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Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary; 21 April 1926 – 8 September 2022) was Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms from 6 February 1952 until her death in 2022. She was queen regnant of 32 sovereign states over the course of her lifetime and remained the monarch of 15 realms by the time of her death. Her reign of over 70 years is the longest of any British monarch, the longest of any female monarch, and the second longest verified reign of any monarch of a sovereign state in history.
|Head of the Commonwealth
|Queen of the United Kingdom
and other Commonwealth realms
|6 February 1952 – 8 September 2022
|2 June 1953
|Princess Elizabeth of York
(1926-04-21)21 April 1926
Mayfair, London, England
|8 September 2022(2022-09-08) (aged 96)
Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
|19 September 2022
King George VI Memorial Chapel, St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
(m. 1947; died 2021)
Elizabeth was born in Mayfair, London, during the reign of her paternal grandfather, King George V. She was the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother). Her father acceded to the throne in 1936 upon the abdication of his brother Edward VIII, making the ten-year-old Princess Elizabeth the heir presumptive. She was educated privately at home and began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In November 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark, and their marriage lasted 73 years until his death in 2021. They had four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward.
When her father died in February 1952, Elizabeth—then 25 years old—became queen of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (known today as Sri Lanka), as well as head of the Commonwealth. Elizabeth reigned as a constitutional monarch through major political changes such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland, devolution in the United Kingdom, the decolonisation of Africa, and the United Kingdom's accession to the European Communities, as well as its subsequent withdrawal. The number of her realms varied over time as territories gained independence and some realms became republics. As queen, Elizabeth was served by more than 170 prime ministers across her realms. Her many historic visits and meetings included state visits to China in 1986, to Russia in 1994, and to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, and meetings with five popes and fourteen US presidents.
Significant events included Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 and the celebrations of her Silver, Golden, Diamond, and Platinum jubilees in 1977, 2002, 2012, and 2022, respectively. Although she faced occasional republican sentiment and media criticism of her family—particularly after the breakdowns of her children's marriages, her annus horribilis in 1992, and the death in 1997 of her former daughter-in-law Diana—support for the monarchy in the United Kingdom remained consistently high throughout her lifetime, as did her personal popularity. Elizabeth died aged 96 at Balmoral Castle in September 2022, and was succeeded by her eldest son, Charles III.
Elizabeth was born on 21 April 1926, the first child of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), and his wife, Elizabeth, Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother). Her father was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary, and her mother was the youngest daughter of Scottish aristocrat Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. She was delivered at 02:40 (GMT) by Caesarean section at her maternal grandfather's London home, 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair. The Anglican Archbishop of York, Cosmo Gordon Lang, baptised her in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 29 May, and she was named Elizabeth after her mother; Alexandra after her paternal great-grandmother, who had died six months earlier; and Mary after her paternal grandmother. She was called "Lilibet" by her close family, based on what she called herself at first. She was cherished by her grandfather George V, whom she affectionately called "Grandpa England", and her regular visits during his serious illness in 1929 were credited in the popular press and by later biographers with raising his spirits and aiding his recovery.
Elizabeth's only sibling, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930. The two princesses were educated at home under the supervision of their mother and their governess, Marion Crawford. Lessons concentrated on history, language, literature, and music. Crawford published a biography of Elizabeth and Margaret's childhood years entitled The Little Princesses in 1950, much to the dismay of the royal family. The book describes Elizabeth's love of horses and dogs, her orderliness, and her attitude of responsibility. Others echoed such observations: Winston Churchill described Elizabeth when she was two as "a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant." Her cousin Margaret Rhodes described her as "a jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well-behaved". Elizabeth's early life was spent primarily at the Yorks' residences at 145 Piccadilly (their town house in London) and Royal Lodge in Windsor.
During her grandfather's reign, Elizabeth was third in the line of succession to the British throne, behind her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales, and her father. Although her birth generated public interest, she was not expected to become queen, as Edward was still young and likely to marry and have children of his own, who would precede Elizabeth in the line of succession. When her grandfather died in 1936 and her uncle succeeded as Edward VIII, she became second in line to the throne, after her father. Later that year, Edward abdicated, after his proposed marriage to divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson provoked a constitutional crisis. Consequently, Elizabeth's father became king, taking the regnal name George VI. Since Elizabeth had no brothers, she became heir presumptive. If her parents had subsequently had a son, he would have been heir apparent and above her in the line of succession, which was determined by the male-preference primogeniture in effect at the time.
Elizabeth received private tuition in constitutional history from Henry Marten, Vice-Provost of Eton College, and learned French from a succession of native-speaking governesses. A Girl Guides company, the 1st Buckingham Palace Company, was formed specifically so she could socialise with girls her age. Later, she was enrolled as a Sea Ranger.
In 1939, Elizabeth's parents toured Canada and the United States. As in 1927, when they had toured Australia and New Zealand, Elizabeth remained in Britain since her father thought she was too young to undertake public tours. She "looked tearful" as her parents departed. They corresponded regularly, and she and her parents made the first royal transatlantic telephone call on 18 May.
Second World War
In September 1939, Britain entered the Second World War. Lord Hailsham suggested that Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret should be evacuated to Canada to avoid the frequent aerial bombings of London by the Luftwaffe. This was rejected by their mother, who declared, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave." The princesses stayed at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, until Christmas 1939, when they moved to Sandringham House, Norfolk. From February to May 1940, they lived at Royal Lodge, Windsor, until moving to Windsor Castle, where they lived for most of the next five years. At Windsor, the princesses staged pantomimes at Christmas in aid of the Queen's Wool Fund, which bought yarn to knit into military garments. In 1940, the 14-year-old Elizabeth made her first radio broadcast during the BBC's Children's Hour, addressing other children who had been evacuated from the cities. She stated: "We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers, and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well."
In 1943, Elizabeth undertook her first solo public appearance on a visit to the Grenadier Guards, of which she had been appointed colonel the previous year. As she approached her 18th birthday, Parliament changed the law so that she could act as one of five counsellors of state in the event of her father's incapacity or absence abroad, such as his visit to Italy in July 1944. In February 1945, she was appointed an honorary second subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service with the service number 230873. She trained as a driver and mechanic and was given the rank of honorary junior commander (female equivalent of captain at the time) five months later.
At the end of the war in Europe, on Victory in Europe Day, Elizabeth and Margaret mingled incognito with the celebrating crowds in the streets of London. Elizabeth later said in a rare interview, "We asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves. I remember we were terrified of being recognised ... I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief."
During the war, plans were drawn to quell Welsh nationalism by affiliating Elizabeth more closely with Wales. Proposals, such as appointing her Constable of Caernarfon Castle or a patron of Urdd Gobaith Cymru (the Welsh League of Youth), were abandoned for several reasons, including fear of associating Elizabeth with conscientious objectors in the Urdd at a time when Britain was at war. Welsh politicians suggested she be made Princess of Wales on her 18th birthday. Home Secretary Herbert Morrison supported the idea, but the King rejected it because he felt such a title belonged solely to the wife of a Prince of Wales and the Prince of Wales had always been the heir apparent. In 1946, she was inducted into the Gorsedd of Bards at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.
Elizabeth went on her first overseas tour in 1947, accompanying her parents through southern Africa. During the tour, in a broadcast to the British Commonwealth on her 21st birthday, she made the following pledge:
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. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.
Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, in 1934 and again in 1937. They were second cousins once removed through King Christian IX of Denmark and third cousins through Queen Victoria. After meeting for the third time at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in July 1939, Elizabeth—though only 13 years old—said she fell in love with Philip, who was 18, and they began to exchange letters. She was 21 when their engagement was officially announced on 9 July 1947.
The engagement attracted some controversy. Philip had no financial standing, was foreign-born (though a British subject who had served in the Royal Navy throughout the Second World War), and had sisters who had married German noblemen with Nazi links. Marion Crawford wrote, "Some of the King's advisors did not think him good enough for her. He was a prince without a home or kingdom. Some of the papers played long and loud tunes on the string of Philip's foreign origin." Later biographies reported that Elizabeth's mother had reservations about the union initially and teased Philip as "the Hun". In later life, however, she told the biographer Tim Heald that Philip was "an English gentleman".
Before the marriage, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles, officially converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Anglicanism, and adopted the style Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, taking the surname of his mother's British family. Shortly before the wedding, he was created Duke of Edinburgh and granted the style His Royal Highness. Elizabeth and Philip were married on 20 November 1947 at Westminster Abbey. They received 2,500 wedding gifts from around the world. Elizabeth required ration coupons to buy the material for her gown (which was designed by Norman Hartnell) because Britain had not yet completely recovered from the devastation of the war. In post-war Britain, it was not acceptable for Philip's German relations, including his three surviving sisters, to be invited to the wedding. Neither was an invitation extended to the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII.
Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, Prince Charles, in November 1948. One month earlier, the King had issued letters patent allowing her children to use the style and title of a royal prince or princess, to which they otherwise would not have been entitled as their father was no longer a royal prince. A second child, Princess Anne, was born in August 1950.
Following their wedding, the couple leased Windlesham Moor, near Windsor Castle, until July 1949, when they took up residence at Clarence House in London. At various times between 1949 and 1951, Philip was stationed in the British Crown Colony of Malta as a serving Royal Navy officer. He and Elizabeth lived intermittently in Malta for several months at a time in the hamlet of Gwardamanġa, at Villa Guardamangia, the rented home of Philip's uncle Lord Mountbatten. Their two children remained in Britain.