Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest reigning monarch, has died at the age of 96.
The royal who wasn’t supposed to become queen at all, sat on the throne for 70 years following the death in 1952 of her father, George VI, who himself assumed the throne only because of the abdication by his brother, King Edward VIII in 1936.
Working with 15 British prime ministers throughout her reign, beginning with Winston Churchill, the queen served as head of state for both Labour and Conservative governments, following the modern royal tradition of remaining neutral on political matters.
She helped lead her country through the aftermath of World War II, the Cold War, economic booms and busts, strife in Northern Ireland, the creation of the European Union and Brexit.
Admired for her dedication to her job, Queen Elizabeth was seen by many Britons as a pillar of strength for the country at a time when the nation was navigating its diminishing world power.
Earning the distinction of Britain’s longest reigning monarch on September 9, 2015, she characteristically went about her daily duties, which included opening a new railway in Scotland, barely mentioning the distinction.
“Inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones; my own is no exception,” she said at the ceremony.
Ascending the throne
As a young royal, Princess Elizabeth was placed directly in line for the throne when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 in order to marry an American divorcee.
Her father, George VI, inherited the role of head of state, and led the monarchy from 1936 to his death in 1952.
Princess Elizabeth was on a tour in Kenya when she learned of her father’s death. She was just 25 years old at the time and only four years into her marriage to navy Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, a Greek prince, whom she wed at age 21.
The couple would later have four children, Charles, born in 1948, Anne, born in 1950, Andrew in 1960 and Edward in 1964.
A year after her father’s death, Elizabeth’s Coronation took place in 1953 at a ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey, the first to be televised live to the world. An estimated 20 million Britons watched on television with millions more watching from abroad, according to the BBC, which broadcasted the event.
Supporters of the queen say she was instrumental in helping the monarchy to survive in Britain when the institution had been abandoned in many countries around the world.
Known for her pragmatism and unshowy dedication to the job, the queen came to personify Britain in the eyes of many. Through her steadfast presence at countless events representing her country, she earned the respect of large majorities in Britain as well as popularity abroad, becoming one of the world’s most recognizable figures.
Britain’s Express newspaper reported in 2020 that the Queen had traveled more than a million miles, calling her “the most traveled head of state of all time.” The report said she had visited 110 countries, with her longest trip a 44,000-mile tour of the Commonwealth in 1953.
In 2002, the Queen traveled more than 40,000 miles to celebrate her Golden Jubilee — 50 years on throne — including visits to the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well as 70 towns and cities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Some of her travels were diplomatic milestones for Britain, including her visit to West Germany in 1965, the first official visit by a British royal to Germany since 1913. The trip marked the 20th anniversary of the end of WWII.
In 1986, the queen became the first visit British monarch to visit the Chinese mainland, and 25 years later she became the first British monarch in 100 years to travel to the Republic of Ireland.
She earned praise for her speech in Ireland in 2011, saying that her visit “reminds us of the complexity of our history, its many layers and traditions, but also the importance of forbearance and conciliation. Of being able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it.”
The queen was a patron of more than 500 charities in Britain. Research from the Charities Aid Foundation released in 2012, when the monarch celebrated 60 years on the throne, showed that Queen Elizabeth had helped organizations raise nearly $2 billion.
The subject of scores of books, movies, and television shows, Queen Elizabeth remains enigmatic. She was intensely private and tight-lipped.
While she was known to love horse racing, brightly colored clothing, and her Welsh corgis, her personal opinions were not something that she shared with the public.
The queen had perhaps been most exposed to the public’s intense scrutiny during times of difficulties during her reign, many of which related to troubles in her own royal family.
She said in 1992 during a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of her succession that the year “has turned out be an ‘Annus Horribilis’ – Latin for “a horrible year,” after three of her four children announced a decision to separate or divorce – Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne.
Prince Charles’ troubled marriage with Princess Diana was long a source of tension for the royal family with public sympathies often favoring the princess.
After Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, the queen came under criticism for not immediately addressing the public or returning to Buckingham Palace from her vacation in Balmoral. Five days after the princess’ death, the queen bowed to public pressure and returned to the palace to deliver a live address paying tribute to Diana.
“She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness,” the queen said.
In 2019, the queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, left his royal duties over his links to U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who died in a New York prison in 2019.
Prince Andrew was accused by an American woman of sexual abuse at the home of Epstein, accusations the prince denied.
Also quitting royal duties was the queen’s grandson, Harry and his wife, Meghan, over tensions on how they would carry out their royal roles. The couple moved to the United States and in a televised interview in 2021 accused unnamed members in the royal family – but not the queen — of racism toward Meghan, who is biracial.
The queen responded in a statement saying the accusations “are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”
Sympathies for the queen poured in after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, in April 2021, just a few weeks before his 100th birthday.
Married for 73 years, the prince was often by the queen’s side, or the two paces behind at official events that is required by royal protocol.
The Queen hailed Prince Philip after his death as her “strength and stay” throughout their marriage and her reign.