Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and head of state of 18 other countries, has died today, aged 96. She was the longest-serving monarch in British history, our national matriarch, and a symbol of all that is Great in Britain.
Elizabeth was born on 21 April, 1926, under the reign of her grandfather, King George V. She was the daughter of Albert Frederick Arthur George (later King George VI) and the Duchess of York Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (later the Queen Mother).
Following the death of her grandfather, and the subsequent abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, she became the Heir Presumptive. The since-abandoned rule of male primogeniture meant Elizabeth was only the presumed heir, since her father, then King, would in the event of having a son produce a new heir.
In 1940 the 14-year old princess demonstrated the tender temperament that would serve her, and us, so well – dedicating her debut radio address to evacuee children. Taking to the airwaves and appearing on the BBC’s Children’s Hour, she brought hope where there was despair, telling the evacuated children that:
“In wishing you all good evening, I feel I am speaking to friends and companions, who have shared with my sister and myself, many a happy Children’s Hour.”
In 1943, Elizabeth would be admitted into the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she would train as a mechanic. The iconic images of the young princess driving a Red Cross lorry demonstrated an early commitment to the public service that she would later dedicate her entire life toward fulfilling.
At war’s end, Elizabeth, then 19 and wearing her ATS uniform – the cap pulled down over her eyes, along with her sister Princess Margaret, snuck into (and then got stuck into) the London crowds celebrating VE Day. Throughout the course of the war, the princess had played her part as a figurehead, and then in the field – always in lockstep with her people, with whom she could not resist celebrating.
Elizabeth embarked on her first overseas tour in 1947, where she accompanied her mother and father to South Africa. It was during this visit that she would make that solemn pledge to which she would unflinchingly abide for the rest of her days:
“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.”
On the 20th of November that same year, at a ceremony in Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth would marry the late Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was her strength and stay for 75 years. The event of the Royal wedding was said to have been the biggest media frenzy that had then been seen.
Following her father’s death on 6 February 1952, Elizabeth would begin her reign as our Queen, with her coronation delayed until 2 June 1953 – in keeping with tradition that such a festival should not be held in the immediate wake of a monarch’s passing. Hers was the first coronation to be televised in its entirety – against the advice of Sir Winston Churchill, who was overruled by her majesty. The counsel of the old war hero was smartly discarded by Elizabeth, whose understanding of media and the world to come was well advanced of her years.
Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne was celebrated in every corner of the British Isles, and throughout her empire. Millions gathered around television sets to catch a glimpse, sneak a look, see their Queen. It was a display of national unity not seen before, and rarely since – except when she was the cause and the focus of the singularity.
Elizabeth proved as hands-on as a monarch as she did as a mechanic. In 1953 she would begin her tour the empire, and would become the first monarch to visit New Zealand and Australia – where she was seen by an estimated three quarters of the Australian population.
As the empire gave way to the Commonwealth, the Queen maintained a commitment to her subjects, touring Cyprus, India, Pakistan, and Nepal in 1961.
1977 marked the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which was followed by a Golden Jubilee in 2002, a Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and a Platinum Jubilee – the first of its kind – this year. The Queen valiantly defied mobility issues to make every attempt to be visible to the public, for whom she had served for 70 years, appearing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to watch the RAF flyover.
Throughout her long term of service she has appointed a grand total of 15 prime ministers. Her longevity and steadfastness ensured a continuum that awarded to the reputation of our United Kingdom an assured stability and continuity that other nations could only dream of.
She has given birth to four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Andrew, Duke of York; and Edward, Earl of Wessex. Despite standoffish depictions, the Queen was a warm mother, as is evident by the care with which she mothered our country.
Despite being beset by health issues in her later years, and the tragic passing of Prince Phillip, the Queen maintained her good-humoured nature. From slicing cakes with swords to cracking jokes and wearing smiles, she embodied a can-do, positive attitude that won her the universal adulation not just of her subjects, but of the world.
Today, as we learn that Queen Elizabeth II has passed away, we remember her as our Queen, as a mother, as a force for stability, and as a much-loved fixture of our society. We remember her steadfast commitment to public service, and the impeccable manner in which she discharged her duties. We will never again witness a monarch reign for so long, or so well. May she rest in peace.
God Save The Queen.