In line with the other blogs this week, this one about Queen Elizabeth II is just for fun. It includes some obscure facts that I came across recently. They are just interesting, at least to me. I hope they are to you as well.
Most significant leaders and heads of state have historically used doubles. In most cases they were used to protect those leaders against assassination attempts: Joseph Stalin, for example, had at least 4 doubles and, in general, the more dictatorial the leader, the more doubles they have thought they needed. In wartime, doubles have been used extensively: The film The Eagle has Landed, staring Michael Caine, documented Winston Churchill’s double during World War II.
It may therefore seem a little strange that Queen Elizabeth II had a double, albeit for a significantly less bloody purpose. A big part of being the Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth was being visible. Whether opening a hospital, hosting a foreign dignitary, or being the focus of her Official Birthday celebrations, the Queen was always busy and in the public eye.
A majority of those events, and especially those that involved large numbers of people, require rehearsals. The Queen could not possibly have participated in rehearsals so she needed a stand-in. Ella Shack performed that role more than 50 times over the course of forty years. She didn’t look like the Queen, but she was about the same height and build. When an event needed to test camera angles, or to see if the sun was in the Queen’s eyes, Ella Shack stood in for Her Majesty.
Ella did ride in the Royal carriages, and attended the rehearsals for the Opening of Parliament, but she was not allowed to ever sit on the throne in the House of Lords. She had to just “lurk” above it. She was never paid for her role but she considered it “a pleasure and an honour”.
Two interesting facts about Queen Elizabeth II, which I never knew: Her Imperial State Crown contains 2,868 diamonds and, on average, she received 70,000 letters annually, all of which were answered. The staff required to achieve this was, I understand, quite small.
Since the 12th century, the English monarchy has held the title of Seigneur (Lord) of the Swans. For many years Mute Swans – the elegant species you know from “Swan Lake” – were a popular food served by, and to, the rich. It was the King, or Queen, who granted swan ownership rights, and the cost of going against those rights was severe. For example, anyone caught stealing swan eggs could face a year in prison. It was considered treasonous to illegally eat a swan, even up to 1998, and, yes, you could be hanged for treason.
In the 14th century, the crown granted swan ownership rights to Abbotsbury Swannery, one of the few companies with such privileges surviving today. The Abbotsbury Swannery marks its swans with a small ring around the bird’s leg. Any mute swan that isn’t marked in such a way remains property of the monarch. Strangely, this law also applies to dead swans, so any well-meaning taxidermist not wishing to run afoul of the law must contact the Royal Swan Marker before stuffing any of the crown’s birds.
I am sure there are many more quirks from English history that we, today, could find ourselves sent to Tower of London for flouting. Many of them, probably still treasonous.
As an aside, I am reminded of a far more recent result of old laws that everyone had forgotten about being used against us. When the U.K. introduced strict “Drink and Drive” laws in 1967, some farmers started riding their horses to the pub to avoid being accused of drunk driving. Someone dug out an 1800’s law that required any horse found on the road to have front and, excuse the word, tail lights and be proceeded by someone carrying a light and a flag. The horse-riding farmers were arrested and charged anyway!