In Brief

Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

The monarch marks her 96th birthday with a ‘mini break’ to Norfolk

The Queen is marking her 96th birthday at the Sandringham estate, believed to be once loved by Prince Philip.

The Daily Mirror reported that she would travel from her now permanent Windsor Castle residence to the royal estate in Norfolk to stay at Wood Farm, the home used by her late husband after he stepped down from royal duties in 2017.

The Queen is “expected to be joined by members of the royal family” over the weekend in order to celebrate her 96th year, with the “mini-break” seen in royal circles as a “positive step” after ongoing mobility issues have prevented her from making her usual public engagements.

She was absent from her traditional Easter Sunday celebrations at Windsor Castle last weekend, and “missed several high-profile events since spending a night in hospital last October” as well as being “exhausted” by a bout of Covid-19 in February, reported the i news site.

Her birthday is normally marked by several gun salutes in central London, which will go ahead today despite being cancelled for the past two years due to the pandemic in 2020 and then the death of Prince Philip in 2021.

While the Queen usually spends her actual birthday – 21 April – privately, she also has a second public birthday in June.

Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

Strange as it may seem, the reason is not rooted in an obscure tradition or a quirk of royal protocol. It's simply to do with the weather.

The practice began in 1748, when George II decided to move his birthday parade from 9 November to a day in summer when the grand procession was less likely to be a washout.

Since then, the reigning king or queen or their parliament decides an appropriate summer date to mark the occasion, no matter how far it is from the monarch's real birthday.

This also explains why the Queen actually has more than two birthdays – some Commonwealth nations in the southern hemisphere follow the same logic when it comes to saluting their head of state while the sun shines.

Consequently, the Falkland Islands celebrates on 21 April, the Queen's actual birthday, because June is one of the coldest months of the year in the South Atlantic, while in Australia, where most of the country observes the official June birthday, Queensland and Western Australia both hold their tributes in sunny October.

Canadians mark the Queen's official birthday on the last Monday before 25 May, which is also Victoria Day, a public holiday honouring the Queen's great-great-grandmother.

In New Zealand, there have been calls in recent years to replace the Queen's birthday, which they mark on the first Monday in June, with an official recognition of Matariki, the Maori new year.

Prince Charles’s birthday is 14 November so it is likely that he will continue the tradition when he ascends the throne. Prince William, however, was born on 21 June so he might opt for just one celebration.

How will the event be marked?

This year, the Queen has invited children of the Royal Borough of Windsor to “take part in the traditional 21-gun salute outside Windsor Castle” on the date of her actual birthday on 21 April, reported The Telegraph.

Windsor council will also be helping the royal nonagenarian celebrate, as miniature cannons are fired along The Long Walk, with a special tribute led by Mayor John Story. “A selection of children attending the ceremony will be chosen to fire the cannon, whilst under supervision of an ordnance expert,” said the paper.

The Trooping of the Colour, which has marked the “official” June birthday of the monarch for over 260 years, will also take place this year after a two-year hiatus. Normally held on the second Saturday in June, this year it will take place on 2 June in order to “kick start” the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend, said Country Living.

The Queen is thought to have extended an invitation to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to join other royals for a “balcony appearance” at Buckingham Palace during this year’s Trooping of the Colour, reported The Guardian, after the couple made a “low key” visit to the monarch earlier this month on their way to the Invictus Games in the Netherlands. It is not yet known if they will attend.

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