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Video: A ‘360-degree view’ of Queen Elizabeth

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    >>> it's a big year for queen elizabeth ii . she's celebrating her diamond jubilee in 2012 . 60 years on the throne. in those six decades she's experienced highs and lows both personally and politically. we have sally smith , the author of " elizabeth the queen , the life of a modern monarch." good morning.

    >> good morning. great to be here.

    >> kudos on the timing of the book, timing it to the diamond jubilee . you did not interview the queen but you interviewed 200 people described as being close to her -- friends, family? how close did you get?

    >> her inner circle of close friends who have known her for her whole life. family members, close advisers and then a wonderful gamut of people like men who run her estate, the people who trained her dogs and her horses, the crown jeweler. it enabled me to get a 360-degree view of her.

    >> as a result, the l.a. times notes despite the fact that you're writing about someone so well known over the decades there are things to be learned about queen elizabeth ii . for instance, when the queen and prince philip -- at the time they were the william and kate of their time. they had very serious battles because of her station, specifically over the naming of their children.

    >> that happened right after she became queen in 1952 . she had to make a decision. her family was the house of windsor. really out of loyalty to her father and her grandfather before her, she chose that as her name. philip was upset. he wanted his family name to be the one. that hung in the air for a number of years until finally, right before the birth of their third child, prince andrew , she came one a compromise that the nonroyal successors, those who didn't have the h.r.h., her royal highness , attached to oh the name would be called mount baton windsor.

    >> you say the queen saw the breakup of charles and diana as perhaps a replay of history that could threaten charles's opportunity to ever be king.

    >> yes. in the middle of all the trouble she was counseled by the archbishop of canterbury . he said she never really -- her mood was always very calm. but she was worried. he said they were talking about the possibility of divorce and she said, i really worry that history may be repeating. she was obviously thinking of the duke and duchess of windsor and when edward viii her uncle abo abdicated the throne to marry her.

    >> we dug through our archives and found a clip of prince philip being interviewed by barbara walters . take a look.

    >> -- of the queen abdicating at some future date. is this something that's been considered or is it a rumor?

    >> as far as i know it's a rumor. i mean, it has its attractions.

    >> what did you learn about whether the queen would ever abdicate?

    >> it's a job for life. she's made that clear from the beginning. sh she gave a touching speech when she was 21. she said, i pledge to you however long i live, whether my life be long or short i will be at your service for the rest of my life. she has repeated that over and over throughout her 60-year reign. the reason is that she has -- it's almost -- she's been consecrat consecrated. the coronation in 1953 was a solemn, important act for her. being anointed and taking the oath to serve her people for the rest of her life.

    >> unless, of course, she has alzheimer's or some other failing. that would be her word.

    >> one of her cousins told me that. no one's mentioned that. she said she wouldn't step down, but her son, prince charles , could step in as prince regent .

    >> we have a few seconds left. you found out what's in her purse.

    >> i did. the kinds of things we would think. lipstick, coin purse, kleenex, comb.

    >> a practical woman. we'll have more after this.

By
TODAY books
updated 1/10/2012 11:31:43 AM ET 2012-01-10T16:31:43

From her childhood to taking the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has intrigued people around the world. Now author Sally Bedell Smith delves into the life of this moden monarch in her latest biography. Here's an excerpt.

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Chapter 1: A Royal Education

It was a footman who brought the news to ten-year-old Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on December 10, 1936. Her father had become an accidental king just four days before his forty-first birthday when his older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, a twice-divorced American. Edward VIII had been sovereign only nine months after taking the throne following the death of his father, King George V, making him, according to one mordant joke, “the only monarch in history to abandon the ship of state to sign on as third mate on a Baltimore tramp.”

“Does that mean that you will have to be the next queen?” asked Elizabeth’s younger sister, Margaret Rose (as she was called in her childhood). “Yes, someday,” Elizabeth replied. “Poor you,” said Margaret Rose.

Although the two princesses had been the focus of fascination by the press and the public, they had led a carefree and insulated life surrounded by governesses, nannies, maids, dogs, and ponies. They spent idyllic months in the English and Scottish countryside playing games like “catching the days” — running around plucking autumn leaves from the air as they were falling. Their spirited Scottish nanny, Marion “Crawfie” Crawford, had managed to give them a taste of ordinary life by occasionally taking them around London by tube and bus, but mostly they remained inside the royal bubble.

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Before the arrival of Margaret, Elizabeth spent four years as an only — and somewhat precocious — child, born on the rainy night of April 21, 1926. Winston Churchill, on first meeting the two-year-old princess, extravagantly detected “an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.” Crawfie noted that she was “neat and methodical . . . like her father,” obliging, eager to do her best, and happiest when she was busy. She also showed an early ability to compartmentalize — a trait that would later help her cope with the demands of her position. Recalled Lady Mary Clayton, a cousin eight years her senior: “She liked to imagine herself as a pony or a horse. When she was doing that and someone called her and she didn’t answer right away, she would then say, ‘I couldn’t answer you as a pony.’ ”

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The abdication crisis threw the family into turmoil, not only because it was a scandal butbecause it was antithetical to all the rules of succession. While Elizabeth’s father had been known as “Bertie” (for Albert), he chose to be called George VI to send a message of stability and continuity with his father. (His wife, who was crowned by his side, would be known as Queen Elizabeth.) But Bertie had not been groomed for the role. He was in tears when he talked to his mother about his new responsibilities. “I never wanted this to happen,” he told his cousin Lord Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten. “I’ve never even seen a State Paper. I’m only a Naval Officer, it’s the only thing I know about.” The new King was reserved by nature, somewhat frail physically, and plagued by anxiety. He suffered from a severe stammer that led to frequent frustration, culminating in explosions of temper known as “gnashes.”

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Yet he was profoundly dutiful, and he doggedly set about his kingly tasks while ensuring that his little Lilibet — her name within the family — would be ready to succeed him in ways he had not been. On his accession she became “heiress presumptive,” rather than “heiress apparent,” on the off chance that her parents could produce a son. But Elizabeth and Margaret Rose had been born by cesarean section, and in those days a third operation would have been considered too risky for their mother. According to custom, Lilibet would publicly refer to her mother and father as “the King and Queen,” but privately they were still Mummy and Papa.

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When Helen Mirren was studying for her role in 2006’s The Queen, she watched a twenty-second piece of film repeatedly because she found it so revealing. “It was when the Queen was eleven or twelve,” Mirren recalled, “and she got out of one of those huge black cars. There were big men waiting for her, and she extended her hand with a look of gravity and duty. She was doing what she thought she had to do, and she was doing it beautifully.”

“I have a feeling that in the end probably that training is the answer to a great many things,” the Queen said on the eve of her fortieth year as monarch. “You can do a lot if you are properly trained, and I hope I have been.” Her formal education was spotty by today’s standards. Women of her class and generation were typically schooled at home, with greater emphasis on the practical than the academic. “It was unheard of for girls to go to university unless they were very intellectual,” said Lilibet’s cousin Patricia Mountbatten. While Crawfie capably taught history, geography, grammar, literature, poetry, and composition, she was “hopeless at math,” said Mary Clayton, who had also been taught by Crawfie. Additional governesses were brought in for instruction in music, dancing, and French.

Elizabeth was not expected to excel, much less to be intellectual. She had no classmates against whom to measure her progress, nor batteries of challenging examinations. Her father’s only injunction to Crawfie when she joined the household in 1932 had been to teach his daughters, then six and two, “to write a decent hand.” Elizabeth developed flowing and clear handwriting similar to that of her mother and sister, although with a bolder flourish. But Crawfie felt a larger need to fill her charge with knowledge “as fast as I can pour it in.”

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She introduced Lilibet to the Children’s Newspaper, a current events chronicle that laid the groundwork for following political news in The Times and on BBC radio, prompting one Palace adviser to observe that at seventeen the princess had “a first-rate knowledge of state and current affairs.”

Throughout her girlhood, Elizabeth had time blocked out each day for “silent reading” of books by Stevenson, Austen, Kipling, the Brontës, Tennyson, Scott, Dickens, Trollope, and others in the standard canon. Her preference, then and as an adult, was for historical fiction, particularly about “the corners of the Commonwealth and the people who live there,” said Mark Collins, director of the Commonwealth Foundation. Decades later, when she conferred an honor on J. K. Rowling for her Harry Potter series, the Queen told the author that her extensive reading in childhood “stood me in good stead because I read quite quickly now. I have to read a lot.”

Once she became first in line to the throne, Elizabeth’s curriculum intensified and broadened. Her most significant tutor was Sir Henry Marten, the vice provost of Eton College, the venerable boys’ boarding school down the hill from Windsor Castle whose graduates were known as Old Etonians. Marten had coauthored The Groundwork of British History, a standard school textbook, but he was hardly a dry academic. A sixty-six-year-old bachelor with a moon face and gleaming pate, he habitually chewed a corner of his handkerchief and kept a pet raven in a study so heapedwith books that Crawfie likened them to stalagmites. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who would serve as Queen Elizabeth II’s fourth prime minister, remembered Marten as “a dramatic, racy, enthusiastic teacher” who humanized figures of history.

Beginning in 1939, when Elizabeth was thirteen, she and Crawfie went by carriage to Marten’s study twice a week so she could be instructed in history and the intricacies of the British constitution. The princess was exceedingly shy at first, often glancing imploringly at Crawfie for reassurance. Marten could scarcely look Elizabeth in the eye, and he lapsed into calling her “Gentlemen,” thinking he was with his Eton boys. But before long she felt “entirely at home with him,” recalled Crawfie, and they developed “a rather charming friendship.”

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Marten imposed a rigorous curriculum built around the daunting three-volume The Law and Custom of the Constitution by Sir William Anson. Also on her reading list were English Social History by G. M. Trevelyan, Imperial Commonwealth by Lord Elton, and The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot, the gold standard for constitutional interpretation that both her father and grandfather had studied. Marten even included a course on American history. “Hide nothing,” Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, private secretary to King George VI, had told Marten when asked about instructing the princess on the crown’s role in the constitution.

Unlike the written American Constitution, which spells everything out, the British version is an accumulation of laws and unwritten traditions and precedents. It is inherently malleable and dependent on people making judgments, and even revising the rules, as events occur. Anson called it a “somewhat rambling structure . . . like a house which many successive owners have altered.” The constitutional monarch’s duties and prerogatives are vague. Authority rests more in what the king doesn’t do than what he does. The sovereign is compelled by the constitution to sign all laws passed by Parliament; the concept of a veto is unthinkable, but the possibility remains.

Elizabeth studied Anson for six years, painstakingly underlining and annotating the dense text in pencil. According to biographer Robert Lacey, who examined the faded volumes in the Eton library, she took note of Anson’s assertion that a more complex constitution offers greater guarantees of liberty. In the description of Anglo-Saxon monarchy as “a consultative and tentative absolutism” she underlined “consultative” and “tentative.” Marten schooled her in the process of legislation, and the sweeping nature of Parliament’s power. Elizabeth’s immersion in the “procedural minutiae” was such that, in Lacey’s view, “it was as if she were studying to be Speaker [of the House of Commons], not queen.” Prime ministers would later be impressed by the mastery of constitutional fine points in her unexpectedly probing questions.

Excerpted from "Elizabeth The Queen" by Sally Bedell Smith. Copyright © 2012 by Sally Bedell Smith. Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

Photos: Life of a Queen

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  1. The life of Queen Elizabeth II

    Queen Elizabeth II has reigned as the constitutional monarch of the Commonwealth for more than 60 years. See photos from the queen's life and long reign.

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Rome for an official visit on April 3, 2014. Queen Elizabeth flew to Rome to meet Pope Francis for the first time. (Angelo Carconi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. High horse

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, with Prince Philip and Prince William, unveil the Windsor Greys statue, which was made to mark the anniversary of the queen's coronation, in Windsor, England on March 31, 2014. (Arthur Edwards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Think pink

    Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip watch dancers perform during a visit to the Rambert dance company on March 21, 2014 in London. (Carl Court / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Royal watch

    Ed Parker, co-founder of Walking with the Wounded, shows Prince Harry and Queen Elizabeth II a pulk belonging to a team of wounded servicemen and women who were venturing to the South Pole. (Yui Mok / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Banquet bubbly

    South Korea's President Park Geun-hye and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II toast at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace on Nov. 5, 2013 in London. (Neil Hall / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Royal meeting

    President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai visits with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Oct. 30, 2013 in London. (Dominic Lipinski/ / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Family chat

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth smiles at the Epsom Derby as she speaks with Prince Andrew, in Epsom, England, on June 1, 2013. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Holding court

    Queen Elizabeth II delivers her speech next to Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh during the State Opening of Parliament on May 8, 2013 in London. (WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Warm welcoming

    Queen Elizabeth II walks and talks with Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan after a ceremonial welcome on the grounds of Windsor Castle, in Berkshire, west of London on April 30, 2013. (Toby Melville / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Somber moment

    Queen Elizabeth leaves after attending the funeral service for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, at Saint Paul's Cathedral, in London on April 17, 2013. Thatcher, who was prime minister between 1979 and 1990, died on April 8 at the age of 87. (Chris Harris / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Lady in red

    Queen Elizabeth leaves King Edward VII hospital in central London, March 4, 2013, a day after being admitted with symptoms of gastroenteritis. (Olivia Harris / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Royal wave

    Queen Elizabeth and the royal family appear on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony for a royal wave in front of thousands who are helping the nation's monarch celebrate 60 years on the throne.

    The queen was without her husband Prince Philip at her side after he was taken to hospital with a bladder infection on the third day of the celebrations. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bright white

    Queen Elizabeth waves from her boat during the Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant on June 3, 2012 in London. A flotilla of 1,000 boats accompanied them down the river. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The blues

    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip inspect horses in the parade ring on Derby Day on June 2, 2012, the first official day of her Diamond Jubilee celebration. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rock royalty

    Queen Elizabeth greets Sir Paul McCartney at a Celebration of the Arts event at the Royal Academy of Arts on May 23, 2012. (WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Buttoned up

    Queen Elizabeth smiles as she arrives for a visit to Kings Lynn Town Hall in Norfolk, England on Feb. 6, 2012, 60 years to the day that she ascended to the throne. (Chris Radburn / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Family portrait

    The royal family poses for the official royal wedding portrait taken at Buckingham Palace in London on April 29, 2011. (Hugo Burnand / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Window to the world

    Queen Elizabeth returns to Buckingham Palace after addressing Parliament during the official State Opening of Parliament ceremony at Westminster on Nov.18, 2009. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Perfectly pink

    U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are welcomed by Queen Elizabeth to Buckingham Palace on April 1, 2009. (Pete Souza / White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Remembrance

    Queen Elizabeth attends the Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph on Nov. 9, 2008 in London. This year is the 90th Anniversary of the end of the First World War. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Sweet moment

    To mark their diamond-wedding anniversary on Nov. 20, 2007, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip re-visit Broadlands, where 60 years ago, they spent their wedding night. Broadlands in Hampshire had been the home of Prince Philip's uncle, Earl Mountbatten. (Tim Graham / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Seeing stripes

    U.S. President George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip pose for a picture at the Grand Foyer of the White House for a State Dinner in Washington, May 7, 2007. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Flower power

    Queen Elizabeth meets the public during a walkabout to celebrate her 80th birthday in Windsor, England. The queen was born on April 21,1926 and ascended the throne in Feb. 1952. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Inspecting the troops

    Prince Harry smiles broadly as his grandmother Queen Elizabeth reviews him and other officers during the Sovereign's Parade at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in Surrey to mark the completion of their training in April 2006. (Martinez Dylan / Abaca) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. New addition

    The Prince of Wales and his bride Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, pose with their families at Windsor Castle after their wedding ceremony on April 9, 2005. Seen standing, from left, are Prince Harry, Prince William and Tom and Laura Parker Bowles. Seated are the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth and Camilla's father, Major Bruce Shand. (Hugo Burnand / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Hot ride

    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip ride in the Golden State Carriage at the head of a parade from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul's Cathedral to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee on June 4, 2002. (Sion Touhig / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Meeting the pope

    Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II meet at the Vatican on Oct. 17, 2000. (Alessandro Bianchi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Honoring Diana

    On Sept. 5, 1997, Queen Elizabeth paid tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, as an "exceptional and gifted human being," during a TV appearance. Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A first

    Queen Elizabeth made history in 1991 by becoming the first British monarch to address a joint session of Congress. She opened her remarks by poking fun at herself and ended with, "May God bless America." She received three ovations and was interrupted by applause several more times during a 15-minute speech. (Anwar Hussein / Anwar Hussein) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Horsing around

    U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth go horseback riding on the grounds of Windsor Castle, England on June 8, 1982. (Bob Daugherty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Day with Diana

    Queen Elizabeth poses with Prince Charles and his fiancée Lady Diana Spencer at Buckingham Palace on March 27, 1981. (Hulton Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Entourage

    Queen Elizabeth arrives at King's Cross railway station in London with her four corgi dogs on Oct. 15, 1969. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Public speaker

    Queen Elizabeth addresses a vast gathering -- estimated at more than a quarter of a million -- at the Ramlila Grounds, outside the walls of Old Delhi, India, on Jan. 28, 1961. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Family picnic

    Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, with their children, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and Charles, Prince of Wales, sit on a picnic rug outside Balmoral Castle in Scotland in 1960. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. The queen

    The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was held on June 2, 1953, in Westminster Abbey, London, more than a year after Elizabeth, then aged 26, ascended the thrones of the United Kingdom upon the death of her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952.

    She was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ceylon, and Pakistan, as well as taking on the role of Head of the Commonwealth. The coronation was the first ever to be televised and was also the world's first major international event to be broadcast on television. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Kids in tow

    Princess Elizabeth stands with her husband, Prince Philip, and their first two children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, at Clarence House, the royal couple's London residence. The photo was taken in August 1951. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Pretty in pearls

    Princess Elizabeth wears a silver gown with a diamond tiara and pearl necklace in this formal portrait taken in August 1949. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. In uniform

    Princess Elizabeth sits side-saddle in her uniform as colonel-in-chief of the Grenadier Guards in this 1947 photo. (Central Press / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Mad for plaid

    Princess Elizabeth in April 1940. (The Royal Collection via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Playing with penguins

    Princess Elizabeth and a friend take the London Zoo's penguins for a walk on June 30, 1938. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Family portrait

    Britain's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with their daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in Dec. 1936. (The Royal Collection via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Baby photo

    The future Queen Elizabeth is seen here as a young girl with her mother, affectionately known as "Queen Mum," and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, in 1930. (Hulton Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Daddy's little girl

    Albert, Duke of York, and his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, in July 1929. (The Royal Collection via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Playing nicely

    Albert and Elizabeth, Duke and Duchess of York, and their daughter Princess Elizabeth in June 1927. (The Royal Collection via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Early moment

    The Duchess of York holds her baby Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), May 1926. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Slideshow (26) A royal visit to Ireland

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