Thursday, October 10, 2013

Royal Education

Although I grew up in the 1980s when Princess Diana was all the rage I never really developed a fascination with her. My family did not have television and so the very idea of celebrity was somewhat foreign to me. My heroes, without exception, resided on the pages of books. During my first experience of living abroad while studying at Oxford, I began to grow more familiar with the British royal family. I, in a typically American way, sort of wrote off the whole idea of the royals and giggled at the more outrageous behavior exhibited by some of the royalty.

Seven years later I moved to Edinburgh and that is when my education in royalty truly began. While many of the members of the royal family are continually finding themselves the subject of less than flattering headlines, Queen Elizabeth has managed to maintain a remarkable dignity and grace. She's been queen since her ascension on February 6, 1952 and has met every US president since then with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson. In all her years as the most public representative of the British people, she has conducted herself with a thoughtfulness and poise that is rare and admirable. Never reactionary, Queen Elizabeth seems to be able to respond to both the most embarrassing of situations and the most serious occasions of state with a poise not often seen in the capitols of either the US or UK. And so, when I came across a 1943 article on her education, I was intrigued. How was this remarkable woman trained? What did her education look like?

Queen Elizabeth with President Truman (source)
It was surprising to me to learn that Elizabeth was raised not in a palace but in a house on Piccadilly Street in London. There she was surrounded with the ebbs and flows of normal London life and her education was undertaken by her mother, who taught her to read, and a private tutor. The emphasis was on reading and writing, as well as French, piano and ballet. At the age of seven a Miss Crawford, a graduate of Edinburgh University took over. Miss Crawford was Scottish and brought with her a knowledge of the world gained through extensive travel and was also an avid outdoors woman. Miss Crawford would share the responsibility of educating the future queen with various tutors. The author of the article describes this royal education as follows: 
Princess Elizabeth today reads history with the Vice-Provost of Eton, on the basis of such works as Trevelyan's History of England, which could not be improved on, and Muzzey's History of the United States (how many English girls of seventeen read any American history at all?), together with European history in outline. In Biblical history Canon Crawley, of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, has been her guide. A natural linguist, she speaks French and German fluently and with an excellent accent. She has read some Moliere, some Corneille, some Daudet, and she knows many of "Les Cent Meilleurs Poemes Francais" by heart. 
The Princess's explorations in the field of English literature are of greater interest and perhaps of greater significance. Time for reading at large is limited, for the formal educational regimen is treated seriously. But in or out of "school hours" she has read most of Shakespeare; The Canterbury Tales; a good deal of Coleridge, Keats, Browning, and Tennyson; some of Scott, Dickens, Jane Austen, Trollope, and Robert Louis Stevenson; while in lighter moments she turns to Conan Doyle...
That is a wide and wholesome range that would provide a sound basis of literary knowledge and taste for any girl in her last year of school.
Queen Elizabeth with President Ford (source)
This solidly literature based education was paired with time for exploring the outdoors, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, and singing. Just as we have often talked about the importance of free time and letting kids enjoy their childhood, it appears that Elizabeth and her sister Margaret were afforded ample time to be themselves - putting on plays, running freely. Princess Elizabeth was also a Guide, the British equivalent of a Girl Scout, eventually graduating to the level of Ranger.
Now the Princess is a Sea Ranger—most Guides become Rangers when they are about sixteen—and gets manifest interest and enjoyment from the weekly meetings. The scope of the Rangers is wide. A system of war training has been developed, known as the Home Emergency Service, which includes First Aid and Home Nursing, Child Welfare, and various forms of Civil Defense. Princess Elizabeth is concerning herself particularly with the last, and acquiring incidentally a good all-round knowledge of electricity.
Who would have thought Queen Elizabeth could serve as an electrician should the need arise? It appears that this varied and thorough education was excellent preparation for a rule that would last over sixty years. When Elizabeth assumed the throne upon the unexpected death of her father, she was a mere 25 years old. Nine years before that day, the article referenced above concluded with these lines:
The Princess may have years of service as heir-presumptive before her. She may at any moment by the caprice of fate be summoned to the most exalted position in the greatest Commonwealth in the world. Enough is known of her upbringing to show how well the preparation for either lot has been achieved by a training that has never threatened to dim the freshness or mar the simplicity of her girlhood.
Queen Elizabeth toasting President Reagan
An education grounded in great literature and history has served Queen Elizabeth very well. One can only assume that the broad perspective of ideas encountered in the hours spent with Austen, Shakespeare, Chaucer, studying biblical history, and learning British and American history gave the Queen the ability to place contemporary events into proper perspective. As a child of World War II, she knew the gravity that accompanied political action. Ruling through various economic bubbles and crashes, social changes and revolutions, the continually shifting political ideologies of the masses Queen Elizabeth has remained consistently measured. Of course her reign is not without fault, but one has to recognize an ability to remain grounded in the face of six decades of change. 

To learn more about Queen Elizabeth, here are some fun links:

~Princess Elizabeth's First Broadcast. At age 14 Princess Elizabeth appeared on the popular radio broadcast The Children's Hour. The purpose of her appearance was to speak to the thousands of children who had been sent out of London to the countryside and to other countries to escape the Blitz in London. Absolutely endearing. Listen here

~The wedding of Queen Elizabeth to Prince Phillip, click here

~Information and video of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth available here

~Photos of Queen Elizabeth with 12 US Presidents, click here

All quotations in the above post are taken from "The Education of a Queen" by Wilson Harris.

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  1. Absolutely fascinating! Thank you for sharing this with us. I've always had an interest in the royals, not idolizing them but curious about how they were raised, how they stay grounded, etc. This is an interesting window into education. I'm sharing it with my high schooler this afternoon. :-) Thanks Rebecca!

  2. Literature and their treasures, thoughts and guidance vs. how do I feel. We are the winners when literature and history are used. Thanks Becca on a great blog about an amazing leader.

  3. I love the article. It reinforces that literature and history are highly important in teaching us to think. English literature is my major with a history minor, by the way. It looks like I made good choices. I'm so glad that I taught my children with a literature based emphasis.