tragedy for the royal family: although the coverage in 1981 looked like a fairy tale, it quickly fell apart.
The relationship of the couple pushed together because of Charles’ affair with the married Camilla quickly dissolved into a battle between Diana and The Firm.
Bewildered by Charles’ behavior, Elizabeth made her displeasure apparent — and stripped both Diana and Sarah Ferguson (her third child Andrew’s wife) of their titles.
Diana also lost her office, her police protection, and her good name — as the tabloids dragged her reputation through the mud, with encouragement from the Buckingham Palace press office.
In 1997, Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris, and the royal family spiraled toward irrelevance.
As preparations were made for the 2002 Golden Jubilee, there were fears that nobody would come — with Blairite encouragement, the event was turned instead into a "people’s party," complete with Brian May playing the national anthem on Buckingham Palace’s roof.
Elizabeth II regaining public favor
It was only when the queen — having been the nation’s sweetheart and the nation’s mother — was reinvented as the nation’s grandmother that affection for her began to return.
As she advanced into her 80s, the outward image of an unsmiling monarch seemed to loosen up a bit.
There was a stunt with James Bond actor Daniel Craig at the opening of the 2012 Olympics, when she appeared to jump out of a helicopter, and she made a funny viral video with her grandson Harry in the run-up to the Invictus Games in 2016.
Elizabeth with her grandson Harry watching Obama on a video [video]
Her Christmas Day messages became softer in tone and there were hints of a rebel Remainer queen — when she wore a hat that looked a bit like an EU flag at the state opening of parliament in 2017.
Prince Harry’s wedding and the most-loved son Andrew
However, even as a younger generation of royals seemed ready to breathe new life into The Firm, the tensions within the Windsor family continued.
Elizabeth II made little secret of her displeasure following her grandson Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, as well as the couple’s subsequent defection to the United States and their interview with Oprah Winfrey in which accusations of racism and bullying were made against members of the royal family.
At the same time, the author mentions that the queen’s weakness has always been Andrew — her middle and most-loved child.
Despite his profligate ways, unsavory friendship with the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and unpopularity with the public, Prince Andrew remained protected by his mother until the bitter end.
Queen Elizabeth II: what was behind the legend
At the end, we don’t know much about Elizabeth II: She adored horses and people who loved horses, and dogs and people who loved dogs.
She knew a lot about the things she had inherited and not much about anything else. She drove fast about her estates in a beaten-up Land Rover and dedicated her life to fiercely protecting the promulgation of the family firm.
But it was almost as if she was absent from her own story — her legend as rigorously curated and spun as that of any autocrat.
"Elizabeth Windsor played the role of queen with unflinching conviction for more than 70 years. In performing the part so well, she has left a hole that might yet prove impossible to fill," argues Otto English.
In the coming days and months, many will mourn her. Many too, might find themselves wondering who she actually was — and what comes next, he points out.