Elizabeth II 

Elizabeth II, in full Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, officially Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, (born April 21, 1926, London, England—died September 8, 2022, Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland), queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from February 6, 1952, to September 8, 2022. In 2015 she surpassed Victoria to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history. 

 Early life 

Elizabeth was the elder daughter of Prince Albert, duke of York, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. As the child of a younger son of King George V, the young Elizabeth had little prospect of acceding to the throne until her uncle, Edward VIII (afterward duke of Windsor), abdicated in her father’s favour on December 11, 1936, at which time her father became King George VI and she became heir presumptive. The princess’s education was supervised by her mother, who entrusted her daughters to a governess, Marion Crawford; the princess was also grounded in history by C.H.K. Marten, afterward provost of Eton College, and had instruction from visiting teachers in music and languages. During World War II she and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, perforce spent much of their time safely away from the London blitz and separated from their parents, living mostly at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, and Windsor Castle. 

Accession to the throne 

In the summer of 1951 the health of King George VI entered into a serious decline, and Princess Elizabeth represented him at the Trooping the Colour and on various other state occasions. On October 7 she and her husband set out on a highly successful tour of Canada and Washington, D.C. After Christmas in England she and the duke set out in January 1952 for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, but en route, at Sagana, Kenya, news reached them of the king’s death on February 6, 1952. Elizabeth, now queen, at once flew back to England. The first three months of her reign, the period of full mourning for her father, were passed in comparative seclusion. But in the summer, after she had moved from Clarence House to Buckingham Palace, she undertook the routine duties of the sovereign and carried out her first state opening of Parliament on November 4, 1952. Her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. 

The modern monarchy 

The queen seemed increasingly aware of the modern role of the monarchy, allowing, for example, the televising of the royal family’s domestic life in 1970 and condoning the formal dissolution of her sister’s marriage in 1978. In the 1990s, however, the royal family faced a number of challenges. In 1992, a year that Elizabeth referred to as the royal family’s annus horribilis, Prince Charles and his wife, Diana, princess of Wales, separated, as did Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah, duchess of York. Moreover, Anne divorced, and a fire gutted the royal residence of Windsor Castle. In addition, as the country struggled with a recession, resentment over the royals’ lifestyle mounted, and in 1992 Elizabeth, although personally exempt, agreed to pay taxes on her private income. The separation and later divorce (1996) of Charles and the immensely popular Diana further eroded support for the royal family, which was viewed by some as antiquated and unfeeling. The criticism intensified following Diana’s death in 1997, especially after Elizabeth initially refused to allow the national flag to fly at half-staff over Buckingham Palace. In line with her earlier attempts at modernizing the monarchy, the queen subsequently sought to present a less-stuffy and less-traditional image of the monarchy. These attempts were met with mixed success. 

In 2002 Elizabeth celebrated her 50th year on the throne. As part of her “Golden Jubilee,” events were held throughout the Commonwealth, including several days of festivities in London. The celebrations were somewhat diminished by the deaths of Elizabeth’s mother and sister early in the year. Beginning in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century, the public standing of the royal family rebounded, and even Charles’s 2005 marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles found much support among the British people. In April 2011 Elizabeth led the family in celebrating the wedding of Prince William of Wales—the elder son of Charles and Diana—and Catherine Middleton. The following month she surpassed George III to become the second longest-reigning monarch in British history, behind Victoria. Also in May, Elizabeth made a historic trip to Ireland, becoming both the first British monarch to visit the Irish republic and the first to set foot in Ireland since 1911. In 2012 Elizabeth celebrated her “Diamond Jubilee,” marking 60 years on the throne. On September 9, 2015, she surpassed Victoria’s record reign of 63 years and 216 days. 

In August 2017 Prince Philip officially retired from public life, though he periodically appeared at official engagements after that. In the meantime, Elizabeth began to reduce her own official engagements, passing some duties on to Prince Charles and other senior members of the royal family, though the pool of stand-ins shrank when Charles’s younger son, Prince Harry, duke of Sussex, and his wife, Meghan, duchess of Sussex, controversially chose to give up their royal roles in March 2020. During this period, public interest in the queen and the royal family grew as a result of the widespread popularity of The Crown, a Netflix television series about the Windsors that debuted in 2016. Having dealt with several physical setbacks in recent years, Philip, who had been Elizabeth’s husband for more than seven decades, died in April 2021. On their 50th wedding anniversary, in 1997, Elizabeth had said of Philip, “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.” Because of social-distancing protocols brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the queen sat alone in a choir stall in St. George’s Chapel (in Windsor Castle) at Philip’s funeral. The widely disseminated images of her tragic isolation were heartbreaking but emblematic of the dignity and courage that she brought to her reign. In June 2022 Britain celebrated Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne with the “Platinum Jubilee,” a four-day national holiday that included the Trooping the Colour ceremony, a thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a  pop music concert at Buckingham Palace, and a pageant that employed street arts, theatre, music, circus, carnival, and costume to honour the queen’s reign. Health issues limited Elizabeth’s involvement. Concerns about the queen’s health also led to a break in tradition when, in September, she appointed Boris Johnson’s replacement as prime minister, Liz Truss, at Balmoral rather than at Buckingham Palace, where she had formally appointed more than a dozen prime ministers. 

Just days later, on September 8, Elizabeth’s death, at age 96, shocked Britain and the world. Prince Charles succeeded her on the throne as King Charles III. Ten days of national commemoration of her life and legacy—long planned as “Operation London Bridge”—followed. Notably, the queen lay in state for a day in St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and then for three days in Westminster Hall in London, outside of which mourners stood in a line that stretched for miles, in some cases waiting for more than 24 hours to view Elizabeth’s casket. Her sombre funeral ceremony in Westminster Abbey on September 19 was attended by an estimated 100 heads of foreign governments. Following a procession to Wellington Arch, during which Big Ben tolled, the queen’s casket was borne by hearse to her final resting place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. 

Elizabeth was known to favour simplicity in court life and was also known to take a serious and informed interest in government business, aside from the traditional and ceremonial duties. Privately, she became a keen horsewoman; she kept racehorses, frequently attended races, and periodically visited the Kentucky stud farms in the United States. Her financial and property holdings made her one of the world’s richest women. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *