Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Defender of the Faith, who has died aged 96, was the longest-serving monarch of the United Kingdom.
During a period of remarkable change throughout her realms and the world at large, she proved herself one of the most effective and best-loved sovereigns the nation has known.
By TELEGRAPH OBITUARIES - 8 SEPTEMBER 2022 • 7:15 PM BST
From the moment of her accession to the throne, comparisons were made with her Tudor namesake; particularly in the assumption that the country’s fortunes were, as in 1558, at a low ebb and that its one hope lay in the character of the new Queen. But few could have dared to believe Richard Dimbleby’s declaration at the time of the Coronation – that “No more devoted or courageous person could carry on the monarchy, which is the lasting strength of Britain and the wonder and envy of a large part of the world” – would prove so accurate.
She lived well into the 21st century: alert and well informed until the end, with only minor concessions to old age, and then only when she was in her 90s. She remained a calm presence: steadfast, with a clear vision of her role as Britain’s monarch and as Head of the Commonwealth, to both of which roles she was wholly committed.
As Queen she knew how to represent Britain; as a woman she was self-effacing, asking little for herself on a personal level. Duty was her watchword, and at the end of a long life of duty fulfilled, her achievements were remarkable.
A hallmark of her reign were the many acts of conciliation and reconciliation, evidenced in her receiving President Theodor Heuss of Germany in 1958 and her important three-week visit to West Germany in 1965. There were conciliatory state visits between Britain and Japan (in 1971 and 1975, and in 1998, some not without controversy), and the Queen was able to mark political changes by visiting China in 1986, and Russia in 1994.
Fresher in the public memory was her ground-breaking visit to Ireland in 2011 and the return state visit (of the Irish president Michael Higgins) to Windsor in 2014. In all these endeavours, she and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh sought to put aside the differences of the past and took steps to ensure an easier climate for the future.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Bedaling Pass, on the Great Wall of China, on the third day of their State Visit to China.CREDIT: RON BELL/PA WIRE
Against many predictions, the nation (and even, eventually, the Labour government) responded to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 with enthusiasm, staging events and bunting-festooned street parties. And by the time of her Golden Jubilee year in 2002, the widespread demonstrations of affection and loyalty from her subjects were as strong as those of half a century before. The celebrations which then marked her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 – a year crowned, most memorably, by her triumphant “arrival” by parachute at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics – showed a nation united in its affection for its monarch and at ease with the centuries-old institution she embodied. That she lived to celebrate the unique milestone of a Platinum Jubilee was nothing short of remarkable.
Almost 10,000 people turn out to see the Queen, on the second day of her Golden Jubilee visit to Powys, Wales, June 2002 | CREDIT: DAVID JONES/ROTA
The very nature of those celebrations, and the warmth and good humour that underpinned them, made the point that this had been an enormously successful reign by a devoted and popular monarch.
Throughout her reign the Queen was nobly supported by Prince Philip, ever at her side until he stepped down from public duties in 2017 at the age of 96. He lived on until 2021, dying shortly before his 100th birthday.
At moments such as the Diamond Jubilee (the Queen resisted national celebrations for occasions such as her Sapphire Jubilee in 2017 and the 70th anniversary of her marriage in the same year), it was hard to remember that, from time to time during her reign, there had been debate over the role and future of the monarchy. Even during those difficult periods, however, there was no debate about the good fortune that the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth had enjoyed under the reign of the Queen herself.
The most virulent republicans conceded that it was impossible to imagine any other figure who could have carried the burdens of the Head of State so effectively and graciously, or provided such a unifying presence.
She had made clear her dedication to the task on the occasion of her 21st birthday when, as Princess Elizabeth, she made a moving declaration from Cape Town that was broadcast across the Empire:
“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. But I shall not have the strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
It was the great blessing of Elizabeth II’s reign, and the great good fortune of her subjects, that she succeeded in this to a degree that could not have been expected or even hoped for.
Princess Elizabeth delivers what came to be known later as the ‘Cape Town speech’, devoting her future life to Commonwealth duties, on her 21st birthday, April 1947 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
THE QUEEN WHO NEVER EXPECTED TO RULE
Yet it was with no premonition of a second Elizabethan Age that the daughter born to the Duke and Duchess of York on April 21 1926 was given the name of her 16th-century forebear.
Only three lives, it is true, stood between the infant princess and the throne: those of her grandfather King George V and of his two eldest sons, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. However, there was no reason to suppose that the Prince of Wales, at 31 a much-pursued bachelor, would not marry and have children, the first of whom would instantly displace Princess Elizabeth in line of succession. So too would any son born to the Duchess of York; she was no more than 25 and, in spite of having had her daughter delivered by caesarean section, in robust health.
The Duke of York and Princess Elizabeth, July 1929CREDIT: THE ROYAL COLLECTION
Princess Elizabeth watches her father, King George VI, at work at his desk in the Royal Lodge, Windsor, April 1942CREDIT: HULTON ROYALS COLLECTION
Princess Elizabeth at Glamis Castle with one of her pet dogs, October 1937CREDIT: TOPICAL PRESS
Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret Rose knitting for the forces on the grounds of the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, April 1940 CREDIT: HULTON ROYALS COLLECTION
Princess Elizabeth during service in the ATS, Surrey, April 1945 CREDIT: IMOGEN SEBBA
LOVE, DUTY AND ASCENDANCY
Princess Elizabeth had fallen in love. A few weeks before the outbreak of war, on a visit with her parents to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, she met an officer with a family background as turbulent as her own was secure.
Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born in 1921 at the royal summer house of Mon Repos, Corfu, the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece, a brother of King Constantine I. His mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg, whose brother Lord Louis Mountbatten had since 1917 borne the anglisised version of the family name.
Princess Elizabeth & Prince Philip (front row center) pose with other family members as well as members of European nobility after their wedding. CREDIT: BRITISH COMBINE/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES
On tour in Canada, Princess Elizabeth is greeted by Native American dignitaries, Calgary 1951. CREDIT: PA
DAWN OF A NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE
Within a few hours of the King’s death, the prime minister had established a legend: that Britain stood upon the threshold of a new Elizabethan Age as much in renown as in name.
“Famous have been the reigns of our Queens,” Churchill told the nation in a BBC broadcast. “Some of the greatest periods in our history have unfolded under their scepter. Now that we have the second Queen Elizabeth, also ascending the Throne in her 26th year, our thoughts are carried back nearly 400 years to the magnificent figure who presided over, and in many ways embodied and inspired, the grandeur and genius of the Elizabethan Age.”
Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation robes, with crown, sceptre & orb, with studio backdrop of Westminster Abbey. CREDIT: CECIL BEATON / VICTORIA & ALBERT
Queen Elizabeth II with the Duke of Edinburgh, looking out from her Coronation Coach en route to Westminster Abbey, 1953. CREDIT: FOX PHOTOS / GETTY IMAGES
AFFAIRS OF STATE AND THE ROYAL PREROGATIVE
Fifteen prime ministers held office during the Queen’s reign.
They were Winston Churchill (1952-55); Anthony Eden (1955-57); Harold Macmillan (1957-63); Alec Douglas-Home (1963-64); Harold Wilson (1964-70 and 1974-76); Edward Heath (1970-1974); James Callaghan (1976-79); Margaret Thatcher (1979-90); John Major (1990-97); Tony Blair (1997-2007); Gordon Brown (2007-2010); David Cameron (2010-16); Theresa May (2016-19); Boris Johnson (2019-22); and Liz Truss from 2022. The first four were aristocrats, either by birth or marriage; the remainder were of humbler origin (though Blair was educated at a Scottish public school; Cameron and Johnson at Eton).
The Queen, Princess Anne ,and Prince Charles with Sir Winston Churchill at Balmoral, October 1952. CREDIT: NATIONAL TRUST COLLECTION
The Queen visits Oxford with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, November 1960. CREDIT: TERRY DISNEY / CENTRAL PRESS / GETTY IMAGES
The Queen attends the Royal Opera House with Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, October 1955 CREDIT: PA ARCHIVE IMAGES
THE QUEEN AND HER PRIME MINISTERS
Douglas-Home’s loss of the general election of 1964, albeit by a whisker, brought to power the first Labour government of the reign and the Queen’s first prime minister who had been educated at neither Eton nor Harrow.
Politically impartial and free from class-consciousness, she rapidly established a comfortable relationship with Wilson that continued throughout his years at No 10.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip listen to an address by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, September 1975. CREDIT: HULTON ROYALS COLLECTION
Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Edward Heath attend a gala concert, to celebrate Britain's entry into the EEC, January 1973. CREDIT: FRANK BARRATT/KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES
Prime Minister James Callaghan with Queen Elizabeth II on his arrival at Windsor Castle for lunch, December 1977. CREDIT: HULTON ROYALS COLLECTION
IN COMMAND IN PUBLIC AND AT HOME
The Queen, happiest when at Windsor or her private residences of Sandringham and Balmoral, was not wedded to a life of luxury.
But she was proud of her historic possessions at Buckingham Palace and Windsor, of which she regarded herself as a trustee, and entertained with a panache worthy of the first Queen Elizabeth.
US President Ronald Reagan laughs at a joke made by the Queen, on a royal visit to California, March 1983. CREDIT: BETTMANN/CORBIS
The Queen calms her horse after shots were heard during the Trooping the Colour Parade, June 1981. CREDIT: PA ARCHIVE IMAGES
The Queen visits the set of the popular soap opera Coronation Street, May 1982. CREDIT: TIM GRAHAM PHOTO LIBRARY VIA GETTY IMAGES
Official picture of the Queen, ahead of the traditional Christmas Day Speech in 1997. CREDIT: PA
The Queen and her racing manager Lord Porchester watch the finish of the 1978 Epsom Derby, June 1978. CREDIT: PA ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
FAMILY PROBLEMS LEAD TO CRISIS
The Queen’s family circle, meanwhile, fell well short of the ideals of Christian marriage she herself upheld. Two of her three sons, her only daughter, and her only sister dissolved their marriages in the divorce courts, as did her cousin and childhood companion, the Earl of Harewood.
Some of her older subjects wondered whether the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, who worshipped each Sunday wherever she happened to be, could not have instilled in her restless brood a stronger commitment to their marriage vows. Others, more worldly-wise, accepted that a national failure of one in three marriages could not reasonably exclude even the most privileged family in the kingdom.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh view floral tributes to Diana, Princess of Wales, outside Buckingham Palace, September 1997. CREDIT: AP
The Queen and Prince Philip meet the public in The Mall, the day before the funeral of the Princess of Wales, September 1997. CREDIT: EDDIE MULHOLLAND
Prince Charles and his bride Camilla Duchess of Cornwall leave St George's Chapel in Windsor, following the church blessing of their civil wedding ceremony, April 2005. CREDIT: AP
THE UPKEEP OF AN INSTITUTION
The marital difficulties of her children were not the only burden the Queen had to bear in the fourth decade of her reign.
The cumulative misfortunes of 1992 led Her Majesty, prompted by a courtier with a command of Latin, to call it her annus horribilis: the most famous bon mot of the reign.
Queen Elizabeth II surveys the scene at Windsor Castle following the fire. CREDIT: SEAN DEMPSEY
GLORIOUS IN HER GOLDEN YEARS
The year of the Golden Jubilee, 2002, was marred by the deaths of Princess Margaret and, seven weeks later, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, great personal blows for the Queen. Despite this, it represented a crucial turning point in the fortunes of the monarchy.
The outpouring of popular sentiment which followed the Queen Mother’s death, and the enthusiasm for the Jubilee itself, served to confound those who felt that public support for the monarchy was waning.
Handout photo issued by Clarence House of The Royal Wedding Group in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace. CREDIT: HUGO BURNAND/CLARENCE HOUSE
British actor Daniel Craig, portraying James Bond, escorts the Queen through the corridors of Buckingham Palace, as part of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics. CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES
The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team fly in formation over Buckingham Palace as the UK celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, April 2012. CREDIT: UK MOD © CROWN COPYRIGHT 2018
Oficial photograph released by Buckingham Palace to mark the 90th birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II, pictured with the Duke of Edinburgh. CREDIT: ANNIE LEIBOVITZ
HM Queen Elizabeth II. CREDIT: CAMERA PRESS/JULIAN CALDER