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20+ Facts About Queen Elizabeth II Most People Don’t Know

Queen Elizabeth II may be notoriously private, but that only makes Britain's longest-reigning monarch that much more fascinating. Here are 27 little-known facts about Canada's Head of State.

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Queen Elizabeth II in LiverpoolPhoto: Shaun Jeffers/Shutterstock

Queen Elizabeth II’s proper title is rather a mouthful

The Queen’s full title—Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith—is rather a mouthful.

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A beaver creating a damPhoto: ShutterStock

The Queen’s gift from Hudson’s Bay

In the 17th century, the Crown granted the Hudson’s Bay Company the right to exploit resources around Hudson Bay. The fee? Two elk skins and two black beaver pelts to be presented to the British royalty during a so-called Rent Ceremony upon visits to Canada. On July 14, 1970, in Winnipeg, rather than offer Queen Elizabeth the animals in their customary form, Hudson’s Bay gave her two live beavers that hammed their way through the proceedings. The frisky pair was later placed in the care of the London Zoo.

Check out Queen Elizabeth’s top Canadian milestones.

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Queen Elizabeth in Malta in 1940sPhoto: McCarthy's PhotoWorks/Shutterstock

Long live the Queen

During the Queen’s six-plus decades on the throne, there have been seven popes, 12 Canadian prime ministers and 13 governors general. (Psst—this is the only president the Queen didn’t meet with during her reign.)

Following the Queen’s fascinating journey on the Netflix series, The Crown? Here are a few brilliant The Crown quotes to live your life by.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince PhilipPhoto: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

The Queen’s go-to jewelry

In addition to horses, corgis and dorgis (a breed she introduced that’s a cross between a corgi and a dachshund), Queen Elizabeth II has a passion for jewelry. A wardrobe staple: the Williamson Brooch, fashioned from a pink diamond given to her by Canadian geologist John Thorburn Williamson as a wedding present. Williamson later offered her 203 white diamonds from his mine in what is now Tanzania, and the whole was used to form the jonquil-shaped bauble. 

Did you know there’s a gem in the royal crown that’s said to be cursed?

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Queen Elizabeth Ii on the steps of St. Paul's CathedralPhoto: Mr. Pics/Shutterstock

The Queen’s gift from the RCMP

A committed equestrian, the Queen—who was still riding well into her 90s—has been presented with several horses over the years. Between 1969 and 1986, at the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony, she rode a black mare named Burmese given to her by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Here are more things you never knew about the Queen’s guard.

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Astronaut in spacePhoto: Shutterstock

The Queen’s message to Chris Hadfield

The Queen and her communications team released 32 messages and statements in 2013, one of which was addressed to superstar spaceman Chris Hadfield:

13 March 2013

I am pleased to transmit my personal best wishes, and those of all Canadians, to Colonel Christopher Hadfield as he takes command of the International Space Station on Wednesday. Our thoughts and best wishes are with him and the entire crew, as are our prayers for an eventual safe return to family, friends and fellow Canadians. 

Elizabeth R. 

Discover the little-known letter Queen Elizabeth wrote after Princess Diana’s death.

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Buckingham PalacePhoto: Shutterstock

What does the “R” in “Elizabeth R.” mean?

The R in “Elizabeth R.” stands for “Regina,” Latin for “Queen.”

Find out six everyday things the Queen has never done in her lifetime.

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She celebrates her birthday twice a year

Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her birthday on April 21—and then does it again in June. It’s actually been a tradition since 1784 that the British monarch’s birthday celebrations are held on a day that is not their actual birthday. That’s because London weather could literally put a damper on the military celebratory parade if not held in more climate-friendly months.

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She was only a tween when she fell in love with her distant cousin

According to a 1957 article in TIME, Prince Philip met Elizabeth, his third cousin, when they were children (they shared the same great-great-grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were first cousins themselves). From the time she was 13, she was besotted. She never fell for another man, though he had other relationships while she grew into adulthood. Their love stood the test of the time and in 2007, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to celebrate her diamond wedding anniversary with 60 years of marriage to Prince Philip. Sadly, the Duke of Edinburgh passed away on April 9, 2021.

Take a look back at the long, full life of Prince Philip.

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Her grandmother disapproved of one of her wedding gifts

During her reign, the Queen has received some interesting gifts from jaguars and sloths to a grove of maple trees and 15 pounds of prawns. But it was one of her 1947 wedding gifts that had her grandmother concerned: According to the BBC’s royal correspondent at the time, Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, disapproved of Mahatma Gandhi’s present of hand-spun lace calling it “indelicate.” Turns out she’d mistaken the tray cover for the Indian leader’s loincloth.

Take a look at the strangest gifts Queen Elizabeth has ever received.

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She’s the longest-reigning monarch in British history

On February 6, 2017, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to reign for 65 years, celebrating her Sapphire Jubilee. To mark the momentous occasion there were new coins, a new stamp, gun salutes, and a re-released portrait taken by British photographer David Bailey, where the Queen is wearing a suite of sapphire jewels she received as a wedding day gift from her father, King George VI, in 1947.

Don’t miss these vintage photos of Elizabeth before she became Queen.

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05-amazing-facts-queen-elizabeth-8522158s-Geoff-PughREXShutterstockGeoff Pugh/REX/Shutterstock

She has a few nicknames

Back when she was still Princess Elizabeth, she was called “Lilibet” by close family, because she couldn’t pronounce her own name, while her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, is known to call her “Cabbage.” Then there are her great-grandchildren. At age two-and-a-half, Prince George took to calling her “Gan-gan,” the Duchess of Cambridge revealed in a BBC TV special interview a few years ago. Finally, a not so affectionate nickname was bestowed upon the Queen by her Uncle Edward. In letters published in 1988, he referred to his niece as “Shirley Temple” on account of her “dumpy” frame and curly hair, which looked similar to that of the child star. Queen Elizabeth II’s full name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. Dating back to WWII, more traditional names are still favoured for middle names and over 10 per cent of British babies today are still given two middle names.

Here’s why Queen Elizabeth II will never give up the throne.

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Her father ascended to the throne after a scandal

Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, became king after his older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite divorcée. This was scandalous as Simpson was still legally married to her second husband when they first got together and the abdication was the biggest constitutional crisis in modern royal history. (Here are more royal family scandals that shocked the world.) Supposedly bad blood existed between “the Duke and Duchess of Windsor” (Edward and Wallis) and the royal family. The King’s Speech is a 2010 biographical movie about King George VI coping with a stammer as he ascends to the throne after his brother.

Check out these rarely-seen photos of Queen Elizabeth with her father.

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She has never given an interview in her entire reign

Dubbed “Elizabeth the silent” by historian David Starkey, according to a New York Times article, Queen Elizabeth II has never given a press interview. She is said to keep her politics hidden from the public eye at all times. And the Daily Mail concurs that part of the Queen’s “enduring appeal is that she has never bared her soul to the public, even in this era of the celebrity confessional, she has remained enveloped in mystery.”

These are the etiquette rules the royal family must follow.

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She was rumoured to have an affair

The Netflix series, The Crown, a period drama focusing on the private life of Queen Elizabeth II, takes many liberties with real-life royal events. One such liberty is based on rumours of an affair between her and childhood friend Porchie. It’s true that Porchie, aka Lord Porchester, and later Earl of Carnarvon, was extremely close to the Queen, and that in 1969 she took him on as her racing manager, but there’s never been evidence of a romance. However, rumours claiming that he is Prince Andrew’s biological father are still making the rounds today. Still, several key elements of the series are either totally made up or exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Here’s what The Crown gets wrong about the British royal family.

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She served in World War II

Before she donned her trademark brightly coloured dresses, coats, and matching hats, Queen Elizabeth II wore a military uniform. Her father, the king at the time, was hesitant to let her join, but she eventually joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1945. She worked as a mechanic and truck driver, according to history.com. Her service makes her the only current living head of state to have served in World War II, and the only female member of the royal family to have entered the military.

Don’t miss these rarely seen photos of the British royal family through the years.

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DAVID HARTLEY/Shutterstock

She’s a dog lover

We’ve all seen the classic images: Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by her iconic corgis. But do you know the real extent of her love for corgis? She received her first, Susan, as a birthday present when she turned 18, according to the New York Times. She’s owned at least 30 Pembroke Welsh corgis, all descendants of Susan, the last of which, named Willow, died in April of 2018. She’s owned other breeds as well; most notably, the royal family has bred “dorgis”—a mix between corgis and dachshunds.

Meet the rest of the British royal family’s pets!

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David Hartley/Shutterstock

She’s exempt from the usual documentation

The Queen can drive without a license, because they’re all actually issued in her name in the United Kingdom, according to Express. On her more than 250 international visits to over 100 countries, she’s never needed a passport, for the same reason. Oh, and she’s exempt from taxes, but still voluntarily pays income and capital gains taxes.

Here’s a complete list of all the laws Queen Elizabeth doesn’t have to follow.

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Queen Elizabeth II watching swansSang Tan/AP/Shutterstock

She owns exotic animals

The rumours are true—Queen Elizabeth II really does own all the swans in the United Kingdom. Every year, she has a team row through the River Thames in London to count the babies. In 2018, her “swan uppers” counted 108 cygnets. She also can lay claim to any “fishes royal”—dolphins, whales, porpoises and sturgeons—caught in British waters.

Find out the surprising place where the Queen is “most happy.”

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Queen Elizabeth IIShutterstock

Her iconic handbag is holding some secrets

When you’re a queen, you don’t really need to drag a purse with you, considering you have staff waiting on you hand and foot. She reportedly doesn’t carry money (just a lipstick, mirror and other essentials), so her bag’s main purpose is to send messages to her staff. When her bag goes on the floor, it’s a cry for help for a lady-in-waiting to save her from a dreadful conversation. If she puts her purse on the table during dinner, that’s a hint that she’d like the meal to wrap up pronto.

Surprise! Queen Elizabeth has broken these rules during her reign.

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Queen Elizabeth II and her kidsReginald Davis/Shutterstock

She was a hands-off mother

Queen Elizabeth wasn’t an uncaring mother, but she wasn’t exactly a warm-and-fuzzy mom. She notoriously left five-year-old Prince Charles and three-year-old Princess Anne back in England when she and Prince Philip went on a six-month tour of the Commonwealth in 1954. When she got back, she and Philip greeted kids not with big bear hugs, but with prim and proper handshakes. The parents later sent Charles to boarding school, despite the fact that he was miserable and bullied there, and Princess Anne admitted in a 2002 interview that their mom had time “limitations” when they were growing up, adding that Elizabeth cared for her four kids “in exactly the same way as any other mother did.”

Queen Elizabeth doesn’t want you to know these secrets about Prince Charles.

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Queen Elizabeth IIShutterstock

She hates garlic

One thing you’ll never, ever see on the menu (if Queen Elizabeth has anything to say about it): garlic. Her former royal chef Darren McGrady told Recipes Plus that Her Majesty wasn’t picky, but hated garlicky food or anything with too much onion. Camilla Parker Bowles later confirmed on MasterChef Australia that “garlic is a no-no” for the royal family because they don’t want bad breath while meeting and greeting.

Find out 13 foods the Queen eats every day.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince PhilipTim Graham/Shutterstock

She never went to school

Queen Elizabeth never went to prep school, and she doesn’t have a college degree. But she still got quite the education from her tutors at home. She learned constitutional history and law under Henry Marten, who was vice provost of Eton College and had the Archbishop of Canterbury as a religion teacher.

Check out Queen Elizabeth’s secret guilty pleasures.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip marriageHistoria/Shutterstock

She paid for her wedding dress with coupons

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip tied the knot in 1947 when the United Kingdom was still recovering from World War II. The country had rationing measures in place, and not even the future queen was exempt from using ration coupons to pay for items. Elizabeth saved up her own coupons, plus received an extra 200 from the government, to pay for the satin dress studded with crystals and pearls. Hundreds of British subjects tried sending her their own coupons to pay for her big day, but she sent them back; after all, transferring the vouchers would have been illegal.

Check out more fascinating royal wedding facts you didn’t know.

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Queen Elizabeth IIANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

She can be surprisingly frugal

Living royally doesn’t have to mean over-the-top extravagance. Queen Elizabeth II is a fan of eating Special K cereal and leftovers, and her waste-not mindset means she’d rather fix and reuse items like sheets and gloves than toss them in the trash. She’s also known for “outfit recycling” (read: re-wearing her clothes), not only for her everyday getups, but for some of her more iconic pieces. Even her Coronation dress has been dug out of the closet—she’s worn it six times.

You’ll be able to relate to these other frugal habits of the royal family.

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Queen Elizabeth II with poet Carol Ann DuffyShutterstock

She has a poet who she pays in wine

Ever since the 17th century, a poet laureate has been part of the British royal staff. Going along with tradition, Queen Elizabeth’s current poet, Simon Armitage (who replaced Dame Carol Ann Duffy, above, in 2019), will hold the position for a 10-year fixed term.

Don’t miss these other bizarre royal jobs that actually exist.

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Queen Elizabeth II 1976Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

She was one of the first heads of state to send an email

In 1976, ARPANET (the precursor to the Internet) hadn’t been in the United Kingdom for long. So when Queen Elizabeth pressed a few buttons to send an email at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in England, she was ahead of her time. The username her message was sent from was HME2—short for Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, of course!

Now that you know these fascinating facts about Queen Elizabeth II, check out the 10 most memorable royal tours of Canada.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada