“Being born into the Royal Family is like being born into a mental asylum. Marrying into it is not something to be taken lightly.” —John Lydon
The Royal Family attracts media attention and adoration from people everywhere they go. Whether we’re talking about Charles or Camilla, Will or Harry, Kate or Meghan, Prince Philip or the Queen herself, since the beginning of the twentieth century the British Royal Family has sought to increase their public profile to seem more like they are a part of the British people as a whole. As a result, British society has made them a big part of the news cycle, especially in the Tabloid Press. So who are the Royal Family? Where do they come from, and where are they going? Here are 24 facts about the current figures who make up the British monarchy.
46. You Look Familiar
The famous Madame Tussauds wax museum has for a long time housed figures of The Queen. To this date, there have been a total of 23 life-size models of The Queen displayed in the museum.
45. Parlez-Vous Francais?
The Queen is fluent in French. She will often speak the language while hosting guests at Buckingham Palace, and when she travels to France she does not need to make use of an interpreter.
44. By Decree
What we currently understand to encompass the British Royal Family can be traced back to a letters patent published in the London Gazette by King George V in 1917. The decree defined the styles and titles of the Royal Family, which has only been changed twice since: in 1996 and 2012.
43. Rough Patch
Kate Middleton, now officially holding the title of Duchess of Cambridge, almost never made it into the Royal Family. Although she had a long-term relationship with Prince William, the pair split for a brief period in 2007 before deciding to give it another shot. Clearly it stuck this time.
The Duchess of Cambridge leads a busy life with her philanthropic work. Her charity work often focuses on young children, the arts, and addiction. She holds a number of patronages, including “Action on Addiction,” “The Natural History Museum,” and The Art Room.
41. By Degrees
Prince Charles broke with tradition when he decided to receive a formal university education at Cambridge. He received a degree in history, though his work was far from the most compelling. He received a 2:2 degree.
40. Incognito in the Crowd
During Victory in Europe Day, people flooded the streets of London celebrating the end to so much death and destruction. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret convinced their family that they should be allowed to join in the celebrations, and they were allowed to go out into the streets and participate anonymously.
39. Sounds Greek to Me
It’s difficult to imagine a time when he was anything but a British consort, but Prince Philip was not British at all. He was born to both the Greek and Danish royal families in the Greek Island of Corfu on June 10, 1921. The man who would marry the Head of the English Church was christened, instead, as a Greek Orthodox.
38. Royally Ejected
Philip spent the first years of his life in royal exile. The Turkish War with Greece (1919-1922) put the royal family in a bad place, with Philip’s uncle King Constantine I forced to abdicate his title; Philip’s own father, Prince Andrew, was even arrested. By 1922, the family fled to France, with baby Philip smuggled inside of a fruit box as his royal cot.
37. Somebody’s Watching Me
Philip and Elizabeth’s wedding at Westminster Abbey was broadcast by BBC radio to 200 million listeners worldwide. In the days before the blockbuster TV broadcast of Prince Charles and Diana’s or Prince William and Kate’s weddings, those were some really impressive numbers for radio.
36. Saying Farewell
Princess Diana’s funeral was televised across Britain and around the globe on September 6, 1997. The funeral amassed one of the highest-ever viewing figures in the United Kingdom. At its highest viewing peak, 32.1 million viewers tuned in to the state funeral.
When she agreed to marry Prince Harry, Meghan Markle had to undergo some major changes to her life. She started studying to become a British citizen, she deleted her social media presence, and she was baptised into the Church of England.
34. Your Invitations Were Lost in World War II
Despite the humongous global audience of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding, the groom’s surviving three sisters were not in attendance. Why? They were married to German princes, some of whom had Nazi political connections. World War II had just ended. Understandably, such guests would not fly well with the people. In fact, none of Philip’s German relatives were present.
33. Off With Her Heels!
The Queen’s corgis were known to be a bit troublesome. Several times the dogs nipped staff, the family, and even the Queen herself! In 1968, Peter Doig demanded that a “Beware of the Dog” sign be erected out front of Balmoral after one of the corgis went after the postman. But, I mean, it’s the postman, what’s a dog to do?
It’s tradition for princes to embark on military training. Charles, Prince of Wales trained with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. He served on the guided missile destroyer the HMS Norfolk and the frigates HMS Minerva and HMS Jupiter.
31. Rules of Engagement
There are strict conventions dictating how British subjects should behave towards the Queen, should they have the fortune of meeting her. She is to be addressed first as “Your Majesty”, then as “ma’am”. British subjects and subjects of other Commonwealth nations are expected to greet her with a curtsy or bow, and while Americans are not expected to do this, should you find yourself in the Queen’s company it would be the polite thing to do.
30. Speaking of manners…
Selfies are super popular these days, but if you meet the Queen, asking to take a photo with her is an absolute faux pas. She’s been quoted as saying that she finds it “disconcerting” and “strange” when she looks at her subjects only to see the backs of their phones while they photograph her. If you have the guts to ask if you can take a selfie with her should you meet, you can expect her to decline.
29. Annus Horribilis
The marriages of Queen Elizabeth II’s three divorced children all ended in one tragic year: 1992. Princes Charles and Andrew, and their wives Princess Diana and Sarah, Duchess of York, were dragged through the media by tabloids, which in Britain can be even more sensational than those in the US. The affair between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles as well as his wife Princess Diana’s infidelities were much-publicized. In addition, on November 20, 1992 (the Queen’s wedding anniversary) a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, the Queen’s residence, causing extensive damage. Elizabeth would later refer to 1992 as annus horribilis, Latin for “horrible year”.
Prince Charles was, for a while, an avid pilot based on his training in the RAF. He flew regularly until 1994, when he crashed a BAe 146 in Scotland. He was unharmed in the crash, but thought better of taking off again.
27. Built Environments
Prince Charles’ biggest philanthropic endeavors often concern city life and built environments. He has frequently commented on his desire to preserve a strong architectural sense in Britain and has publicly denounced building renovations that he feels to be too modern.
26. Room With a View
In 1987, Prince Charles published a book and correlating BBC documentary called A Vision of Britain. The documentary was an attempt to campaign on behalf of traditional urbanism, where restoration of historic buildings and sustainable design were advocated for in place of modern architecture.
25. Out You Go
Queen Elizabeth II was born in the London house of her maternal grandfather, the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. She was delivered by Caesarean section.
24. What’s in a Name
Elizabeth II, beloved as a figure of charm and poise, perhaps always had a twinkle about her. When she was young, close family called her “Lilibet” because as a toddler that’s how Elizabeth imagined her name sounded.
23. Heir Presumptive
When she was born, not many people actually imagined that Elizabeth II would ever become queen. At the time, she was third in line to the throne behind her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales, and her father. However, Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 when his proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson prompted a constitutional crisis.
22. Grand Old Lady
As if to spite all those who said she’d never be Queen, Elizabeth II holds a pretty astonishing record…
At 91 years old, Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-living and longest-reigning British monarch ever. She’s also the longest-reigning monarch and longest-serving head of state anywhere in the world. She celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee on February 6, 2017, marking 65 years of her reign. She’s the only British Monarch ever to have celebrated a Sapphire Jubilee.
21. What’s in A Name?
You don’t hear it used often, but Queen Elizabeth II does have a last name, and she got to choose it herself. Before 1917, rulers did not have surnames, they were referred to by the name of their House. George V of the House of Windsor adopted “Windsor” as his legal surname in 1917, and upon her marriage to Phillip Mountbatten, the Queen and her family adopted “Windsor-Mountbatten” as her family’s legal surname.
20. Too Many Elizabeths
Speaking of royal names…
Guidelines about the titles of ruler’s spouses explain why Queen Elizabeth is known as Elizabeth II, when her mother was also a Queen Elizabeth. After all, “Elizabeth I” refers to the first Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth I, who ruled between 1558 and 1603. So that means that Queen Elizabeth II’s mother was known as plain old Queen Elizabeth, without a numeral, as she did not technically count among the rosters of British rulers. Upon her husband’s death in 1952, she became known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Confusing much?
19. Infelicitous Behavior
After marrying in 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana sustained a rather rocky marriage. Both were involved with extramarital affairs before they eventually divorced on August 28, 1996. The marriage troubles and divorce were major tabloid news in Britain throughout the 1990s.
18. Where Were You During the War?
Throughout World War II, Elizabeth and her family stayed in the United Kingdom despite calls to move outside the island, with the aim of keeping Elizabeth II safe. Elizabeth’s mother refused, and instead they moved around different homes and castles, including Balmoral, Sandringham House, and Windsor Castle.
17. War Effort
When she was 18, Elizabeth was appointed an honorary subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where was trained as a truck driver and mechanic. Unlike the other enlistees, she remained living at Windsor Castle and did not sleep in the barracks. Elizabeth was the first female member of the royal family to join the Armed Services as a full-time, active member.
16. Top Secret
In 1999, a successful request made under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the NSA, the major intelligence agency for the United States, had placed Princess Diana under surveillance. Because of national security concerns, the contents of her file cannot be revealed.
15. Backup in Power
In times of “grave constitutional crisis”, the Queen would have the right to assume power and rule on her own, without ministerial advice, though it’s very unclear what would count as such a situation. in England, the Queen had the right to dissolve Parliament and call a general election at any time, though that power was stripped in 2011 by the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act.
14. You Might Like Him
Meghan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, met Prince Harry on a blind date. The date was set up by a mutual friend of the pair. Sounds like fairy-tale endings do exist!
13. Must Love Dogs
Queen Elizabeth II’s very last pure Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Willow, passed away in 2018—and the Queen admitted the heartbreaking reason she can no longer keep her beloved Corgis as pets. Elizabeth revealed that she just couldn’t bear to leave any of her Corgis by their lonesome after her death, so she had to stop breeding them. She has owned over 30 Corgis in her life, and still owns two dachsund/Corgi mixes named Vulcan and Candy.
12. A Royal Menagerie
In addition to corgis, the Queen is often given animals as gifts during state visits. She has been given two sloths by Brazil, black beavers by Canada, and an elephant by Cameroon—plus two tortoises, a chameleon, a Russian bear, a crocodile, and two pygmy hippopotami. Any live animals given to the Queen are often housed in the London Zoo.
11. In-House ATM
Should the Queen decided to order a pizza to Buckingham Palace, she’d never be caught without cash on hand. Buckingham Palace has its own ATM for use by the royal family. Although we can imagine it would be a very weird experience paying for a pizza with money that has one’s own face on it.
10. Nice Ink
King George V was a sensitive boy raised to carry the burden of the entire British Empire on his back. But few people know that hidden underneath his proper demeanor and noble regalia was a royal secret: George had a tattoo. Though we might find this shocking today, tattoos were quite popular in England in the 19th century. While he was on a visit to Japan in 1881, George had a local artist give him a blue and red dragon on his arm right before he was scheduled to meet the Emperor. Pretty cool, George.
9. I Wanna Marry “Harry”
When Harry was just young prince has no shortage of female admirers, American television network Fox took advantage of that fact in 2014 with the reality show I Wanna Marry “Harry.” 12 women competed for the affections of the prince, who was played by impersonator Matthew Hicks. The show was cancelled after four barely-watched episodes.
8. Prince Who?
Although the world knows him as Prince Harry, Harry’s full name is actually Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor of Wales.
7. Vegas, Baby!
What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. Prince Harry learned that one the hard way, when, after a night of partying, he was caught completely nude after playing strip billiards in some cell phone photographs taken by another party-goer. Maybe pick another destination for the bachelor party, Harry!
6. I Call That a Bust
During his training with the Royal Navy, Prince William spent time on active boats and submarines. One such example was a deployment on the HMS Iron Duke for five weeks while it was stationed in the Caribbean. While part of the ship’s crew, William “took part in a joint operation with the United States Coast Guard.” This operation was a raid, capturing a speedboat loaded with enough cocaine to be worth $40 million!
5. Wide Awake
William later admitted that the night before his wedding, he had gotten just a half hour of sleep. His nervousness over the big day, coupled with the crowd outside of his father’s house, meant that he couldn’t get longer than hour of sleep. We’re amazed he looked so composed, to be honest.
4. Christmas Gifts
Every year, the Queen sends out a Royal Christmas Message to her subjects, wishing them well and discussing the year’s events. The Christmas Message was first broadcast over the radio but is now seen on television and the internet. In addition to The Queen has written more than 45,000 Christmas cards during her reign, and has given out more than 90,000 Christmas puddings to her staff.
3. Prolific Correspondence
In her 65-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has answered more than 3.5 million pieces of correspondence. She sends telegrams to Commonwealth residents on their 100th birthdays (she’s sent more than 175,000 of these) plus telegrams to couples celebrating a diamond wedding anniversary (another 540,000 telegrams).
2. Who Wants That Attention?
Princes Harry and William were just in the early teens when they woke up to the news their mother, Princess Diana, had died in a car crash.
Amidst the royal family’s polarizing response to Diana’s death in 1997, it was their grandfather, Prince Philip, who convinced William and Harry to walk behind her coffin. When the young princes were apprehensive, Philip reportedly told his eldest grandson, “If you don’t walk, I think you’ll regret it later. If I walk, will you walk with me?” At the funeral, Philip, William, Harry, Charles, and Diana’s brother followed the bier all the way from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, as millions watched.
1. Half Mast
Until 1997, general protocol at Buckingham Palace was against flying the Union Jack at half-mast. On the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, however, The Queen ordered all flags to fly at half-mast, which has now become the usual practice during moments of national mourning or a death in the Royal Family.