Queen Elizabeth II: 1926—2022
ELIZABETH ALEXANDRA MARY WINDSOR was born on April 21, 1926, during the reign of her grandfather, King George V. She died peacefully at Balmoral Castle in Scotland at age 96 on September 8, 2022 after having recently celebrated 70 years on the throne. She was the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch.
Although the Queen shared a name with Elizabeth I they are not related. Elizabeth I was the last of the Tudor royal line, whereas the Elizabeth II is of the Windsor family.
When King George V died in 1936, his son David took the throne as King Edward VIII, only to renounce it within a year to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Consequently he abdicated and brother Albert was proclaimed King George VI. Upon his sudden death in 1952, he was succeeded by his elder daughter, Elizabeth II.
In 1945, after months of pleading with her father, 18-year-old Elizabeth joined the war effort. She trained as a driver and mechanic in the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, becoming the first female member of Britain’s royal family to serve as a full-time active member of the armed forces.
In 1947, 21-year-old Elizabeth married the man she had fallen in love with when she was 13: Greek-born British naval officer Philip Mountbatten, a distant cousin. Two years later, they moved to Malta, where Philip was stationed with the British Navy. Royal observers have thought that these were some of the happiest years of her life. In Malta she was able to drive her own car and mingle with other officers’ wives without the layers of security and protocol that have defined her reign.
Philip died in April of 2021, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday. He and Elizabeth were married for more than 73 years, and the Queen often spoke of Philip as her “strength and stay.”
Elizabeth’s coronation took place on June 2, 1953, coming to the throne as a 25-year-old mother-of-two. Winston Churchill was the first of 15 prime ministers to serve under her. She met every U.S. president during her time as Queen except Lyndon Johnson.
The vast majority of Britons have never known another monarch, and she was overwhelmingly popular until her death. But it was never easy. As a leader she was authentic and a stabilizing force leading Britain through its reinvention after World War II. She enthusiastically enabled a community of nations as the Empire came to an end and bridged the gap between past and present. Through tragedies and triumphs, she kept calm and carried on.
She was a servant first and foremost. In a broadcast on her 21st birthday on April 21, 1947, she defined what it meant to be a monarch. She said, “Now that we are coming to manhood and womanhood it is surely a great joy to us all to think we shall be able to take some of the burden off the shoulders of our elders who have fought and worked and suffered to protect our childhood.” And she pledged that “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” She kept her word.
“Criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life. No institution — City, Monarchy, whatever — should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t.
“But we are all part of the same fabric of our national society and that scrutiny, by one part of another, can be just as effective if it is made with a touch of gentleness, good humor and understanding.”
—Speech November 24, 1992
“All too often, I fear, Prince Philip has had to listen to me speaking. Frequently we have discussed my intended speech beforehand and, as you will imagine, his views have been expressed in a forthright manner. He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”
—On the death of Prince Philip: April 9, 2021
“I continue to be inspired by the goodwill shown to me,” she said, adding, “and hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last seventy years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm.”
—Celebration of her Platinum Jubilee: February 6, 2022
“It’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”
—Queen Elizabeth II
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