Buckingham Palace announced the death of 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth II on September 8. According to History.com, the Queen celebrated 70 years on the British throne in 2022 and is the longest reigning British monarch. The Queen was a popular world leader known for her service and had supported a long list of initiatives and charities throughout her tenure, as her royal biography notes.
The Queen became monarch after the untimely death of her father on 6 February 1952 at the age of 25. The Queen’s father, King George VI, was only 56 years old when he died. When she became Queen, Elizabeth had only been married to Prince Philip for five years and after that had two young children. In an interview with the Washington Post, royal expert Tina Brown said the Queen “represents duty, service, you know, absolute kind of commitment to the British ideal of keeping calm and moving on. She is the embodiment of that.”
As the world mourns the loss of the Queen, we take a look back at her life and legacy.
The early years of Queen Elizabeth II
Born in 1926 to the Duke and Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth II never expected to ascend the throne. Her father was the second son of King George V and her uncle was the heir apparent to the British throne. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930 and the girls lived relatively normal lives. The Duke and Duchess of York and the girls were close family, with the Queen’s father referring to the family as “The Four of Us,” according to The Mirror. Another sweet detail? Queen Elizabeth referred to her grandfather, King George V, as “Grandpa England,” royal author and historian Tracy Borman revealed to Express during an appearance on the podcast Pod Save the Queen.
When her uncle Edward VIII abdicated from the British throne in 1936 to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, everything changed for Queen Elizabeth when her father became king. The Queen’s mother, also known as the “Queen Mother,” never got over the incident and reportedly held grudges against Wallis for creating a situation that placed unexpected responsibilities on King George VI, according to The Guardian. But the Queen’s parents pressed on, guiding their country through dark times until the death of King George VI. in 1952.
The curator of the Imperial War Museum in London, Kate Clements, told Newsweek: “Princess Elizabeth was quite serious and responsible by nature, even when she was young, and the war years really strengthened that aspect of her personality and laid the foundation for her later created attitude to duty when she became queen.”
Queen Elizabeth II put service and duty first
In April, royal expert Tina Brown explained to the Washington Post how important the British monarchy is to British culture, stating: “It is the pre-eminent focus of national identity, national pride, history and tradition.” also notes that Queen Elizabeth II was the heart of the monarchy. Brown said: “I mean, we’re talking 70 years – the representation of that kind of stoic British ideals, even if the reality of Britain has changed enormously.”
The Queen’s reign was influenced by the example set by her parents, as Kate Clements, curator of the Imperial War Museum in London, told Newsweek: “They [Elizabeth] saw what her parents did to boost people’s morale and she learned from it the importance of duty.” When the Queen turned 90, the editor-in-chief of Majesty, Ingrid Seward, told Reuters: “The Queen wants don’t put their feet up. It’s what she wants to do and she will do it as long as she is fit and able.”
In 2019, ABC News reported that the 93-year-old Queen has performed 67 public events. Compare that to Prince William, 74, and Kate Middleton, 58, in the same year.
Queen Elizabeth II’s dedication to Prince Philip and her family
Queen Elizabeth II and her third cousin Philip Mountbatten officially reunited in 1939, when she was 13 and he was 18, while on tour at the Royal Naval College. They soon picked up a correspondence for Us Weekly. After World War II, the young couple became more serious. Us Weekly reports that Philip proposed to the Queen in 1946 and they were married in November 1947. In a 2021 Christmas speech after his death, the Queen fondly recalled, per ITV News, “That mischievous, questioning twinkle was as bright at the end as it was when I first saw him.” [Philip].”
The Queen and Philip welcomed Charles, the first of their four children, in 1948, while his sister Anne arrived in 1950. When King George VI. Died in 1952, Elizabeth became queen. In a biography of the Queen’s successor, author Sally Bedell Smith wrote: “When Elizabeth became Queen after the death of her father, her devotion to her duties meant even less time for her children.”
By the time the royal couple welcomed Prince Andrew in 1960 and later Prince Edward in 1964, Elizabeth had gained more experience as queen. As the Daily Mail reported, the Queen has been more present and energetic with her younger children. And of course, like many grandmothers, the Queen was doting on her grandchildren. “Behind closed doors, she’s our grandmother, it’s as simple as that,” Prince Harry once told ABC’s Katie Couric, per HuffPost.
Queen Elizabeth II’s biggest controversies
Queen Elizabeth II served with little controversy during her reign, instead focusing on service and declaring in a March 2022 speech that her existence would forever be rooted in giving back, according to USA Today. Her tenure wasn’t all positive news, however, particularly after the death of Princess Diana in August 1997. When the 36-year-old ex-wife of Prince Charles, Elizabeth’s successor, died in a car accident, the Queen seemed callous to the reaction Diana’s death angered the British public.
However, the Queen brought the British people back into their corner when she delivered a live speech to the nation the day before Diana’s funeral. According to Yahoo, the Queen said in her address: “First of all, I would like to pay tribute to Diana herself. She was an extraordinary and gifted person. In good times and bad, she never lost her ability to smile and laugh, inspiring others with her warmth and kindness.”
The other controversy surrounding the Queen concerns her son Prince Andrew’s friendship with Jeffery Epstein. The Queen severely slapped Andrew in January after prosecutor Virginia Giuffre filed a civil lawsuit against him over alleged sexual assault. She stripped him of his royal patronage and military titles, sending a clear message.
Queen Elizabeth II’s health problems kept her from the public eye
Queen Elizabeth II seemed superhuman at times. But Prince Philip’s death in April 2021 and various health issues took a toll on the monarch. When the Queen lost her husband of more than 70 years, a photo of the Queen at Philip’s funeral broke hearts worldwide as the 95-year-old Queen sat alone in the pew. Then, in October 2021, royal observers held their breath when the Queen canceled a trip and then stayed in hospital for “preliminary checks,” according to The Guardian.
However, the UK was never more alarmed when the Queen tested positive for COVID-19 in February. Although the Queen recovered from COVID, she continued to struggle with health issues after battling the virus, and in a statement to Page Six, Buckingham Palace revealed she was suffering from “episodic mobility issues”. As Healthline reported, some older adults are experiencing mobility issues in the wake of the virus.
The Queen missed more public appearances in the spring, but the Platinum Jubilee signaled a big change. The Queen missed several events of the Jubby, and royal pundit Michael Cole summed up the feelings of many after the celebration. Writing for the Express, Cole said, “The final balcony scene conveyed a clear message: change is coming.