Queen Elizabeth II profile
September 8, 2022 -
Queen Elizabeth dies surrounded by her family at Balmoral Castle aged 96. Her eldest son becomes Charles III.
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born in London on April 21, 1926, to the Duke and Duchess of York. When Elizabeth was 10 her father acceded to the throne as George VI on the abdication of his elder brother Edward VIII, at which point the young princess became heir presumptive. In 1947, she married Lt Philip Mountbatten -- Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh -- with whom she had four children, Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward.
Her reign encompassed major constitutional changes, such as the decolonisation of Africa, devolution within the United Kingdom, and Brexit.
Stalwart monarch whose reign spanned seven decades of profound social change By Susan Shepherd
For the world’s longest-reigning monarch, the milestones kept coming to the very end. A Platinum Jubilee in June 2022, to celebrate 70 years as Queen, would have seemed a very distant prospect in 1947, when, in a radio broadcast to mark her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King George VI and great great granddaughter of Queen Victoria, publicly pledged herself to the role fate had decreed. “I declare before you all,” she told the Commonwealth, “that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service…”.
Back then, the close-knit foursome that made up the royal family -- Elizabeth, nicknamed Lilibet, her younger sister Margaret Rose, and their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth -- were on a tour of South Africa. Within weeks of their return to England, Buckingham Palace would announce the Princess’s engagement to a handsome young naval officer, Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. Their early married life, with the birth of their first two children, Charles and Anne, would be a brief period of relative normality before, quite suddenly, while she was still just 25 and on a visit to Kenya, Elizabeth received news of her father’s early death at the age of 56, and flew home in mourning and as monarch.
Few could have guessed that the young sovereign descending the aircraft steps to be met by Winston Churchill -- the first of her 15 British Prime Ministers -- would reign far beyond any other in British history, or that the second Elizabethan Age would reach well into the new millennium. Had it not been for her uncle’s love affair with an American divorcee, and the seismic national shock of his abdication, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, a direct descendant of the 9th century King Egbert of Wessex and England, might never have inherited the crown. As it was, her time saw the United Kingdom move from an era of ration-book austerity, where a school atlas still showed the Empire in pink, where divorce meant social disgrace and debutantes were still presented at court, to a modern, multi-cultural society where the monarchy remains respected, if no longer revered.
Like many of her generation, Queen Elizabeth had to witness the break-up of three of her four children’s marriages, most traumatically the divorce of her son and heir, the Prince of Wales and her daughter-in-law, Diana. Their separation in December 1992 came nine months after her second son, Prince Andrew, and his wife Sarah Ferguson, began divorce proceedings, and eight months after the divorce of her daughter, the Princess Royal. A huge fire at Windsor Castle in November 1992 -- on the Queen’s 45th wedding anniversary -- led the monarch to declare the year her “annus horribilis”. When the British taxpayer refused to foot the bill for Windsor’s restoration, the Queen raised funds by opening Buckingham Palace to the public.
A severe test of popular opinion came five years later when Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in Paris in August 1997 and the Queen’s public response -- she remained out of sight at Balmoral with her grandsons, William and Harry -- did not chime with that of a grieving nation. It took a personal tribute from the monarch, in a live television broadcast on the eve of Diana’s funeral, to avert a full-blown crisis. The Queen herself suffered a double bereavement in 2002 with the death of her sister in February, and that of her mother, at 101, the following month.
More losses, schisms and scandals were to feature in the years that followed: Prince Andrew, for so long the apple of his mother’s eye, was spectacularly stripped of all his military affiliations and royal patronages, by her, a month after settling a civil sexual assault case brought against him in the U.S. by Virginia Giuffre, a victim of a sex-trafficking ring run by the prince’s former friends, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Then there was the exit of Prince Harry and his American wife, the actress Meghan Markle, for whom life in the Windsor family spotlight proved too much of a strain. But the most devastating personal loss came on April 9, 2021, when Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, died at the age of 99, to the Queen’s “deep sorrow”. The image of the widowed sovereign -- the couple were married 73 years -- sitting in socially-distanced isolation in her pew at St George’s Chapel, because of Covid restrictions, became the most memorable image of her last decade.
Queen Elizabeth made few visible concessions to her status as a nonagenarian until very late on, gradually absent from high profile occasions such as Remembrance Day ceremonies, Trooping the Colour, the state opening of Parliament -- even Royal Ascot. A keen horsewoman from childhood, and with her trademark corgi dogs never far from her ankles, the Queen held fast to her Christian beliefs. As Head of the Church of England she presided over a period of dramatic decline in church-going in Great Britain, but always spoke up for her faith, notably in her Christmas Day message. The teachings of Christ, she reflected, together with her own personal accountability before God, had provided the framework in which she tried to lead her life.