HM the Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
HM the Queen Elizabeth II became queen on February 6, 1952, and was crowned on June 2, 1953. She is the mother of Prince Charles, heir to the throne, as well as the grandmother of Princes William and Harry. As the longest-serving monarch in British history, she has tried to make her reign more modern and sensitive to a changing public while maintaining traditions associated with the Crown.
HM the Queen Elizabeth II was born Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, in London, to Prince Albert, Duke of York (later known as King George VI), and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. At the time of her birth, most people did not realize the Queen would someday become the queen of Great Britain. The Queen, nicknamed Lilibet, got to enjoy the first decade of her life with all the privileges of being a royal without the pressures of being the heir apparent.
Elizabeth’s father and mother divided their time between a home in London and Royal Lodge, the family’s home on the grounds of Windsor Great Park. The Queen and her younger sister Margaret were educated at home by tutors. Academic courses included French, mathematics and history, along with dancing, singing and art lessons.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Queen and her sister largely stayed out of London, having been relocated to Windsor Castle. From there she made the first of her famous radio broadcasts in 1940, with this particular speech reassuring the children of Britain who had been evacuated from their homes and families. The 14-year-old princess, showing her calm and firm personality, told them “that in the end, all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace”.
The Queen soon started taking on other public duties. Appointed colonel-in-chief of the Grenadier Guards by her father, the Queen made her first public appearance inspecting the troops in 1942. She also began to accompany her parents on official visits within Britain.
In 1945, the Queen joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service to help in the war effort. She trained side-by-side with other British women to be an expert driver and mechanic. While her volunteer work only lasted a few months, it offered the Queen a glimpse into a different, non-royal world. She had another vivid experience outside of the monarchy when she and Margaret were allowed to mingle anonymously among the citizenry on Victory in Europe Day.
When Elizabeth’s grandfather George V died in 1936, his eldest son (Elizabeth’s uncle) became King Edward VIII. Edward, however, was in love with American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and had to choose between the crown and his heart. In the end, Edward chose Simpson and abdicated the crown. The event changed the course of her life, making her the heir presumptive to the British crown. Her father was crowned King George VI in 1937, taking on the name George to emphasize continuity with his father. Her mother became Queen Elizabeth; on King George’s death in 1952, she became Queen Mother and her daughter became the Queen.
Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953, in Westminster Abbey, at the age of 27.
The Queen had assumed the responsibilities of the ruling monarch on February 6, 1952, when her father, King George VI, died. For the first time ever, the coronation ceremony was broadcast on television, allowing people from across the globe to witness the pomp and spectacle of the event.
The Queen married her distant cousin Philip Mountbatten (a surname adopted from his mother’s side) on November 20, 1947, at London’s Westminster Abbey. The Queen first met Philip, son of Prince Andrew of Greece, when she was only 13. She was smitten with him from the start. The two kept in touch over the years and eventually fell in love. They made an unusual pair. The Queen was quiet and reserved while Philip was boisterous and outspoken. Her father, King George VI, was hesitant about the match because, while Mountbatten had ties to both the Danish and Greek royal families, he didn’t possess great wealth and was considered by some to have a rough personality. At the time of their wedding, Great Britain was still recovering from the ravages of World War II, and the Queen collected clothing coupons to get fabric for her gown.
The family took on the name Windsor, a move pushed by her mother and Prime Minister Winston Churchill which caused tension with her husband. In 1960, she reversed course, issuing orders that her descendants who did not carry royal titles (or needed last names for legal purposes such as weddings) would use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.
The Queen and Philip wasted no time in producing an heir: Son Charles was born in 1948, the year after their wedding, and daughter Anne arrived in 1950. The Queen had two more children — sons Andrew and Edward — in 1960 and 1964, respectively.
In 1969, she officially made Charles her successor by granting him the title of Prince of Wales. Hundreds of millions of people tuned in to see the ceremony on television.
In 1981 32-year-old Charles wed 19-year-old Diana Spencer (best known as Princess Diana), with later rumors surfacing that he was pressured into the marriage from his family. The wedding drew enormous crowds in the streets of London and millions watched the proceedings on television. Public opinion of the monarchy was especially strong at that time.
Charles and Diana gave birth to Elizabeth’s grandsons Prince William, who was created Duke of Cambridge upon his own marriage in 2011, second-in-line to the throne, in 1982, and Prince Harry in 1984. The Queen has emerged as a devoted grandmother to William and Harry.
On July 22, 2013, Elizabeth’s grandson William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, welcomed their first child, George Alexander Louis — a successor to the throne known officially as “His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.”
On May 2, 2015, William and Kate welcomed their second child, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the Queen’s fifth great-grandchild. On April 23, 2018, they followed with their third child, Prince Louis Arthur Charles.
On May 6, 2019, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and his wife, Meghan Markle, gave the Queen another great-grandchild with the birth of their son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.
In addition to Prince William and Prince Harry, the Queen’s other grandchildren are Peter Phillips, Princess Beatrice of York; Princess Eugenie of York; Zara Tindall; Lady Louise Windsor; and James, Viscount Severn.
Elizabeth II’s father and mother were known as the Duke and Duchess of York. Her father, Prince Albert, Duke of York, was the second son of Queen Mary and King George V. Her mother was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
The Queen has ties with most of the monarchs in Europe. Her British ancestors include Queen Victoria (ruled 1837 to 1901) and King George III (ruled 1760 to 1820).
Elizabeth’s long and mainly peaceful reign has been marked by vast changes in her people’s lives, in her country’s power, how Britain is viewed abroad and how the monarchy is regarded and portrayed. As a constitutional monarch, the Queen does not weigh in on political matters, nor does she reveal her political views. However, she confers regularly with her prime ministers.
When HM Elizabeth II became Queen, post-war Britain still had a substantial empire, dominions and dependencies. However, during the 1950s and 1960s, many of these possessions achieved independence and the British Empire evolved into the Commonwealth of Nations. The Queen has thus made visits to other countries as head of the Commonwealth and a representative of Britain, including a groundbreaking trip to Germany in 1965. She became the first British monarch to make a state visit there in more than five decades.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Queen continued to travel extensively. In 1973 she attended the Commonwealth Conference in Ottawa, Canada, and in 1976 traveled to the United States for the 200th anniversary celebration of America’s independence from Britain. More than a week later she was in Montreal, Canada, to open the Summer Olympics. In 1979, she traveled to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, which garnered international attention and widespread respect.
In 1982, the Queen worried about her second son, Prince Andrew, who served as a helicopter pilot in the British Royal Navy during the Falklands War. Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, a clash that lasted for several weeks. While more than 250 British soldiers died in the conflict, Prince Andrew returned home safe and well, much to his mother’s relief.
In 2011, the Queen showed that the crown still had symbolic and diplomatic power when she became the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland since 1911 (when all of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom).
Despite the occasional call to step aside for Charles, the Queen remained steadfast in her royal obligations as she passed her 90th birthday. She continued making more than 400 engagements per year, maintaining her support of hundreds of charitable organizations and programs.
However, in late 2017 the monarchy took what was considered a major step toward transitioning to the next generation: on November 12, Charles handled the traditional Remembrance Sunday duty of placing a wreath at the Cenotaph war memorial, as the Queen watched from a nearby balcony.
In August 2019, the Queen made a rare intrusion into political matters when she agreed to a request by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prorogue (suspend) Parliament until October 14, less than three weeks before Britain’s planned departure from the European Union.
The Queen has had 14 prime ministers placed into power during her reign, with Queen and PM having a weekly, confidential meeting (the Queen has also met about a quarter of all the U.S. presidents in history, most recently receiving Donald Trump for a state visit in June 2019).
She enjoyed a father-figure relationship with the iconic Winston Churchill and was later able to loosen up a bit and be somewhat informal with Labour leaders Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. In contrast, she and Margaret Thatcher had a very formal, distant relationship, with the PM tending to be a grating lecturer to the Queen on a variety of issues.
The Queen has worked tirelessly to protect the image of the monarchy and to prepare for its future. But she has seen the monarchy come under attack during her lifetime. The once-revered institution has weathered a number of storms, including death threats against the royal family.
In 1979, the Queen suffered a great personal loss when Lord Mountbatten, her husband’s uncle, died in a terrorist bombing. Mountbatten and several members of his family were aboard his boat on August 27th, off the west coast of Ireland, when the vessel exploded. He and three others, including one of his grandsons, were killed. The IRA (Irish Republican Army), which opposed British rule in Northern Ireland, took responsibility for the attack.
In June 1981, the Queen herself had a dangerous encounter. She was riding in the Trooping the Colour, a special military parade to celebrate her official birthday, when a man in the crowd pointed a gun at her. He fired, but, fortunately, the gun was loaded with blanks. Other than receiving a good scare, the Queen was not hurt.
After the start of the 21st century, the Queen experienced two great losses. She said goodbye to both her sister Margaret and her mother in 2002, the same year she celebrated her Golden Jubilee, or 50th year on the throne.
Margaret, known for being more of an adventurous soul than other royals and who was barred from marrying an early love, died in February after suffering a stroke. Only a few weeks later, Elizabeth’s mother, known as the Queen Mother, died at Royal Lodge on March 30th at the age of 101.
The Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, marking 60 years as queen. As part of the jubilee festivities, a special BBC concert was held on June 4th featuring the likes of Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Stevie Wonder and Kylie Minogue. The Queen was surrounded by family at this historic event, including her husband Philip, son Charles and grandsons Harry and William.
On September 9, 2015, she surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest-ruling monarch, who reigned for 63 years.
On February 6, 2017, the Queen celebrated 65 years on the throne, the only British monarch to ever celebrate her Sapphire Jubilee. The date also marks the anniversary of the death of her father. The Queen chose to spend the day quietly at Sandringham, her country estate north of London, where she attended a church service.
In London, there were royal gun salutes at Green Park and at the Tower of London to mark the occasion. The Royal Mint also issued eight new commemorative coins in honor of the Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee.