My QE II Obsession

Elizabeth-II-Mid-1550s My QE II Obsession

Did you obsess about someone in your childhood or teenage years? A person in that time before the internet that you idolized using posters, newspaper stories or color photos from a magazine on the newsstand? Names that come to mind: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, members of the Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison, Bruce Springsteen. Or it could have been a sports personality–tennis, baseball, football–the list would be endless.

My obsession started with a photograph and it led me in directions that fed my love of history, my desire to read, write and ultimately travel. What? Not possible. No childhood obsession could do all of that. Yes it could.

My QE II Obsession

June, 1953. I was just learning how to read.

When this issue of LIFE magazine appeared on the coffee table in our home, I asked my mother about the queen on the cover. All little girls know about princesses and queens from having read fairy tales. I knew about Cinderella and Snow White–but who was this lady? When my mother told me her name was Elizabeth, that sealed the deal. She had the same name as I did and that sent me on a long and fulfilling journey.

And if you are laughing at this — I get it. Being super-interested in someone, reading about them, cutting photos of them out of the newspapers and making a scrapbook with those photos–it’s all part of the obsession. Most of my peers waited a bit and then fell in love with Elvis (his first recordings occurred in the same year as the coronation above). I never cared about Elvis and maybe I should have as my rock and roll dancing ability was awful. But I knew my history.

Searching the library for books on QEII led me to books on Elizabeth the First who ruled England from 1558 to her death in 1603. The flood gates opened and I read about Henry VIII and the Tudors, Spanish and French royalty and the wars fought, won and lost. Of course the role of our independence from England, the settling of this new nation figured in my reading. And when traveling anywhere or looking at a map of the U.S. I could easily find the names of English people and places: Jamestown, New England, New York, Maryland, Elizabeth City, Virginia.

An amusing story accompanies this last. We were reading about the colonies in grade school American history and I remarked to my mother that Virginia was named after Elizabeth the First, the Virgin queen. “But she was no virgin,” I told my mother who stared at what she thought was her innocent daughter. And I was, truly innocent of sex and all its ramifications. What I meant was my meaning of “virgin” garnered from my Catholic upbringing and the Virgin Mary. To me the word meant good and I knew QEI had waged wars and hung folks. But the comment almost immediately led to “the sex talk.” Ah, more flood gates opening.

And what did I want for Christmas one year more than anything? This book (below), a 250 page work of black and white and some color plates of QEII and her family. This is one precious possession that my mother found in the Marshall Field book department. I was one joyful kid.

My QE II Obsession

Undoubted Queen, 250 pages of photos!

My QE II Obsession

Prince Charles and Princess Anne – the kind of photo I would cut from the newspaper and put in my scrapbook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course the next step after reading and researching was writing. I was in middle school when I wrote to the queen. I addressed the letter to Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace, London, England. Of course her picture was on the stamp I used–and the letter got there. But there was a long waiting period–and what had I written about? I am sure I was not alone in my request–I wanted to be Prince Charles’ pen pal. (Not so much today!!) I got a lovely reply on beautiful Buckingham Palace stationery which I wish I could share, but it was ruined in a flood in our basement along with all my scrapbooks. But I remember who wrote it: Lady Rose Baring. It was a form letter saying no, of course, but she signed the note. I found this on the internet years later: Rose Gwendolen Louisa McDonnell, courtier: born London 23 May 1909; Woman of the Bedchamber to the Queen 1953-73;… married 1933 Francis Baring (died 1940; two sons, one daughter); died Swindon 2 November 1993.

It is also quite possible that my QEII obsession led me to major in English in college and to become a secondary level teacher of English. There isn’t much distance between British history and English writers who have influenced American literature–we speak the same tongue, though it’s always amusing to draw comparisons between what the Brits and we call things, like boot for trunk and lift for elevator to name two common ones.

Eventually I got myself to the gates of Buckingham. This photo taken in 2012.

My QE II Obsession

I hope I’m not late for tea with the Queen.

Through me, my husband also became a lover of London and the English countryside despite his Irish heritage. He recently found ancestors that were born in England, so now he truly has some claim to the “green and pleasant land.”

 

 

My QE II Obsession

This plate commemorates the marriage of Charles and Diana.

Of course I got myself out of bed in the middle of the night to watch Prince Charles marry Diana Spencer. And the confusion and sadness that followed kept me checking on the Royal Family so that I have remembrances of Diana tucked away with my QEII books. And a plate that commemorates her marriage to Charles.

In the end I’m glad that I’m me and not some princess trying to live my life in the glare of publicity. I did meet a woman online who actually had a worse obsession. She wrote a book about her journey from the US to England in the hopes of marrying a prince. Her plot failed. But I am guessing that I am not alone–that there are others like me who got on the QEII journey because of curiosity and interest and stayed there. If you are one of those people, I would love to hear from you. I’ve met you in English gift shops as we purchase a memento of the royal family–something that we can afford, something that smacks of a long and amazing history.

Some More History: The Cullinan Diamond.

My QE II Obsession

Queen Elizabeth the First of England

Captain Frederick Wells, superintendent of Premier Mine, one of South Africa’s most productive mines, near Pretoria, found the Cullinan diamond, during his daily inspection of the mines, on 26 January 1905. During his rounds he saw a flash of light, reflected by the sun on the wall of the shaft. As he got closer, he could see a partially exposed crystal, embedded in the rock, however he initially believed it to be a shard of glass, placed by one of the miners as a practical joke. Using just his pocket knife he managed to release the diamond. At approximately 1 1⁄3 pounds (600 grams), 3 7⁄8 inches (98 mm) long, 2 1⁄4 inches (57 mm) wide and 2 5⁄8 inches (67 mm) high the diamond was twice the size of any diamond previously discovered. Wells immediately took it for examination.

The Cullinan was split and cut into 9 major stones and 96 smaller stones. Edward VII had the Cullinan I and Cullinan II set respectively into the Sceptre with the Cross and the Imperial State Crown, (England’s Crown Jewels) while the remainder of the seven larger stones and the 96 smaller brilliants remained in the possession of the Dutch diamond cutting firm of Messers I. J. Asscher of Amsterdam who had split and cut the Cullinan, until the South African Government bought these stones and the High Commissioner of the Union of South Africa presented them to Queen Mary on 28 June 1910. In the photo below, on her sash, Queen Mary is wearing Cullinan III and IV. When Queen Elizabeth traveled to Holland meet with the Asscher family, she referred to this incredible brooch as Grannie’s Chips.

Thanks to Wikipedia, Google Images, Life Magazine, John Havey

5 thoughts on “My QE II Obsession

  1. Loved that! Never knew that about you, Beth! I mean, Elizabeth!
    But you did Marry Prince Charming!!!!!

    • Oh I certainly did. But my silly love for these folks just keeps hanging on. Now I wonder how Princess Kate is feeling and if she’s having a boy or a girl? LOL Me

  2. What a wonderful post Beth, it is so insightful, personal and soothing. It conjures up memories of my youthful obsessions. I was and still am in a sense obsessed with the 1960’s, anything and everything that happened from 1960 to 1969; all the joy, the tragedy, the changes, the music, and the history. I was a child of the 80’s and while the 60’s were only twenty years prior at that time, they still fascinated me. I grew up listening to the Beatles, watching re-runs of 1960’s television shows and watching movies like “The Graduate” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I read everything I could about the JFK assassination and the Vietnam War. Nothing from the 60’s escaped my curious mind. I always asked my parents what it was like growing up then. Had they ever been to San Francisco? Did they visit the Haight-Ashbury? Did they march on Washington? They of course thought I was crazy. They were both middle, class, suburban Chicago teenagers, of course they weren’t hippies, they didn’t have any political angst. They were republicans, proud supporters of American government. Vietnam was a police action, the soldiers were doing their jobs, hippies ruined America… I used to argue with them over the political ideals behind Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, hippies, music, make love not war…
    Today, I still read about life in the 1960’s, I still study the effects of some of the political decisions from that era, I take classes at college about that time, my favorite books to read in English class deal with those times. I don’t know where my complete obsession with this time in history came from but it’s been inside me since I was young, I don’t think it will go away anytime soon. I’m going to be studying to get my Master’s soon and perhaps one day my Ph.D and I already know that my thesis will focus on this time in American history.
    Thanks for sharing your obsession today Beth, it was quite comforting.

    • Thanks, Natalie. Obsession is wonderful when it leads you down a path, when it instructs and helps you grow and learn. Yours did that. Mine did that. I can’t tell you how my concept of the world expanded just from seeing that one photo and wanting to learn more.

      I wrote the Queen when Prince Andrew was born — we have the same birthday (but now he’s in hot water) and I wrote again when Prince Edward was born. It was great getting this standard replies on beautiful stationery. Something not to miss. Take care, Beth

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