Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II
(Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor)
born 1926, queen of Great Britain since 1952 (daughter of George VI).

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in full Elizabeth Alexandra Mary

born April 21, 1926, London, Eng.

Queen of the United Kingdom from 1952.

She became heir presumptive when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated and her father became king as George VI. In 1947 she married her distant cousin Philip, duke of Edinburgh, with whom she had four children, including Charles, prince of Wales. She became queen on her father's death in 1952. Increasingly aware of the modern role of the monarchy, she favoured simplicity in court life and took an informed interest in government business. In the 1990s the monarchy was troubled by the highly publicized marital difficulties of two of the queen's sons and the death of Diana, princess of Wales. In 2002 the queen's mother and sister died within two months of each other.

Elizabeth II, 1985.

Camera Press/Globe Photos

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▪ 2003

      On Feb. 6, 2002, Queen Elizabeth II marked the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne of the United Kingdom. The occasion should have signaled the beginning of nationwide celebrations of her golden jubilee. Instead, the anniversary was soon overshadowed by two family deaths in quick succession. Her younger sister, Princess Margaret, died just three days later of a stroke, and on March 30 Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, died in her sleep at the age of 101. Neither death was wholly unexpected, but they cast a pall over the buildup to the planned jubilee celebrations. Fortunately, the festivities were scheduled for May through August, to take advantage of the summer weather, and the initial grieving was over by the time that they were due to begin. The highlight of the summer, the Golden Jubilee Weekend (June 1–4), included concerts, fireworks, and a ceremonial procession to St. Paul's Cathedral (for a service of thanksgiving) with Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, duke of Edinburgh, riding in the Gold State Coach. A massive public party on the Mall ensued. The queen's nationwide tour went ahead as planned, beginning on May 1, and she was greeted warmly in all parts of the United Kingdom. The official Jubilee celebrations ended with a garden party for 3,000 people at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on August 7. During the year the queen also visited Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada—all members of the Commonwealth and former British colonies.

      Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born in London on April 21, 1926. The elder daughter of Albert, duke of York, she might have expected to lead a life away from intense public attention. Her uncle duly became King Edward VIII in January 1936, but when he abdicated just 11 months later, Albert became King George VI and Elizabeth became heir presumptive. George occupied the throne for 15 years before succumbing to lung cancer in 1952. The 25-year-old Elizabeth, who was on an official visit to Kenya at the time, flew back to London to be greeted as the new queen.

      Like her father, but unlike her uncle, Elizabeth became noted for her devotion to public service above all other considerations. As the head of a constitutional monarchy, she had few powers and was expected always to remain aloof from public controversies. She nevertheless managed to create a role—and to uphold values—that succeeded in retaining public confidence in an era of rapid social change and intense media scrutiny. She became identified in particular with the causes of the Commonwealth and racial tolerance. She took manifest pleasure in the return of South Africa, under Nelson Mandela's presidency, to the Commonwealth. During the late 1990s she struggled with questions about the royal finances as well as adverse publicity surrounding the divorces of her sons Charles, prince of Wales, and Andrew, duke of York. When Diana, princess of Wales, was killed in August 1997, the queen came under criticism for her delayed response, and there was debate about the future role of the British monarchy. In November 2002 theft charges against Paul Burrell, Diana's former butler, had to be dropped after the queen belatedly disclosed that Burrell had told her that he was looking after some of the princess's effects. Despite the continuing debate about the future of the British monarchy, Elizabeth seemed to be secure in her role.

Peter Kellner

▪ 1997

      The 70th birthday celebration of Queen Elizabeth II in April 1996 was a muted affair. Despite her own undiminished popularity after 44 years on the throne of the United Kingdom, the queen was surrounded by family turmoil and public pressures on the British monarchy to change its ways. Two of her children—Charles, prince of Wales, the heir to the throne, and Andrew, duke of York—were in the process of getting divorced amid a welter of salacious stories about their wives, Diana, princess of Wales, and Sarah, duchess of York. (The queen's daughter, Princess Anne, had already divorced and remarried, while her youngest son, Prince Edward, remained unmarried.) The publicity surrounding the divorces provoked widespread demands that the royal family adopt a more modern and open approach to their official roles. The queen responded by agreeing, for the first time, to pay income tax on her private investments and to accept a reduction in the Civil List (payments made by the British government to the royal family for fulfilling their public functions). Doubts continued to grow, however, about the ability of the British monarchy to survive much beyond Elizabeth's reign.

      Born in London on April 21, 1926, Elizabeth seemed destined to a life of relative obscurity. Her father, the duke of York (later King George VI), was the younger brother of the heir to the throne. However, her childless uncle abdicated the throne in December 1936 after 11 uneasy months as King Edward VIII, and Elizabeth became heir presumptive. When George died in 1952, Elizabeth, aged only 25 and with a Greek-born husband and two young children, became queen. She quickly established herself as a popular monarch, more devoted to public service than many of her predecessors. She also sought to tread a careful path between the maintenance of pomp and tradition and adjustment to the modern world. She never gave interviews (although she permitted her children and husband, Philip, duke of Edinburgh, to do so), yet from time to time she allowed television cameras into Buckingham Palace and her other residences to film her both at work and relaxing with her family.

      Although the private life of the royal family was widely reported, Elizabeth's more formal role as head of state also provoked controversy. As a strictly constitutional monarch, she had no power to intervene in the actions of her elected government, but she made clear her devotion to social cohesion in Britain and to the cause of a multi-racial Commonwealth. Thus, the readmission of South Africa to the Commonwealth in 1994 and Pres. Nelson Mandela's state visit to London in July 1996 provided bright interludes in an otherwise dismal decade for the queen.


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▪ queen of United Kingdom
in full  Elizabeth Alexandra Mary , officially  Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith 
born April 21, 1926, London, England
 queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from February 6, 1952.

      Elizabeth was the elder daughter of Albert, duke of York, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. As the child of a younger son of King George V, the young Elizabeth had little prospect of acceding to the throne until her uncle, Edward VIII (afterward duke of Windsor), abdicated in her father's favour on December 11, 1936, at which time her father became King George VI and she became heir presumptive. The princess's education was supervised by her mother, who entrusted her daughters to a governess, Marion Crawford; the princess was also grounded in history by C.H.K. Marten, afterward provost of Eton College, and had instruction from visiting teachers in music and languages. During World War II she and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, perforce spent much of their time safely away from the London blitz and separated from their parents, living mostly at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, and Windsor Castle.

  Early in 1947 Princess Elizabeth went with the king and queen to South Africa. After her return there was an announcement of her betrothal to her distant cousin Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (Philip, duke of Edinburgh) of the Royal Navy, formerly Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. The marriage took place in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. On the eve of the wedding her father, the king, conferred upon the bridegroom the titles of duke of Edinburgh, earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich. They took residence at Clarence House in London. Their first child, Prince Charles (Charles Philip Arthur George), was born November 14, 1948, at Buckingham Palace.

   In the summer of 1951 the health of King George VI entered into a serious decline, and Princess Elizabeth represented him at the Trooping the Colour and on various other state occasions. On October 7 she and her husband set out on a highly successful tour of Canada and Washington, D.C. After Christmas in England she and the duke set out in January 1952 for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, but en route, at Sagana, Kenya, news reached them of the king's death on February 6, 1952. Elizabeth, now queen, at once flew back to England. The first three months of her reign, the period of full mourning for her father, were passed in comparative seclusion. But in the summer, after she had moved from Clarence House to Buckingham Palace, she undertook the routine duties of the sovereign and carried out her first state opening of Parliament on November 4, 1952. Her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.

      Beginning in November 1953 the queen and the duke of Edinburgh made a six-month round-the-world tour of the Commonwealth, which included the first visit to Australia and New Zealand by a reigning British monarch. In 1957, after state visits to various European nations, she and the duke visited Canada and the United States. In 1961 she made the first royal British tour of the Indian subcontinent in 50 years, and she was also the first reigning British monarch to visit South America (in 1968) and the Persian Gulf countries (in 1979). During her “Silver Jubilee” in 1977, she presided at a London banquet attended by the leaders of the 36 members of the Commonwealth, traveled all over Britain and Northern Ireland, and toured overseas in the South Pacific and Australia, in Canada, and in the Caribbean.

 On the accession of Queen Elizabeth, her son Prince Charles (Charles, prince of Wales) became heir apparent; he was named prince of Wales on July 26, 1958, and was so invested on July 1, 1969. The queen's other children were Princess Anne (Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise), born August 15, 1950; Prince Andrew (Andrew Albert Christian Edward), born February 19, 1960, and created duke of York in 1986; and Prince Edward (Edward Anthony Richard Louis), born March 10, 1964. All these children have the surname “of Windsor,” but in 1960 Elizabeth decided to create the hyphenated name Mountbatten-Windsor for other descendants not styled prince or princess and royal highness. Elizabeth's first grandchild (Princess Anne's son) was born on November 15, 1977.

  The queen seemed increasingly aware of the modern role of the monarchy, allowing, for example, the televising of the royal family's domestic life in 1970 and condoning the formal dissolution of her sister's marriage in 1978. However, after the failed marriage of her son and Diana, princess of Wales, and Diana's death in 1997, popular feeling in Britain turned against the royal family, which was thought to be out of touch with contemporary British life. In line with her earlier attempts at modernizing the monarchy, the queen, after 1997, sought to present a less-stuffy and less-traditional image of the monarchy. These attempts have met with mixed success.

      She is known to favour simplicity in court life and is also known to take a serious and informed interest in government business, aside from the traditional and ceremonial duties. Privately she has become a keen horsewoman; she keeps racehorses, frequently attends races, and periodically visits the Kentucky stud farms in the United States. Her financial and property holdings have made her one of the world's richest women.

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Universalium. 2010.

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