Updated: May 9, 2022
Elizabeth was born at 02:40 (GMT) on 21 April 1926, during the reign of her paternal grandfather, King George V.
Her father, the Duke of York, who later became King George VI, was the second son of the King & Queen Mary.
Her mother, the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth), was the youngest daughter of Scottish aristocrat the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, & Cecilia Bowes-Lyon, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne.
She was delivered by Caesarean section at her maternal grandfather's London house: 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair. At the time she stood third in the line of succession to the throne after Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), & her father, The Duke of York. The Princess was christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace, on 29 May 1926. She was named after her mother, while her two middle names are those of her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, & paternal grandmother, Queen Mary.
When she was born in Mayfair in 1926, Princess Elizabeth & her family did not expect that she would one day become Monarch. Her Royal Highness was expected to live a relatively normal, if privileged, life with her close-knit & loving family. But everything changed in December 1936 when her uncle, King Edward VIII abdicated, leaving her father as King, & her as next in line to the throne.
The Princess's early years were spent at 145 Piccadilly, the London house taken by her parents shortly after her birth, and at White Lodge in Richmond Park.
She also spent time at the country homes of her paternal grandparents, King George V & Queen Mary, & her mother's parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. She was called "Lilibet" by her close family, based on what she called herself at first, she was cherished by her grandfather George V, & during his serious illness in 1929 her regular visits were credited in the popular press & by later biographers with raising his spirits & aiding his recovery.
In 1930, Princess Elizabeth gained a sister, with the birth of Princess Margaret Rose. The family of four was very close. When she was six years old, her parents took over Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park as their own country home. In the grounds of Royal Lodge Princess Elizabeth had her own small house, Y Bwthyn Bach (the Little Cottage), which was given to her by the people of Wales in 1932.
The Abdication of King Edward VIII
Princess Elizabeth's quiet family life came to an end in 1936, when her grandfather, King George V, died. His eldest son came to the throne as King Edward VIII, but, before the end of the year, King Edward VIII had decided to give up the throne in order to marry the woman he loved, Mrs Wallis Simpson. Upon his abdication, Princess Elizabeth's father acceded to the throne as King George VI, & in 1937 the two Princesses attended their parents' Coronation in Westminster Abbey. Princess Elizabeth was now first in line to the throne, & a figure of even more intense public interest.
In 1939, Elizabeth's parents toured Canada & the United States. As in 1927, when her parents had toured Australia & New Zealand, Elizabeth remained in Britain, since her father thought her too young to undertake public tours. Elizabeth "looked tearful" as her parents departed. They corresponded regularly, & she & her parents made the first royal transatlantic telephone call on 18 May.
Princess Elizabeth & Princess Margaret were educated at home like many girls from wealthy families at that time. After her father succeeded to the throne in 1936 & Princess Elizabeth became heir presumptive (first in line to the throne), she started to study constitutional history & law as preparation for her future role.
She received tuition from her father, as well as sessions with Henry Marten, the Vice-Provost of Eton. She was also instructed in religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Princess Elizabeth also learned French from a number of French & Belgian governesses. It is a skill which has stood The Queen in good stead, as she often has cause to use it when speaking to ambassadors & heads of state from French-speaking countries, & when visiting French-speaking areas of Canada.
Princess Elizabeth also studied art & music, learned to ride, & became a strong swimmer. She won the Children's Challenge Shield at London's Bath Club when she was thirteen. Princess Elizabeth enrolled as a Girl Guide when she was eleven, & later became a Sea Ranger.
The war years
In September 1939, Great Britain entered the Second World War, which lasted until August 1945. During the war, many of London's children were evacuated to avoid the frequent aerial bombing. Senior politician Lord Hailsham suggested that the two princesses should be evacuated to Canada, but this was rejected by Elizabeth's mother, who declared, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."
Princesses Elizabeth & Margaret stayed at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, until Christmas 1939, then they moved to Sandringham House, Norfolk. From February to May 1940, they lived at Royal Lodge, Windsor, until moving to Windsor Castle, where they lived for most of the next five years.
At Windsor, the princesses staged pantomimes at Christmas in aid of the Queen's Wool Fund, which bought yarn to knit into military garments.
In 1940, the 14-year-old Elizabeth made her first radio broadcast during the BBC's Children's Hour, addressing other children who had been evacuated from the cities. She stated: "We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers & airmen, & we are trying, too, to bear our share of the danger & sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well."
In 1943, Elizabeth undertook her first solo public appearance on a visit to the Grenadier Guards, of which she had been appointed colonel the previous year. As she approached her 18th birthday, parliament changed the law so she could act as one of five Counsellors of State in the event of her father's incapacity or absence abroad, such as his visit to Italy in July 1944.
In February 1945, she was appointed as an honorary second subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service with the service number of 230873. She trained as a driver & mechanic & was given the rank of honorary junior commander five months later.
At the end of the war in Europe, on Victory in Europe Day, Princesses Elizabeth & Margaret mingled anonymously with the celebratory crowds in the streets of London. Elizabeth later said in a rare interview, "We asked my parents if we could go out & see for ourselves. I remember we were terrified of being recognised ... I remember lines of unknown people linking arms & walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness & relief."