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Wales Online
Wales Online
Jess Molyneux, Nostalgia Reporter & Kirstie McCrum

Queen Elizabeth II dies: A lifetime of service to the nation

Ruling for longer than any other British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II undoubtedly made history throughout her reign, which saw her travel more widely than any other royal and undertake numerous historic visits. Known for her sense of duty and her devotion to a life of service, she was an important figurehead for the UK and the Commonwealth during times of enormous social change.

During her reign, Her Majesty continued to carry out a full programme of engagements, with her patronages and charities covering a wide range of issues. All of this was done against a backdrop of her personal life, which saw her marry, raise four children and welcome both grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the Royal Family.

Here, we pay tribute to the fascinating life and reign of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

1926-1936: A future Queen is born

When Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on April 21, 1926 - there was no expectation that she would one day become Queen. The first child of The Duke and Duchess of York, who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth was born at 17 Brunton Street, Mayfair, in London at 2.40am. The home belonged to her mother's parents.

The Home Secretary at the time, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, was present at the Queen's birth - a custom which was kept until 1948 - despite the government being embroiled in a row with coal miners. Born third in line to the throne and named after her mother, Elizabeth’s uncle David, the Prince of Wales, was the heir apparent.

Lilibet – as she was known – spent her early years between Piccadilly in London and at White Lodge in Richmond Park. From an early age, she had a fondness for horses and was given her first, a Shetland pony called Peggy, at the age of four.

On August 21, 1930, Elizabeth welcomed a royal sibling, Margaret Rose, and along with her parents, they became a very close family. Along with her sister Princess Margaret, Elizabeth was privately educated under the supervision of their mother and their governess, Scottish educator Marion Crawford.

To the dismay of the Royal family, in 1950, she published a biography of the princesses entitled The Little Princesses, which discussed Elizabeth’s love of horses, dogs and what she was like in her early years.

At the age of seven, Her Majesty was introduced to a Pembrokeshire Welsh corgi, Dookie, that was brought home by her father in 1933. Falling in love with the breed, it was the first of around 30 corgi companions owned by the Queen during her lifetime.

1936-1946 - Abdication, war and meeting Philip

In 1936, Elizabeth’s grandfather died and her uncle succeeded as Edward VII. But his reign was short-lived, as he abdicated from the Throne after receiving backlash for his proposed marriage to divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson. Elizabeth’s father became George VI and since she had no brothers, Elizabeth became heir presumptive.

Elizabeth continued her studies with private tuition in history from Henry Marten, Vice-Provost of Eton College. She was also taught by teachers of other specialist subjects, such as French, German and music. In 1937, Elizabeth, then aged 11, was registered as a Guide and her younger sister, Margaret, was registered as a Brownie.

Their mother, Elizabeth, also joined the Girl Guides Association and the Palace created the 1st Buckingham Palace Guide Company to help the girls earn their challenge badges. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip of Greece, a distant cousin, first met in 1934, at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark to Prince George, Duke of Kent.

But the pair met properly again five years later in the summer of 1939 when she was 13 and he was 18. The princess had accompanied her parents on a visit to Britain’s Royal Naval College, where he was a cadet. In September that year, WWII broke out and on October 13, 1940, Elizabeth made her first public speech to British children who faced evacuation.

Her sister, Princess Margaret, joined in at the end, wishing the children goodbye. Girl Guides across the country were also hard at work in the war effort and in 1942 Elizabeth II's troop was moved from Buckingham Palace and reformed at Windsor Castle because of the bomb threat to London.

That same year, Her Majesty also made her first public engagement on her 16th birthday, by inspecting the soldiers of the Grenadier Guards. The sixteen-year-old Princess was enrolled as a Sea Ranger on February 26, 1943 in SRS President III, and in 1945 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service to become No 230873 second subaltern Elizabeth Windsor. She remains the only female royal to have ever joined the armed forces.

On her 18th birthday, she was given a special present - a corgi puppy named Susan.

Queen Elizabeth II (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

1946-1956 : Marriage, motherhood and the Crown

After returning from a tour of South Africa, Elizabeth’s engagement to Philip Mountbatten was officially announced on July 9, 1947. The platinum and diamond engagement ring was made by jeweller, Philip Antrobus, using diamonds from a tiara belonging to Philip's mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg.

The wedding ring was made from a nugget of Welsh gold which came from the Clogau St David's mine, near Dolgellau. Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, who submitted designs for the dress.

Elizabeth, aged 21 and the newly naturalised Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten married on November 20, 1947, in Westminster Abbey. The newlyweds spent their wedding night in Broadlands, Hampshire, the home of Philip's uncle, Earl Mountbatten.

Almost exactly a year after their wedding, the happy couple welcomed their first child into the family. Prince Charles was born at 9.14pm on November 14, 1948, at Buckingham Palace. Two years later, Princess Anne was born at Clarence House on August 15, 1950 and was later christened Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise.

Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya at Treetops Hotel on February 6, 1952, when she became Queen following the death of her father, George VI. The rest of the visit was cancelled as she flew back to Britain to take her place as monarch.

At the age of 27, Elizabeth II was crowned at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, 18 months after her father’s death. Becoming the 39th Sovereign to be crowned there and the 14th Queen, an estimated 27 million people watched the coronation on television, while 11 million listened on the radio.

On November 24, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II set off on a tour of the Commonwealth - a continuation of the tour she had been on when her father died. Lasting seven months, it was her longest ever tour which saw her visit 13 countries.

1956-1966: Politics, births and the first Christmas speech

In 1957, the Queen was placed in a tricky situation regarding the successor of prime minister Sir Anthony Eden, who suddenly resigned on the grounds of ill health in the wake of the Suez crisis. Many had expected his deputy, Rab Butler, to succeed him, but Harold Macmillan later accepted the Queen's invitation to become prime minister.

On December 25 that year, Queen Elizabeth II continued her father’s tradition of a speech on Christmas Day, but instead delivered it live on television. The historic broadcast was made live from the Long Library at Sandringham in Norfolk.

On February 19, 1960, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh welcomed their third child. Named after his paternal grandfather, Prince Andrew was born at Buckingham Palace.

In 1963, Her Majesty was also brought into another Conservative squabble when Macmillan “convinced her” to choose Alec Douglas-Home as successor over Butler, the deputy prime minister. At the time, The Palace made it clear that the choice of a new leader should be for the Conservative Party alone and the Queen maintained the monarchy’s political impartiality, waiting for a name to be brought to her.

At the age of 37, Queen Elizabeth gave birth to her fourth and final child, Prince Edward, at Buckingham Palace, on March 10, 1964.

In May 1965, Her Majesty became the first reigning British monarch to set foot in Germany in 52 years. The visit marked the 20-year anniversary of the end of World War II, helping to symbolise the reconciliation between the two countries.

The Queen opened the World Cup in England during the opening ceremony at Wembley Stadium in 1966 and returned to present captain Bobby Moore with the Jules Rimet trophy as England beat West Germany 4-2.

1966-1976: Documentary, ‘rebelling’ and Charles’ investiture

On October 21, 1966, the Aberfan disaster saw 144 people, including 116 children, killed by the collapse of a tip of coal waste. Eight days later, the Queen visited the Welsh village, a delay which she is said to have immensely regretted.

A fly-on-the-wall documentary - The Royal Family - aired on June 21, 1969. The film, now locked away from the public eye, followed the lives of the royal family, with footage including the family having a barbecue at Balmoral.

In 1970, during a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand Queen Elizabeth rebelled against centuries of royal tradition. Instead of waving to the public at a safe distance, the monarch strolled to meet crowds in person. A ‘walkabout’ is now a regular practice for British royals.

In March 1976, Elizabeth became one of the first heads of state to send an email, which was sent whilst she was at an army base.

The Queen crowned Prince Charles on July 1, 1969, at Caernarfon Castle in Wales. In the ceremony, Her Majesty gave Charles the symbols that marked him as Prince of Wales; the sword, coronet, ring, rod and mantle. Broadcast live, it was watched by millions across the globe.

1976-1986: The Thatcher years, losing Lord Mountbatton and the next generation of Royals

The Queen’s 25 years on the throne was celebrated with Commonwealth visits and a public holiday on June 2, 1977. Later that year, the Queen’s first grandchild, Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips, was born on November 15, 1977, at St Mary’s Hospital in London.

The palace was shocked to the core in 1979 when the IRA assassinated Philip’s uncle Lord Mountbatten. Along with a local boy, Mountbatten’s grandson and the dowager Lady Brabourne, his fishing boat in Sligo, western Ireland was blown up.

The same year, the Queen’s former surveyor of pictures, Anthony Blunt, was unveiled as a Soviet spy and Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was elected. A historic moment for Britain, much has been speculated about their relationship and problems were said to have arose regarding Thatcher’s reluctance to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa.

Marcus Sarjeant, a 17-year-old boy, fired six times at the monarch on June 13, 1981, while she was taking part in the Trooping the Colour celebration that marks the head of state's official birthday. He was prosecuted under the Treason Act and sentenced to five years.

Prince Charles married Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981. A year later, William Arthur Philip Louis - now second in line to the throne - was born in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, London on June 21, 1982.

In one of the worst breaches of security in history, Michael Fagan broke into the royal residence through the queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace coming face to face with the Royal, and wandered the corridors on July 9, 1982, before the police were called.

Charles and Diana’s second child, Prince Henry Charles Albert David – known as Prince Harry – was born in St Mary’s Hospital in London on September 15, 1984.

1986-1996: Windsor castle fire and three Royal divorces

On November 20, 1992, a devastating fire swept through Windsor Castle, causing more than £36 million worth of damage. Destroying over 100 rooms, including a number of State Rooms, the castle was not restored until 1997.

The decade also saw three of the Queen’s four children gain wide media attention for their divorces.

In 1992, Princess Anne, the Queen’s only daughter, divorced from her husband Captain Mark Phillips after being separated for three years.

Prince Charles was the first heir to be granted a divorce back in 1996 when he split from Lady Diana Spencer. Following a four-year separation, the couple reached a final agreement.

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's divorce became official on May 30, 1996, however, the couple had been separated four years prior.

Queen Elizabeth II (PA)

1996-2006: Tragic deaths and golden anniversaries

The Queen’s daughter-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales, died on August 31, 1997, from the injuries she sustained in a car crash in Paris.

Diana's sons and former in-laws, including the Queen, were on holiday that day and public support for the family later dipped, with many believing they should have returned immediately from Balmoral.

The Queen spoke to the nation live on September 5, at 6pm, from the Chinese Dining Room at Buckingham Palace, paying tribute to Diana and said that during that week at Balmoral, the family had all been trying to help William and Harry come to terms with the devastating loss of their mother.

On November 20 that year, The Queen and Prince Philip also celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary with a special garden party at Buckingham Palace, for couples also celebrating their Golden Wedding.

In 2002, Her Majesty lost her sister Margaret, who died from complications of a stroke on February 9, 2002. The Queen Mother also passed weeks later, on March 30, aged 101.

That same year, the Queen celebrated 50 years on the throne. To celebrate her Golden Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth travelled more than 40,000 miles, including visits to the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada and also visited 70 cities and towns in 50 counties in the United Kingdom.

On April 9, 2005, the Queen followed Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, as they left St George's Chapel in Windsor after the blessing of their civil marriage.

2006-2016 - A record-breaking reign

On April 21, 2007, Queen Elizabeth II became the oldest-ever reigning British monarch at the age of 81, overtaking a record set by Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother.

In 2011, she was also hailed for the first state visit to the Republic of Ireland by a reigning British monarch in 100 years. On April 29, that year, Prince William married Kate Middleton and the wedding was broadcast around the world.

In 2012, Her Majesty celebrated her diamond jubilee and surprised the world with a cameo alongside Daniel Craig as James Bond for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics. The Queen was awarded an honorary BAFTA.

Prince William and Kate Middleton welcomed their first child - the Queen’s great-grandson Prince George - on July 22, 2013. The third in line to the throne, his birth marked the first time since Victoria’s reign that three generations of direct heirs to the British throne were alive at the same time.

A huge fan of horse racing, the high point of Queen Elizabeth’s career as an owner came at Ascot in 2013 with her horse Estimate, a four-year-old who won the Gold Cup. The victory was the first time the Gold Cup had been won by the reigning monarch.

In 2014, she tapped out her first tweet from the official Twitter account of Buckingham Palace.

On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth again surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history. At the time the record was broken, Queen Elizabeth had reigned for 23,226 days, 16 hours, and 30 minutes.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, they will become King and King's Consort on the death of the Queen (Getty)

2016 - 2022: The Queen at 90, death and legacy

The Queen celebrated her 90th birthday on April 21, 2016, and the milestone was celebrated across the nation.

In late 2019 and early 2020, the Queen and Royal family faced challenges and criticism in regards to allegations made against Prince Andrew and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s intention to step away from royal duties.

On April 5, 2020, Queen Elizabeth delivered a special broadcast in relation to the coronavirus outbreak.

Over a year later, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died aged 99. Philip’s death certificate declared the cause of his passing as old age. The couple had been married for 73 years.

Days later on April 12, the Queen’s 95th birthday marked the first without her late husband by her side in seven decades. On April 17, 30 guests, including the Queen, attended Prince Philip’s funeral in St George’s Chapel, in line with coronavirus guidelines.

To celebrate the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, plans for the Platinum Jubilee were announced June 2, 2021, revealing that there will be a four-day weekend in 2022 to celebrate the landmark occasion.

Four days later on June 6, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle named their baby daughter Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor will be known as Lili for short, after the royals’ family nickname for the Queen.

On October 19, 2021, Her Majesty hosted a major Global Investment summit at Windsor Castle ahead of the COP26 UN climate change conference.

For most of the public, Her Majesty has been the only monarch we have known and it is hard to imagine a United Kingdom without her.

While she has naturally enjoyed a privileged life, few will deny her work and devotion to her country, the commonwealth of nations, and its people.

Ruling for longer than any other Monarch in British history, her extraordinary reign took her around the world, where she became a loved and respected figure.

The tribulations of her children and their complicated personal lives made Elizabeth a modern monarch with an insight into how millions of her subjects live.

Through her reign, Her Majesty continued to carry out a full programme of engagements, with her patronages and charities covering a wide range of issues.

Carrying out all of her duties against the backdrop of a full personal life, she raised four children and welcomed grandchildren, and later great-grandchildren to the Royal Family.

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