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Queen Elizabeth II was the head of state for 16 countries: the queen of the United Kingdom as well as the Commonwealth. As British monarch, she was also the head of the Anglican Church. She was born Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on April 21, 1926, in London, the oldest daughter of King George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. At the time, there was no way to know she would go on to become queen, as her uncle — the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VIII — and her father stood before her.
However, she went on to become the longest-lived British monarch as of December 21, 2007, and the longest-reigning British monarch as of September 9, 2015, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria on both counts.
Discipline and Dedication
Elizabeth represented her father around the world due to his losing battle with cancer. He died on February 6, 1952, while she was in Kenya, and she was pronounced queen on the same day. She was officially crowned in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.
The crown fell to her not only as the result of her father's early death, but also because of her uncle's abdication due to his love for and marriage to an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Elizabeth could never truly forgive him for it. From the outset, her reign was thus characterized by discipline and a sense of duty.
Elizabeth could also claim a "proper" education, so went a popular joke among Britons, as she was a trained auto mechanic and truck driver during the Second World War. For a long time, she was the only member of the royal family to have served in the military.
Europe's first postwar royal wedding took place on November 20, 1947, when Elizabeth married Prince Philip Mountbatten, a scion of the Greek and Danish royal families who became a Royal Navy officer and was granted the title of Duke of Edinburgh shortly before the marriage took place.
When crowned in 1953, Elizabeth swore to dedicate her life to the British people. It was an oath she took seriously: The queen would have an average of 500 official appointments in a given year. This made her the most well-traveled head of state in history, with her undertaking hundreds of royal visits around the world aboard the royal yacht, HMY Britannia. They included a six-month world tour in 1953-54.
From Bavaria to Britain
The queen was particularly partial to Germany and visited it more often than almost any other country, beginning with a trip in 1965 to the then-divided Berlin.
The British royal family has its roots in Castle Callenberg in Coburg, today in Bavaria: In 1840, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha married his cousin, Queen Victoria. They had nine children. King George V changed the family name to Windsor in 1917 due to anti-German sentiment during the First World War.
Queen Elizabeth II was a private person. She had a special affection for horses and dogs, and a penchant for colorful fashion. This was not only a personal choice in style, but an effort to leave an impression during royal appointments. During her rule, she oversaw 15 British prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss who relied heavily on her counsel, though she took care to keep her political opinions from public view. Every week, she received the politicians for confidential talks. But that wasn't limited to prime ministers. She also held talks with judges, trade unionists, entrepreneurs and ordinary people who were invited to the palace.
In 1992, a fire damaged Windsor Castle, the family home, and the marriages of three of her four children collapsed: Princess Anne divorced Mark Phillips, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson separated, and Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, also faced marital troubles with Princess Diana, whom he divorced in 1996.
Within the same period, Prince Charles publicly aired the contentious relationship he had with his mother and that she had with his wife, Diana, who was perceived as a far more warm-hearted person than Elizabeth.
Diana's sudden death in a 1997 Paris car crash tore the royal family further asunder. Elizabeth was criticized for not immediately canceling the family vacation she was on at the time, and many Britons viewed her public comments as too little, too late.
The queen worked to change her image and that of the monarchy. She hosted a rock concert at Buckingham Palace to celebrate her 50th anniversary on the throne in 2002, and gave her blessing to the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
The monarchy's image, however, took another hit over the friendship between Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who in 2019 was arrested on charges of running a sex trafficking ring. Accusations re-emerged that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl some 20 years earlier, allegations that the duke has consistently denied. He stood down from royal duties after a catastrophic TV interview with the prince aired.
Elizabeth had another round of celebrations for her 60th anniversary as queen in 2012 and surprised everyone when she appeared on camera with James Bond actor Daniel Craig to open the London Olympic Games in that year.
Her grandchildren have also helped modernize the monarchy. Prince William, along with his wife, Kate, is particularly beloved, and many would like to see his father Prince Charles passed over as king in favor of William — a break in tradition Elizabeth would have been loathe to allow.
Another break with tradition occurred in January 2020, when William's brother, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his American wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, decided to withdraw from British royal family duties. The move was dubbed "Megxit" in an allusion to "Brexit," the UK's withdrawal from the EU, also in 2020.
At the time the decision was made, Elizabeth made a rare personal statement in which she said that although she would have preferred them to remain as full-time working members of the royal family, she respected and understood their wish to live "a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family." This measured response was widely praised.
In April 2021, Philip — the queen's husband for 73 years — died, leaving Elizabeth to continue her reign without the support of the person she had described as her "strength and stay."
Marveled at, criticized, occasionally mocked, but always respected: Queen Elizabeth II provided her nation stability for decades. The British monarchy under her rule was rarely questioned by most Britons.
Edited by: Rob Mudge
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