Queen Elizabeth II
The Royal Family has released a behind-the-scenes video of the Christmas trees being installed at Buckingham Palace, and it'll come as no surprise to you that Queen Elizabeth II goes big when it comes to festive decor, even though she won't actually be in London on Christmas Day, but celebrating with the family at Sandringham.
The palace plays host to 3 trees, one giant 15 foot Nordmann Fir, sourced from Windsor Great Park, which stands pride of place in the Marble Hall, and two "smaller" 10 foot trees at the Palace's Grand Entrance. The trees are all festooned with lights, and this year are hung with dozens of bejeweled gold and velvet crowns that pay perfect homage to their royal owners. The video also reveals that the palace balustrade is decorated with giant garlands hung with jewel-colored baubles.
Christmas trees and the British royal family are intrinsically linked, as it's the royals who are responsible for bringing the Northern European tradition to the UK. Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, installed the first British Christmas tree at the Queen's Lodge, Windsor, in December 1800. However, it's Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who are credited with popularizing the trend, which endures to this day.
Now that Meghan Markle is about to join the royal family, she's knee-deep in a lot of new etiquette rules - literally. No amount of binge-watching The Crown is going to prepare her for how to meet, greet, and show respect to members of her new extended family, which includes the age-old and slightly confusing curtsy.
Female members of the family are given lower rank than male members, and until recently, wives of the queen's sons were given higher rank than her daughters and granddaughters.
There's no law that enforces a curtsy, and just a few years ago, Queen Elizabeth II herself admitted that she doesn't expect to be curtsyed to by the women she meets in public. But it is considered a sign of great respect, which is why it's remained such a tradition, whether the family is at a state function, official event, or celebrating Christmas in Sandringham.
Female members of the family are given lower rank than male members, and until recently, wives of the queen's sons were given higher rank than her daughters and granddaughters. However, now "blood princesses" like Anne, Beatrice, Eugenie, Alexandra, and even 3-year-old Charlotte are given precedence over women who have married into the royal family, like Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Kate Middleton, and soon, Meghan Markle.
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So, who will Meghan be curtsying to? Her sister-in-law Kate, for one, as she's married to a future king. Same goes for Prince Charles's wife, Camilla Parker Bowles. Meghan will also curtsy to "blood princesses" like Anne, the daughter of the sovereign, as well as Prince Andrew's daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie. When it comes to men in the family, Meghan should curtsy to anyone with a prince title. No title, no curtsy. But because of a pretty outdated rule that states that a woman's status is "validated by her royal husband," Meghan won't have to curtsy to Sophie, Countess of Wessex unless her husband, Prince Edward, is in the room. And if Harry is around, even blood princesses like Beatrice, Eugenie, and Anne's daughter Zara Tindall should curtsy to Meghan. Are you royally confused yet?
Prince Charles and Princess Diana pose with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in March 1981, shortly after their engagement. Image Source: Getty / Hulton Royals Collection
With the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's tragic death approaching, interest in her life - and especially her marriage to Prince Charles - has piqued in recent months. The relationship between Charles and Diana was tumultuous, to say the least; they met after Charles first dated Diana's older sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, and only went on 12 dates before getting engaged in February 1981 and tying the knot five months later. By late 1992 (after collective affairs and embarrassing leaked audio conversations), Charles and Diana's 11-year marriage was a disaster - and the royal family couldn't hide it anymore.
Charles's parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, met with the couple for an intervention of sorts. Philip and Diana exchanged heartfelt letters that Summer in which he expressed his disappointment at both her and Charles's extramarital affairs and asked her to see both of their slip-ups from the other's point of view; at one point he seemed ready to give up, writing, "I will always do my utmost to help you and Charles to the best of my ability. . . but I am quite ready to concede that I have no talent as a marriage counselor." Their attempts at reconciliation were unsuccessful, and that December, Prime Minister John Major publicly announced the pair's "amicable separation," reading an official statement from the royal family.
Diana and Charles looked less than enthused during their royal tour of Canada in October 1991. Image Source: Getty / Anwar Hussein
After their separation, more rumors of cheating emerged, and Diana conducted a tell-all interview with the BBC's Martin Bashir in which she disclosed details about her own infidelity and struggle with bulimia as well as Charles's affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, making the famous quote, "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." Ultimately, Elizabeth gave up too - likely fed up with doing damage control for Charles and Diana's cheating scandals and the blowback from Diana broadcasting their business, she sprung into action. On Dec. 20, 1995, Buckingham Palace announced that the queen had written separate letters to the couple ordering them to divorce ASAP, an unprecedented move at the time. "After considering the present situation, the queen wrote to both the prince and princess earlier this week and gave them her view, supported by the Duke of Edinburgh, that an early divorce is desirable," a palace statement said. It added that both Elizabeth and Philip would "continue to do all they can to help and support the Prince and Princess of Wales, and most particularly their children, in this difficult period." Charles agreed formally in writing soon after, but it took Diana until February to announce her agreement after negotiations with Charles and representatives for Elizabeth and until July for the couple to agree on the terms of their divorce.
Queen Elizabeth reportedly wanted to let Diana keep the style of her royal highness, but Charles was "adamant" that she give it up.
Their divorce was finalized in August 1996, but some drama surrounding her title ensued. Queen Elizabeth reportedly wanted to let Diana keep the style of her royal highness, but Charles was "adamant" that she give it up - instead, she was given the title Diana, Princess of Wales. The loss of the honorific separated Diana from the rest of the family in such a way that she had to curtsy to those that had it, including her own children. Heartbreakingly, a 14-year-old Prince William is said to have comforted his mother after the loss of her title by saying, "Don't worry, Mummy, I will give it back to you one day when I am king."
Diana, Harry, William, and Charles watch a parade in London in March 1995. Image Source: Getty / AFP
Diana was allowed to keep her apartment at Kensington Palace - which now serves as the official residence of William, Kate Middleton, and their two children - as "a central and secure home for The Princess and the children." She was given access to the royal family's jets and was able "to use the state apartments at St. James's Palace for entertaining," as long as asked the queen's permission first. She was also permitted to keep all the jewelry she amassed during her marriage, with the exception of the Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara, which Elizabeth gave to her as a wedding present after only wearing it once. It was lent to Kate Middleton in both 2015 and 2016.
Buckingham Palace publicly stated that as the mother of heirs to the throne, Diana would continue to be regarded as a member of the royal family and "will from time to time receive invitations to state and national public occasions" at the invitation "of the sovereign or the Government." She and Charles were granted equal access to Prince William and Prince Harry, who were 14 and 11 at the time, respectively, and the boys alternated holidays with each of their parents when they weren't attending boarding school. Things seemed to be civil between Charles and Diana as they worked together to coparent their boys after the divorce and up until Diana's death in August 1997. During an inquest into the tragedy in January 2007, Deputy Coroner of the Queen's Household Baroness Butler-Sloss said, "I am satisfied that at her death, Diana Princess of Wales continued to be considered as a member of the Royal Household."
Before Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth, she married the handsome foreign Prince Philip from Greece, who also happens to be her third cousin. According to Sally Bedell Smith's biography titled Elizabeth the Queen, Philip came from a tumultuous background despite his lineage. Born in 1921 on the island of Corfu, he moved to Paris at age 1 with his parents, Alice Marie and Prince Andrew of Greece. By age 8, he'd headed to England for boarding school. With generous good looks and confidence, Philip made his way to England with the help of royal relatives. He would later be invited to have lunch with the royal family, and that's when Elizabeth reportedly fell for him. During World War II, Philip served in the Mediterranean and Pacific, and he and Elizabeth wrote each other letters. By 1946, he was back in London and making regular visits to Buckingham Palace. During that Summer, he spent a month at the royal family's Balmoral Estate, where he proposed. Their wedding was held at Westminster Abbey on Nov. 20, 1947.
During their 70 years of marriage, most of them during Elizabeth's reign as the monarch, Prince Philip has been as constant as the queen herself, although he's a bit more controversial, making a few insensitive gaffes. But when he's not giving the press an unfortunate quote to run, he's either by the queen's side, working as a patron for several charities, or, until recently, enjoying carriage racing. Let's look back at pictures of Prince Philip over the years, then see the facts about the British royal family every diehard fan should know.
Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, at Windsor Castle in July 1946. Image Source: Getty / Lisa Sheridan
Think back a moment to your mid-20s: you were likely just settling into postgrad life, landing your first adult job, and trying to balance fun nights out with paying back your student loans. Or maybe you're in your mid-20s right now, trying to navigate the world after college, on the prowl for a significant other, and trying to balance your desire to travel the world with the responsibility of paying rent on time.
Imagine at that time having the responsibility of running a country - wait, more like four countries - placed on your shoulders. That's exactly what happened to Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 when her father, King George VI, died and she was appointed to the throne. At the time, she was only 25 years old - a 25-year-old woman who, for all intents and purposes, was not expected to become queen; Elizabeth's uncle, Prince Edward, inherited the throne from King George V, and many assumed he would marry and have children of his own (that would knock Elizabeth down the line of succession). But in 1936, when Elizabeth was just 10, Edward abdicated the throne to marry his divorced mistress, American socialite Wallis Simpson, and George VI took over. For the first 10 years of her life, Elizabeth would have been just like today's Princess Beatrice: a distant heir to the throne. Nobody predicted that George would fall ill and pass away so soon - he was only 56 - but those royal duties quickly became hers.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arriving back in England to mourn the death of her father, King George VI, in February 1952. Image Source: Getty / Popperfoto
In early 1952, Elizabeth and Prince Philip, whom she had married four years earlier, set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand with a stop in Kenya. While at their Kenyan home, Sagana Lodge, they got word that the king had died - and that Elizabeth was now queen. It was Prince Philip who broke the news to her, and when she was asked to choose a regnal name, she opted to "of course" remain Elizabeth. She and Prince Philip headed back to London and almost immediately moved into Buckingham Palace. In June 1953, Elizabeth was coronated at Westminster Abbey; Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who were just four and two at the time, respectively, were present for the big event.
Queen Elizabeth II on the Buckingham Palace balcony after her coronation in June 1953. Image Source: Getty / Hulton Archive
Since taking the throne, Elizabeth has become head of the Commonwealth (which currently includes 52 countries) as well as queen of another 12 countries that have become independent since her accession. In 2015, she broke an astounding record, becoming the UK's longest reigning British monarch (the previous record of 23,226 days was held by Queen Victoria). She's celebrated huge milestones with her Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees, and in 2017, she became the first British monarch to commemorate a Sapphire Jubilee, marking 65 years of her reign. Elizabeth is certainly not your average 90-year-old, but the duties and challenges she's taken on since becoming queen can still inspire all women - whether you're in the throes of your 20s right now or looking back on those heady days with fondness.
The birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton's third child will certainly bring some changes to the royal family. Not only could Princess Charlotte soon become the quintessential rebellious, open-minded middle child, but there will also be some adjustments to the line of succession to the British throne - namely for Uncle Harry, who will be moving down a spot. Before baby Cambridge shakes things up next Spring, let's take a look at the current roster for one of the most important jobs in the world.
- Prince Charles: At almost 69 years old, Charles will be the oldest heir to accede to the British throne. There is also debate of whether Charles will become King Charles III or take on the regnal name of King George VII.
- Prince William: As the firstborn of the queen's firstborn, William stands to inherit the throne after his father. There stands the small possibility that Charles decides he doesn't want to take on the responsibility of the Commonwealth, and William would take over almost immediately.
- Prince George: It may be hard to picture now, but one day, the spunky 4-year-old prince will rule all of England.
- Princess Charlotte: As a spare heir to the throne, Charlotte will act as a support to her big brother until he has a family of his own.
- Prince Harry: Until the birth of baby Cambridge, Harry is fifth in line for the throne - and judging by his comments about becoming king one day, we have a feeling he's not too bummed about being pushed down the line even further.
- Prince Andrew: The queen's second-born son will also move down once baby Cambridge is born, and his new place as seventh in line will officially mean that he can marry whoever he wants without having to seek permission from the queen first.
- Princess Beatrice: The Duke of York's older daughter, whom he shares with ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, is next in line.
- Princess Eugenie: Beatrice's younger sister is positioned after her; both women can marry whomever they want without having to ask Granny for her permission!
- Prince Edward: The Earl of Wessex is the last born to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, but due to the Act of Settlement 1701 (which was amended in 2013), Edward was able to displace his older sister, Princess Anne, in line for the throne. Because of the updated Succession to the Crown Act, Princess Charlotte's place in line will not be affected, even if her younger sibling is a boy.
- Viscount Severn: James, Viscount Severn, is the only son of Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie. Because he was born in 2009 - the Act applies to those born after October 2011 - he was able to cut in line ahead of his older sister, Louise.
- The Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor: The 13-year-old, whom you may remember as a bridesmaid in Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding, is in line for the throne after her younger brother.
- Princess Anne: As the queen's second child, Anne was third in line for the throne at the time of her birth - but being a girl meant that both of the princess royal's younger brothers, Andrew and Edward, would later surpass her in the succession line.
- Peter Phillips: Princess Anne's son was able to jump in line ahead of his older sister, Zara.
- Savannah Phillips: Peter's 6-year-old daughter, Savannah, is next in line.
- Isla Phillips: Five-year-old Isla follows her sister, Savannah.
- Zara Tindall: Rounding out the list is Zara Tindall (née Phillips), who is Princess Anne's firstborn and is married to former English rugby player Mike Tindall.