Queen Elizabeth II – The Most Powerful Woman in the World

Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary ; 21 April 1926 – 8 September 2022) reigned over the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms from 6 February 1952 until she died in 2022. During her lifetime, she reigned over 32 sovereign states, with 15 remaining at the time of her death. Her 70-year-and-214-day reign was the longest of any British monarch, the longest of any female head of state in history, and the second-longest verified reign of any sovereign in history.

Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II

Elizabeth was born in Mayfair, London, as the Duke and Duchess of York’s first child (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth). Following the abdication of her father’s brother, King Edward VIII, in 1936, Elizabeth became the heir presumptive. She was educated privately at home and began performing public duties during WWII when she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She married Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark, in November 1947, and their marriage lasted 73 years until his death in April 2021. Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward were their four children.

When her father died in February 1952, Elizabeth, then 25, became Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), as well as Head of the Commonwealth. Elizabeth reigned as a constitutional monarch during major political changes such as the Northern Ireland Troubles, devolution in the United Kingdom, African decolonization, and the United Kingdom’s accession to the European Communities and withdrawal from the European Union. Her realms grew in number over time as territories gained independence and some realms became republics. State visits to China in 1986, Russia in 1994, and the Republic of Ireland in 2011 were among her many historic visits and meetings, as were meetings with five popes.

Early life

Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, at 02:40 (GMT), during the reign of her paternal grandfather, King George V. Her father was the King’s second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI). Her mother, Elizabeth, Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), was the youngest daughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, a Scottish aristocrat. Princess Elizabeth was born via Caesarean section at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, the home of her grandfather Lord Strathmore.

Portrait by Philip de László, 1933
Portrait by Philip de László, 1933

On May 29, she was baptized in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace by the Anglican Archbishop of York, Cosmo Gordon Lang, and given the names Elizabeth after her mother, Alexandra after her paternal great-grandmother, who had died six months earlier, and Mary after her paternal grandmother. She was adored by her grandfather, George V, whom she affectionately called “Grandpa England,” and her regular visits during his serious illness in 1929 were credited in the popular press and by later biographers with raising his spirits and aiding his recovery.

Princess Margaret, Elizabeth’s only sibling, was born in 1930. The two princesses were educated at home by their mother and their governess, Marion Crawford. History, language, literature, and music were all covered in class. Crawford, much to the royal family’s chagrin, published The Little Princesses, a biography of Elizabeth and Margaret’s childhood years, in 1950. Elizabeth’s love of horses and dogs, her orderliness, and her sense of responsibility are all described in the book. Others agreed: Winston Churchill described Elizabeth when she was two years old as “a personality She has a remarkable authority and reflectiveness for an infant.” Margaret Rhodes, her cousin, described her as “a jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well-behaved.”

Heir Presumptive

In Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform, April 1945
In Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform, April 1945

Elizabeth was third in line to the British throne during her grandfather’s reign, after her uncle Edward and her father. Although her birth sparked public interest, Elizabeth was not expected to become queen because Edward was still young and likely to marry and have children of his own, who would come before Elizabeth in the line of succession. She became second in line to the throne after her father when her grandfather died in 1936 and her uncle succeeded Edward VIII. 

Later that year, Edward abdicated after a constitutional crisis erupted over his proposed marriage to divorced socialite Wallis Simpson. As a result, Elizabeth’s father ascended to the throne, adopting the regal name George VI. Elizabeth became heir presumptive because she had no brothers. If her parents had had a son, he would have been heir apparent and would have come before her in the line of succession, which was determined by the male-preference primogeniture that was in effect at the time.

Elizabeth received private constitutional history instruction from Henry Marten, Vice-Provost of Eton College, and French instruction from a succession of native-speaking governesses. The 1st Buckingham Palace Company of Girl Guides was formed specifically for her to socialize with other girls her age. She eventually became a Sea Ranger.

Elizabeth’s parents traveled to Canada and the United States in 1939. Elizabeth stayed in Britain after they had toured Australia and New Zealand in 1927 because her father thought she was too young to go on public tours. As her parents left, she “appeared tearful.” They corresponded frequently, and on May 18, she and her parents made the first royal transatlantic phone call.

Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten

In 1934 and 1937, Elizabeth first met her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. They were second cousins once removed through Denmark’s King Christian IX and third cousins through Queen Victoria. Elizabeth, then 13, fell in love with Philip, then 18, after meeting for the third time at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in July 1939. On July 9, 1947, she was 21 years old when their engagement was officially announced.

At Buckingham Palace with new husband Philip after their wedding, 1947
At Buckingham Palace with her new husband Philip after their wedding, in 1947

The engagement sparked some debate. Philip had no money, was foreign-born (though a British subject who served in the Royal Navy throughout WWII), and had sisters who had married German noblemen with Nazi ties. Marion Crawford penned, “Some of the King’s advisors did not think he was suitable for her. He was a prince without a kingdom or a home. Some of the papers played long and loud tunes on Philip’s foreign-origin string.” Later biographies stated that Elizabeth’s mother had reservations about the marriage at first and referred to Philip as “the Hun.” However, she later told biographer Tim Heald that Philip was “an English gentleman.”

Before his marriage, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles, officially converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Anglicanism, and adopted the style of Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, taking the surname of his mother’s British family. Shortly before the wedding, he was created Duke of Edinburgh and given the title of His Royal Highness.

Elizabeth and Philip married on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey. They received 2,500 wedding gifts from all over the world. Because Britain had not yet fully recovered from the devastation of the war, Elizabeth needed ration coupons to purchase the fabric for her gown. It was not acceptable in post-war Britain to invite Philip’s German relatives, including his three surviving sisters, to the wedding. Neither was an invitation extended to the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII.

On November 14, 1948, Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, Prince Charles. One month earlier, the King had granted her children the right to use the style and title of a royal prince or princess, which they would not have had otherwise because their father was no longer a royal prince. Princess Anne was born on August 15, 1950, as the couple’s second child. On February 19, 1960, Elizabeth gave birth to her third child, Prince Andrew, the first birth to a reigning British monarch since 1857. Prince Edward, her fourth child, was born on March 10, 1964.

Following their marriage, the couple leased Windlesham Moor near Windsor Castle until July 1949, when they moved to Clarence House in London. Between 1949 and 1951, the Duke of Edinburgh served as a serving Royal Navy officer in the British Crown Colony of Malta. He and Elizabeth spent several months at a time in Malta, in the hamlet of Gwardamana, at Villa Guardamangia, the rented home of Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten. Their two children remained in the United Kingdom.

Accession and Coronation

In 1951, George VI’s condition worsened, and Elizabeth frequently stood in for him at public events. In October 1951, she toured Canada and met with President Harry S. Truman in Washington, D.C. Her private secretary, Martin Charteris, carried a draught accession declaration in case the King died while she was on tour. Elizabeth and Philip embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand in early 1952, via the British colony of Kenya.

Coronation portrait with husband Philip, 1953
Coronation portrait with husband Philip, 1953

Despite Queen Mary’s death on March 24, 1953, the coronation took place on June 2, as Mary had requested before her death. Except for the anointing and communion, the coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey was televised for the first time. Her coronation gown was embroidered with floral emblems of Commonwealth countries at Elizabeth’s request.

Evolution of the Commonwealth

With Commonwealth leaders at the 1960 Commonwealth Conference
With Commonwealth leaders at the 1960 Commonwealth Conference

The British Empire continued to evolve into the Commonwealth of Nations after Elizabeth’s birth. Her role as the leader of multiple independent states was well established by the time she was elected in 1952. Elizabeth and her husband set out on a seven-month round-the-world trip in 1953, visiting 13 countries and traveling over 40,000 miles (64,000 km) by land, sea, and air. She became the first reigning monarch to visit Australia and New Zealand. Crowds were massive during her tour; it was estimated that three-quarters of Australia’s population saw her. Throughout her reign, Elizabeth made hundreds of state visits and Commonwealth tours, making her the most traveled head of state.

Silver Jubilee

Elizabeth celebrated the Silver Jubilee of her accession in 1977. Parties and events were held across the Commonwealth, with many of them coinciding with her associated national and Commonwealth tours.

Golden Jubilee

At a Golden Jubilee dinner with British prime minister Tony Blair and former prime ministers, 2002.
At a Golden Jubilee dinner with British prime minister Tony Blair and former prime ministers, 2002. From left to right: Blair, Margaret ThatcherEdward Heath, Elizabeth, James Callaghan, and John Major

Elizabeth celebrated her Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of her accession, in 2002. Her sister and mother died in February and March, respectively, and the media speculated whether or not the Jubilee would be a success. She embarked on another extensive tour of her realms, beginning in Jamaica in February, where she called the farewell banquet “memorable” after a power outage plunged the King’s House, the governor-official general’s residence, into darkness. There were street parties and commemorative events, as there had been in 1977, and monuments were named in honor of the occasion. Each day of the three-day main Jubilee celebration in London, one million people attended, and the public’s enthusiasm for Elizabeth was greater than many journalists had anticipated.

Diamond Jubilee and Longevity

Diamond Jubilee tour
Diamond Jubilee tour

Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 marked her 60th year on the throne, and celebrations were held across her realms, the Commonwealth, and beyond. Her husband and she went on a lengthy tour of the United Kingdom, while her children and grandchildren went on royal tours of other Commonwealth countries on her behalf. Jubilee beacons were lit around the world on June 4th. Elizabeth made a surprise appearance at a wedding party at Manchester Town Hall as part of her Jubilee celebrations, which made international headlines. Elizabeth and her husband celebrated their blue sapphire wedding anniversary in November (65th). On December 18, she became the first British sovereign since George III in 1781 to attend a peacetime Cabinet meeting.

COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United Kingdom on March 19, 2020, Elizabeth relocated to Windsor Castle and was sequestered there as a precaution. Public appearances were canceled, and Windsor Castle adhered to a strict sanitary protocol dubbed “HMS Bubble.”

After 73 years of marriage, Prince Philip died on April 9, 2021, making Elizabeth the first British monarch to reign as a widow or widower since Queen Victoria. She was reportedly at her husband’s bedside when he died, and she later commented privately that his death had “left a huge void.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions in place in England at the time, Elizabeth sat alone at Philip’s funeral service, eliciting sympathy from people all over the world. She paid a personal tribute to her “beloved Philip” in her Christmas broadcast that year, saying, “That mischievous, inquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him.”

Despite the pandemic, Elizabeth attended the 2021 State Opening of Parliament and the 47th G7 summit in May and June, respectively. On the 73rd anniversary of the establishment of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, on July 5, she announced that the NHS will be awarded the George Cross to “recognize all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations.”

For the first time since her operation in 2004, she began using a walking stick during public appearances in October 2021. Her previously scheduled visits to Northern Ireland, the COP26 summit in Glasgow, and the 2021 National Service of Remembrance have all been canceled due to health concerns.

Net worth

For many years, Elizabeth’s fortune was the subject of speculation. Jock Colville, her former private secretary and a director of her bank, Coutts, estimated her wealth in 1971 at £2 million (approximately £30 million in 2021). Buckingham Palace called estimates of £100 million “grossly exaggerated” in 1993. Her mother’s estate was estimated to be worth £70 million when she inherited it in 2002. According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2020, her net worth is £350 million, ranking her 372nd in the United Kingdom. She was number one on the list when it first appeared in the Sunday Times Rich List in 1989, with a reported wealth of £5.2 billion (approximately £13.8 billion in today’s value), which included state assets that were not hers personally.

The Royal Collection, which includes thousands of historic works of art and the Crown Jewels, was held in trust by Elizabeth for her successors and the nation, as were her official residences such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and the Duchy of Lancaster, a property portfolio valued at £472 million in 2015. According to the Paradise Papers, which were leaked in 2017, the Duchy of Lancaster had investments in the British tax havens of the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

Elizabeth personally owned Sandringham House in Norfolk and Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire.

The Crown Estate, with £14.3 billion in holdings in 2019, is held in trust and cannot be sold or owned by her in her capacity.

Platinum Jubilee

Drones forming a corgi above Buckingham Palace at the Platinum Party at the Palace on 4 June 2022
Drones forming a corgi above Buckingham Palace at the Platinum Party at the Palace on 4 June 2022

Drones form a corgi above Buckingham Palace on June 4, 2022, for the Platinum Party at the Palace.

Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee began on February 6, 2022, marking 70 years since her father’s death and her accession to the throne. 

She hosted a reception at Sandringham House on the eve of the wedding for pensioners, local Women’s Institute members, and charity volunteers. 

In her message on Accession Day, Elizabeth reaffirmed her commitment to a lifetime of public service, which she made in 1947.

Titles and Styles

Royal Cypher of Queen Elizabeth II
Royal Cypher of Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II's personal flag
Queen Elizabeth II‘s personal flag
  • 21 April 1926 – 11 December 1936: Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York
  • 11 December 1936 – 20 November 1947: Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth
  • 20 November 1947 – 6 February 1952: Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh
  • 6 February 1952 – 8 September 2022: Her Majesty The Queen

 Elizabeth held numerous titles and honorary military positions across the Commonwealth was the sovereign of numerous orders in her own countries and received honors and awards from all over the world. She had a distinct title in each of her realms that followed a similar formula: Queen of Saint Lucia and Her Other Realms and Territories in Saint Lucia, Queen of Australia and Her Other Realms and Territories in Australia, and so on. She was known as Duke of Normandy and Lord of Mann in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, which are Crown Dependencies rather than separate realms. Defender of the Faith and Duke of Lancaster are two other styles. When speaking with Elizabeth, it was customary to address her first as Your Majesty and then as Ma’am.

Death

Lying-in-State of Elizabeth II at Westminster Hall
Lying-in-State of Elizabeth II at Westminster Hall
Elizabeth II's coffin leaves Holyrood Palace.
The Queen's cortege processing down The Mall towards Westminster Hall
Singing of the National Anthem at the conclusion of the Westminster Abbey service 

Buckingham Palace announced on September 8, 2022, that Elizabeth was under medical supervision at Balmoral Castle after doctors expressed concern. According to the statement: “Following an additional evaluation this morning, Her Majesty’s doctors are concerned about her health and have recommended that she remain under medical supervision. The Queen remains at Balmoral, where she is at ease.” Elizabeth’s four children, as well as her daughters-in-law Camilla and Sophie, and grandsons William and Harry, made the trip to Balmoral. Her death was confirmed at 18:30 BST that evening, launching Operation London Bridge and, because she died in Scotland, Operation Unicorn.