Elizabeth the Queen Book Summary - Elizabeth the Queen Book explained in key points
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Elizabeth the Queen summary

Sally Bedell Smith

The Life of a Modern Monarch

3.9 (215 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

'Elizabeth the Queen' by Sally Bedell Smith is a detailed biography of Queen Elizabeth II's life and reign. It provides insights into the history, tradition and challenges that have shaped Britain's longest-reigning monarch.

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    Elizabeth the Queen
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    Chapter 1: Becoming Queen

    Hundreds of thousands of spectators thronged together in the wind, rain, and cold one morning in 1953. They stood cheek to cheek alongside some of London’s most famous landmarks –⁠ Trafalgar Square, Oxford Circus, Buckingham Palace –⁠ to see a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. The event was, of course, the coronation procession of Queen Elizabeth II.

    More than a year earlier, Elizabeth’s father, George VI, had died in his sleep. At that very moment, Elizabeth became Queen. In response, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had heralded the forthcoming era as “a new Elizabethan age.” Churchill’s message reinvigorated the public at a time when Britain was struggling with shortages, destruction leftover from World War II, and fears of communist expansion in the Cold War.

    And Churchill was a major presence during Elizabeth’s coronation preparations –⁠ even, perhaps, her most ardent cheerleader. The British Bulldog had met Elizabeth when she was just two years old, declaring that he sensed from her “an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.”

    Elizabeth has carried that air of authority with her throughout her reign, which began on that blustery day in 1953. She was whisked to Westminster in the extravagant Gold State Coach wearing her great-great-grandmother’s diadem and white satin coronation gown.

    The maids of honor fitted her with the monarch’s crimson velvet Robe of State, with its eighteen-foot-long train trimmed with ermine and gold lace. As they began picking it up to carry it behind her, Elizabeth looked over her shoulder and asked, “Ready, girls?”

    She was then led into the Abbey, where she approached and then stood by King Edward’s Chair, the one on which she’d sit to be crowned. The archbishop began the “recognition,” which presented her to the 7,500 distinguished guests. After that, she swore the coronation oath, in which she pledged to honor the laws of Great Britain and all its territories and realms.

    Next, it was time for the most spiritual part of the ceremony: the anointing. Elizabeth’s robe, gloves, jewelry, and diadem were removed. She was helped into a plain white shift with a pleated skirt. This gave her the appearance of youth and vulnerability –⁠ and indeed, Elizabeth was just 25 years old.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury poured holy oil from a gold ampulla into a silver-gilt spoon and anointed Elizabeth. Then, coronation robes weighing 36 pounds and made of stiff woven gold cloth were placed on her. These were garments meant to signify that God had sanctified her to serve her people until death.

    From the crowd, Elizabeth’s first child, the four-year-old Prince Charles, watched with wide eyes. He sat between his grandmother, the Queen Mother, and his aunt, Elizabeth’s younger sister, Princess Margaret. “Look, it’s Mummy!” he said to his grandmother, who looked on with an expression of sadness mixed with pride. Meanwhile, Margaret held back tears. She felt as if she was losing her big sister to this all-important duty, so soon after losing her father, too.

    Wearing the gold robes, Elizabeth was presented with her regalia, which included gold bracelets, a coronation ring, jeweled scepters, and an orb topped by precious jewels. The archbishop blessed the solid gold crown, held it aloft, and then placed it on her head. Cannons exploded in Hyde Park and the Tower of London, while shouts of “God Save the Queen!” rang out from the abbey. Elizabeth II had officially become the United Kingdom’s new monarch.

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    What is Elizabeth the Queen about?

    Elizabeth the Queen (2012) is a brisk yet in-depth exposé of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Tracing key moments in her life, big and small, lighthearted and tragic, it pulls back the curtain on a most singular figure. Elizabeth II was at once a woman who struggled to balance her roles as both mother and monarch; a leader who learned to embody dignity and diplomacy; and the calm epicenter of the drama that ever swirled around her closest relations.

    Elizabeth the Queen Review

    Elizabeth the Queen (2012) offers an inside look into the life of Queen Elizabeth II and why she has become one of the most respected monarchs in history. Here are three reasons why this book is worth reading:

    • With unparalleled access and extensive research, the author presents a comprehensive portrait of Queen Elizabeth II's personal and public life.
    • The book highlights the challenges and triumphs that Queen Elizabeth II has faced throughout her reign, giving readers a deeper understanding of her resilience and grace.
    • Through fascinating stories and interviews, readers are given invaluable insights into the Queen's character, revealing not only her duty but also her humanity.

    Who should read Elizabeth the Queen?

    • Royal watchers and anglophiles
    • Americans interested in British politics
    • Biography lovers

    About the Author

    Sally Bedell Smith is a historian, biographer, and contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine. She’s published biographies of Princess Diana, John F. and Jackie Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Prince Charles, among others. She served as the consultant for Peter Morgan’s The Audience, a play about Queen Elizabeth II and her relationships with various British prime ministers.

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    Elizabeth the Queen FAQs 

    What is the main message of Elizabeth the Queen?

    The main message of Elizabeth the Queen is a captivating portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II and her remarkable reign.

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    The reading time for Elizabeth the Queen varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Elizabeth the Queen a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Elizabeth the Queen is worth reading as it paints an intimate portrait of the longest-reigning monarch in British history, offering insights into her personal life and public role.

    Who is the author of Elizabeth the Queen?

    Sally Bedell Smith is the author of Elizabeth the Queen.

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