Queen Elizabeth II was born in London on April 21, 1926, although it has been British tradition to celebrate sovereigns’ birthdays on a separate official date.
The Queen’s official birthday is always a Saturday in June, marked with public observances such as gun salutes and special parades, whereas her actual April birthday is celebrated in private.
Her Majesty was christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary after her mother, Queen Elizabeth, and paternal great-grandmother and grandmother, Queens Alexandra and Mary, respectively.
As the eldest of two daughters – her sister, Margaret Rose, was born four years later – Princess Elizabeth was third in line for succession to the throne after her uncle, Edward, Prince of Wales, and her father, the Duke of York.
The Princesses early lives were lived quietly at their family country homes. When Princess Elizabeth turned 10, however, the passing of her grandfather, King George V, and the renouncing of the throne by her uncle, King Edward VIII, led to her father’s coronation as King George VI within the year.
The rapid change in royal succession suddenly thrust the young princess into the public’s eye more prominently, rendering her a subject of intense scrutiny as she now became the immediate heir to the throne by birth.
Preparing for her future role as Queen, Princess Elizabeth studied constitutional history and law in addition to the typical areas of classical education for young ladies of high and noble status at the time. At 14, she made her first public speech during a live BBC broadcast, speaking to all of Britain’s children – especially those who were being evacuated during World War II. From then on, the young princess became increasingly committed to her public and civic duties, carrying out her engagements on her own or along with her parents.
From her childhood governesses, the young Princess Elizabeth learned French, a skill that the now-Queen has been continuously praised for throughout her time as reigning monarch while meeting with ambassadors and heads of state in French-speaking countries.
Since ascending the throne in 1952 at the age of 25, after her father’s passing, Queen Elizabeth II remains the second-longest reigning monarch, of Britain. Many of her personal and royal accomplishments have been celebrated publicly, coinciding with significant social and political developments that have occurred in tandem across the world throughout her rule.
Her Majesty is known for traveling extensively, being the first British sovereign to make numerous historic, international visits to countries previously never accessed nor open to prior monarchs, from the Middle East and post-independent Republic of Ireland, to a still-divided Germany and post-war Japan.
Among other “firsts,” the Queen also received the first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, at Buckingham Palace in 1979.
Today, the Queen is 89, having outlived both her royal sister and mother. She enters her 63rd year as the beloved Queen of England, known over the world for allowing the public a more liberal glimpse into the Royal Family’s daily life while she continues fulfilling her duties.
Her Majesty remains married to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, with whom she shares four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Dido Belle was born circa the early 1760s, although no definitive birth date or year has been recorded with absolute certainty. Her birth origins are widely known, however, in which Belle was reported as being born into slavery in the West Indies – an area of the Caribbean islands known as modern Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico today.
It is said that her mother, an African slave by the name of Maria Belle, was probably taken by force rather than fondness by her father – a young, Naval officer named John Lindsay – during the Seven Years’ War, where European colonials and explorers were still discovering the Americas, capturing rival ships, and making off with the region’s goods, from sugar and coffee to human cargo.
Belle’s father eventually returned to England, taking his young mulatto daughter, Dido, along with him. Whether the shame was too great for him to bear, or he did not feel adequate enough to raise a child on his own, the Navy captain and wealthy aristocrat asked his extended, childless relatives to take care of Dido on his behalf.
Lindsay’s uncle, William Murray, the first Earl of Mansfield, accepted, and along with his wife, Elizabeth, raised Dido in their North London home at Kenwood House – a lavish, extravagant estate for its time, with vast, landscaped gardens and palatial grandeur.
They baptized and renamed the small child to Dido Elizabeth Belle. While colonial laws of the time dictate that Belle was a slave due to her mother’s lineage, the blooming aristocrat was privileged by name, and now, by upbringing, as her uncle was also Lord Chief Justice, the most powerful position of its nature in the country at the time.
Belle was well-educated, well-dressed, and well-fed as a member of her new family – but her position, both within the Murrays’ household and London society at large, was often blurred due to her illegitimacy and obvious darker skin color and frizzy, curly hair.
In fact, Belle was too well-bred for a servant, yet too different and frowned upon in the eyes of London’s high society. Furthermore, the Earl and Countess of Mansfield were also raising another one of their nieces, Lady Elizabeth Murray, an orphan of Belle’s age for whom many historians have suggested that she was intended to serve as a playmate or personal attendant.
While little is known of Belle’s adult life, the diaries of American governor and Loyalist Thomas Hutchinson who lived in London at the time, paint a picture that described Belle transcribing many, if not most, of her Chief Justice uncle’s dictations and legal discourses on various slavery cases. She was said to have influenced him, whether directly or indirectly, in his final decisions – decisions that were crucial in the eventual abolishment of the slave trade in England.
In 2013, a film by her namesake of Belle profiled the story of the mysterious mixed-race noblewoman. While the movie has likely exaggerated her involvements in her uncle’s legal affairs, historical records show that he did leave her, upon his death, a life inheritance along with words that she was a free woman.
Five months later, Belle married John Davinier – depicted in the film as a non-wealthy yet passionate law student, but a steward and reverend’s son in real life – with whom she had three children.
Belle passed of natural causes in her early 40s, with simply a painting of her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, previously displayed at Scone Palace in the UK to fuel interest into her fascinating, yet unknowable story.
By Kim Tran