20 Surprising Things Queen Elizabeth II Owns

Eddie Mulholland, WPA Pool/Getty Images
Eddie Mulholland, WPA Pool/Getty Images

On June 9, 2018, Queen Elizabeth II will be feted as part of Trooping the Colour, an event that has marked the official birthday of the reigning British sovereign for 270 years. April 21, the Queen's actual birthday, is also celebrated as such. Of course, having two birthdays is just one of the many perks that come with being the head of the royal family. From bats to Bentleys, here are 20 surprising things owned by Queen Elizabeth II.

1. ALL THE SWANS ON THE RIVER THAMES

 Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Swan Marker David Barber (red jacket), watches from the steam launch 'Alaska' as a swan upper places a swan back into the river during a swan upping census on the River Thames on July 20, 2009 near Windsor, England
Sang Tan, WPA Pool/Getty Images

Though she's more of a Corgi lover, Queen Elizabeth II has quite the menagerie of pets—especially if you consider the fact that she technically owns (or at least co-owns) all of the unclaimed mute swans on open water in England and Wales, though she "only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries." She shares ownership of the birds with the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers, an arrangement that dates back to the 15th century (back when the animals were considered a delicacy). So just how many swans does the Queen have? We'll know soon enough: each year, they're counted during a five-day event known as the Swan Upping. This year's event will take place from July 16 to July 20 on the Thames between Sunbury and Abingdon, England.

2. A PAIR OF DORGIS

Queen Elizabeth II speaks with Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key at a audience held at Windsor Castle on October 29, 2015 in Windsor, England
Steve Parsons, WPA Pool/Getty Images

Speaking of Corgis: In April, it was reported that Willow—the Queen's last Corgi—had passed away at the age of 14. It marked the end of a canine era for Elizabeth, who has regularly been photographed surrounded by members of her beloved breed over the past 75 years. (She and her sister, Princess Margaret, were gifted their first Corgi—whom they named Dookie—in 1933.) While she confirmed in 2015 that there will be no more Corgis in her future (she doesn't want to leave any behind), she isn't dog-less. She still has two "dorgis"—a cross between a corgi and a dachshund—named Vulcan and Candy, who can regularly be found at her side.

3. ALL THE DOLPHINS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

A pair of dolphins
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Dolphins and sturgeons and whales, oh my. Much like the aforementioned swans, the Queen's got a solid claim on many of the country's aquatic creatures. A statute from 1324, which originated during the reign of King Edward II, stated that, "… The king shall have wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm, except in certain places privileged by the king." The law still stands today and covers not just whales and sturgeons but dolphins and porpoises, too, when they are captured within three miles of the U.K.

Until recently the Crown also laid claim to the bulk of Scotland's wild crustaceans, but that now rests with Marine Scotland.

4. NEARLY ALL OF LONDON'S REGENT STREET

People, cars and double-decker bus passing by London's Regent Street
iStock

Located in the heart of London's West End, Regent Street is one of the world's most famous roads. Measuring approximately 1.25 miles in length, the street runs through both Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus and attracts more than 7.5 million visitors per year—and it's all part of the Crown Estate, meaning it legally belongs to Her Majesty. (Though she's not entitled to any of the royalties from the many storefronts that inhabit it.)

5. HALF OF THE UNITED KINGDOM'S SHORELINE

Red telephone box illuminated at sunrise on seaside beach in England
iStock

Cityscapes aren't the only real estate in the Queen's portfolio. The Crown Estate also owns "just under half of the coastline around England, Wales, and Northern Ireland."

6. SIX ROYAL RESIDENCES

A photo of Windsor Castle
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One thing the royal family is not lacking in is places to call home. While Buckingham Palace—and its 775 rooms—is the Queen's main abode, her portfolio of lavish properties also includes Windsor Castle (the world's largest occupied castle); Holyrood Palace, a 12th-century monastery-turned-royal palace in Edinburgh, Scotland; and Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland, which sits on 100 acres. The Sandringham Estate, where the royal family spends Christmas, and Balmoral Castle, her favorite summer estate, are two of the Queen's personal possessions (she inherited them from her father).

7. MORE THAN 200 LAUNER HANDBAGS

Queen Elizabeth II holds her Launer black handbag during a reception following the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery during their 70th anniversary parade at Hyde Park on October 19, 2017 in London, England
Hannah McKay, WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Queen is rarely seen without a handbag, which she actually uses to send signals to her staff. But she doesn't carry just any old bag: She prefers purses from luxury London designer Launer—the Royale (appropriately) and Traviata styles are her favorites—and the brand's CEO estimates that she has about 200 of them. At approximately $2500 a pop, that's a mighty pricey purse collection.

8. A PRIVATE ATM

Person getting cash from an ATM.
iStock

It's doubtful that the Queen has much need to dig through her Launer purse in search of a tenner. But if the need for cash arose, there's a private money machine in the basement of Buckingham Palace, courtesy of Coutts bank, that's specifically for members of the royal family.

9. THE BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE AT WIMBLEDON

 The Duke of Kent (L) and Queen Elizabeth II watch Andy Murray of Great Britain in action against Jarkko Nieminen of Finland on Day Four of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 24, 2010 in London,
Oli Scarff, WPA Pool/Getty Images

In 2010, Her Majesty stunned the crowd at Wimbledon when she showed up to watch Andy Murray play. It was the first time she had attended the world-famous tennis tournament in more than 30 years. She may not be a regular spectator, but she still commands the best seat in the house: the Royal Box, which is tucked just behind the court's south baseline.

"There is a view, among those who have attended the royal box, that it is one of the most special experiences in sport," Alexandra Willis, the head of communications for the All England Club, told The New York Times. "It's because of the fact that it's by invitation only—you can't just decide it's something you want to attend." Though the Queen may not be the biggest fan, the Duchess of Cambridge is a frequent fixture in the Royal Box.

10. THE TOWER OF LONDON

The Tower of London
iStock

Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London—better known as simply the Tower of London—is yet another one of the Queen's possessions in right of the Crown. The property, which dates to the 11th century, has played an enormous role in royal history and is still one of the city's most visited tourist attractions. And it all belongs to Queen Elizabeth—including the Crown Jewels and, by extension, the Tower's famed flock of ravens.

11. 150,000 WORKS OF ART (MANY OF THEM PRICELESS)

 A member of staff at the Queens Gallery views a painting in the Royal Collection on March 13, 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

The Queen's position puts her in charge of The Royal Collection, one of the world's largest and most impressive art collections (though she doesn't own it personally, it is held in trust by her). Of the million-plus pieces included in the collection are approximately 150,000 artworks from some of the great masters (think Rembrandt, Rubens, and Raphael). While some of these pieces are displayed in museums or otherwise made available for public viewing, many of them hang in royal palaces and estates.

12. QUEEN VICTORIA'S SKETCHBOOK

An engraving of Albert and Victoria in wedding clothes
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In addition to priceless works of art, The Royal Collection also features many personal artifacts from kings and queens past. Among the most impressive: Queen Victoria's sketchbook. (Elizabeth is Queen Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter.)

13. A WINNING TEAM OF RACE HORSES

Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1930 - 2002), and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, riding at Ascot Racecourse, UK, 27th June 1968
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Horses have long been one of the Queen's great passions—though it goes beyond riding them. She's also a savvy investor when it comes to race horses, and is said to have approximately 30 horses in training. As of late 2017, according to Harper's Bazaar, her impressive roster of race horses have earned the Queen close to $9 million over the past three decades with their 451 race wins. Her first victory came in 1949, when Monaveen—a horse she co-owned with her mom—won at Fontwell Park.

14. A $10 MILLION-PLUS CAR COLLECTION

 Queen Elizabeth II, Captain-General of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, oversees a Royal Review from an open-top Range Rover on the occasion of their Tercentenary at Knighton Down on May 26, 2016 in Lark Hill, England
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Given that she served as a truck driver and mechanic during World War II, perhaps it's unsurprising that the Queen is a bit of a gearhead. While she's most often seen tooling around in her beloved Land Rover Defender—she's owned about 30 of them so far—her collection of cars goes way beyond that and is estimated to be worth about $10 million. Among some of the models in her collection: three Rolls-Royces, two Bentleys, and a custom Range Rover LWB Landaulet that features the royal flag and an open-air top (so that she can wave to her adoring public).

15. A TIARA COVERED IN 1333 DIAMONDS

 The Diamond Diadem is displayed in an exhibition in Buckingham Palace celebrating the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty The Queens Coronation on July 25, 2013 in London, England
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Any Queen worth her castle has got a great tiara, but Elizabeth has a lot of them. Among the many pieces of glittering headgear she inherited is the Diamond Diadem, which might be her most famous piece of jewelry. It's set with 1333 diamonds, including a four-carat yellow diamond in the center. While the Queen has worn it to every State Opening of Parliament since 1952, the piece was actually made for George IV to wear at his lavish 1821 coronation.

16. A MASSIVE FABERGÉ COLLECTION

 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are presented with a gold musical Faberge style egg by the Sultan of Oman, before a State Banquet at his Palace on November 26, 2010 in Muscat, Oman
John Stillwell, Pool/Getty Images

While you may be content to amass Beanie Babies or Precious Moments figurines, the Queen has a much more befitting collecting habit: Fabergé eggs and accessories. Also part of the Royal Collection, the collection was started by Queen Alexandra and Edward VII around the turn of the century and is now estimated to include 600 pieces. Many of the pieces have been put on display to the public, including a blue cigarette case that was given to Edward VII by one of his many mistresses, Alice Keppel. Following the king's death, his widow, Queen Alexandra, returned the item to Keppel.

17. WESTMINSTER ABBEY

London's Westminster Abbey
iStock

Westminster Abbey has played an integral part in some of the most important moments in royal history. In addition to being the setting for every coronation since 1066, it's hosted 16 royal weddings and hundreds of royal funerals, memorial services, and beyond. Westminster Abbey is known a "royal peculiar," meaning that it belongs directly to the monarch, not a diocese.

18. HYDE PARK

Italian Gardens at Hyde Park in London
iStock

With so many royal residences to choose from, the Queen is probably set in terms of green space. But if she ever wanted to stretch her legs a bit and mingle with some commoners, she owns some of England's most famous wide-open spaces, including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, The Regent's Park and Primrose Hill, and The Green Park.

19. A GOLD RECORD

 Rod Stewart (L) Ozzy Osbourne (2nd L) sing with Cliff Richard (2nd R) and Paul McCartney (R) sing together during 'Party at the Palace' in London 03 June 2002
ADRIAN DENNIS, AFP/Getty Images

We may never know if the Queen's got vocal chops, but we know that HM is the recipient of at least one gold record. In 2002, the royal family marked Elizabeth's 50th year on the throne with a Golden Jubilee celebration, complete with a star-studded concert dubbed the "Party at the Palace." EMI later released a CD of the concert, which sold 100,000 copies within its first week in release. The Queen was sent a golden record in honor of this achievement, making her the only member of the royal family to earn that rock star accolade.

20. A BAT COLONY

A colony of bats
iStock

The Queen is obviously a devoted animal lover, which might explain why she doesn't mind sharing Balmoral Castle with the colony of bats that has taken up residence in the property's main hall. She apparently likes to catch them with a butterfly net as they dart around her summer home.

8 Surprising Uses for Potatoes

istock
istock

Potatoes are one of the world’s most common, and most beloved, vegetables—and they can be used for much more than just sustenance. In honor of National Potato Day, here are a few other ways to use a potato.

1. WEAR THEM

Potatoes come from a nightshade plant called Solanum tuberosum, which blooms with white, pink, red, blue, or purple flowers. In the late 1700s, in an effort to inspire their starving subjects to plant the newly introduced vegetable—which the Spanish had brought to Europe from the New World—Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair, and her husband King Louis XVI wore them in his buttonholes. This inspired potato flowers to be a favorite of the French nobility for a time, but the ploy didn't work: The lower classes spurned the upper class's efforts to get them to farm the crop. 

2. MAKE ELECTRICITY

If you’re in a lurch, or perhaps a doomsday prepper, start stocking up on potatoes now. With just a few household items—wires, some copper, and a zinc-coated nail—and one of the tubers, you can power a clock, a light bulb, and many other small electronics.

3. GARDEN IN SPACE

In 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown on the space shuttle. Raymond Bula of the University of Wisconsin spearheaded a project in which five Norland variety potato leaves were propagated in space. Bula’s research group monitored this project from Wisconsin, staying in constant contact with NASA, who stayed in contact with the crew on the space shuttle. When the shuttle arrived home, everyone was pleased to find that the potato plants not only survived the ordeal, but actually grew potatoes.

4. GROW ROSES

Gardeners can insert rose cuttings into a potato, and then plant the entire potato as if it were a seed or bulb. The nutrient-rich potato helps provide moisture and sustenance to the growing plant, giving the cutting a better chance to survive.

5. MAKE PLASTIC

Bio-plastics, as they’re called, can be made from corn, wheat, and—you guessed it—potatoes. The concentration of starches and cellulose in a potato can be used to make plastic, and the plastic made out of potatoes can be burned and composted with much less impact on the environment.

6. MEASURE TIME

Peru’s Incas used the potato for all sorts of things at the height of their civilization. Known for creative, forward-thinking agricultural practices, the Incas also studied time—and started using the time it takes to cook a potato to measure time.

7. REMOVE RUST

Have a knife with some rust spots? If you insert the knife into the potato and let it sit for awhile, you'll go a long way in removing the rust. Potatoes naturally contain oxalic acid, which is used in many household cleaning products (in much greater quantities, of course). Oxalic acid also dissolves rust. To attack larger rusted surfaces with a potato, cut it in half, sprinkle baking powder on it or dip it in dish soap, and get to scrubbing.

8. MAIL THEM

Thanks to Mail A Spud, for only $9.99 everyone’s dream of mailing a potato to their closest friends and family can be a reality. The site advertises that it can send potatoes anywhere in the U.S., and that your choice of mailed gift will be sure to delight recipients. And, if not delight, at least confuse ... in a good way.

Additional Sources: Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent

This article originally ran in 2016.

15 Uplifting Facts About the Wright Brothers

Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Before they built the world’s first powered, heavier-than-air, and controllable aircraft, Wilbur and Orville Wright were two ordinary brothers from the Midwest who possessed nothing more than natural talent, ambition, and imagination. In honor of National Aviation Day, here are 15 uplifting facts about the siblings who made human flight possible.

1. A TOY PIQUED THEIR PASSION.

From an early age, Wilbur and Orville Wright were fascinated by flight. They attribute their interest in aviation to a small helicopter toy their father brought back from his travels in France. Fashioned from a stick, two propellers, and rubber bands, the toy was crudely made. Nevertheless, it galvanized their quest to someday make their very own flying machine.

2. THEIR GENIUS WAS GENETIC.

While they were inspired by their father’s toy, the Wright brothers inherited their mechanical savvy from their mother, Susan Koerner Wright. She could reportedly make anything, be it a sled or another toy, by hand.

3. THEY WERE PROUD MIDWESTERNERS.

The Wright brothers spent their formative years in Dayton, Ohio. Later in life, Wilbur said his advice for those seeking success would be to “pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

4. THEY NEVER GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL.

While the Wright brothers were undoubtedly bright, neither of them ever earned his high school diploma. Wilbur became reclusive after suffering a bad hockey injury, and Orville dropped out of school.

5. THEY ONCE PUBLISHED A NEWSPAPER.

Before they were inventors, the Wright brothers were newspaper publishers. When he was 15 years old, Orville launched his own print shop from behind his house and he and Wilber began publishing The West Side News, a small-town neighborhood paper. It eventually became profitable, and Orville moved the fledgling publication to a rented space downtown. In due time, Orville and Wilbur ceased producing The West Side News—which they’d renamed The Evening Item—to focus on other projects.

6. THEY MADE A FORAY INTO THE BICYCLE BUSINESS.

One of these projects was a bike store called the Wright Cycle Company, where Wilbur and Orville fixed clients’ bicycles and sold their own designs. The fledgling business grew into a profitable enterprise, which eventually helped the Wright brothers fund their flight designs.

7. THEY WERE AUTODIDACTS.

The Wright brothers’ lifelong interest in flight peaked after they witnessed a successive series of aeronautical milestones: the gliding flights of German aviator Otto Lilienthal, the flying of an unmanned steam-powered fixed-wing model aircraft by Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley, and the glider test flights of Chicago engineer Octave Chanute. By 1899, Wilbur sat down and wrote to the Smithsonian, asking them to send him literature on aeronatics. He was convinced, he wrote, “that human flight is possible and practical.” Once he received the books, he and Orville began studying the science of flight.

8. THEY CHOSE TO FLY IN KITTY HAWK BECAUSE IT PROVIDED WIND, SOFT SAND, AND PRIVACY.

The Wright brothers began building prototypes and eventually traveled to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1902 to test a full-size, two-winged glider with a moveable rudder. They chose this location thanks in part to their correspondence with Octave Chanute, who advised them in a letter to select a windy place with soft grounds. It was also private, which allowed them to launch their aircrafts with little public interference.

9. THEY ACHIEVED FOUR SUCCESSFUL FLIGHTS WITH THEIR FIRST AIRPLANE DESIGN.

The Wright brothers started testing various wing designs and spent the next few years perfecting their evolving vision for a heavier-than-air flying machine. In the winter of 1903, they returned to Kitty Hawk with their final model, the 1903 Wright Flyer. On December 17, they finally achieved a milestone: four brief flights, one of which lasted for 59 seconds and reached 852 feet.

10. THE 1903 WRIGHT FLYER NEVER TOOK TO THE SKIES AGAIN…

Before the brothers could embark on their final flight, a heavy wind caused the plane to flip several times. Because of the resulting damage, it never flew again. It eventually found a permanent home in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum—even though Orville originally refused to donate it to the institution because it claimed that Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley’s own aircraft experiment was the first machine capable of sustained free flight.

11. …BUT A PIECE OF IT DID GO TO THE MOON.

An astronaut paid homage to the Wright brothers by carrying both a swatch of fabric from the 1903 Flyer’s left wing and a piece of its wooden propeller inside his spacesuit.

12. THE PRESS INITIALLY IGNORED THE KITTY HAWK FLIGHTS.

Despite their monumental achievement, the Dayton Journal didn’t think the Wright brothers’ short flights were important enough to cover. The Virginia Pilot ended up catching wind of the story, however, and they printed an error-ridden account that was picked up by several other papers. Eventually, the Dayton Journal wrote up an official—and accurate—story.

13. THE BROTHERS SHARED A CLOSE BOND...

Although the Wright brothers weren’t twins, they certainly lived like they were. They worked side by side six days a week, and shared the same residence, meals, and bank account. They also enjoyed mutual interests, like music and cooking. Neither brother ever married, either. Orville said it was Wilbur’s job, as the older sibling, to get hitched first. Meanwhile, Wilbur said he “had no time for a wife.” In any case, the two became successful businessmen, scoring aviation contracts both domestically and abroad.

14. …BUT WERE OPPOSITES IN MANY WAYS.

Although they were much alike, each Wright brother was his own person. As the older brother, Wilbur was more serious and taciturn. He possessed a phenomenal memory, and was generally consumed by his thoughts. Meanwhile, Orville was positive, upbeat, and talkative, although very bashful in public. While Wilbur spearheaded the brothers’ business endeavors, they wouldn’t have been possible without Orville’s mechanical—and entrepreneurial—savvy.

15. OHIO AND NORTH CAROLINA FIGHT OVER THEIR LEGACY.

Since the Wright brothers split their experiments between Ohio and North Carolina, both states claim their accomplishments as their own. Ohio calls itself the "Birthplace of Aviation,” although the nickname also stems from the fact that two famed astronauts hail from there as well. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s license plates are emblazoned with the words “First In Flight.”

This article originally ran in 2015.

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