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Queen's 90th birthday: Why does she have two birthdays?

Published 22/04/2016

The Queen smiles during her 90th birthday walkabout in Windsor
The Queen smiles during her 90th birthday walkabout in Windsor

The Queen has two birthdays — but how and why did the tradition come about?

When is the Queen’s birthday?

The Queen is 90 on 21 June, but she also has an official birthday in June — this year it falls on Saturday June 11.

Is this just a ploy to get extra presents?

No. It’s all down to the British weather. Since 1748, the monarch’s official birthday has been marked by the parade known as Trooping the Colour — usually held on the king or queen’s actual birthday.

But Edward VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910, was born in November. He celebrated officially in May or June because there was less chance of it being cold and drizzly during the outdoor event.

The monarch after Edward VII, George V, helpfully had a birthday in June, but the Queen’s father, George VI, whose birthday was in December, reintroduced the tradition of an official birthday, which Elizabeth II has continued.

Is her official birthday always on a Saturday?

It is now. George VI had his official birthday on the second Thursday of June. In 1959, after several years on the throne, the Queen changed it to the second Saturday for convenience.

It can now be on either the first or the second, and sometimes the third Saturday of the month and is marked by Trooping of the Colour carriage and horse procession in central London and a fly-past over Buckingham Palace.

The Queen’s Birthday Honours List is also announced, the Union flag flown from government buildings and gun salutes fired at noon.

So what happens on the Queen’s actual birthday?

She gets to spend it privately — except when duty beckons or it is a milestone celebration. Her 40th birthday coincided with the State Opening of Parliament. On her 90th, she will carry out a birthday walkabout in Windsor and, in the evening, light a beacon.

Does the Queen actually have more than two birthdays?

Technically, yes. A number of Commonwealth realms celebrate the occasion at different times of the year. Most of Australia, where the Queen is head of state, has a public holiday on the second Monday in June to mark her birthday, while in western Australia it is celebrated at the end of September or beginning of October. In New Zealand, it’s the first Monday in June.

In Canada, the Queen’s official birthday is on Victoria Day — May 25.

What will happen in the future?

The Prince of Wales’s birthday is in November, so he is likely to continue the tradition when he is king. As is the Duke of Cambridge — even though he was born on June 21. An official birthday on a Saturday usually allows the sovereign to spend their actual birthday doing whatever they like — unless duty calls.

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