Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in British history, has died at the age of 96. Few people alive today can even remember a time when she wasn’t on the throne. From Harry S. Truman to Joe Biden, she saw 14 U.S. presidents come and go during her reign of more than 70 years.
Buckingham Palace announced the sad news on social media, saying she “died peacefully” at Balmoral Castle.
The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.
The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/VfxpXro22W
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) September 8, 2022
Always dignified and stoic, the Queen epitomized her country’s World War II slogan: “Keep calm and carry on.”
She continued to perform dozens of official engagements each year well into her 90s. But following the death of her beloved husband Prince Philip in April last year, she made noticeably fewer public appearances, citing health reasons. The Queen was last pictured, below, on September 6 when she welcomed the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss to Balmoral Castle, Scotland.
Jane Barlow – WPA Pool/Getty Images
Yet, she wasn’t even destined to be Queen when she was born Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, in London, to Prince Albert and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
Her father was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary Elizabeth and, as such, was not expected to become sovereign. But all that changed with the abdication crisis of 1936 when her uncle, King Edward VIII gave up the throne to spend his life with American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and Elizabeth’s father was crowned King George VI.
During World War II, she trained as a mechanic to help with the war effort. Then, when the conflict ended in Europe she and sister Margaret anonymously joined the huge crowds celebrating in the streets of London.
Two years later, the young princess married Philip Mountbatten, the son of Prince Andrew of Greece. She had been smitten with him for years, but her father said not to be keen on their romance and considered Philip too rough around the edges for his daughter. Within months, they had their first child, Charles, followed by Anne, Andrew and Edward over the next 16 years.
Elizabeth and Philip were in Kenya when her father, George VI died on February 6, 1952, at the age of 56. He had a fatal blood clot to the heart, but was also suffering from lung cancer. The 25-year-old princess would become Queen. Her coronation was a major televised event around the world, seeing the young Queen appearing on the cover of TV Guide magazine.
Despite her immense commitment to royal life and frequent travels across the globe to meet members of the British Commonwealth, Elizabeth still found time to relax with her family and was a hugely devoted mother. Balmoral, where she spent her final days, was where she always enjoyed her summer vacations. She is pictured, below, in the grounds of the castle with Philip and their three children in 1960.
The love lives of her children caused Elizabeth much heartache. Her three eldest all went through divorces. In 1992, which the Queen described as her “annus horribilis,” Charles and Princess Diana separated, Princess Anne got divorced from her husband Capt. Mark Phillips, and Andrew split from Sarah Ferguson. Her main home Windsor Castle, was also badly damaged by fire.
Following the death or Princess Diana in 1997, the Queen herself faced public scrutiny when she stayed silent for days before paying tribute to her former daughter-in-law.
At the start of the 21st century, she experienced two great losses within a matter of weeks. Her sister Margaret died in February 2002 after suffering a stroke. Then her mother passed away on March 30 at the age of 101.
Despite the grandeur of her palaces and castles, the Queen lived somewhat modestly, perhaps a reflection of the austere post-war era in which she’d grown up. In stark contrast to royal banquets with foreign dignitaries, the Queen’s day-to-day meals were often served in plastic containers, and simple space heaters could be seen in photos of her entertaining guests.
In private, Elizabeth liked reading mystery novels, doing crossword puzzles and watching tv dramas and detective shows. A horse enthusiastic, she would often go riding, and enjoyed attending race meetings. She was also a dog lover, owning some 30 corgis during her life, as many as five at a time.
While she rarely made public speeches, her Christmas Day televised message was required viewing for millions of families in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries around the world.
But it was duty, above all, that was her driving force from her earliest days, perhaps summed up by a speech she gave on her 21st birthday when she said: “I declare before you all 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.”