More than 40 years ago, Queen Elizabeth II became the world’s first monarch to send an email – before the Internet was even invented.
The network she was using was called ARPANET; a precursor to the World Wide Web as we know it today. It was set up in 1969 and over the course of the following decade expanded to include networks in multiple locations across the world, all joined up to a larger network; a trans-Atlantic link connected networks in the US to networks in the UK and Norway.
“Peter Kierstein – sometimes referred to as ‘the father of the European Internet’ – was on hand to assist.”
On March 26, 1976, the ARPANET had recently arrived at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern, England, and the Queen was paying a visit to mark the occasion by sending the first ever Royal email.
British computer scientist Peter Kierstein – sometimes referred to as ‘the father of the European Internet’ – was on hand to assist, and set The Queen up with her own email account on the network, and the username HME2 – standing for Her Majesty, Elizabeth II.
The email she then sent was announcing the arrival of a new programming language that had been developed at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, and to that end may sound somewhat cryptic to the uninitiated:
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 email was headed ‘A Message from Her Majesty the Queen’, and signed off with the delightfully informal ‘Elizabeth R.'”
In 1983, the ARPANET became the first network to use the TCP/IP language which, to this day, is the set of rules that computers use to communicate with the Internet. Much like Queen Elizabeth II, the ARPANET was ahead of its time, and ended up playing a significant role in paving the way for a new era in modern communications.
The Queen, for her part, has remained in touch with the digital world throughout her reign, later using email for both more public and personal reasons.
On April 28, 2009, the Queen sent her an email to celebrate 60 years of the Commonwealth, and it was received by 23 young bloggers living in former territories of the British Empire – reaching subjects as far afield as Papua New Guinea, Australia, Canada and Jamaica. The email was headed “A Message from Her Majesty the Queen”, and signed off with the delightfully informal “Elizabeth R.”
Vanity Fair editor Elizabeth Saltzman has even claimed that The Queen once offered up her email address at the end of an enjoyable conversation, before clarifying that she doesn’t actually write any emails she sends herself, but dictates them.
Buckingham Palace has never confirmed whether Her Majesty does in fact have a personal email address, but it has been claimed in the past that she maintains email contact with her grandchildren.
Either way, it seems Queen Elizabeth II knew about emails long before the rest of us did – and in doing so, cemented her reputation as a thoroughly modern monarch.
Feature image by Peter Kirstein