As the dreadful news of The Queen’s passing reached us, we look back at the incredible life of the longest-reigning British monarch.
The future Queen Elizabeth II was born at 2.40 am on 21 April 1926 as the daughter of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and the future King George VI, then the Duke and Duchess of York, by caesarean. At the time, her uncle, the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VIII, was still young and expected to marry and produce heirs. On 21 August 1930, her sister Princess Margaret Rose was born, and Elizabeth became a proud big sister.
On 20 January 1936, Elizabeth’s grandfather King George V died and was succeeded by her uncle, now King Edward VIII. By then, he was already well into his relationship with Wallis Simpson, for whom he would give up the throne by the end of the year. On 10 December, all the brothers came together for the signing of the abdication document. Elizabeth’s father was now King George VI, and Elizabeth was first in the line of succession. She was now the most famous child in the world. Shortly after her 12th birthday, Elizabeth became the President of the Children’s League of the Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children, a move to give her more responsibilities.
The year 1939 saw Elizabeth taking her education a different course – she began lessons in constitutional history twice a week with the Vice Provost of Eton College. It was also the year Elizabeth fell in love with her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece, whom she met during a visit to the Royal Naval College, where the 18-year-old Prince was enrolled. But, for now, love would have to wait because a war was looming. Her 18th birthday in 1944 meant that she could now act as a Counsellor of State, which enabled her to carry out state business if the need were to arise.
In early 1945, Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), where she learned the theory and practice of mechanics. Then, at last, came Victory in Europe. The family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with the King in his naval uniform and Elizabeth in her ATS uniform. Margaret and Elizabeth were later allowed to join the crowds in the care of some officers. On her 21st birthday, she spoke the now-famous words, “I declare before you 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.”
On 9 July 1947, the engagement between Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten was announced. Shortly before the wedding, Elizabeth’s father bestowed a number of titles on his future son-in-law. He was to be the Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich and should be addressed as “His Royal Highness.” On 20 November 1947, Elizabeth and Philip were married at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth wore a dress by Norman Hartnell of pearl-and-crystal-encrusted ivory silk satin with a 15-foot train. After the hour-long service, Elizabeth emerged as Duchess of Edinburgh and the newlyweds were driven to Buckingham Palace in the Glass Coach.
After their honeymoon, they took up residence in Clarence House. Elizabeth soon found herself pregnant with her first child. On 14 November 1948 – not even a year after their wedding – Elizabeth gave birth to a son named Charles. Philip was determined to have a career in the navy, and he had been taking courses at the Naval Staff College at Greenwich. He took up active service in October 1949 and became based in Malta, and Elizabeth joined him there. In 1950, she was pregnant once more, and on 9 May, she flew back to London to resume some of her royal duties. On 15 August 1950, Elizabeth gave birth to her second child – a daughter named Anne.
However, as her father’s health deteriorated, Elizabeth was called upon more than ever to stand in for her father when he was too sick to do so. It was soon apparent that both Elizabeth and Philip were needed to represent the sovereign. King George VI was seriously ill with cancer. They would need to go on a long-planned state visit to Australia, New Zealand and Ceylon and decided to add a few days in Kenya. On 31 January 1952, the King and Queen went with Elizabeth to the airport to wave them off. In the early morning of 6 February, the King was found dead in his bed – the cause of death was a blood clot in his heart.
After a 19-hour flight back home, Elizabeth emerged as Queen dressed in a simple black coat and hat. At Clarence House, Elizabeth found her grandmother Queen Mary waiting to kiss her hand. On 15 February, her father was laid to rest. By April, the family had moved into Buckingham Palace, and she adopted an office schedule, which she would maintain throughout her reign. Almost every day, she attended to the red leather dispatch boxes filled with official government papers. Two months before Elizabeth’s coronation, Queen Mary died in her sleep, and upon her request, the coronation was not postponed. The coronation was the first of a British monarch to be televised, though the most sacred parts were left out. Elizabeth had made Charles, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 26 July 1958, but he was not invested until 1969.
She fell pregnant again in 1959 and gave birth to a second son named Andrew on 19 February 1960. By October 1963, Elizabeth was once again pregnant – by then four months. Charles was already off to Gordonstoun while Anne was at boarding school at Benenden. On 10 March 1964, she gave birth to a third son named Edward. By the middle of the 1960s, anti-monarchist feelings were on the rise and the family was accused of being out of touch and pompous. However, Elizabeth continued to keep track of the newspapers and held steadfast throughout all the social changes of the decade.
The third decade of her reign saw her make 15 commonwealth trips, including six long tours of Pacific countries. On 21 April 1976, Elizabeth celebrated her 50th birthday. She celebrated 25 years on the throne the following year – her Silver Jubilee. On 15 November 1977, she became a grandmother for the first time when Anne gave birth to a son named Peter. He was born without a title. His sister Zara was born in 1981.
On 29 July 1981, Prince Charles married Diana at St. Paul’s Cathedral as an estimated 600,000 people lined the streets. The marriage was soon on the rocks, but it would produce two sons, Princes William and Harry. She now had four grandchildren, but there was no slowing her down, and she made several international visits. In 1986, it was time for Prince Andrew to marry Sarah Ferguson, and upon their wedding, they became The Duke and Duchess of York. They had two daughters together. Anne was the first to officially divorce – on 28 April 1992 – and she remarried Timothy Laurence later that same year.
The year 1992 has gone down in history as The Queen’s annus horribilis. Not only did Anne divorce her husband, but Sarah and Andrew announced their intention to separate, and the Sunday Times also published two excerpts of Andrew Morton’s book, Diana: Her True Story, which blew up. The year ended with the horrible news that Windsor Castle was on fire. It was eventually decided to open the palace to the public to pay for the renovations. Four days after the fire, Elizabeth spoke at a luncheon at the Guildhall, “Nineteen ninety-two is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘annus horribilis’.” On 9 December, it was announced to the House of Commons that Prince Charles and Diana would be separating. Their divorce came through on 28 August 1996 – just four months after the official divorce of The Duke and Duchess of York.
A year after the divorce – on 31 August 1997 – Elizabeth was informed that Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed had been in a car accident. They and their driver had been killed. In the following days, as Elizabeth attempted to protect her grandsons from the outside world and to grieve in private, the public began to accuse her of being cold. She had not expected the immense outpouring of grief, and the public was not appeased until she spoke the day before the funeral and managed to praise the daughter-in-law with whom she had been at odds, “In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness.” Five years after her annus horribilis, Windsor Castle was restored to its former glory and Elizabeth, and Philip celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
The royal family began to manage its public duties more closely in the last years of the 90s. The media had changed, and so should they. But those last years also brought a new set of worries for Elizabeth – mainly for her mother and sister, who were both in ill health. The Queen Mother was approaching her 100th birthday, and Margaret had suffered a stroke in 1998. However, there was also some good news as Elizabeth’s youngest son Edward married Sophie Rhys Jones on 19 June 1999, and they became the Earl and Countess of Wessex.
The Queen began the year 2000 with her 13th visit to Australia, but the health of both her mother and her sister remained on her mind. Princess Margaret passed away in the early hours of 9 February 2002. Her funeral took place on 15 February – fifty years to the day of King George VI’s funeral. The Queen Mother died on 30 March 2002 with her daughter and Margaret’s grandchildren and her niece Margaret Rhodes by her side. She was 101 years old. On 9 April 2005, the Prince of Wales finally married Camilla Parker Bowles – who had been gradually brought into the fold. The Church of England had recently relaxed their rules – allowing for divorcees to remarry. On 20 November 2007, Elizabeth and Philip celebrated 60 years of marriage, and there was a commemoration in Westminster Abbey where their grandson Prince William read from the Book of John. They flew to Malta – where they had lived as a normal couple long ago – on the 20th. On 21 December 2007, Elizabeth surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria to become the longest-living British monarch.
On 29 December 2010, her first great-grandchild – Savannah Phillips – was born. This was followed by another great-granddaughter – Isla – in 2012. Her grandson Prince William married Catherine Middleton in 2011, and they have three children together, including Princess Charlotte. Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in 2018, and their first child – Archie – was born on 6 May 2019, followed by a daughter named Lili in 2021. Zara Phillips married Mike Tindall in 2011, and they have three children together. Princess Eugenie married Jack Brooksbank in 2018, and their first child – August – was born in 2021. Princess Beatrice married Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, and their first child – a daughter named Sienna – was born in 2021.
On 6 February 2012, Elizabeth celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, but for Elizabeth, it would always be the day her beloved Papa died. In a statement, she said, “In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness.” In 2015, she also became the longest-reigning British monarch.
Her health had remained robust with just a few health scares in recent years. In 2013, she developed symptoms of gastroenteritis but was allowed to return home from the hospital the following day. She also had cataract surgery in May 2018. She celebrated her 95th birthday in 2021, shortly after being widowed. Her Platinum Jubilee was celebrated in 2022, but she was forced to miss several events due to mobility issues. She continued to scale down her public duties, and one of her last acts was to appoint Liz Truss as the new Prime Minister.
Queen Elizabeth II died on 8 September 2022, leaving behind a grieving nation.