During her grandfather’s reign, Elizabeth was third in the line of succession to the throne, behind her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales, and her father, the Duke of York. Although her birth generated public interest, she was not expected to become queen, as the Prince of Wales was still young. Many people believed that he would marry and have children of his own. When her grandfather died in 1936 and her uncle succeeded as Edward VIII, she became second-in-line to the throne, after her father. Later that year, Edward abdicated, after his proposed marriage to divorced socialite Wallis Simpson provoked a constitutional crisis. Consequently, Elizabeth’s father became king, and she became heir presumptive. If her parents had had a later son, she would have lost her position as first-in-line, as her brother would have been heir apparent and above her in the line of succession.
Elizabeth received private tuition in constitutional history from Henry Marten, Vice-Provost of Eton College, and learned French from a succession of native-speaking governesses. A Girl Guides company, the 1st Buckingham Palace Company, was formed specifically so that she could socialise with girls her own age. Later, she was enrolled as a Sea Ranger.
In 1939, Elizabeth’s parents toured Canada and the United States. As in 1927, when her parents had toured Australia and New Zealand, Elizabeth remained in Britain, since her father thought her too young to undertake public tours. Elizabeth “looked tearful” as her parents departed. They corresponded regularly, and she and her parents made the first royal transatlantic telephone call on 18 May.
Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, in 1934 and 1937. They are second cousins once removed through King Christian IX of Denmark and third cousins through Queen Victoria. After another meeting at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in July 1939, Elizabeth – though only 13 years old – said she fell in love with Philip and they began to exchange letters. She was 21 when their engagement was officially announced on 9 July 1947.
The engagement was not without controversy; Philip had no financial standing, was foreign-born (though a British subject who had served in the Royal Navy throughout the Second World War), and had sisters who had married German noblemen with Nazi links. Marion Crawford wrote, “Some of the King’s advisors did not think him good enough for her. He was a prince without a home or kingdom. Some of the papers played long and loud tunes on the string of Philip’s foreign origin.” Later biographies reported that Elizabeth’s mother initially opposed the union, dubbing Philip “The Hun”. In later life, however, the Queen Mother told biographer Tim Heald that Philip was “an English gentleman”.
Before the marriage, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles, officially converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Anglicanism, and adopted the style Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, taking the surname of his mother’s British family. Just before the wedding, he was created Duke of Edinburgh and granted the style His Royal Highness.
Elizabeth and Philip were married on 20 November 1947 at Westminster Abbey. They received 2500 wedding gifts from around the world. Because Britain had not yet completely recovered from the devastation of the war, Elizabeth required ration coupons to buy the material for her gown, which was designed by Norman Hartnell. In post-war Britain, it was not acceptable for the Duke of Edinburgh’s German relations, including his three surviving sisters, to be invited to the wedding. The Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, was not invited either.
Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, Prince Charles, on 14 November 1948. One month earlier, the King had issued letters patent allowing her children to use the style and title of a royal prince or princess, to which they otherwise would not have been entitled as their father was no longer a royal prince. A second child, Princess Anne, was born in 1950.