The Life of Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain was the longest-reigning monarch in British history. She celebrated 70 years on the throne in June 2022 with her Platinum Jubilee.
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Who Was Queen Elizabeth II?
Queen Elizabeth II became queen on February 6, 1952, and was crowned on June 2, 1953. She was the mother of Prince Charles, heir to the throne, as well as the grandmother of Princes William and Harry. As the longest-serving monarch in British history, she tried to make her reign more modern and sensitive to a changing public while maintaining traditions associated with the crown.
Elizabeth died on September 8, 2022, at age 96.
At the time of her birth, most people did not realize Elizabeth would someday become the queen of Great Britain. Elizabeth, nicknamed Lilibet, got to enjoy the first decade of her life with all the privileges of being a royal without the pressures of being the heir apparent.
Elizabeth’s father and mother divided their time between a home in London and Royal Lodge, the family’s home on the grounds of Windsor Great Park. Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret were educated at home by tutors. Academic courses included French, mathematics and history, along with dancing, singing and art lessons.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Elizabeth and her sister largely stayed out of London, having been relocated to Windsor Castle. From there she made the first of her famous radio broadcasts in 1940, with this particular speech reassuring the children of Britain who had been evacuated from their homes and families. The 14-year-old princess, showing her calm and firm personality, told them “that in the end, all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace.”
Elizabeth soon started taking on other public duties. Appointed colonel-in-chief of the Grenadier Guards by her father, Elizabeth made her first public appearance inspecting the troops in 1942. She also began to accompany her parents on official visits within Britain.
Ascension to the Crown
When Elizabeth’s grandfather George V died in 1936, his eldest son (Elizabeth’s uncle) became King Edward VIII. Edward, however, was in love with American divorcée Wallis Simpson and had to choose between the crown and his heart. In the end, Edward chose Simpson and abdicated the crown.
The event changed the course of her life, making her the heir presumptive to the British crown. Her father was crowned King George VI in 1937, taking on the name George to emphasize continuity with his father. Her mother became Queen Elizabeth; on King George’s death in 1952, she became Queen Mother and her daughter became Queen Elizabeth II.
Elizabeth married her distant cousin Philip Mountbatten (a surname adopted from his mother’s side) on November 20, 1947, at London’s Westminster Abbey.
Elizabeth first met Philip, son of Prince Andrew of Greece, when she was only 13. She was smitten with him from the start. The two kept in touch over the years and eventually fell in love.
They made an unusual pair. Elizabeth was quiet and reserved while Philip was boisterous and outspoken. Her father, King George VI, was hesitant about the match because, while Mountbatten had ties to both the Danish and Greek royal families, he didn’t possess great wealth and was considered by some to have a rough personality.
At the time of their wedding, Great Britain was still recovering from the ravages of World War II, and Elizabeth collected clothing coupons to get fabric for her gown.
The family took on the name Windsor, a move pushed by her mother and Prime Minister Winston Churchill which caused tension with her husband. In 1960, she reversed course, issuing orders that her descendants who did not carry royal titles (or needed last names for legal purposes such as weddings) would use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor. Over the years, Philip inspired numerous public relations headaches with his off-the-cuff, controversial comments and rumors of possible infidelities.
Philip died on April 9, 2021, at age 99.
Elizabeth and Philip wasted no time in producing an heir: Son Charles was born in 1948, the year after their wedding, and daughter Anne arrived in 1950. Elizabeth had two more children—sons Andrew and Edward—in 1960 and 1964, respectively.
In 1969, she officially made Charles her successor by granting him the title of Prince of Wales. Hundreds of millions of people tuned in to see the ceremony on television.
In 1981 32-year-old Charles wed 19-year-old Diana Spencer (best known as Princess Diana), with later rumors surfacing that he was pressured into the marriage by his family. The wedding drew enormous crowds in the streets of London and millions watched the proceedings on television. Public opinion of the monarchy was especially strong at that time.
Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren
Charles and Diana gave birth to Elizabeth’s grandsons Prince William, who was created Duke of Cambridge upon his own marriage in 2011, second-in-line to the throne, in 1982, and Prince Harry in 1984. Elizabeth has emerged as a devoted grandmother to William and Harry. Prince William has said that she offered invaluable support and guidance as he and Kate Middleton planned their 2011 wedding.
On July 22, 2013, Elizabeth’s grandson William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, welcomed their first child, George Alexander Louis—a successor to the throne known officially as “His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.”
On May 2, 2015, William and Kate welcomed their second child, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the queen’s fifth great-grandchild. On April 23, 2018, they followed with their third child, Prince Louis Arthur Charles.
Elizabeth’s long and mainly peaceful reign was marked by vast changes in her people’s lives, in her country’s power, how Britain is viewed abroad and how the monarchy is regarded and portrayed. As a constitutional monarch, Elizabeth did not weigh in on political matters, nor did she reveal her political views. However, she confers regularly with her prime ministers.
When Elizabeth became queen, post-war Britain still had a substantial empire, dominions and dependencies. However, during the 1950s and 1960s, many of these possessions achieved independence and the British Empire evolved into the Commonwealth of Nations. Elizabeth II thus made visits to other countries as head of the Commonwealth and a representative of Britain, including a groundbreaking trip to Germany in 1965. She became the first British monarch to make a state visit there in more than five decades.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Elizabeth continued to travel extensively. In 1973 she attended the Commonwealth Conference in Ottawa, Canada, and in 1976 traveled to the United States for the 200th-anniversary celebration of America’s independence from Britain. More than a week later she was in Montreal, Canada, to open the Summer Olympics. In 1979, she traveled to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, which garnered international attention and widespread respect.
In 1982, Elizabeth worried about her second son, Prince Andrew, who served as a helicopter pilot in the British Royal Navy during the Falklands War. Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, a clash that lasted for several weeks. While more than 250 British soldiers died in the conflict, Prince Andrew returned home safe and well, much to his mother’s relief.
As queen, Elizabeth modernized the monarchy, dropping some of its formalities and making certain sites and treasures more accessible to the public. As Britain and other nations struggled financially, Britain abolished the Civil List in 2012, which was a public funding system of the monarchy dating back roughly 250 years. The royal family continues to receive some government support, but the queen cut back on spending.
Despite the occasional call to step aside for Charles, Elizabeth remained steadfast in her royal obligations as she passed her 90th birthday. She continued making more than 400 engagements per year, maintaining her support of hundreds of charitable organizations and programs.
Relationship With Prime Ministers
Elizabeth had 15 prime ministers placed into power during her reign, with queen and PM having a weekly, confidential meeting. (Elizabeth also met about a quarter of all the U.S. presidents in history, most recently receiving Joe Biden for a state visit in June 2021.)
She enjoyed a father-figure relationship with the iconic Winston Churchill and was later able to loosen up a bit and be somewhat informal with Labor leaders Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. In contrast, she and Margaret Thatcher had a very formal, distant relationship, with the PM tending to be a grating lecturer to the queen on a variety of issues.
After the start of the 21st century, Elizabeth experienced two great losses. She said goodbye to both her sister Margaret and her mother in 2002, the same year she celebrated her Golden Jubilee or 50th year on the throne.
Margaret, known for being more of an adventurous soul than other royals and who was barred from marrying an early love, died in February after suffering a stroke. Only a few weeks later, Elizabeth’s mother, known as the Queen Mother, died at Royal Lodge on March 30th at the age of 101.
Elizabeth celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, marking 60 years as queen. As part of the jubilee festivities, a special BBC concert was held on June 4th featuring the likes of Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Stevie Wonder and Kylie Minogue. Elizabeth was surrounded by family at this historic event, including her husband Philip, son Charles and grandsons Harry and William.
On September 9, 2015, she surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest-ruling monarch, who reigned for 63 years.