Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch who served as the beloved face of her country and source of strength for seven decades, died Thursday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She was 96.
Elizabeth’s doctors said earlier Thursday that they were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health” and that she was “resting comfortably” at Balmoral under medical supervision.
The royal was preceded in death by her husband, Prince Philip, who spent more than seven decades supporting the queen. The Duke of Edinburgh, Britain’s longest-serving consort, died in April 2021 at age 99.
Elizabeth and Philip were married for more than 70 years and had four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
From the small, curly-haired girl known to her family as “Lilibet” to the gracious, bespectacled great-grandmother who favored broad-brimmed hats, deliberate bright fashion and sensible shoes, the queen was always a favorite with her subjects both at home and in her many visits to Commonwealth nations around the world.
Queen Elizabeth II has since 1952 served as reigning monarch of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and numerous other realms and territories, as well as head of the Commonwealth, the group of 53 sovereign nations that includes many former British territories.
Extremely popular for nearly all of her long reign, the queen is known for taking a serious interest in government and political affairs, apart from her ceremonial duties, and is credited with modernizing many aspects of the monarchy.
In September 2015, Elizabeth surpassed the record of 63 years and 216 days on the throne set by Queen Victoria (her great-great-grandmother) to become the longest-reigning British monarch in history.
In February 2022, Elizabeth celebrated her Platinum Jubilee—marking seven decades of her service to the Commonwealth.
When Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, the elder daughter of Prince Albert, Duke of York, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was born on April 21, 1926, she apparently had little chance of assuming the throne, as her father was a younger son of King George V.
But in late 1936, her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry an American divorcée, Wallis Simpson. As a result, her father became King George VI, and 10-year-old “Lilibet” (as she was known within the family) became the heir presumptive to the throne.
Though she spent much of her childhood with nannies, Princess Elizabeth was influenced greatly by her mother, who instilled in her a devout Christian faith as well as a keen understanding of the demands of royal life. Her grandmother, Queen Mary, consort of King George V, also instructed Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret in the finer points of royal etiquette.
Educated by private tutors, with an emphasis on British history and law, the princess also studied music and learned to speak fluent French. She trained as a Girl Guide (the British equivalent of the Girl Scouts) and developed a lifelong passion for horses.
As queen, she has kept many thoroughbred racehorses and frequently attended racing and breeding events. Elizabeth’s famous attachment to Pembroke Welsh corgis also began in childhood, and she would own more than 30 corgis over the course of her reign.
Elizabeth and Margaret spent much of World War II living apart from their parents in the Royal Lodge at Windsor Castle, a medieval fortress outside London. In 1942, the king made Elizabeth an honorary colonel in the 500 Grenadier Guards, a Royal Army regiment.
Two years later, he named her as a member of the Privy Council and the Council of State, enabling her to act on his behalf when he was out of the country.
In 1947, soon after the royal family returned from an official visit to South Africa and Rhodesia, they announced Elizabeth’s engagement to Prince Philip of Greece, her third cousin (both were great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) and a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. She had set her sights on him when she was only 13, and their relationship developed through visits and correspondence during the war.
Though many in the royal circle viewed Philip as an unwise match due to his lack of money and foreign (German) blood, Elizabeth was determined and very much in love. She and Philip wed on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey.
Their first son, Charles (Prince of Wales) was born in 1948; a daughter, Anne (Princess Royal) arrived two years later.
Elizabeth and Phillip were married for an extraordinary 73 years, until the Prince died in April 2021 at the age of 99.