Queen Elizabeth II: In Memoriam

By Terrance Turner

Sept. 8, 2022

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 27: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Queen Elizabeth II (wearing ‘The Diamond Diadem’ made for King George IV by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell in 1820, ‘The Coronation Earrings’ and ‘The Coronation Necklace’ made by Garrard for Queen Victoria in 1858), accompanied by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, travels down The Mall in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach after attending the State Opening of Parliament on May 27, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth II has died. She was 96.

“The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” reads a terse statement on the Buckingham Palace website. (The Queen had been staying at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, a summer retreat.) The news comes after the palace had earlier stated the Queen had been placed under medical supervision and that doctors were “concerned” about her health.

Members of the royal family rushed to Her Majesty’s side as that news broke earlier today. Upon her death, the Queen’s oldest son, Charles, has ascended to the throne, becoming King Charles. In a statement, he wrote: “The death of my beloved mother, her Majesty the Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family. We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished sovereign and a much-loved mother.”

She was the longest-serving monarch in British history — and the longest-reigning female monarch in the history of the world. (She was the second-longest reigning in world history!) She ws leader of at least 14 Commonwealth nations, including those in North America, Africa, and Australia. But before all of that, she was Elizabeth Windsor.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on April 21, 1926, in a house off Berkeley Square in London. According to BBC News, she was the first child of Albert, Duke of York, and his duchess, the former Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

Photo from Getty Images.

She never went to school; instead, she and her younger sister Margaret (born in 1930) were educated at home. According to Spectrum News, her studies included French, music, and religion.) As a young girl, she couldn’t pronounce her own name, leading to her being given the nickname “Lilibet”. That name would take on greater significance in later years.

She was reportedly very close to her father and her grandfather, King George V. But when George V died in 1936, his eldest son ascended, becoming Edward VIII. He caused a scandal by falling madly in love with Wallis Simpson — who was not only American but a two-time divorcee. At the time, the Church of England didn’t allow marriages where, either party had a former spouse still living, and “hence neither of the parties should normally have been married and divorced more than once.” The King was supposed to be in communion with the Church of England; and if he married Simpson, the Government would be forced to resign.

Edward VIII abdicated the throne on Dec. 10, 1936; the next day he revealed that he’d left to marry “the woman I love”. (Indeed, he and Simpson would remain married until his death in 1972.) So Elizabeth’s father, the Duke of York, became King George VI. She was now second-in-line to the throne. Princess Margaret later recalled asking whether this meant Elizabeth would be queen. “Yes, I suppose it does,” a 13-year-old Elizabeth replied.

But first, the whole world would change.


World War II began in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France thus declared war on Germany in September 1939. As tensions rose in Europe, Princess Elizabeth accompanied her parents to Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. There, she was escorted by one of the cadets: her third cousin, Prince Philip of Greece.

On Sept. 13, 1940, shortly after the start of Germany’s bombing campaign against Britain, five explosive bombs were dropped on Buckingham Palace. Even the Royal Chapel was hit, and some royal staff were injured. But rather than flee, King George VI and his wife Elizabeth Angela (aka “The Queen Mother”) remained. (They did so to show solidarity with Londoners living through the Blitz, according to Biography.com.) Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, however, were evacuated to Windsor Castle, 20 miles away. From that castle, Princess Elizabeth gave her first radio address as part of BBC’s Children’s Hour. On Oct. 13, 1940, she told listeners:

“Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all. To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.”

Photo from BBC News.

According to the World War II Museum (of New Orleans): “As the war progressed, Princess Elizabeth championed more aspects of wartime life and resilience. In 1943, she was photographed tending her allotments at Windsor Castle as part of the government’s “Dig for Victory” campaign, in which people were urged to use gardens and every spare piece of land to grow vegetables to help combat food shortages.”

“On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Princess Elizabeth undertook her first inspection of a military regiment during a parade at Windsor Castle. She had been given the role of honorary colonel of the Grenadier Guards, which symbolized her military involvement in the war effort.” But she wanted more.

The princess wanted to join the fight; her protective parents refused to let her enlist. But young Princess Elizabeth persisted, and in 1944, at age 18, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army. She started off as a 2nd subaltern (a junior officer) and later was promoted to the equivalent of Captain.

WOMEN AT WAR 1939 – 1945 (TR 2835) Auxiliary Territorial Service: Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS, wearing overalls and standing in front of an L-plated truck. In the background is a medical lorry. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194945

Princess Elizabeth began her training as a mechanic in March 1945. She took a six-week driving and vehicle maintenance course at Aldershot. She learned how to deconstruct, repair and build engines and change tires, and learned how to drive every type of machine she worked on, including jeeps, trucks and ambulances,” per Biography.com. As a 1947 Collier’s magazine article noted of the overalls-clad teen, “One of her major joys was to get dirt under her nails and grease stains in her hands, and display these signs of labor to her friends.”

For the first time she was serving alongside other, regular Brits. But there were concessions: she ate many of her meals in an officers’ mess hall, not with enlistees. And each night she was driven to safety at Windsor Castle. Still, the princess relished her work and took it seriously. Her enlistment made headlines around the world, with newspapers calling her “Princess Auto Mechanic”. And even though her parents had objected, they even visited her at her ATS unit in April 1945.

Queen Elizabeth visits her daughter Princess Elizabeth, who is training as an ATS mechanic at a training centre in southern England, April 1945. At this stage she is a Second Subaltern of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth trains as an ATS mechanic at a training centre in southern England, April 1945. At this stage she is a Second Subaltern of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

She was still in the ATS when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. In London, thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate, flooding Trafalgar Square and the Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace where the King and Queen greeted them from the balcony. Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret went outside to join them. In 1985, the Queen recounted the moment to BBC.

“We asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves,” she later recalled. “I remember we were terrified of being recognised. I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief.” She noted: I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.”

But there were more memorable nights (and days) ahead. After the war, the princess continued a courtship with Prince Philip, with whom she’d been exchanging letters during the war. In 1946, Philip asked the King for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. He agreed, but wanted no official engagement until the princess’s birthday in 1946. The king was reluctant to give away his daughter, and the Greek-born Philip “had to overcome the prejudice of an establishment that could not accept his foreign ancestry,” per the BBC.

Still, the couple persisted. In a ceremony broadcast on BBC radio to over 200 million listeners, Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip on Nov. 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey.

Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, with her husband Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, on their wedding day, 20th November 1947. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

After the honeymoon, Prince Philip returned to navy service, and the couple resided near Windsor Castle. Their son Charles was born a year later. Starting in 1949, the family stayed for a while in Malta, where Philip was stationed. According to the Associated Press, “Elizabeth enjoyed an almost-normal life as a Navy wife.” But things wouldn’t stay normal for long.

The couple welcomed a daughter, Princess Anne, in 1950. But by that point, her father’s health was declining, and the pace of royal life was beginning to quicken for Elizabeth. According to the New York Times, “In the fall of 1951, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip toured Canada and the United States before embarking on what was supposed to be a lengthy trip to Australia and New Zealand, starting with a stop in what was still at the time the British colony of Kenya.” Her father, now gravely ill, saw them off at the airport.

King George died of lung cancer on Feb. 6, 1952. The next day, his daughter learned that she was now queen. At 25, she was now Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. She was now Queen Elizabeth II.

Photo by Cecil Beaton.

The coronation took place on June 2, 1953. It was the first to be nationally televised. Crowned in secret under a canopy, she returned to the Palace with 30,000 troops, 29 bands, and 27 carriages, according to the New York Times. It marked the start of a reign that would stretch for nearly seven decades, through liberations of countless nations, through one family crisis after another, through 14 US presidents and 15 prime ministers.

Within months of her coronation, the Queen was back on the road. She set off on a lengthy tour of the Commonwealth in Nov. 1953, per the BBC. At the time, the Commonweath of Nations consisted of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Pakistan, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and South Africa. Large crowds greeted the Queen on her travels, which made her the first reigning monarch to visit Australia and New Zealand. (She didn’t return home until May 1954, per the Guardian.)

In 1957, there were several new developments: Ghana became independent and joined the Commonwealth, and the queen addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. That year, she also opened the first session of Canada’s Parliament, which mirrored her role in the U.K. (Parliament is the highest legislative body of the United Kingdom. Made up of the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and the monarchy, it makes laws, approves government spending and debates important issues. Though the Queen has little formal power, she gives final approval to laws, appoints a Prime Minister, and officially opens sessions of Parliament every year.)

Queen Elizabeth was unable to begin Parliament in 1959, as she was expecting her third child. She gave birth to her son Prince Andrew on Feb. 19, 1960. That spring, the Queen saw another happy event for the royal family when her sister Princess Margaret married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones on May 6, 1960. It was the first royal wedding to be televised.

In 1960, Ghana adopted a new constitution and held a presidential election. Ghana elected its first president, Kwame Nkrumah. He was inaugurated on July 1, 1960, replacing Elizabeth II as head of state. Despite tensions that led to bombs in the capital city of Accra, the Queen visited Ghana in 1961.

At a state dinner, Nkrumah toasted Elizabeth II by saying, “The wind of change blowing through Africa has become a hurricane. Whatever else is blown into the limbo of history, the personal regard and affection which we have for Your Majesty will remain unaffected.” According to Biography.com, the queen responded by noting that nations of the Commonwealth could disagree without members needing to leave. Her trip generated enough goodwill to ensure that Ghana remains part of the Commonwealth to this day.

Her Majesty also made headlines by dancing with Nkrumah at dinner. Biography noted: “Having the queen and a former colonial subject arm-in-arm on the dance floor was a way to demonstrate her acceptance of a new footing between their countries.” It was also a striking visual, given the global racial tensions that existed at the time.

Photo from the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Meanwhile, other countries were seeking independence. Some did leave the Commonwealth. In March 1961, the Commonwealth held a Prime Ministers’ Conference. Members disagreed whether to remove South Africa from the Commonwealth, due to its policy of apartheid (racial segregation). Dr. H.F. Verwoerd, South African prime minister, went to London in March 1961 to give the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers formal notice that South Africa had voted (in Oct. 1960) to change from a monarchy to a republic, and at the same time to request permission to remain within the British Commonwealth.

When it became clear that South Africa’s request would not be granted, Verwoerd withdrew it and left the conference. In May 1961, South Africa became a republic, left the Commonwealth and elected its first president. Queen Elizabeth lost her title as head of state; activist Nelson Mandela lost his freedom. As part of the All-In African National Action Council, he sought to unite anti-apartheid forces and helped organize a stay-at-home strike coinciding with the While fighting apartheid, he was arrested and imprisoned in 1962.

Jamaica joined the Commonwealth in 1962. The events in South Africa and Ghana underscored the “wind of change” in Britain’s colonial empire. Things within the royal family were changing, too. Queen Elizabeth gave birth to her fourth and final child, Prince Edward, on March 10, 1964, in Buckingham Palace. It was the only birth witnessed by his father Prince Philip, according to Vanity Fair. The Queen now balanced her professional and royal duties with that of a mother of four.

In May 1965, the Queen took a trip to West Germany, the first German visit by a monarch in 52 years. This visit sealed Britain’s postwar reconiciliation with Germany. But the Queen was soon faced with another international crisis. In 1965, the African state of Rhodesia (which had been a “crown colony” since 1923) unilaterally declared independence from the British government. Britain had been pushing the white government of Rhodesia to embrace black majority rule and an end to racial discrimination. Instead a stalemate broke out between the Prime Ministers of Britain and Rhodesia, sparking the latter to declare independence. But Rhodesia did so while maintaining loyaty to the Queen, naming her “Queen of Rhodesia”.

These upheavals coincided with changing mores in Britain. The “Swinging ’60s” were a cultural revolution marked by fashions like the miniskirt, sexual liberation among Britons, and the “British Invasion” in which rock bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones took the U.S. by storm. Perhaps in response to the changing times, the Queen decided to give her subjects a glimpse inside a family that to many seemed stuffy and formal.

In 1968, Queen Elizabeth and her family filmed the groundbreaking documentary “Royal Family”. The British Broadcasting Corporation was allowed to film the royals at home, having barbecue at Balmoral, decorating Christmas trees and taking their children out for a drive. In one scene, the Queen buys her son Prince Edward ice cream from a shop and frets about the mess it’ll make in the car.

Camera crews accompanied the Queen on tours of Chile and Brazil, in meetings with Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and at home with her children. The film, which aired in 1969, captured what went on beyond the royal facade. “Critics claimed that Richard Cawston’s film destroyed the mystique of the royals by showing them to be ordinary people,” the BBC noted. “But the film echoed the more relaxed mood of the times and did much to restore public support for the monarchy.”

Queen Elizabeth II lunches with Prince Philip and their children Princess Anne and Prince Charles at Windsor Castle in Berkshire, circa 1969. A camera (left) is set up to film for Richard Cawston’s BBC documentary ‘Royal Family’, which followed the Royal Family over a period of a year and was broadcast on 21st June 1969. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1970, during a tour of New Zealand, Her Majesty broke with tradition. She wanted to meet a greater number of people, not just officials and dignitaries. So she started a new practice by going out and meeting the crowds that had lined up to see her. At the time, it was a surprising breach of protocol; now, “walkabouts” have become a tradition for royals. In fact, one of the first things her son Charles did upon becoming king was greet the throngs of Britons that had lined up outside of Buckingham Palace:


Her son, King Charles, paid tribute to her in his inaugural address: “I speak to you today with feelings of profound sorrow. Throughout her life, Her Majesty The Queen — my beloved Mother — was an inspiration and example to me and to all my family, and we owe her the most heartfelt debt any family can owe to their mother; for her love, affection, guidance, understanding and example.

Queen Elizabeth’s was a life well lived; a promise with destiny kept and she is mourned most deeply in her passing. That promise of lifelong service I renew to you all today. Alongside the personal grief that all my family are feeling, we also share with so many of you in the United Kingdom, in all the countries where the queen was head of state, in the Commonwealth and across the world, a deep sense of gratitude for the more than seventy years in which my mother, as queen, served the people of so many nations.”

“I pay tribute to my Mother’s memory and I honor her life of service. I know that her death brings great sadness to so many of you, and I share that sense of loss, beyond measure, with you all.”

This story will be updated.

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