Queen Elizabeth II: Reign and Life

Updated September 14, 2022 | Infoplease Staff
Queen Elizabeth II procession
Source: iStock

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21st, 1926, and died on September 8th, 2022, aged 96. This marks the end of the longest-reigning British monarch and the most popular monarch in any era. It was a reign that endured change in almost every facet of life and witnessed many historic events. Here, we pay tribute to The Queen’s extraordinary life and reign.

How Long Did Queen Elizabeth Reign?

Queen Elizabeth II reigned for a total of 70 years and 214 days. She acceded to the throne aged just 25 in 1952 after the death of her father King George VI.

In mid-June this year, The Queen became the world’s second longest-serving monarch in history (passing Johan II of Liechtenstein). However, she was still just under two years away from beating the longest-reigning monarch, King Louis XIV of France, who reigned for 72 years and 110 days.

Reign of Queen Elizabeth II: Timeline

The Queen’s life was one marked by significant events both within her family and in the outside world.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary: A Queen in Waiting

The future Queen Elizabeth II was third in line to the throne at her birth and few believed that the Princess would become monarch at any time soon. One publication, The Daily Sketch prophetically announced: “A possible Queen of England was born yesterday.”

In her early years, her family did not live a particularly high-profile existence. However, by the time her sister, Princess Margaret, was born three years later, Elizabeth already had a waxwork of her likeness in the Madame Tussauds gallery. However, her fortunes were to change dramatically in 1936.

Edward VIII (her father’s brother) announced his abdication in 1936, when it became clear that he could not marry his twice-divorced partner Wallis Simpson while remaining as king. Suddenly, with Elizabeth’s reluctant father Bertie next in line (and her next after him), her future destiny was approaching quickly.

World War Two and the Royals

As a teenager, Princess Elizabeth spent World War Two safe from anything approaching conflict or action. However, she made her own contributions to the war effort with a radio broadcast on the BBC radio program Children’s Hour that became a best-selling record!

During this period, Elizabeth was aware that her contemporaries were far more involved in war work. Consequently, she was allowed to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service and take a course in vehicle maintenance - allowing her at least some freedom and involvement in the effort. She trained as a driver and mechanic, and five months later was promoted to Junior Commander (the equivalent of Captain).

Elizabeth and sister Margaret did, however, celebrate V-E Day among their subjects. They, with several ladies-in-waiting, snuck out of Buckingham Palace and joined the celebrations in Central London without being recognized; possibly the only time in her life she was ever able to do so.

Royal Family Matters

Princess Elizabeth was a mere 13 years old when she first encountered her future husband Prince Philip at a visit to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in 1939. Philip was a young cadet at the college and had been asked by uncle Lord Louis ('Dickie') Mountbatten to entertain Elizabeth and Margaret for the afternoon. Elizabeth was smitten from that first meeting however they did not formally begin courting until many years later.

Philip proposed at the royal home of Balmoral in Scotland in 1946 but the engagement was not formally announced until the following spring. Philip, born in Greece, had by that time become a naturalized British citizen and was named Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN.

Philip was not a popular figure among palace courtiers at the time and was considered “rough, ill-mannered, uneducated and would probably not be faithful”. Nevertheless, before the marriage, he was granted the title of Duke of Edinburgh.

The couple married on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey and honeymooned in both Hampshire (at the Mountbattens’ Broadlands home) and Balmoral taking The Queen’s corgi Susan with them. After a short stay at a rented home in Surrey, they moved first to Kensington Palace in London, then Buckingham Palace before finally moving into Clarence House.

The Queen fell pregnant three months after they married and Prince Charles was born on November 14, 1948. Despite her being smitten with him, The Queen was apart from her firstborn in the early days; spending a lot of time in Malta where Philip was stationed. In fact, Charles spent his second Christmas at home with his grandparents while his parents stayed in Malta.

It was while in Malta that The Queen fell pregnant for a second time and a daughter, Princess Anne, was born on August 15, 1950, in Clarence House.

The Queen of Britain

The Queen and Prince Philip’s return to Britain from Malta was prompted by her father’s failing health. He was suffering from lung cancer and - despite a successful operation to have a lung removed – doctors believed that he did not have long to live.

George VI died in his sleep on February 6, 1952, while the Queen was on a tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Kenya. In days of limited telecommunications, the news took several hours to reach the Queen, and Philip was tasked with informing his wife and they immediately flew home. However, this was not before the Queen sat at her desk and wrote numerous letters of apology for the cancellation of the tour.

Elizabeth was 25 in June 1953 when she was crowned Queen. Philip’s naval career came to an end, and it was also decided that the family name would remain Windsor (rather than his own Mountbatten). This caused him to remark, “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his children.”

The Queen dealt with 15 Prime Ministers during her reign; the first of which was the great Winston Churchill who became a dear friend. Their weekly half-hour meetings would often extend to hours. The Queen was fastidious in keeping up to date with affairs of state and many prime ministers were caught out by her superior knowledge of such matters on numerous occasions.

The Queen, ever dedicated to her role as head of the Commonwealth, spent most of the 1950s and 1960s visiting countless overseas territories; some of which had not been visited for over half a century. Finally, after a few years of trying for more children, Prince Andrew was born in February 1960 and Prince Edward followed in March 1964.

Her popularity never waned over the years and the Silver Jubilee in 1977 led to mass celebrations with street parties, firework displays, and a huge wave of patriotism swept Great Britain which surprised the Queen herself. This was shortly followed in 1979 by the introduction of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, into power.

The Queen and Mrs. Thatcher were very different people; one a lover of the countryside and all its wonders, the other a suburbanite with little time for country pursuits. They disagreed on many issues (The Commonwealth, apartheid-era South Africa, etc) although there was a great degree of respect for one another.

Annus Horribilis: 1992

1992 was a year to forget for the Queen and the Royal Family. On November 20 (the Queen and Prince Philip’s 45th wedding anniversary), a fire broke out at Windsor Castle after a curtain caught fire. Millions of pounds of damage were caused, and the Queen was deeply upset to see her childhood home in such a state.

In December Prince Charles and his wife, Princess Diana, legally separated after 11 years of marriage. It was a marriage that lived in the glare of the media spotlight and a mismatch from day one.

Other events in 1992 included Princess Anne divorcing Captain Mark Phillips and the separation of the Duke and Duchess of York (Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson) with the duchess being photographed in an intimate situation with her "financial advisor", as well as the recording of a telephone conversation between Princess Diana and her lover James Gilbey.

In the Queen’s own words, “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure…it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”

The Queen, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana’s Death

The wedding of Charles Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 had the hallmarks of a fairytale. Their first child, Prince William, arrived in 1982 with Prince Harry following in 1984.

However, it became clear quite quickly that they were incompatible as a couple. Diana quickly became a beloved public figure and Charles resented being pushed into the background. To add further complication, Charles continued a clandestine relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (the future Queen Consort), despite their both being married.

As Charles and Diana’s marriage deteriorated, it was clear that lines were drawn within the family. Diana had little in common with the Queen; however, it was the Duke of Edinburgh who became an intermediary between the two and corresponded with Diana for a period.

Diana Princess of Wales became an increasingly isolated figure in the royal family and appeared in an infamous BBC interview in 1996 detailing the dysfunctional nature of her and Charles’s relationship along with her own personal troubles. This isolated her further and, in 1997, she died in a car crash in Paris while attempting to escape the press.

The week following Diana’s death saw an outpouring of national grief rarely seen before. The royal family remained in Balmoral while also remaining silent. However, this silence did not go down well with the public and the Queen was finally persuaded to return to London the day before the funeral. Despite her anxiety about meeting the grieving public, both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were received positively.

That evening, the Queen addressed the nation in a sincere and heartfelt manner which earned her back the respect which she had been in danger of losing.

The Queen's Jubilees and a Landmark Reign

The Queen saw numerous landmark celebrations throughout her reign. The longest-reigning monarch in British history before her, Queen Victoria, had celebrated Silver (25 years), Golden (50 years) and Diamond Jubilee (60 years) on the throne.

However, the Queen surpassed Queen Victoria’s reign in 2015 by celebrating a Sapphire Jubilee of 65 years, as well as her final landmark Platinum Jubilee (marking 70 years) in 2022.

The Queen and COVID-19

Despite her advancing years, the Queen was not isolated from troubles in the outside world. She spent most of the coronavirus pandemic in Windsor Castle with Philip. However, her addresses to the nation with the message of "we will meet again" gave people great strength. In addition, she received her jabs and keenly encouraged others to do the same.

Closer to home, the family continued to cause the Queen dismay. Prince Andrew’s relationship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was a huge embarrassment for her and the family. In addition, the decision of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan to leave royal duties and move to the USA also caused her great heartache.

Queen Elizabeth: Death of a Monarch

Prince Philip’s death in April 2021 after 73 years of marriage was a huge loss. The sight of the Queen sitting alone at his socially-distanced funeral provoked widespread sympathy. Her mobility continued to decline and her non-appearance at various Platinum Jubilee events was evidence of this.

Her last public appearance was to greet the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, two days before her death. News about her declining health spread quickly and she passed away quietly at Balmoral castle where she had always found great peace. Her death was posted at the gates of Buckingham Palace and crowds quickly gathered to mourn her passing.

On her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth made a radio broadcast to Commonwealth which encapsulated her approach to her role: “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 never wavered from that promise from then until her death.

King Charles III: Succession and Progression

The United Kingdom has now left the Elizabethan era and is now entering the Carolean era. This is an era that has not been seen for over two hundred years. The new King has promised to follow his mother’s “inspiring example” citing her reign as being “unequaled in its dedication, duration, and devotion”.

Despite the loss felt by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, her family is sure to use her life as a template for how to lead with honor, grace, and respect.

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