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Ever wondered why the Queen has two birthdays a year? It's all down to this royal tradition.
The crown jewels, a huge palace, several castles and crowds of adoring fans - there's a fair few privileges Queen Elizabeth II (opens in new tab) enjoys as England's monarch. And we'd argue that another perk of the job is the not one but TWO birthdays she enjoys every year, which in 2022 coincidentally falls in the same month as the extra bank holiday (opens in new tab) for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.
Her Majesty's official birthday is usually marked with the Trooping the Colour parade, a tradition which sees members of the armed services come together in a special military ceremony. The custom for monarchs to have two birthdays dates back over 250 years ago and no doubt will remain in place when others in the royal line of succession (opens in new tab) ascend the throne.
Why does the Queen have two birthdays?
Queen Elizabeth II has two birthdays each year: her actual birthday in April and an official one celebrated on the second Saturday in June. The two birthdays tradition for monarchs began with King George II back in 1748. A November-born king, he wanted a birthday when the weather was warmer and brighter for outdoor celebrations.
King George II combined this second birthday with the annual military parade known as Trooping of the Colour. And this is why the Queen's official birthday and event exist on the same day.
Whilst Her Majesty's second birthday now falls on a Saturday, it wasn't always the case. Originally, Queen Elizabeth II marked her official birthday on the second Thursday of June. This was notably the same day as her father's official birthday, King George VI. However in 1959, after seven years on the throne, the Queen changed it to the second Saturday in June.
As for future monarchs, it's thought that when Charles becomes king (opens in new tab) he will stick to the tradition. Especially as like King George II, his birthday falls in November. On the other hand, Prince William and his son Prince George's birthday (opens in new tab) both take place in the summer. Though they'll probably continue the practice much like the Queen does who has a Spring birthday.
When was the Queen born?
Queen Elizabeth II was born at 2:40am on 21 April 1926 in a townhouse in Mayfair, London. Named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, she was the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York – who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother).
A rather unusual birth, Her Majesty was not born in a palace or hospital. Instead, the Queen's parents had just moved into the house on 17 Bruton Street, which belonged to her Scottish grandparents: the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. She arrived via caesarean.
The Queen was named Elizabeth after her mother, whilst her middle name was a tribute to her father's grandmother Alexandra - who died six months prior to Her Majesty's birth. Her second middle name Mary is also significant, being the name of King George VI's mother and Elizabeth's grandmother.
Whilst officially Elizabeth, she was known affectionately by the nickname Lilibet (opens in new tab) when young. The story goes that as a toddler Queen Elizabeth struggled to pronounce her first name properly. And Lilibet was one attempt that her granfather King George V picked up on and used to imitate and call his beloved granddaughter.
How does the Queen celebrate her birthday?
Queen Elizabeth II's birthday on 21 April is usually a private affair that she celebrates with her family and close friends. However, there are two public military salutes that also take place to mark the Queen’s actual birthday on the day itself.
In the capital, there is a 41-gun salute in Hyde Park and a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London. Whilst in Windsor, a 21-gun salute is carried out in Windsor Great Park, near the castle.
Special photographs are also released by Buckingham Palace to commemorate the Queen’s actual birthday. In April 2022, the official Royal Family Instagram account shared a photo of the Queen posing with two horses. Her Majesty is known for being an animal lover. Particularly her love of horses, in addition to the Queen having several dogs (opens in new tab).
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Aside from the gun salute and photograph, the Queen’s birthday is quite a modest affair as confirmed by the Royal Family’s website (opens in new tab): "The Queen usually spends her actual birthday privately," a statement reads.
Though this is the case for most years, special activities are arranged and held for milestone birthdays. For her 90th birthday in 2016, the Queen celebrated with a walkabout on the streets outside Windsor Castle. This saw her greet fans and receive a birthday cake from GBBO star Nadiya Hussain.
Just last year Her Majesty turned an incredible 95-years-old and to celebrate the milestone was marked by a special 95th birthday coin (opens in new tab). Though a big birthday age-wise, it also proved to be an additional new milestone for the monarch. This is because it marked the Queen's first birthday since the death of Prince Philip, her beloved husband of 73 years.
How does the Queen celebrate her official birthday?
Every year to mark the Queen’s second birthday in June, a special 41-gun salute takes place in London’s Green Park. This is followed by a military affair known as Trooping the Colour which additionally celebrates the Monarch. It is a long-held tradition that has commemorated the official birthdays of British Kings and Queens for over 260 years.
Several members of the Royal firm (opens in new tab) join Her Majesty for the occasion, that takes place in and around Buckingham Palace.
What is Trooping the Colour?
Trooping the Colour is a special military ceremony involving members of the British and Commonwealth armies. The event usually go aheads in June every year. 1400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians are all involved in the celebration to honour the head of state.
Members of the public line The Mall in London to see the parade, the Queen and Royal Family members travel from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guard’s Parade.
Traditionally, the Queen would make this journey on horseback behind her soldiers. However, she has travelled by horse and carriage in recent years.
At Horse Guard’s Parade, Her Majesty is greeted by a Royal salute. She then goes on to inspect her troops dressed smartly in their red ceremonial uniform and bearskin hats.
A special musical performance from the military bands follows. Then the escorted Regimental Colour (or flag) is passed down the ranks of soldiers.
This is where the ceremony gets its name from, with senior officers marching in front of troops (known as trooping) and waving their regimental flag (known as ‘colours’).
Each year a different flag representing a different regiment is waved.
The Queen then returns to Buckingham Palace with her family. The royals gather on the balcony to watch a fly-past by the Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force.
Why is the Queen's birthday in Australia different?
The Queen celebrates her birthday differently in Australia, which falls on the second Monday of June - after the Queen's official birthday in the UK. The reason for this is that Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with the English monarch as head of state. As a result, the Queen's Birthday is a public bank holiday (opens in new tab) where many Australians have a day off work.
The monarch’s birthday was first celebrated in Australia in 1788. In that year, King George III was on the throne and Governor Arthur Phillip declared a holiday to mark his birthday.
Originally, the Monarch’s birthday was celebrated on their actual date of birth. However, after the death of King George V in 1936, the date remained close to his birthday, which was June 3.
The Queen has visited Australia an incredible 16 times during her reign - with her last trip in 2011.
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Emily Stedman is the News Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things royal, entertainment, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things celebrity and royal, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.
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