Life of the Week: Queen Elizabeth II

We look back at Queen Elizabeth II's life and reign...

Queen Elizabeth II's coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953.

Born: 21 April 1926, Mayfair, London

Remembered for: Becoming the longest-reigning monarch of Great Britain on 9 September. She witnessed great social change over the 20th century, and has famously stayed out of political affairs. The Queen has undertaken more than 260 official overseas visits to more than 116 different countries. 

Family: Queen Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s younger sister, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930.

In 1947, Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip, and together they had four children – Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. The Queen and Prince Philip currently have eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Her life: Born on 21 April 1926 at 2.40am, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was the eldest child of the Duke and Duchess of York. Despite being third in line to the throne, Princess Elizabeth was never expected to become Queen, as it was assumed that her uncle, Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII), would marry and produce the next heir.

In 1930, Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret Rose, was born. The sisters and their parents were close, and the Duke of York famously referred to his family as "we four". In 1932, the family moved to the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, where they lived within the vast grounds of the park.

A family portrait of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) with their newborn Princess (later Queen Elizabeth II). (Credit: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

 

Just two years later, Princess Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Philip, the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. The pair were introduced at the wedding of the Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece in 1934, but didn't meet again until five years later.

On 20 January 1936, Elizabeth’s peaceful family life was disrupted with the death of her grandfather, George V. Consequently, Elizabeth’s uncle inherited the throne as Edward VIII. Just a few months into his reign, Edward made it clear that he wished to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

However, members of the cabinet opposed this match – they feared the public would disapprove, and that the marriage would dampen the popularity of the monarchy. Edward shocked the nation when in December 1936, less than a year after inheriting the throne, he decided to abdicate in order to marry Simpson.

As a result of Edward’s abdication, Elizabeth’s father became King George VI, and Elizabeth became the next in line to the throne. She soon began preparing for her future position as queen: the vice-provost of Eton and the Archbishop of Canterbury helped with her tuition, and the princess was taught French.

In 1939, upon the outbreak of the Second World War, there were suggestions that Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret, should be moved to Canada in order to ensure their safety. However, their mother, Queen Elizabeth, refused to send her daughters away, declaring: “The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the king. And the king will never leave.”

Later that year, during her tour of the Britannica Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Princess Elizabeth met Prince Philip for a second time. There, Prince Philip was undertaking his initial naval training. The pair exchanged letters throughout the rest of the Second World War.

Elizabeth and her sister were moved to Windsor Castle in 1940 after the Blitz began in Britain. That October, Princess Elizabeth made her first public speech on the airwaves. Speaking on the BBC’s Children’s Hour radio programme on 13 October, Elizabeth declared her support for those who had been evacuated.

Princess Elizabeth was keen to help the war effort, and in 1945 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service. During the final months of the war, Elizabeth donned a military uniform and learned how to drive and fix vehicles.

Princess Elizabeth standing by an Auxiliary Territorial Service first aid truck wearing an officer's uniform. (Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

 

In 1946, some seven years after Elizabeth and Philip began exchanging letters, George VI gave Philip his permission to marry his daughter. However, at the king’s request the public announcement of the couple’s engagement was postponed until after Elizabeth’s 21st birthday the following year.

The couple’s forthcoming nuptials were announced on 9 July 1947, and the pair were married at Westminster Abbey on 20 November. Like other brides in the austere post-war years, Elizabeth collected clothing coupons in order to have her wedding dress made.

Just under a year after their wedding, the couple’s first child, Prince Charles, was born on 14 November 1948. Princess Anne was born two years later.

During the early 1950s, George VI’s health began to decline. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip took part in a number of events and state visits in place of the king. On 6 February 1952, during a visit to Kenya, Princess Elizabeth was informed that her father had died. Elizabeth immediately flew back to Britain with Prince Philip, and two days later she proclaimed herself queen.

The Queen’s first Christmas message was broadcast live to the nation on Christmas Day 1952. She spoke fondly of her father and thanked listeners for their support during the initial months of her reign. The Queen has continued to broadcast her Christmas message every year since, either by radio or on television, with the exception of 1969, when a repeat of the documentary Royal Family was broadcast instead.

On 2 June 1953, Elizabeth’s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey. Hundreds of thousands of people from across the country and the Commonwealth tuned in to witness what was the first televised coronation.

From the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth demonstrated an interest in politics. Soon after her accession she began weekly meetings with the then-prime minister, Winston Churchill, and she has continued this tradition with all 12 prime ministers who have since been in office during her reign.

In 1960, the Queen gave birth to her third child, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward was born in 1964. The Queen’s first grandchild, Peter Phillips, was born in 1977.

The Queen is today the most travelled monarch in British history, having taken trips to 116 different countries and having participated in 261 official foreign visits between 1952 and 2012. Since her accession to the throne, the Queen has also become the patron of more than 400 charities and organisations.

In 2012, the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, becoming only the second British monarch in history to achieve this milestone. Queen Victoria is the only other monarch to have enjoyed 60 years on the British throne.

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