Queen Elizabeth II’s Evolution From Princess to the Longest-Reigning British Monarch


Queen Elizabeth II died Thursday afternoon, Buckingham Palace announced, bringing the second Elizabethan Age to a close after the queen spent seven decades on the throne, the longest reign of any British monarch.

Elizabeth died “peacefully” at Balmoral Castle, the queen’s privately owned property in Scotland, surrounded by her family, according to a statement from Buckingham Palace.

The queen was placed under medical supervision by her doctors earlier Thursday out of concern for her health, and all four of her children along with her grandchildren Prince William and Prince Harry (who were in Europe for several events) traveled to Balmoral to be with the queen, the palace said.

One of the queen’s last royal engagements was a Tuesday meeting with new British Prime Minister Liz Truss (the meeting would have typically taken place at Buckingham Palace, but Truss instead visited her in Scotland so the queen would not have to travel).

Elizabeth was the longest-serving head of state in the world at the time of her death, as well as the oldest British monarch and the ruler with the longest reign in the country’s history.

She sat on the throne during 15 British prime ministers’ time in office, starting with Winston Churchill’s second term, and met 13 U.S. presidents, each one since President Harry Truman with the exception of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Elizabeth died a month after celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee culminated in August with a four-day national holiday and parades and other events across the Commonwealth, though the queen did not attend several planned appearances over her poor health.

When Elizabeth was born in 1926, she wasn’t expected to ever take the throne. Her father, King George VI, was the second son in his family and only became monarch after his brother King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 in order to marry divorced American Wallace Simpson, leaving 10-year-old Elizabeth as heir presumptive. A year after her father’s death in 1952, Elizabeth was crowned queen at age 25 and spent nearly three-quarters of her life on the throne.

The U.K. underwent massive political and social upheaval during the queen’s 70-year reign, including the accelerated decolonization of the once-vast British Empire and technological advancements that thrust the country into the modern age. Despite the shifts, the queen maintained a high approval rating throughout her time in power. The advent of mass media and relaxed social customs made the queen more accessible than any of her royal predecessors. A staggering 31% of the British public have either seen the queen or met her in real life, according to a 2018 poll. Elizabeth gave an annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth each year of her reign except one, and five times addressed her subjects directly through special broadcasts amid national turmoil, like during the coronavirus pandemic’s onset in 2020 and after the 1997 death of her daughter-in-law Princess Diana.

$28 billion. That’s how much in assets the British crown holds, Forbes estimated last year. That includes land and holdings part of the Crown Estate ($19.5 billion), Buckingham Palace (est. $4.9 billion), the Duchy of Cornwall ($1.3 billion), the Duchy of Lancaster ($748 million), Kensington Palace (est. $630 million) and the Crown Estate Scotland ($592 million). Queen Elizabeth had another $500 million in personal assets, according to Forbes’ estimates.

Elizabeth was born in 1926 in Mayfair, London, part of the British royal family on her father’s side and from an aristocratic Scottish family on her mother’s. At the time of her birth, Elizabeth’s paternal grandfather, King George V, was on the throne and she was third in the line of succession. The family nicknamed her “Lilibet,” which is what the queen initially called herself as a child when she couldn’t pronounce “Elizabeth.” Her only sibling, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930, and the two remained close until Margaret’s death in 2002. Elizabeth married her third-cousin Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey in 1947, eight years after the two connected in 1939 when 13-year-old Elizabeth took a trip with her parents and sister to Britannia Royal Naval College, where Philip, then 18, was a cadet. The queen is survived by her four children Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward, eight grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. Her second-youngest grandchild, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s daughter Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, was named for the queen. Philip died in April 2021 just weeks shy of his 100th birthday after he and Elizabeth had been married for 73 years. Over the last year of her life, the queen experienced health problems. Elizabeth was hospitalized overnight in October for “preliminary investigations” that the palace did not elaborate on, and she canceled most of her engagements over the next month after doctors encouraged her to rest, and instead carry out “light duties” from Windsor Palace. She was slated to return to public life in November for Remembrance Sunday services, one of the royal family’s most important appearances of the year, but was unable to attend after spraining her back, Buckingham Palace announced that day. She took part in an in-person engagement at Windsor Castle three days later. The queen tested positive for Covid-19 in February and while the palace did not specify how she was infected, Elizabeth had reportedly recently met with her son, Prince Charles, just days before he announced he had been reinfected with the virus.

Elizabeth’s son, Charles, immediately became king after his mother’s death and took the regnal title of King Charles III, Truss said Thursday. British media reported in 2005 that Charles had considered choosing a different name for his regnal title, a claim Clarence House denied. The name Charles has a lot of historical royal baggage. King Charles, I was executed in 1649 for treason during the English Civil War, and amid his son Charles II’s reign, the country was forced to contend with both the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London. Charles Edward Stuart, an 18th-century Jacobite pretender to the throne, was called King Charles III by his supporters, though he failed to take power.

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