Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·4-min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 08: Queen Elizabeth II during Trooping The Colour, the Queen's annual birthday parade, on June 8, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
The Queen celebrates two birthdays each year. (Getty Images)

The Queen has turned 94 and she remains the longest-serving monarch in the world.

But the day was due to pass in quiet and private celebration, as it often does for her first birthday of the year.

The Queen has two birthdays – her real birthday and her official birthday, which is normally a far grander and more public affair.

The Queen’s real birthday

Elizabeth II was born on 21 April 1926, the oldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, who became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when her uncle abdicated the throne.

This year, the Queen will be in Windsor for her birthday, during the period known as Easter Court.

Her big day will be marked privately, with an even smaller collection of people around her than usual, as she is in isolation to protect herself from coronavirus.

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WINDSOR, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Queen Elizabeth II attends Easter Sunday service at St George's Chapel on April 21, 2019 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
The Queen is often in Windsor on or just before her birthday. (Getty Images)

Prince Philip, who is 98, is at Windsor Castle with her.

One of the biggest parts of the Queen’s birthday celebration is usually a series of gun salutes in three places.

In London, a 41 gun salute is performed in Hyde Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London.

Closer to her Berkshire home, a 21 gun salute is normally held at Windsor Great Park.

A basic gun salute is 21 guns, and 20 are added if the salute takes place in a royal park, which is why it’s 41 guns in Hyde Park.

They are traditionally fired at 10 second intervals by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, a mounted ceremonial battery.

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Members of the Honourable Artillery Company take part in a 62 gun ceremonial salute to mark the 93rd birthday of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, at the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge seen behind, in London, Britain, April 22, 2019.  REUTERS/Toby Melville
A 62 gun salute takes place at the Tower of London for the Queen's birthday. (Reuters)

The Queen also gets gun salutes for her official birthday and her coronation day. They’re also fired for various events like royal births or for heads of state visiting.

But a Buckingham Palace source earlier said no gun salutes will be held for her 2020 birthday.

The Queen’s official birthday

The practice of an official birthday for the monarch dates back 260 years, when George II repurposed the traditional Trooping the Colour for his own celebration.

George II’s actual birthday was in November, and the monarch was fed up with terrible British weather, which put a dampener on any plans.

So he decided to combine his birthday with the Trooping the Colour, a military procession which was held every year and already a fixture of the British calendar.

The Queen’s father, King George VI, had his official birthday on the second Thursday in June, and the Queen adopted this for a few years after she acceded.

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LONDON, June 8, 2019 -- Britain's Queen Elizabeth II C and her family members are seen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Trooping the Colour ceremony to mark her 93rd birthday in London, Britain, on June 8, 2019. Queen Elizabeth celebrated her official 93rd birthday in London Saturday, with a family gathering on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. (Xinhua/Ray Tang) (Xinhua/Ray Tang via Getty Images)
Trooping the Colour normally sees the Royal Family gather on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to watch a flypast. (Getty Images)

But in 1959, she decided to change it to the second Saturday in June.

It just so happens that her official birthday isn’t too far away from her coronation day, but the two aren’t linked.

Trooping the Colour involves more than 1,400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians, who perform with military precision.

The parade moves between Buckingham Palace, The Mall and Horseguards’ Parade.

It’s also the time of year we get the famous balcony pictures as all the Royal Family waves to the crowds and watches the RAF flypast, which marks the end of the event.

The Queen used to ride on horseback with the parade to carry out the inspection but now arrives by carriage.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 08: Trooping The Colour, the Queen's annual birthday parade, on June 08, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Trooping the Colour marks the official birthday of the monarch. (Getty Images)

Buckingham Palace confirmed the Trooping the Colour parade will not go ahead in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of March, the Palace said: “In line with Government advice, it has been agreed that The Queen’s Birthday Parade, also known as Trooping the Colour, will not go ahead in its traditional form.

“A number of other options are being considered, in line with relevant guidance.”