The crowning achievement of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8, 2022 after 70 years on the throne, was to maintain the popularity of the monarchy across decades of seismic political, social and cultural change that threatened to make it an anachronism.
A dignified, dependable figure who reigned longer than any other British monarch, Elizabeth helped steer the institution into the modern world, stripping away court ritual and making it somewhat more open and accessible, all in the glare of an increasingly intrusive and often hostile media.
While the nation she reigned over sometimes struggled to find its place in a new world order and her own family often fell foul of public expectations, the queen herself remained a symbol of stability. She also tried to transcend class barriers and earned the grudging respect of even hardened republicans.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on April 21, 1926. The young princess never expected to ascend to the throne: it was only after her uncle King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 because of his love for American divorcee Wallis Simpson that the crown passed to her father, George VI, when she was 10. In picture Princess Elizabeth, centre, age 11, appears on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the coronation of her father, King George VI, right, in London on May 12, 1937.
Princess Elizabeth was 13 when she fell for her 18-year-old third cousin Philip in 1939. Two years later, she married the Danish-Greek prince. In picture, Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh pose on their wedding day at Buckingham Palace in London on November 20, 1947.
She was just 25 when her father died and she became Queen Elizabeth II on February 6, 1952, while on tour in Kenya with her husband Prince Philip. In picture. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrive at Sagana Lodge in Nyeri County, during a Commonwealth visit to Kenya on February 5, 1952. The following day, during a walk in the grounds on the royal couple's return to the lodge from the Treetops Hotel, Prince Philip would break the news to Elizabeth that her father, King George VI, had died during the night and that she had acceded to the throne.
Elizabeth became queen in 1952 and was crowned on June 2, 1953 in a televised ceremony in Westminster Abbey, becoming the first queen in her own right since Queen Victoria and the 40th monarch in a royal line that traces its origin back to William the Conqueror in 1066.
Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill kisses Queen Elizabeth II's hand as she leaves 10 Downing Street in London, after a dinner given by the Prime Minister on on April 4, 1955. Winston Churchill was the first of the 15 Prime Ministers who served during her reign.
Queen Elizabeth was on the throne for most of the Cold War from the death of Soviet leader Josef Stalin. During her reign there were 14 U.S. presidents, from Harry S. Truman to Joe Biden, and she met all of them except Lyndon Johnson. In picture, Queen Elizabeth II is escorted by U.S. President George W. Bush past a painting of former President Harry S. Truman from the residence area to the Grand Foyer of the White House prior to State Dinner for the British monarch and Prince Philip May 7, 2007.
During Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne Britain underwent dramatic change. The austere postwar 1950s gave way to the swinging 60s, the divisive leadership of Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, Tony Blair’s three-term New Labour era, a return to economic austerity and then the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo combo shows Queen Elizabeth II during the State Opening of Parliament in April 1966 and November 15, 2006.
Queen Elizabeth II’s years on the throne were often far from smooth sailing. She famously described as an “annus horribilis” the 40th anniversary of her accession in 1992 after three of her four children’s marriages failed and there was a fire at her Windsor Castle residence. In piture, Queen Elizabeth II is accompanied by a fireman as she tours the scene of a major fire at Windsor Castle on November 21, 1992.
The death in 1997 of Princess Diana, the divorced wife of Elizabeth’s eldest son Charles, inflicted even more damage on the family’s public prestige. In picture, the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II on September 5, 1997 view the thousands of flowers and tributes left outside Kensington Palace in memory of Diana.
Millions turned out for celebrations to mark her 50th, 60th and 70th years on the throne, while her starring role in a spoof James Bond film became the highlight of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Television screen grab image taken on July 29, 2012, shows footage featured during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games starring British actor Daniel Craig playing James Bond escorting Britain's Queen Elizabeth II through the corridors of Buckingham Palace.
In 2022, at the start of a Platinum Jubilee pop concert, she again won huge plaudits for a pre-recorded comic sketch with Paddington Bear, in which she told the famous fictional character that she always kept his favourite snack — a marmalade sandwich — in her ever-present handbag. Picture, released by Buckingham Palace on June 4, 2022, shows Queen Elizabeth II and Paddington Bear having cream tea at Buckingham Palace, taken from a film that was shown at the BBC Platinum Party at the Palace Photo: Buckingham Palace via AFP
Queen Elizabeth II was said to crack jokes with world leaders, enjoy an easy familiarity with long-serving Commonwealth heads of government, and relish a wager on race horses. Racing was an enduring passion. Photo shows Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arriving for the first day of the Royal Ascot horse racing meet in Ascot, west of London on June 14, 2016.
Queen Elizabeth II was also accompanied for most of her reign by her corgi dogs, which earned a reputation for snapping at the heels of royal retainers and were descended from the dog called Susan she received as an 18th birthday gift from her parents. in the picture, Queen Elizabeth II is seen walking in the private grounds of Windsor Castle on steps at the rear of the East Terrace and East Garden with four of her dogs: clockwise from top left Willow (corgi), Vulcan (dorgie), Candy (dorgie) and Holly (corgi), in this official photograph released by Buckingham Palace to mark her 90th birthday on April 20, 2016. Photo: Buckingham Palace via Reuters
In September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II overtook Queen Victoria to become the country’s longest-ever reigning monarch, an achievement to which she said she had never aspired, and the following year there were more celebrations for her 90th birthday. Picture shows her, wearing the Imperial State Crown, proceeding through the Royal Gallery as she attends the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in central London on May 27, 2015.
Queen Elizabeth II’s marriage to Philip, the Greek prince she wed aged 21, stayed solid for 73 years until his death in April 2021. In the picture, Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat for the funeral service of Prince Philip inside St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021.
“It has been said that ‘the art of progress is to preserve order amid change and change amid order’, and in this the queen is unparalleled,” then-Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech to parliament in 2012. “She has never shut the door on the future; instead, she has led the way through it.” In this file combination of pictures created on October 29, 2021 shows the various colourful outfits worn by Queen Elizabeth II throughout the decades.