Before you watch Netflix's 'The Crown,' learn all about Queen Elizabeth II's life

by Shanee Edwards
Nov 4, 2016 at 4:36 p.m. ET

Shakespeare said it best in his play Henry IV: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Any leader, whether in charge of a family or a kingdom, knows the enormous responsibility weighing on him or her. Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy in the Netflix original The Crown) became queen at the tender age of 25. If you think misogyny is alive and well now, it's nothing compared to the challenges a woman — even a royal one — faced in the 1950s. Here's everything you need to know before binge-watching this inspiring new series.



1 /15: Third in line for the crown

1/15 :Third in line for the crown

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York, was born by caesarean section on April 21, 1926. Like most members of the royal family, she was educated at home, along with her younger sister, Princess Margaret. Though Elizabeth was third in the line of succession to become ruler, it didn’t seem likely that the crown would land on her head. But strange events often shape history, and Elizabeth’s road to queendom is no different. Today, she is 90 years old.

2 /15: The kings that got away

2/15 :The kings that got away

After a long history of health problems that began with a fall from his horse in World War I, Elizabeth's grandfather, King George V — who was also a heavy smoker — died in 1936 at the age of 70. Elizabeth’s uncle Edward VIII was forced to ascend the throne. He was just 41 years old when he became king, and many thought he would have a long reign. Shockingly, he fell in love with a married American woman, Wallis Simpson. Even more surprisingly, he quit being king after less than a year to marry his true love. Next in line was George VI, Elizabeth's father, who became king in 1937. Elizabeth was now the heir to the throne.

3 /15: Grease under her royal nails?

3/15 :Grease under her royal nails?

Before Princess Elizabeth became queen, she yearned to help with the World War II effort to fight the Nazis. She begged her father to let her join the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. George VI finally relented, and in 1945, Elizabeth became a truck driver and mechanic.

4 /15: Kissing cousins

4/15 :Kissing cousins

When Princess Elizabeth was just 13 years old, she fell in love with her third cousin, then 18-year-old Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark (played by Matt Smith in the Netflix series). Though dating a cousin seems strange to many of us in the United States, it was a long-followed tradition in England. Even Charles Darwin married his own first cousin Emma.

After the two wrote letters back and forth for several years, Philip fell for Elizabeth, too. In 1947, when Elizabeth was 21, the couple announced their engagement publicly. But many thought Prince Philip wasn't good enough for the princess. He lacked wealth, he was born in Greece, not England, and his sisters had married German men with ties to Nazis.

On the morning of their wedding, however, Prince Phillip was given new titles — Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich of Greenwich in the County of London — to make him seem more regal and worthy of Princess Elizabeth.

5 /15: Becoming Queen

5/15 :Becoming Queen

In 1952, as the young couple were visiting Kenya with plans to travel to Australia and New Zealand, they learned that Elizabeth's father, George VI, died from a blood clot in his heart. Just like that, the princess became Queen Elizabeth II.

6 /15: The dress

6/15 :The dress

Elizabeth was forced to use clothing ration coupons to pay for the fabric to make her wedding gown because of the austerity measures in place in Great Britain after World War II. Court designer Norman Hartnell took inspiration from Botticelli's painting Primavera. He constructed the dress from ivory silk with floral embroidery and adorned it with crystals and seed pearls. The dress had a 13-foot train with a star-shaped pattern.

7 /15: Four baby prams

7/15 :Four baby prams

Elizabeth and Philip have four children. The firstborn and heir to the throne is Charles, Prince of Wales, 67; Anne, Princess Royal, 66; Prince Andrew, Duke of York, 56; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, 52.

8 /15: Winston Churchill

8/15 :Winston Churchill

Part of the queen's duties include taking a weekly meeting with the Prime Minister. Surely, young Elizabeth had worries about taking over this weekly tradition from her father, but even at age 25, she was educated and poised enough to do so. Winston Churchill (played by John Lithgow in The Crown) was Prime Minister when she ascended the throne, and he underestimated Elizabeth at first because of her gender and age. Eventually, however, he grew to really enjoy his relationship with her. To Elizabeth, Churchill represented the best England had to offer, and she admired his efforts during World War II.


9 /15: Assassination attempts

9/15 :Assassination attempts

In 1970, as Queen Elizabeth was visiting Australia, there was an apparent ­assassination attempt near Sydney when some anarchists tried to derail the royal train by putting a large log on the tracks. The train was moving very slowly and managed to stop, averting an accident.

On her birthday in 1981, six shots were heard as Elizabeth rode her horse in a parade. Luckily, 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant's gun was only loaded with blanks. The mentally unstable Sarjeant was quickly captured by police and endured a three-year sentence in a psychiatric prison. Elizabeth, meanwhile, kept calm and carried on with the parade.

10 /15: Advocate for change

10/15 :Advocate for change

Queen Elizabeth may seem conservative to women in 2016, but she really pushed to make changes to the monarchy. The queen has fought to end the ban that keeps those in the line of succession to the throne from marrying a Catholic. Also, she supports putting an end to men having first dibs at the crown, instead making it so the eldest child, whether female or male, may ascend.

11 /15: Losing a princess

11/15 :Losing a princess

Prince Charles was famously married to Princess Diana, but they were divorced in 1996 due to his longtime affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles (Prince Charles is now married to Parker-Bowles).

Princess Diana was beloved by the people for her charity work, beauty and free spirit. But not everyone was fond of Diana's modern attitude. Elizabeth reportedly called her a "misfit" and didn't like that Diana went against years of tradition by making her own decisions and having marital affairs of her own. Sadly, Diana died in a car accident in Paris, as she and her male companion, Dodi Fayed, were being chased by paparazzi.

After Diana's death, Elizabeth's decision not to fly Buckingham Palace's flag at half-mast caused public outrage.

12 /15: Dog days at the palace

12/15 :Dog days at the palace

The queen is crazy about her pooches, with a penchant for corgis. Over her lifetime, she's been dog mom to 30 corgis and has also popularized a new breed called the Dorgi, which are a mix of dachshund and corgi.

13 /15: Grandchildren and the next heir apparent

13/15 :Grandchildren and the next heir apparent

Elizabeth now has eight grandchildren, including Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who is married to the former Kate Middleton. William is second in line for the throne after his father, Prince Charles. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have two children, Prince George, 3, and Princess Charlotte, 18 months.

14 /15: Even queens get the munchies

14/15 :Even queens get the munchies

When Elizabeth gets a late-night craving, she reportedly has her security unit take her to McDonald's to get a strawberry shake, Big Mac and apple pie. Instead of taking the treat home, she eats it inside the royal vehicle while her driver takes the long route back to the palace so she can finish her meal at leisure.

15 /15: Could there be a TV show about Kate?

15/15 :Could there be a TV show about Kate?

Though the Duchess of Cambridge may never be queen, Kate has certainly won the hearts of many around the world. Only time will tell whether a film or television show will be ever made about her royal life. But if it does happen, she can thank Queen Elizabeth II for forging the way.

The Crown streams on Netflix starting Nov. 4.