After nearly two months out of the spotlight — and several canceled events — Queen Elizabeth II made a rare public appearance at the annual Royal Windsor Horse Show, arriving May 13 in her standard Range Rover. During the occasion, the all-smiles 96-year-old wore a gray skirt, green sweater and white blouse topped with a navy coat and accessorized with a scarf, her signature pearls and black patent leather Launer handbag.
The monarch sat in the royal box along with her son Prince Edward, his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex and friend Penelope Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma. They cheered on the queen’s horse Balmoral Leia, who took first place in the Highland class and resulted in Her Majesty receiving the winner’s cup.
Her attendance comes days after the queen missed the State Opening of Parliament on May 10, making it the first time in almost 60 years that she has not attended the event. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Her Majesty was experiencing “episodic mobility problems” and reluctantly made the decision to skip after consulting with her doctors.
This wasn’t the only event she’s had to bow out of, with others including Easter Sunday service in April and Remembrance Sunday service in November. (Though she’s still made a handful of virtual appearances). Prior to the horse show, she had not been seen publicly since March 29, when she attended the Service of Thanksgiving for her late husband Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey in London.
But her upcoming schedule is still as packed as ever as the country plans for her Platinum Jubilee next month. Royal watchers are perhaps most excited for the annual Trooping the Colour, one of two times she celebrates her birthday.
However, this year will look very different than previous ones. After all, the queen has decided to limit appearances to include just working royal family members. In other words, don’t expect to see Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and Prince Andrew up on the balcony with the rest of the family.
Before then, keep reading to learn every fact you don’t know about the queen.
1. Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning British monarch in history, passing the record of 63 years and seven months previously held by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria in 2015.
2. At 96, she is also the oldest monarch in the world.
3. And the longest reigning female monarch in world history.
4. But that’s not all. Queen Elizabeth II is also the longest-reigning living monarch in the world. While there have been monarchs who’ve ruled for longer — including King Sobhuza II of Swaziland who reigned for 82 years and King Louis XIV of France who held the throne for 72 years and 110 days — they are no longer alive.
5. Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926. However, she actually celebrates her birthday twice a year: Once in April and once on her official birthday in June, which is often marked with the Trooping the Colour.
6. Queen Elizabeth II’s full name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.
7. She was named after her mom, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, as well as her father’s grandmother Queen Mary and great-grandmother Queen Alexandra.
8. Then known as Princess Elizabeth, she was given the nickname Lilibet as a child. In fact, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle named their daughter Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor after the queen and the Duke of Sussex’s mother, the late Princess Diana.
9. When she was a child, the queen gave her sister, Princess Margaret, the nickname Bud.
10. Queen Elizabeth II didn’t always live at Buckingham Palace. According to the royal family’s official website, she spent her early childhood years at the London house 145 Piccadilly and at White Lodge in Richmond Park. Her parents also had the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park as a country home.
11. As a child, she stayed quite busy. According to the royal family’s website, she studied art and music, learned to ride, joined the Girls Guides at age 11 (advancing to Sea Ranger) and became a strong swimmer (winning the Children’s Challenge Shield at London’s Bath Club at age 13).
12. Queen Elizabeth II gave her first public speech when she was 14 years old, addressing the children of the Commonwealth on Oct. 13, 1940 amid World War II.
“Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers,” she said in her speech for the Children’s Hour Broadcast. “My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all. To you, living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.”
13. She enrolled in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1945, making her the first female member of the royal family to join the armed services as a full-time active member. During her time in the ATS, Her Majesty learned how to drive and maintain vehicles. According to the National World War II Museum, “She started as a second subaltern in the ATS and was later promoted to Junior Commander, the equivalent of Captain.”
14. She also dedicated her life to serving the Commonwealth during a speech she gave on her 21st birthday.
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong,” she said in 1947. “But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
15. Her family didn’t always expect her to take the throne. When she was born, Elizabeth was third in the line of succession after her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales and her father, Prince Albert, Duke of York. After her grandfather King George V died in 1936, Edward, Prince of Wales was crowned King Edward VIII. But by the end of that year, he’d abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. Her father then acceded the throne as King George VI, taking his father’s name, and when he died on Feb. 6, 1952, Queen Elizabeth II began her reign.
16. After her father became king, Elizabeth prepared for her future role by studying constitutional history and law, receiving lessons on religion from the Archbishop of Canterbury and learning French.
17. Taking place at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was the first coronation to be televised.
18. During the ceremony, St. Edwards’s Crown was placed upon Her Majesty’s head. The crown, which is made of solid gold and encrusted with 440 precious and semiprecious stones, weighs 4 pounds and 12 ounces. Thankfully, this is the only time she’s had to wear it.
19. Queen Elizabeth II is the sixth queen to be crowned at Westminster Abbey. Queen Mary I was the first.
20. She’s also the 40th monarch to take the throne since William the Conqueror became the king of England in 1066.
21. For her first official engagement as queen, Her Majesty attended the Royal Maundy Service at Westminster Abbey in April 1952.
22. The Queen first met Prince Philip when she was 8 years old and he was 13. They crossed paths at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark to Prince George, Duke of Kent in 1934 and then again in 1939, when she was 13 and he was 18, at Dartmouth Naval College.
23. Seven years later, Prince Philip’s proposed with a ring by Philip Antrobus Ltd that featured diamonds from his mother Princess Alice of Battenberg’s tiara. According to the jeweler, “The ring features a magnificent three-carat round brilliant diamond, set in platinum and flanked by smaller pavé set diamonds.” Elizabeth’s dad asked them to keep their engagement under wraps until after she turned 21, the official announcement coming on July 9, 1947.
24. Queen Elizabeth II wed Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey on Nov. 20, 1947. Like many brides who tied the knot shortly after World War II, she used clothing ration coupons to pay for her dress, which was designed by Norman Hartnell and made of ivory silk. It also featured crystals, 10,000 seed pearls and a 15-foot silk tulle court train.
25. But there could have been a fashion faux pas! On her wedding day, Queen Elizabeth II wore Queen Mary’s fringe tiara. But according to the royal family’s website, “the frame of the gem broke as the bridge was putting it on and it had to be quickly repaired.”
26. Before his death in April 2021, Prince Philip was married to Queen Elizabeth II for 73 years, making them the longest married couple in the royal family’s history.
“He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments,” the queen said during a 1997 speech. “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”
27. It was Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip who decided to give their descendants different last names than the rest of the royal family. While her grandfather King George V adopted Windsor as the family’s surname in 1917, the couple chose in 1960 to also incorporate the Duke of Edinburgh’s last name, Mountbatten, and have their descendants carry the last name Mountbatten-Windsor.
28. And yes, she has quite a big crew of Mountbatten-Windsors. In addition to the four children she welcomed with Prince Philip—Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrewand Prince Edward—the queen has eight grandchildren (Peter Phillips, Zara Tindall, Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn) and 12 great-grandchildren (Savannah Phillips, Isla Phillips, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, Mia Grace Tindall, Lena Elizabeth Tindall, Lucas Philip Tindall, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten Windsor, August Philip Hawke Brooksbank and Sienna Elizabeth Mapelli Mozzi).
30. Her Majesty is the monarch to 14 countries in addition to the U.K. She is also Head of Commonwealth, which consists of 54 countries.
31. But these aren’t her only roles. She also holds the titles of Head of State, Head of Nation, Head of Armed Forces, Sovereign of the Garter, Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England among others.
32. As Head of State, Her Majesty must stay neutral on political matters. Therefore, she doesn’t vote or stand for election. Although, as the royal family’s website explains, the monarch does have ceremonial and formal roles relating to the U.K. government, like opening new sessions of Parliament and approving orders and proclamations through the Privy Council. She can also appoint a prime minster and meet with him or her regularly.
33. In May 2021, the queen opened Parliament for the 67th time—having opened it every year of her reign except 1959 and 1963 (when she was pregnant and expecting Prince Andrew and Prince Edward) and 2022 due to, as Buckingham Palace put it, “episodic mobility problems.”
34. Audiences, or one-on-one meetings, are part of Her Majesty’s job. According to the royal family’s website, there are more than 170 ambassadors and high commissioners in London at any given time, and the monarch will have an audience with each one shortly after the individual has assumed the role. She also has a weekly audience with the prime minister in which they discuss government matters.
35. By 2016, the queen had held more than 660 investitures (an event that awards honors to individuals for their achievements, bravery or services to the U.K. and British oversea territories).
36. Her Majesty has more than 600 patronages.
37. Her reign hasn’t been completely without criticism. After Princess Diana’s death in 1997, for instance, Her Majesty faced public criticism for initially staying at her Balmoral Castle in Scotland, instead of returning to London, and for originally not flying the British flag at half-mast, which didn’t happen until the day of Diana’s funeral. The monarch later addressed the Princess of Wales’ death in a televised statement.
“I admired and respected her for her energy and commitment to it”
38. As of 2016, the queen has visited 117 countries during her reign so far. For those counting, that’s 1,032,513 miles.
39. She didn’t get her wings until 1945, though, taking flight for the first time as she headed from from Northolt to Northern Ireland in 1945.
40. She has also made more than 200 visits to Commonwealth countries.
41. Her first visit to the Commonwealth was in November 1953 and she stayed for six months. During this time, she visited 12 countries which adds up to 43,618 miles.
42. Seventeen years later, while touring Australia, she made her first royal “walkabout,” a casual stroll among commoners that’s become somewhat of a family staple.
43. She christened the Victoria line in 1969, making her the first reigning monarch to travel on the public transit system the London Underground. She’s just like us!
44. Surprisingly, Her Majesty doesn’t have a passport. Since British passports are issued in the name of the queen, she doesn’t need one. Her family members, however, do.
45. And, according to the BBC, she is the only person in Britain who’s allowed to drive without a driver’s license. Don’t worry, she knows what she’s doing behind the wheel.
46. In 1957, she had her very first Christmas broadcast, a tradition that lives on 60-plus years later.
47. And if you’re lucky, you may be one of the 750 people who receive a holiday card from the queen, who usually spends Christmas and New Year at Sandringham House.
48. There’s another chance to nab a gift, though. She also gives puddings to employees who work at the palaces, court post office and within the palace police, distributing about 1,500 every year.
49. You’ve got mail: In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II became the first monarch to send an email, which was sent during a network technology demonstration at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment.
50. Almost 40 years later, she posted her first personal tweet which read, “It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.”
51. It’s clear the Science Museum holds a special place in her heart as it’s also where the monarch made her first Instagram post. “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post at the Science Museum,” she wrote in 2019 while sharing an archived photo of her great-great-grandfather, “which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R.”
52. For those wondering, the “R” in “Elizabeth R,” stands for regina, which is Latin for queen.
53. At this point, you likely think of the queen and think of her corgis. As it turns out, when she was 18, she received her first pup named Susan. And since then, all her corgis have been descendants of her. How many descendants exactly? Her Majesty has owned at least 30 corgis and a number of dorgis, a cross between dachshund and corgis.
54. She technically owns a lot of swans, too. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, “An unmarked mute swan on the [River] Thames is regarded as belonging to the Queen by default.”
55. Plus, she’s received many animals as official gifts, including two pygmy hippopotami from President Tubman of Liberia, a sloth and two black jaguars from the Prefect of Brasília and an African forest elephant from President Ahidjo of Cameroon. All of which were sent to the ZSL London Zoo (with the elephant later relocating to the rural zoo at Whipsnade).
56. And, last but not least, she loves horses, receiving her first pony, Peggy, at age 4. Over the years, she’s owned and bred a number of thoroughbreds, with her horses winning quite a few races. In 2013, for instance, her horse Estimate won the Royal Ascot’s Gold Cup, making it the first time in history a reigning monarch took home the trophy.
57. If you happen to run into the queen, you may want to strike a pose. After all, she loves photography and snapping pictures of her family.
58. She also enjoys Scottish country dancing and will host Gillies Balls during her stays at her holiday home Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
59. If you ever wondered, yes, the queen is on the shorter side, coming in at 5-foot-4 according to the BBC.
60. Over the years, the queen has been served by 14 British prime ministers, the first being Winston Churchill. The most recent? Boris Johnson.
61. She’s also met 13 out of the last 14 U.S. presidents, the exception being Lyndon Johnson.
62. What’s more, she’s the first British monarch to address the U.S. Congress, which she did in 1991.
63. Someone better check her mailbox often. From the start of her reign to 2016, the queen received more than 3.75 million items of correspondence.
64. By 2016, she’d also sent more than 230,000 messages to anyone in the U.K.—its overseas realms and territories included—who were 100 or older.
65. She has her own personal flag, adopted in 1960, which is blue with a gold design featuring her initial “E” with the royal crown and encircled in roses. You can see it flying on buildings, ships, cars or aircrafts she occupies.
66. Each year, the queen welcomes more than 30,000 guests to garden parties held at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
67. One of her favorite flowers is the lily of the valley, which was featured in her coronation bouquet.
68. Queen Elizabeth II appears on the coinage of at least 35 different countries, the most of any living monarch.
69. She’s also the first member of the royal family to receive a gold disc from the recording industry. That’s all thanks to the recording of her 2002 Golden Jubilee concert, titled Party at the Palace, with 100,000 copies selling out within the first week of its release.
70. She’s a totally normal, relatable grandmother. Well, at least according to Prince Harry. “She is very funny, but I think she gets it from my grandfather,” he said during a 2012 interview with The Telegraph, later adding, “My family is the same as any other family when it comes to humor behind closed doors, though I’d like to think I was funnier than my grandmother.”