Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch, is the subject of an upcoming American-British television drama series, The Crown, set to premiere on Netflix November 4. The first season looks at Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II during the early years of their marriage, but we’re just as attuned to the rest of her extraordinary life story. In honor of the occasion, here are five things you may not have known about her royal majesty.
1. When Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, the former Prince of Greece and Denmark, in 1947, she paid for her wedding dress with clothing ration coupons. Given that the wedding took place during postwar recovery, the nuptials were more understated than the extravagant royal weddings affairs we now know today. Elizabeth saved up to purchase the material for her bridal gown, an ivory satin creation designed by Norman Hartnell and encrusted with more than 10,000 pearls, but not enough to cover all of it. Engaged girls from around the country donated their rations in order to make the moment happen.
2. Queen Elizabeth is said to use the precise position of her purse to signal cryptic messages to staff. For example, placing it on the table is an indicator that she is ready to leave and would like to exit the event within the next five minutes. When she’s ready to wrap up a dull conversation, she supposedly switches her handbag from one arm to another, which prompts her staff to move in. Placing the item on the floor sends the same memo. “It would be very worrying if you were talking to the Queen and saw the handbag move from one hand to the other,” royal historian Hugo Vickers has said. No wonder the Queen is so rarely seen in public without the accessory by her side.
3. Queen Elizabeth understands the importance of a beauty touchup, particularly when it comes to lipstick. “At the end of a luncheon or a dinner, even a banquet set with silver gilt and antique porcelain, she has the somewhat outré habit of opening her bag, pulling out a compact, and reapplying her lipstick,” royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith once wrote. While the move isn’t outside of royal protocol, it was down-to-earth enough to convince Laura Bush to do the same. The former First Lady made a similar quick fix during a Washington ladies’ luncheon, rationalizing: ‘The Queen told me it was all right to do it.’”
4. Queen Elizabeth learned to drive in 1945 when she joined the women’s branch of the British Army and served as a mechanic and ambulance driver towards the close of the Second World War. In effect, she became the first and only member of the royal family to have ever been trained to change a spark plug. Although she doesn’t have a license, she has been known to get into the driver’s seat on occasion, such as when she escorted former Saudi King (then Prince) Abdullah for a joy ride around Balmoral in her Land Rover in 1998. And again, when she was spotted veering her vehicle onto the grass at an adjacent park in order to move around an apparently slow-moving pedestrian.
5. Queen Elizabeth is a famously modern monarch, and in 1976 she became the first British royal to send an email, during a demonstration at an army research center in England. In addition to maintaining her own YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter handle, the Queen is said to send text messages to her grandchildren on the regular. (Prince Harry was supposedly astonished upon receiving the first text.) While her various accounts are managed by the social media team at Buckingham Palace, from time to time, she tweets all on her own. If there were any doubt of the feed’s authenticity, @RoyalFamily once followed up her original message for clarification: “This tweet was personally sent by Her Majesty The Queen,” it read. Her most loyal followers will know that it’s her based on her signoff: Elizabeth R. (The R stands for “regina,” which is Latin for queen, and is part of how the monarch officially pens all her documents.)