Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been matriarch of the Royal House of Windsor for nearly seven decades after she ascended to the throne in 1952. After surpassing her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as the longest reigning British monarch in 2015, it is easy to forget that when Elizabeth was born in 1926 she was never expected to become the future Queen.
When Princess Elizabeth was born in 1926, she was third in line to the throne. Her father, then the Duke of York, was the son of King George V and younger brother of Prince Edward who at the time was the heir apparent. After her grandfathers death in 1936, her uncle ascended to the throne but ruled less than a year before abdicating to marry the twice divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson.
Her father became King George VI and Princess Elizabeth became the heir presumptive. In 1939, only three years after her father's coronation, Britain entered World War II and the Royal Family became a steady and unwavering symbol of hope for the British people. Despite many recommendations to the contrary, the Windsor family never evacuated from England during the war with the Queen Mum famously saying, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."
The then 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth gave her radio broadcast to the United Kingdom in 1940 during the BBC's Children's Hour. Three years later She undertook her first solo appearance on a visit to the Grenadier Guards. Before the war ended in 1945, Elizabeth was appointed to the Auxiliary Territorial Service where she trained as a driver and mechanic. Her service during this time means that she is the only surviving head of state who served during World War II.
After the war, Elizabeth began to undertake more duties which included accompanying her parents on a tour of Southern Africa in 1947 where she famously made a pledge to the people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Realms saying;
"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."
-Queen Elizabeth II
Not long after making this declaration, it was announced that Princess Elizabeth was engaged to Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. The pair first met in 1934 then were re-introduced when Elizabeth was 13 when they began to exchange letters. Elizabeth is said to have shared that it was during their second introduction that she fell in love with him and knew she would one day marry the Greek prince.
Their engagement was controversial due to Philip being foreign born and having sisters with ties to the Nazi party. However, Philip had served in the Royal Navy during the war and ended up renouncing his Greek and Danish titles as well as converting to anglicism before marrying Elizabeth.
The pair ended up having four children over a period of sixteen years. Prince Charles was born in 1948 and was heir apparent at his birth while Prince Edward was born in 1964 as the third in line after his two older brothers and followed by his older sister (Princess Anne fell below her brothers as male primogeniture was not overturned until 2013.)
As Elizabeth's father's health deteriorated in the early 1950's, Elizabeth stood in for him on several occasions. In early 1952, Elizabeth and Philip set out on a tour of some Commonwealth realms when news came of King George VI's death. As is custom, Princess Elizabeth immediately became Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth Realms.
Queen Elizabeth's official coronation did not take place until June 2nd of 1953 and was the first coronation to be televised (with the exception of the anointing and communion which are religious customs thought to be private between a Monarch and God). Queen Elizabeth kept the vow she had made six years earlier and dedicated her life to the service of her people, sometimes at great personal cost to herself and her family. When Prince Charles and Princess Anne were only five and three she and Prince Philip undertook a seven month tour of Commonwealth nations.
Queen Elizabeth is the most widely travelled head of state having made hundreds of state visits to other countries and undertaking tours of commonwealth nations. When the Queen ascended to the throne there were only eight nations in the commonwealth and it is now a internationally connected community of fifty three countries.
Perhaps what she is most well known for is her British stiff upper lip and her ability to Keep Calm and Carry On even in the most devastating of circumstances. She has endured a world war, the passing of her father, daughter-in-law, sister and mother, cheating scandals by her children and their spouses, a horrific fire at Windsor Castle, fourteen Prime Ministers, and Brexit. Despite all of this she has served dutifully and faithfully, upholding her coronation oath and remaining impartial on all political matters.
She is a symbol of stability in the United Kingdom and she has transformed the monarchy, bringing it into the 21st century by always balancing the sanctity of the crown with rapidly changing times. Though her 68 year reign has not been without criticism at times, she has always corrected mistakes when needed and stuck with her convictions and beliefs on other occasions.
Having become the heir presumptive through a near constitutional crisis caused by her uncle, she has secured the Windsor dynasty for the next three generations through Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George. Queen Elizabeth currently has four children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
At 93 years old she has truly lived one of the most extraordinary lives, keeping the monarchy alive and relevant through some of the most rapidly changing times in human history. She is one of the most highly respected figures alive today and is the only monarch across the globe that is identified as solely as The Queen.
Long Live the Queen xx