“The Queen is the only person who can put on a tiara with one hand while walking down stairs.” — Princess Margaret
Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots (1542–1587) became Queen of Scotland at six days old, after her father James V died. As a young woman she liked to dress up as a stable lad and go out dancing in Edinburgh. She had four ladies in waiting, all called Mary (Mary Fleming, Mary Seton, Mary Beaton and Mary Livingston), spoke seven languages (Scots, English, Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian) and was one of the first women to play golf. When she tried to escape to France the keys to Loch Leven castle – where she had been kept prisoner for 19 years by Queen Elizabeth I – were thrown in the loch, where they were found 300 years later. After her execution she was buried in Westminster Abbey. Queen Elizabeth I, whom she never met, was buried beside her.
The Black Queen
Catherine de’ Medici (1519–89), also known as The Black Queen, was the most powerful woman in Europe for more than 40 years. She made broccoli, artichokes, cauliflower and the fork fashionable and pioneered the wearing of perfume and underwear. Her parties were legendary, not least because of the presence of her 80 ladies-in-waiting. At one memorable feast they served supper topless.
The Queen became one of the first heads of state to send an email in 1976. Her message read: “This message to all ARPANET users announces the availability on ARPANET of the Coral 66 compiler provided by the GEC 4080 computer at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, Malvern, England. Coral 66 is the standard real-time high level language adopted by the Ministry of Defence. The message was transmitted over the ARPANET by Her Majesty The Queen on the occasion of her visit to Malvern on 26th March 1976.” The Queen is the only person in Britain who can drive without a licence or a registration number on her car.
The Queen’s ring
The wedding ring of England is a ring made for the coronation of William IV in 1831. It has been worn at every coronation since except for Queen Victoria’s – her fingers were so slender the ring kept falling off. A smaller ring was made for her but the Archbishop of Canterbury forced it on to the wrong finger during the ceremony. Afterwards, Victoria had to soak her hand in iced water to remove it.
Queen Anne’s fan
Ever wondered what you call the gesture of putting your thumb to your nose and wiggling your fingers in an insulting manner? It’s called Queen Anne’s fan (or “cocking a snook”, or “the five-fingered-salute”, or the “coffee-mill” or “pull-bacon”). A study showed it to be Europe’s best-known gesture. It is first recorded under this name when Anne reigned – 1714.
Until the late 17th century, queen bees were usually referred to as “kings” (in Henry V, Shakespeare writes that bees “have a king and officers of sorts”). Queen bees are created by a diet of royal jelly. Any worker bee can become a queen if it is fed the special elixir, secreted by glands in the worker bees’ heads. Once hatched the queen controls the colony by a chemical licked off her body by the workers. Known as “queen substance” it inhibits the working of their ovaries and stops them building special queen cells, where a rival might hatch.
Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are the only mammals that live in organised colonies like bees and termites. They have a large, fertile female who produces all the offspring (usually 20 at a time). Like the queen bee, she stops the other females from becoming fertile by producing a special pheromone in her urine.