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11 Wonderful Wunderkammer, or Curiosity Cabinets

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The glass display cases called "curio cabinets" got both their form and their name from the historic "Cabinets of Curiosity." Though ubiquitous today, curio cabinets come from a rich history of passionate collectors and exultant status-seekers, looking for the flashiest proclamations of their presence in society.

Cabinets of Curiosity were also known as Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, or Wonder-Rooms. They first became popular during the Northern Renaissance, but that popularity didn't reach its apex until the Victorian era. Where amateur and professional scientists once kept their most prized specimens hidden away, society-folk now possessed the flashiest and rarest finds, and proudly displayed them for all to see. Though the traditional Wonder-Rooms—where entire rooms were filled with glass cases and collections—still existed in Victorian times, they were mostly the realm of royalty and academic institutions. The tradition of a personal collection to show off reached the newly burgeoning middle class, and the singular glass "curio cabinet" with one's most prized collection items skyrocketed in popularity. 

Among those collections, there are many fascinating and unexpected finds. Here are a few collectors and their curious collections.

1. Beatrix Potter 

Lactarius blennius, Beech Milkcap 

Best known for her self-illustrated children’s stories, such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, Beatrix Potter was also an accomplished amateur mycologist, or one who studies fungus. She collected many volumes of illustrations and observations on lichens and mushrooms, and collected many dried specimens. In addition to mycology, she was also taken by the world of entomology—the study of insects—and botany, and acquired many insect and plant specimens, though she did not often keep them in her personal collection for long; many of the biological specimens given to her were passed along to London’s Natural History Museum. However, several cabinets of fossils and archaeological artifacts were kept in her possession and displayed proudly, even when she moved to the countryside to raise her award-winning sheep herd.

In addition to the Natural History Museum and National Art Library, a few of Potter’s archeological specimens, many of her original illustrations and paintings, and first-edition copies of all of her publications are found at the Armitt Collection in Ambleside, of which she was a member from its founding in 1912.

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Smithsonian

President Roosevelt was a philatelist—that is, he collected stamps. Beginning in childhood, FDR loved stamps, and had amassed a huge collection by the time he came to office. When asked how he remained calm and collected in such troubled times as the Great Depression, Roosevelt said, “I owe my life to my hobbies—especially stamp collecting.” In fact, the president loved stamps to the point where the Postmaster General had to get his approval on every new design while he was in office. Roosevelt even had a hand in designing many of the stamps issued during his term, and was known to sit down with the Postmaster General to collaborate on new stamp concepts, especially during his worst times in office. His passion for stamps (and his ability to indulge in them to a degree very few other philatelists got to) is what kept him “level-headed and sane” during the most stressful periods, according to his son.

Though he was most well-known for his stamp collecting, and influenced the field of philately more than any other group collectors, Roosevelt also had large collections of ship models and naval art, coins, and Hudson River Valley art. While some of his stamp collection has been dispersed to private collectors and museums across the country, the majority of his other collections are now found at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

3. Sowerby Family

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With four generations of conchologists (those who study shells), the Sowerby family amassed an incredible collection of shells and mollusc specimens. Confusingly for taxonomy historians and antiquarians, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of the naturalist patriarch (James de Carle Sowerby) had exactly the same name: George Brettingham Sowerby. They were almost always noted only as “G.B. Sowerby” in mollusca monographs and scientific papers, and even when the date of publication was known for the paper, the generations overlapped in their work. At least two of the three G.B. Sowerbys also illustrated both conchological and other zoological collections from various expeditionary voyages.

While initially known for their illustrations of the collection of the Earl of Tankerville during the 1810s, the Sowerbys later amassed a large collection of their own shells, and illustrated many times the number of specimens they personally owned. Unfortunately, the location of many of the Sowerby shells is unknown. However, their more than 4000 mollusca illustrations live on—as do many of the names given to the new species first detailed by the Sowerby family.

4. Ole Worm

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One of the most notable “cabinets of curiosity” belonged to 17th century naturalist, antiquarian, and physician Ole Worm. A rich man by inheritance, Ole Worm collected specimens from the natural world, human skeletons, ancient runic texts, and artifacts from the New World. As an adult, Worm was the personal physician to King Christian IV of Denmark, but continued to collect and write about everything he found interesting.

Worm’s thoughts on various objects in his collection were at once rational and pre-modern. While he scoffed at those who passed off narwhal tusks as “unicorn horns”—and would set other naturalists straight when they asserted they had such a horn—he conjectured that perhaps the traits attributed to the mythological unicorn horn (such as being a universal antidote) still held true to the tusk. He used his collection to teach others, and his specimens and illustrations showed that two myths of the era were demonstrably false: lemmings did not appear from thin air, but reproduced like normal animals, and the bird of paradise did, indeed, have feet.

Outside of his Cabinet, Ole Worm owned a now-extinct Great Auk, kept for several years (until its death, and subsequent inclusion in the Cabinet) as a pet. An illustration of this bird while it was still alive is the only known representation of the species from life; all other representations have been created from dead specimens or were drawn from accounts made by sailors who had encountered the live animals.

5. Tradescant family

Ashmolean Museum

Another family with all-too-similar names, the John Tradescants were at least referred to as “Tradescant the Elder” and “Tradescant the Younger” in contemporary texts. During the course of the 17th century, the Tradescants amassed a huge collection from the natural world, as well as the world of anthropology. As the younger John travelled west, to Virginia, and collected objects and specimens in that direction, the elder travelled east, to Russia, and expanded the collection in that direction, too. Both Tradescants gathered objects from nature, weapons, armor, traditional garments, jewels, royal artifacts, and any other objects that caught their fancy. Eventually, the collection was arranged in such a way to form the first truly public museum—the Tradescant Ark. Unlike other cabinets of curiosity, anyone could tour it, not just aristocracy or friends of the family. All were welcome, assuming you could afford the 6p entry fee!

Though the elder John amassed a small fortune as a master gardener for royalty across Europe, the collection also included many priceless objects donated by society elites. After John the Younger’s death in 1662, Elias Ashmole published a catalogue of the objects in the museum, but had the book written in a format that appealed to popular culture, not just academics. Ashmole eventually took over the collection, and it formed the basis of the eponymous Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at Oxford University. Though the museum no longer bears their name, the Tradescants are still honored in the name of the Tradescantia genus of flowering spiderworts.

6.  Lady Charlotte Guest

Classic Books and Ephemera

Despite being brought up in a family that discouraged education for girls, Lady Charlotte Guest found her own way to learn a half-dozen languages, and knew the mythology and history of cultures around the world, by the time she married at 21. Her passion for learning and languages meant that she would eventually become best known for translating English books to Welsh, and publishing a collection of traditional Welsh folk tales in English, entitled Mabinogion.

However, her pursuits spanned far beyond the world of language. Her love of history and her upper-class upbringing stirred a fascination with ceramics and china from a young age. After being widowed at age 40, she found that one of her sons’ tutors, Charles Schreiber, had a similar passion, and soon re-married. She and her second husband travelled far and wide within Europe to collect some of the oldest and rarest ceramics and chinaware. Their huge collection was considered an honor to be shown while Schreiber lived, as he was a notable Dorset elite, and MP for Poole.

After his death in 1884, Lady Guest made the collection public, viewable for free. When she, too, passed away, she bequeathed the ceramics and china to the Victoria and Albert Museum. During her lifetime, she also amassed a large collection of board games, cards, and fans in her travels, which she donated to the British Museum.

7. Johann Hermann

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Just like many university students, Johann Hermann started on one path, but ended up going somewhere completely different. Though initially studying philosophy, mathematics, and literature, Hermann eventually turned toward botany and medicine, receiving his M.D. in 1762 from the University of Strasbourg. Despite being a physician—and soon a Professor of Medicine at Strasbourg—he never stopped collecting specimens for his personal natural history cabinet, or cataloging the natural history around his region. He was soon made curator of the Botanical Gardens at the University of Strasbourg, and would head weekly natural history excursions into Alsace and Vosges.

During the French Revolution, Hermann was transferred to the School of Medicine at Strasbourg, and despite attempted suppression by the revolutionaries, he continued to maintain his collection, take students on cataloging excursions, and tend to the gardens at the University. Due to losing public and school funding for these projects, he put all of his own energy and wealth into them. Hermann even saved the statues of the Strasbourg Cathedral (due to be demolished by the Revolution, as they were “frivolous”) by burying them within the gardens.

After his death in 1800, Johann Hermann’s 18,000 natural history volumes formed the basis of the Natural History Museum of Strasbourg. His zoological and botanical collections formed the basis of the Zoological Museum of Strasbourg, and the gardens at the University of Strasbourg are still open to the public.

8. Robert Edmond Grant

Another physician who preferred the natural history world over medicine, Robert Edmond Grant collected one of the largest Cabinets of invertebrates in England during the first half of his life.

The Edinburgh-born Grant was a student of Erasmus Darwin’s writings—though the two never met—and learned the importance of dissection from none other than Georges Cuvier and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in the late 1810s. He later used his practice in dissection to teach Charles Darwin how to dissect marine invertebrates under a microscope, in their natural habitat. Though the two later had a falling-out over research domains, Darwin continued to use the methods and habits that Grant had taught him, as he came to his eventual conclusions on evolution.

Grant taught comparative zoology at University College London between 1827 and his death in 1874, but during the second half of his life, the enrollment in his courses was too low to pay him a living wage. Rather than sell off his collection (which, despite personally collecting, he believed belonged to those who could learn from it), or take up practicing medicine in London, he chose to live in the slums.

Interestingly, Robert Edmond Grant would probably object to being included in this list of curious collections. He campaigned for the Zoological Society collections to be curated and run by professionals rather than by aristocratic amateurs, and for the British Museum to become a research institution rather than simply a place to admire and gawk at the unusual and bizarre.

9. Joseph Mayer

Liverpool Museum

At the other end of the spectrum from Robert Edmund Grant was Joseph Mayer, a well-to-do goldsmith of 19th century Liverpool, and a proponent of amateur contribution and control of large collections of antiques and curiosities. He collected potteries and Greek coins as a youth and jeweler’s apprentice, but eventually sold off his Greek coins to the French government.

The rest of Mayer’s collection kept growing, encompassing cultural artifacts, Wedgewood pottery, historic ceramics, ancient enamels, and the collections of many older amateur antiquarians who lived in the Merseyside and Cheshire regions. His successful goldsmithing business and the sale of his Greek coin collection gave him the funds to begin some of the first serious excavations of Anglo-Saxon artifacts inside England—up until Mayer, there was very little interest in that field, with antiquarians looking to Continental Europe and Egypt. Not that he didn’t love Egypt; one of the first truly Ancient Egyptian collections was held by Mayer for a time.

Despite the massive number of Egyptian acquisitions, Joseph Mayer’s passion was in England, and he’s been most known for his contributions to the field of Anglo-Saxon archaeology, and his contributions to the communities he lived in. Despite being an amateur collector and not thinking that he should leave the scholarly work and curation of artifacts to universities and researchers, Mayer and Robert Edmond Grant would have shared at least one conviction—that everyone is served when all levels of society are given access to lectures about the massive eclectic collections living right next door. Both the Mayer Trust (Joseph Mayer’s legacy) and the Grant Museum of Zoology (Grant’s legacy) give public lectures and provide for the public education to this day.

10.  Ida Laura Pfieffer

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One might assume that if you’re sailing at sea for over 100,000 km, travelling overland for 30,000 km, and spending your entire life after your sons have grown as a nearly nomadic explorer, there’s not much point in collecting things—after all, where would you keep them? Austrian lady Ida Laura Pfieffer saw things differently, though, and while making her record-setting and ground-breaking voyages and treks between 1842 and 1858, she collected and carefully documented thousands of plant, insect, marine, and mineral specimens, which currently reside in the Natural History Museums of Berlin and Vienna. Her 1856 collection of Malagasy (Madagascar) plants and insects was one of the first substantial looks at how unique the island was on a floral and entomological level, and many of her specimens were brand new species, even though she didn’t know it at the time.

On top of her biological specimens, Mrs. Pfieffer also collected an invaluable account of many of the world’s cultures, from the unique perspective of a female travelling solo, in a time when that was nearly unheard of for proper women. Despite her modesty, the fact that she was a mother of grown sons, and a widower (not simply a single lady riding the waves—far more taboo), her travels and travelogues were initially questioned and looked down upon as “lesser.”  By the end of her life, though, she was highly respected and sought after by many notable exploration and geographical societies. Because of her gender, she had gained access to many places and cultures that shunned and attacked men, and gave a new perspective to many cultures that had been previously documented only by male explorers.

11. Athanasius Kircher

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It takes quite a person to have a mineral named after them more than 300 years after their death, but in August 2012, kircherite gave Athanasius Kircher just such a distinction. Not that he was without distinction in his own time—he was a distinguished Jesuit polymath, wrote dozens of books on his observations of the natural and historical world, and had a massive and well-known Cabinet of Curiosities in Rome. Though he was not much of an inventor himself, he investigated everything he could, and his publications on many inventions (such as the “magic lantern”) gave much wider circulation and publicity to otherwise-unknown innovation.

Kircher was one of the first to take a scholarly interest in decoding Egyptian hieroglyphs, and he collected Egyptian statuary and artifacts in addition to manuscripts and transcriptions of carved hieroglyphic writing. Chinese artifacts, samples of minerals from his varied travels throughout Europe (including rocks taken while dangling from a rope inside the cone of Vesuvius), odd devices, and rare European antiquities rounded out the Museum Kircherianum—which Kircher founded in the 1670s—when his private residence was no longer large enough to house his entire collection. This museum was technically open to the public, but for most of its existence Athanasius found great pleasure in demanding scholarly letters of “recommendation” from nobility and clergy who would come through town and think to stop by. Even the pope wasn’t exempt from this requirement!

A notable exemption from Kircher’s Museum was one of the things he’s most known for: the “Katzenklaver,” or “cat piano.” While he illustrated the concept, it was in a work on how musical theories were universal in birdsong, instrumental pieces, and nature—thankfully for the cats, there’s zero evidence of him having created the “instrument,” or even having wanted to.

While Kircher himself was much more well-known than the Tradescant family thanks to his publications, his museum was less visited, especially after the Jesuits who owned the building it was housed in decided to move the curiosities to a less busy part of town. The plague ravaging Europe and Rene Descartes causing his personal popularity to dwindle probably didn’t help business, either. Despite the frustration with his treasures being moved towards the end of his life, Kircher continued to amass more objects and correspond with many academics and religious scholars until his death in 1680. It would take until nearly the 1700s before all of his artifacts (or at least the ones that were not sold off) were catalogued, and researchers are still coming across correspondences of his that had either been forgotten or never recorded in the first place.

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13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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25 Regal Facts About Queen Elizabeth II
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In February 2017, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee, marking her 65-year reign as Queen of England. Her Majesty surpassed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, as Britain's longest-ruling monarch, and now also holds the title of the world's longest-reigning monarch. Here are 25 more royal facts about Queen Elizabeth, to celebrate her 92nd birthday (her real one—she has two, after all).

1. SHE WASN'T BORN AN HEIR APPARENT TO THE THRONE.

The Queen Elizabeth (3rd-L, future Queen Mother), her daughter Princess Elizabeth (4th-L, future Queen Elizabeth II), Queen Mary (C) , Princess Margaret (5th-L) and the King George VI (R), pose at the balcony of the Buckingham Palace in December 1945.
The Queen Elizabeth (3rd-L, future Queen Mother), her daughter Princess Elizabeth (4th-L, future Queen Elizabeth II), Queen Mary (C) , Princess Margaret (5th-L) and the King George VI (R), pose at the balcony of the Buckingham Palace in December 1945.
AFP, Getty Images

For the first 10 years of her life, Princess Elizabeth was a relatively minor royal—her status was akin to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York today—but that all changed with the death of her grandfather, King George V, in 1936.

The next in the line of royal succession was Elizabeth's uncle, Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne less than a year after taking it so that he could marry an American socialite named Wallis Simpson. Edward didn't have any children at the time, so his brother Albert (Elizabeth’s father) ascended to the throne, taking the name George VI and making the then-10-year-old Elizabeth the first in line to become Queen.

2. HER YOUNGER SISTER GAVE HER A FAMILY NICKNAME.

Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth in 1933.
Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth in 1933.
AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth and Margaret were the only children of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and King George VI, who said of his daughters: "Lilibet is my pride, Margaret my joy." "Lilibet," of course, is Elizabeth, who earned her nickname because Margaret—whom the family affectionately called Margot—constantly mispronounced her big sister’s name.

3. SHE DIDN'T GO TO SCHOOL.

Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret at Waterloo Station, London, 1939.
Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret at Waterloo Station, London, 1939.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Heirs apparent don’t just show up to primary school like normal kids. Instead, Elizabeth was tutored at home during sessions by different teachers like Henry Marten, vice-provost of Eton College (which is still for boys only), and was also given private religion lessons by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

4. BUT SHE AND MARGARET TECHNICALLY DID HAVE A TEACHER.

Stamps from 1937 featuring Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey, The Coronation Coach, The Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the King's Coronation.
Stamps from 1937 featuring Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey, The Coronation Coach, The Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the King's Coronation.
London Express, Getty Images

Just because she didn't attend school doesn't mean that Elizabeth didn't receive an education. She received the bulk of it through her nanny, Marion Crawford, who the royal family referred to as "Crawfie." Crawford would eventually be ostracized by the royal family for writing a tell-all book in 1953 called The Little Princesses without their permission; the book recounted Crawford's experiences with Elizabeth during her younger days.

5. SHE WANTED TO GO TO WAR, BUT WAS TOO YOUNG.

Queen consort Elizabeth holds Princess Margaret's hand as Princess Elizabeth follows, in 1936.
Queen consort Elizabeth holds Princess Margaret's hand as Princess Elizabeth follows, in 1936.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When World War II broke out in 1939, Elizabeth—then just a teenager—begged her father to join the effort somehow. She started out by making radio broadcasts geared toward raising the morale of British children. During one of the broadcasts, the 14-year-old princess reassured listeners, "I can truthfully say to you all that we children at home are full of cheerfulness and courage. We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers, and airmen and we are trying too to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war."

6. SHE EVENTUALLY SERVED IN WORLD WAR II.

Princess Elizabeth changing the tire of a vehicle as she trains at as ATS Officer during World War II in April 1945.
Princess Elizabeth changing the tire of a vehicle as she trains at as ATS Officer during World War II in April 1945.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite the risks, Elizabeth eventually joined the women's Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a truck driver and mechanic in 1945, when she was 18 years old.

Queen Elizabeth remains the only female royal family member to have entered the armed forces, and is currently the only living head of state who officially served in World War II.

7. SHE CELEBRATED THE END OF THE WAR BY PARTYING LIKE HER SUBJECTS.

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1947.
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1947.
William Vanderson, Fox Photos/Getty Images

When then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that the war in Europe was over on May 8, 1945, people poured out into the streets of London to celebrate—including Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The sheltered duo were allowed to sneak out of Buckingham Palace to join the revelers at their father's behest.

"It was a unique burst of personal freedom," recalled Margaret Rhodes, their cousin who went with them, "a Cinderella moment in reverse."

8. SHE MARRIED HER COUSIN.

Then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, following their wedding ceremony in November 1947.
Then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, following their wedding ceremony in November 1947.
AFP, Getty Images

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth are third cousins; both share the same great-great-grandparents: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

9. ELIZABETH AND HER HUSBAND HAVE KNOWN EACH OTHER SINCE CHILDHOOD.

A family portrait in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947.
A family portrait in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Philip, son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, first met Elizabeth when she was only eight years old and he was 14. Both attended the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece (Prince Philip's cousin) and Prince George, the Duke of Kent (Elizabeth’s uncle).

Five years later the pair met again when George VI brought Elizabeth to tour the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where Philip was a cadet. In a personal note, Elizabeth recalled falling for the young soldier-in-the-making: "I was 13 years of age and he was 18 and a cadet just due to leave. He joined the Navy at the outbreak of war, and I only saw him very occasionally when he was on leave—I suppose about twice in three years," she wrote. "Then when his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, were away he spent various weekends away with us at Windsor."

10. SHE DIDN'T TELL HER PARENTS SHE WAS GETTING HITCHED.

Princess Elizabeth, Philip Mountbatten, Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother), King George VI, and Princess Margaret pose in Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1947, the day the engagement of Princess Elizabeth & Philip Mountbatten was officially announced.
Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II), Philip Mountbatten (also the Duke of Edinburgh), Queen Elizabeth (future Queen Mother), King George VI, and Princess Margaret pose in Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1947, the day the engagement of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten was officially announced.
AFP/Getty Images

In 1946, Philip proposed to Elizabeth when the former planned a month-long visit to Balmoral, her royal estate in Scotland. She accepted the proposal without even contacting her parents. But when George VI finally caught wind of the pending nuptials he would only officially approve if they waited to announce the engagement until after her 21st birthday.

The official public announcement of the engagement finally came nearly a year later on July 9, 1947.

11. SHE HAS A VERY ROYAL NAME.

Princess Elizabeth (left) and her mother, Queen consort Elizabeth, in 1951.
Princess Elizabeth (left) and her mother, Queen consort Elizabeth, in 1951.
Reg Speller, Fox Photos/Getty Images

She's the second British monarch named Elizabeth, but Elizabeth II wasn't named after Henry VIII's famous progeny. Queen Elizabeth II's birth name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, after the names of her mother, Elizabeth, her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and her paternal grandmother, Queen Mary.

12. SHE GOT TO CHOOSE HER OWN SURNAME.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, circa 1951.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, circa 1951.
OFF, AFP/Getty Images

Technically, the Queen's last name is "Windsor," which was first chosen by George V in 1917 after the royal family wanted to distance themselves from "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha"—the dynasty to which they belonged—for sounding too Germanic during World War I.

But as a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of the royal family, in 1960 Elizabeth and Philip adopted the official surname Windsor-Mountbatten. (Fans will surely remember that the surname drama was briefly discussed in Netflix’s series The Crown.)

13. SHE HAS TWO BIRTHDAYS.

Princess Elizabeth just before her 21st birthday in April 1947.
Princess Elizabeth just before her 21st birthday in April 1947.
AFP/Getty Images

Like most British monarchs, Elizabeth gets to celebrate her birthday twice, and the reason why boils down to seasonably appropriate pomp and circumstance.

She was born on April 21, 1926, but April was deemed too cold and liable to fall during inclement weather. So instead, her official state-recognized birthday occurs on a Saturday in late May or June, so that the celebration can be held during warmer months. The specific date varies year to year in the UK, and usually coincides with Trooping the Colour, Britain’s annual military pageant.

14. HER CORONATION WAS TELEVISED AGAINST HER WISHES.

Queen Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953
Queen Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953.
AFP, Getty Images

Elizabeth officially ascended to the throne at just 25 years of age when her father, George VI, died on February 6, 1952. Elizabeth was in Kenya at the time of his death and returned home as her country's Queen. As fans of The Crown will remember, the hubbub surrounding her coronation was filled with ample amounts of drama.

The notoriously camera-shy Elizabeth—who didn't even allow photos to be taken of her wedding—didn't want the event televised, and others believed that broadcasting the coronation to commoners would break down upper-class traditions of only allowing members of British high society to witness the event. A Coronation Commission, chaired by Philip, was set up to weigh the options, and they initially decided to only allow cameras in a single area of Westminster Abbey "west of the organ screen," before allowing the entire thing to be televised with one minor caveat: no close-ups on Elizabeth's face.

15. SHE PAID FOR HER WEDDING DRESS USING WAR RATION COUPONS.

A 1947 sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell.
A 1947 sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell.
Central Press, Getty Images

Still reeling from an atmosphere of post-war austerity, Elizabeth used ration coupons and a 200-coupon supplement from the government to pay for her wedding dress. But don't be fooled, the dress was extremely elegant; it was made of ivory duchesse silk, encrusted with 10,000 imported seed pearls, took six months to make, and sported a 13-foot train. (It cost just under $40,000 to recreate the dress for The Crown.)

16. SHE DOESN'T NEED A PASSPORT TO TRAVEL.

Queen Elizabeth II in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in December 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in December 1953.
STRINGER, AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth II is the world's most well-traveled head of state, visiting 116 countries between 265 official state visits, but she doesn't even own a passport. Since all British passports are officially issued in the Queen’s name, she technically doesn't need one.

17. SHE DOESN'T NEED A DRIVER'S LICENSE EITHER.

Queen Elizabeth II drives a car in 1958.
Queen Elizabeth II drives a car in 1958.
Bob Haswell, Express/Getty Images

It's not just because she has a fleet of chauffeurs. Britain also officially issues driver's licenses in Elizabeth’s name, so don’t expect her to show off her ID when she gets pulled over taking other heads of state for a spin in her Range Rover.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, recounted to The Sunday Times the time when Elizabeth drove former Saudi crown prince Abdullah around the grounds of Balmoral: "To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off," he said. "Women are not—yet—allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen."

18. SHE DOESN'T HAVE TO PAY TAXES (BUT CHOOSES TO ANYWAY).

Queen Elizabeth rides in a carriage in 2000.
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth has voluntarily paid income and capital gains taxes since 1992, but has always been subject to Value Added Tax.

19. SHE SURVIVED AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II rides a horse side saddle and salutes during a Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London in 1952.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II rides a horse side saddle and salutes during a Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London in 1952.
STRINGER, AFP/Getty Images

During the 1981 Trooping the Colour, the Queen led a royal procession on horseback down the Mall toward Buckingham Palace when shots rang out. A 17-year-old named Marcus Sarjeant, who was obsessed with the assassinations of figures like John Lennon and John F. Kennedy, fired a series of blanks toward Elizabeth. Sarjeant—who wrote in his diary, "I am going to stun and mystify the whole world with nothing more than a gun"—was thankfully unable to purchase live ammunition in the UK. He received a prison sentence of five years under the 1848 Treason Act, but was released in October 1984.

20. SHE ALSO SURVIVED AN INTRUDER COMING INTO HER BEDROOM.

Queen Elizabeth II in Australia in 1954.
Queen Elizabeth II in Australia in 1954.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A year after the Trooping the Colour incident, Elizabeth had another run-in. But instead of near Buckingham Palace, this time it was inside Buckingham Palace. On July 9, 1982, a man named Michael Fagen managed to climb over the Palace's barbed wire fence, shimmy up a drain pipe, and eventually sneak into the Queen's bedroom.

While reports at the time said Fagen and the Queen had a long conversation before he was apprehended by palace security, Fagen told The Independent the Queen didn't stick around to chat: "She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor."

21. SHE TECHNICALLY OWNS ALL THE DOLPHINS IN THE UK.

The HMAS Vengeance seen from a helicopter, as the Australian Naval crew spell out the signature of Queen Elizabeth II on the deck, in 1954.
The HMAS Vengeance seen from a helicopter, as the Australian Naval crew spell out the signature of Queen Elizabeth II on the deck, in 1954.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In addition to owning all of the country's dolphins, she owns all the sturgeon and whales, too. A still-valid statute from the reign of King Edward II in 1324 states, "Also the King shall have ... whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm," meaning most aquatic creatures are technically labeled "fishes royal," and are claimed on behalf of the Crown.

As the song goes, "Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!"

22. SHE HAS HER OWN SPECIAL MONEY TO GIVE TO THE POOR.

Queen Elizabeth II hands out maundy money in 2004.
Queen Elizabeth II hands out maundy money in 2004.
PHIL NOBLE, AFP/Getty Images

Known as "maundy money," the Queen has silver coins—currently with Elizabeth's likeness on the front—that are given to pensioners in a ceremony called Maundy Thursday. The royal custom dates back to the 13th century, in which the royal family was expected to wash the feet of and distribute gifts to penniless subjects as a symbolic gesture to honor Jesus’s act of washing the feet of the poor in the Bible. Once the 18th century rolled around and washing people's dirty feet wasn't seen as befitting of a royal, the act was replaced with money allowances bequeathed by the monarch.

23. GIN IS HER DRINK OF CHOICE.

Queen Elizabeth II sipping a drink.
RUSSEL MILLARD, AFP/Getty Images

The Queen drinks gin mixed with Dubonnet (a fortified wine) and a slice of lemon on the rocks every day before lunch. She also reportedly drinks wine at lunch and has a glass of champagne every evening.

24. SHE CREATED HER OWN BREED OF DOGS.

Queen Elizabeth with her dog Susan, circa 1959.
Queen Elizabeth with her dog Susan, circa 1959.
AFP, Getty Images

Elizabeth has a famous, avowed love of Corgis (she has owned more than 30 of them during her reign; her last dog, Willow, recently passed away), but what about Dorgis? She currently owns two Dorgis (Candy and Vulcan), a crossbreed she engineered when one of her Corgis mated with a Dachshund named Pipkin that belonged to Princess Margaret.

25. SHE'S ON SOCIAL MEDIA … KIND OF.

Queen Elizabeth II tours a Canadian Blackberry factory in 2010.
Queen Elizabeth II tours a Canadian Blackberry factory in 2010.
John Stillwell, Pool/Getty Images

The Queen joined Twitter in July 2009 under the handle @RoyalFamily, and sent the first tweet herself, but hasn't personally maintained the page since then. In fact, a job listing went up in 2017 looking for an official royal Digital Communications Officer to help out. She's also on Facebook (and no, you cannot poke The Royal Family).

This story originally ran in 2017.

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