Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was not born to wear the crown. But fate intervened.
The woman who became Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate 70 years on the throne on Sunday, an unprecedented reign that made her a beacon of stability as the UK navigated an era of uncertainty.
From her early days as a glamorous young royal in glittering tiaras to her most recent incarnation as the nation’s grandmother, the Queen has witnessed the end of the British Empire, the rise of multiculturalism, the rise of international terrorism and the challenges posed by Brexit. and the COVID-19 pandemic. In a world of constant change, she has been a constant – representing the UK’s interests abroad, applauding the nation’s successes and sympathizing with its failures, and always remaining above the political fray.
This constancy should earn Elizabeth a royal epithet like those of her predecessors such as William the Conqueror, Edward the Confessor and Alfred the Great, said royal historian Hugo Vickers.
“I always thought she should be called Elizabeth the Steadfast,” Vickers told The Associated Press. “I think that’s a perfect way to describe it. She didn’t necessarily expect to be queen, and she accepted that duty.
As the eldest daughter of King George V’s second son, Elizabeth, now 95, was expected to live the life of an underage royal when she was born on April 21, 1926. Dogs and horses, a home campaign, a suitable match – a comfortable but uneventful life – seemed his future.
But that all changed a decade later when her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Elizabeth’s father became King George VI, making the young princess the heir apparent.
George VI, whose struggles to overcome a stutter was portrayed in the 2010 film ‘The King’s Speech’, endeared himself to the nation when he refused to leave London as bombs fell in the early months of World War II.
Elizabeth followed her father in leading by example, joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service in early 1945, becoming the first female royal to join the armed forces as a full-time serving member. On her 21st birthday, she dedicated her life to the nation and the Commonwealth, the voluntary association of states that grew out of the British Empire.
“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether long or short, will be devoted to your service and to the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong,” she said in a radio address in the whole world.
In 1952, the young princess embarked on a tour of the Commonwealth in place of her sick father. She was at a remote Kenyan lodge, where she and her husband Prince Philip were watching baboons from the treetops, when she learned her father had died.
She immediately returned to London, disembarking from the plane dressed in black mourning clothes, to begin her life as queen. She has ruled ever since, with crown and scepter on special occasions, but most often wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a simple purse.
Over the next seven decades, the Queen shared secrets with 14 prime ministers and met 13 US presidents.
Once a year, she walks about a mile from Buckingham Palace to the House of Lords for the ceremonial opening of Parliament. And when world leaders come to call her, she hosts state banquets where her diamonds flash under TV lights and presidents and prime ministers debate whether to bow and when to toast.
But it’s the less glitzy events that give the Queen a connection to the public.
At garden parties that honor the service of everyone from soldiers and charity workers to longtime school librarians and school crossing guards, guests wear party hats and drink tea as they try to catch a glimpse of the Queen on the lawn outside Buckingham Palace. Winners can spot her from a distance, as she is said to prefer bright colors so the public can spot her in a crowd.
Then there is the annual wreath laying at the memorial to those who died in conflicts around the world, as well as the many school openings, hospice visits and maternity visits that filled his days.
Britain’s longest-serving monarch, the only ruler most Britons have ever known, has been a constant presence since the Suez Crisis of 1956, when Egypt’s seizure of the Suez Canal underscored the decline of power Britain, through the labor disputes of the 1980s and the terror of 2005. London bombings..
When Prince Philip died during the pandemic, she donned a black mask and sat alone at his socially distanced funeral, silently demonstrating that the rules applied to everyone – especially her.
“She is not beholden to the electorate. She doesn’t depend on her latest hit or her latest movie,” said Emily Nash, Royal Editor of HELLO! magazine. “She’s right there. She does what she does. She carries out her duties without ever complaining or causing personal drama. And people respect her for that.
Not that there weren’t any controversies.
In the early 1990s, criticism of the monarchy intensified amid reports of the Queen’s private wealth and concerns over the monarchy’s spending. In 1992, the Queen agreed to pay the expenses of most of her family and became the first monarch to pay income tax since the 1930s.
Tensions erupted again in 1997 when the royal family’s silence following the death of Princess Diana, Prince Charles’ ex-wife, fueled resentment among many Diana fans.
Even now, the monarchy is struggling to distance itself from the scandal caused by a sex abuse lawsuit brought against Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son, and the fallout after two of the royal family’s most popular members, the Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, abandoned their royal duties and left for California.
But the Queen has transcended the scandal and remained popular throughout it all, said Kelly Beaver, CEO of polling firm Ipsos UK, which has tracked her popularity for decades.
“Partly because it’s so synonymous with … the monarchy, which the British people are proud of,” Beaver said.
Yet Tiwa Adebayo, a social media commentator and writer who inherited her fascination with the monarchy from her grandmother, thinks young people want ‘more transparency’ – to see the royal family move beyond the adage “never complain, never explain”. characterized the Queen’s reign.
For the Queen, Sunday is likely to be bittersweet, marking both her long reign and the 70th anniversary of her father’s death.
“I always thought that one of her philosophies was really that, you know, she just wanted to be a really good girl for her dad and fulfill all of his hopes for her,” Vickers said. “And, you know, assuming there is an afterlife and they find each other again, my God, he can thank her for doing just that.”
—Danica Kirka, Associated Press
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