The life of Queen Elizabeth II, a royal birth: Joy amid gloom of grey skies and a general strike as a baby girl is born

·2-min read
Princess Elizabeth and her parents at her christening in May 1926 (PA)
Princess Elizabeth and her parents at her christening in May 1926 (PA)

Britain was in serious crisis, with the threat of a general strike uppermost in people’s minds. But inside 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair, there was undiluted joy.

For at 2.40am on April 21 1926, Elizabeth, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York, came into the world.

The baby girl stood third in line of succession to the throne, after her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales, and her father, the Duke of York.

At the time it was not expected that her father would become King, or that she would ever become Queen. Eight months later the little princess was christened in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Cosmo Lang, named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary.

A month later, her parents embarked on a six-month tour of several colonies, leaving their baby in the care of the unflappable nanny Clara Knight, affectionately known as “Allah”.

With her parents away, the little princess often brightened the afternoons of her grandparents.

Princess Elizabeth aged two in 192 (Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth aged two in 192 (Popperfoto/Getty Images)

George V, a stern father to his own five children, was transformed into a doting grandfather for his little “Lilibet”. The Princess’s early years were blissfully happy, spent in the top-floor nursery at 145 Piccadilly, the London house taken by her parents on their return from their overseas visits.

When Elizabeth was four the Yorks were offered Royal Lodge as a retreat; and “Grandpa England” — as she called him — gave her a Shetland pony that kindled her passion for horses.

Princess Elizabeth and Margaret, 1932 (Royal Collection Trust)
Princess Elizabeth and Margaret, 1932 (Royal Collection Trust)

The Yorks’ second daughter was born on August 21 1930, at Glamis Castle. Her parents were so sure the child would be a boy that they had no girls’ names ready. They settled on Margaret Rose.

The King’s illness had aged him significantly, and his heir, the dashing Prince of Wales — now 36 — was infatuated with the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. Elizabeth and Margaret could avoid the growing tensions within the family, but could not predict how the situation would one day affect their young lives.

In January 1936, King George V died at Sandringham, to be succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII, but within weeks of his state funeral his son’s reign began to unravel.

On December 10 1936, Elizabeth’s father went to see his brother, who told him of his intention to abdicate. Margaret asked her, “Does that mean that you will have to be the next Queen?” Elizabeth considered for a moment and said, “Yes, some day.” Margaret replied, “Poor you.”