Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Charlotte. Charlotte Wonders, “What did queens like Queen Elizabeth do?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Charlotte!

You may have seen in the news that Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain died on September 8, 2022. People you know may feel sad about it, or be talking about things she did. You might be WONDERing, who WAS Queen Elizabeth II? 

Queen Elizabeth II was born in 1926 in London, England. But she wasn’t a queen then—she was Princess Elizabeth. Her grandfather, George V, was the king of Great Britain. She lived with her parents and younger sister, Margaret. Elizabeth, who was nicknamed “Lilibet,” loved dogs and riding horses. Instead of going to school, a governess taught her and her sister at their home. When she was almost 10, her grandfather died. Soon after, Elizabeth’s father became the new king. Elizabeth was the oldest child, so that meant she would be the queen after her father. King George VI later died in 1952, and Elizabeth became the queen. 

Elizabeth was a queen, but in many ways, she was like anyone else. During World War II, she learned to drive and maintain military vehicles to help out. Later, she got married and had four children—then, she became a grandmother and a great-grandmother. She continued to love dogs and owned more than 30 corgis throughout her life so there’s no need to WONDER if corgis were her favorite dogs! She also loved horses and horseback riding. She loved horses so much that when she went on vacation to the United States, she came to Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby

You may also be WONDERing, what does a queen actually DO? That answer might change in other times or places. In Great Britain, in the 20th and 21st centuries, the king or queen does not make laws or rule over the people. Queen Elizabeth was not like a President, who is elected (chosen) by the people and helps make the country’s laws. Long ago, a king or queen of Great Britain would have helped make laws. But the British people decided that laws should be made by people who were elected. It has a constitutional monarchy. In other words, the king or queen has to share power with others, according to the way that country is organized. This can look different in different places! Now, the British government is led by a Prime Minister. The Queen or King’s role is more about diplomacy and ceremony

That doesn’t mean that Queen Elizabeth did nothing—in fact, the Queen had a very busy job! She met with the Prime Minister every week. She also had many ceremonial tasks like opening Parliament (the British government) and greeting new Prime Ministers. In fact, she met the newest Prime Minister just a few days before she died. The Queen was not supposed to vote or even give her opinion on political questions. This could be hard sometimes! For example, Queen Elizabeth wanted the British government to show that they disagreed with the brutal South African policy of apartheid—extreme racial segregation. Britain’s Prime Minister at the time disagreed. Queen Elizabeth became friends with Nelson Mandela, who was in prison in South Africa because of his views against apartheid. When Mandela was freed from prison and apartheid ended in 1994, they visited each other and became friends.. 

Her role as a diplomat was very important as well. By choosing to visit a country (or not), Queen Elizabeth could show how Great Britain felt about that country. For example, in 2011 she visited Ireland. For many years, Ireland had fought and demanded independence. A king or queen of Great Britain had not visited Ireland since 1911—since before Ireland became independent! Her visit showed that she wanted Great Britain and Ireland to be on good terms. 

Sometimes, as with Ireland, Queen Elizabeth would help heal wounds from long conflict. At other times, she aimed to make stronger bonds and prevent conflict. In 1953, for example, she made a tour around the world to visit countries that were part of the British Commonwealth. These were countries very closely connected to Great Britain—mostly former colonies. She wanted to keep countries friendly toward Great Britain at a time when many were choosing greater independence from the former empire. For example, in 1961, Queen Elizabeth visited Ghana. She wanted to encourage its president, Kwame Nkrumah, to stay friendly with Britain. She danced with Nkrumah to show him and the world that Britain wanted to stay close to Ghana. 

The Commonwealth includes large countries like Australia, Canada, and India. There are also smaller countries like British Guyana. Some countries are called Commonwealth Realms because they still see the British king or queen as their monarch as well. Did you know that Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain was the Queen of Australia and Canada, too? Great Britain used to have so many colonies around the world that it was said that “the sun never sets on the British empire.” 

Does that sound familiar to you? It should! The United States was once a British colony that wanted to be free. Just like the United States, many British colonies started demanding independence. They won it, but it was not easy. The British government did not always want to allow other countries to be free. During Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, most of Great Britain’s former colonies became independent countries. Many of these nations used rules from the United Nations, after World War II, to gain the right to self-govern and be free from Britain’s rule. 

Along with colonies leaving the British empire, Queen Elizabeth II lived through many other shifts in the world. The world has changed a great deal since she was born in 1926, both in good and bad ways. She had a hard job as queen, and was very dedicated to her country. Would you like to be a king or queen? What type of ruler would you be?

Standards: C3.D2.Civ10, C3.D2.Civ.14, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.7, CCRA.R.9, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.SL.3, CCRA.SL.4, CCRA.W.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4

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