Featured image: A young Elizabeth; her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh; and her children on the balcony of Buckingham Palace
Friday, 9 June 2018, London, UK – 65 years and 1 week ago, a new British monarch was crowned (we’re not great at keeping up with anniversaries). Her name was Elizabeth II, and her coronation marked a turning point in British history. She was lauded as a symbol of a new era following the enormous destruction of World War II. She was young, fresh, and a symbol of hope for the future. 65 years later, it is unbelievable to think that the monarch who oversaw the decolonisation of the British Empire and the monarch that is still reigning today is the same person. She acceded the throne when she was 26 years old and today she is over 90 years old. In honour of this anniversary, we decided to delve into the Queen’s life, and the enormous change that she has seen, both in Britain and abroad, during the course of her reign.
Princess Elizabeth was born on 21 April 1926, to the Duke and Duchess of York (they would later become King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth, respectively, and the latter would then become Elizabeth the Queen Mother). This was during the reign of her paternal grandfather, George V, and his consort, Mary of Teck. She was called “Lillibet” by her close family, and was cherished by her grandfather, George V – so much so that when George V fell seriously ill in 1929, the press credited Elizabeth’s frequent visits with aiding in and speeding up his recovery.
Elizabeth’s only sibling, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930, and both of them were tutored at home. Ever since she was a child, Elizabeth has had a love of horses and corgis, particularly the latter as she would go on to own 30 corgis (not all at the same time) during her reign (the last one died just two months ago). As a small child she was noted for her sense of authority and responsibility unusual for her age. Churchill said that “she has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant”, and her cousin Margaret Rhodes said that she was “a jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well behaved”.
During her grandfather, George V’s reign, Elizabeth was third in line to the throne, after her uncle, Edward VIII, and her father, George VI. When George V passed in 1936, Edward VIII assumed the throne. He was expected to reign for a while and have heirs of his own, but when the Church of England forbade him from marrying Wallis Simpson, he abdicated the throne a mere 11 months after his accession, sparking a constitutional crisis.
As Edward had no children, his brother and Elizabeth’s father, George VI, assumed the throne. His name was originally Albert, but he changed his name to George upon accession. This was for two reasons, (1) to emphasise continuity with his father, and (2) to distance himself from his German heritage. After reigning over World War II and Britain’s loss of India, the King was exhausted and his health declined severely. He died in February 1952 at the age of 56.
Elizabeth was in Kenya with her husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at the time of the King’s passing. This was part of a larger tour of the British Empire, and they were expected to continue on to Australia and New Zealand after visiting Kenya. On 6 February 1952, the new Queen and her husband had just returned to their Kenya home, Sagana Lodge, after spending a night at the Treetops Hotel, when word arrived of the King’s passing, and Elizabeth’s consequent accession. The Queen and her husband immediately returned to London in order to mourn the former king. As the new monarch, the Queen and her family moved to Buckingham Palace.
Elizabeth’s coronation was on 2 June 1953, over a year after her accession. She took her oath as monarch, was anointed with holy oil, invested with the crown jewels, and, most importantly, crowned. Thousands of Britons turned out to see the Queen’s procession and coronation and millions of other Britons watched on their televisions.
At the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth, Philip, and the Government frequently came at odds with each other. Elizabeth & Philip wanted to stay at the smaller, more comfortable Clarence House, but they were forced to stay at Buckingham Palace by the government. Philip wanted to change the name of the Royal House to Mountbatten, but the government wouldn’t allow it. These two instances along with many others marked the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
Elizabeth has reigned over many constitutional changes, including devolution in the UK (increased autonomy for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), Canadian Patriation (the unlinking of the Canadian Constitution from British control) in 1982, and the decolonisation of the British Empire. She has been the queen of over 30 countries during her reign, the longest lived and longest reigning British monarch, and the longest serving current head of state of any country in the world. She has met five popes, 11 U.S. Presidents, has visited 120 countries, and has travelled the equivalent of 42 circumnavigations of the Earth. Queen Elizabeth’s face has been on so much currency throughout the world that you can see her ageing when you put the banknotes together.
She conducted a historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland, became the first British Monarch to address Congress, and became the first British Monarch to send an email, at a British Army base in 1976. Since marrying Prince Philip in 1947, Elizabeth and Philip have been married for over 70 years. Elizabeth has celebrated her Silver Jubilee (25 years) in 1977, her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002, her Diamond Jubilee (60 years) in 2012, and her Sapphire Jubilee (65 years) in 2017. Let’s hope she’ll stick around to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee (70 years) in 2022.
As Winston Churchill once said, “some of the greatest moments in the history of our island have been under the sceptres of our queens”. He’s right. Queen Elizabeth’s reign has seen some extraordinary change in our world, so much so that the world at the beginning of her reign would be practically unrecognisable when compared to today’s world. The Queen has achieved so much during her lifetime that she is no longer relatable to anyone else in the world. The Queen will die at some point, and it will be sooner rather than later, but for the short time that she’ll be around, we should honour her for her incredible dedication, endurance, and commitment to public service.
We hope you enjoyed this special post and we’ll see you again soon.